Remember the video that went viral a few years ago, “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” by Jefferson Bethke?
How did I go from “Anything but Catholic” to loving and knowing Jesus more through the Catholic faith?
Well it all started when my husband and I were we looking for a new church. We were members of a wonderful, vibrant church that did an amazing job of caring for those in need. Comforting the sick. Visiting the imprisoned. Sheltering the homeless. Clothing the naked. Giving drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry. Burying the dead.
Showing love for others is at the heart of Christianity and our church consistently did it well. It was just one of the many things we loved about our church!
But we noticed a growing trend among our church and many other churches. While they were intentional about serving others, they seemed to be neglecting or, in some cases, actively resisting, sharing the joy of the gospel and the need for repentance.
We also noticed another trend spring up. The idea that Religion and Relationship are mutually exclusive was beginning set down deep roots in the missional landscape. The message was this: Move over historic Christianity, there’s a new kid in town. This kids says Jesus requires no religion or rules.
The idea emerged that there aren’t answers, only questions. This new kid’s follower’s are more concerned with what they do NOT believe than what they DO believe. They emphasize that they do NOT possess a certain type of legalistic superiority that a lot of millennials grew up with. Yeah, you know what kind of superior I’m talking about.
And the new kid’s brand of Christians make it clear they aren’t your mother’s fellow Christians. They value being messy. Authentic. Relational. Experiential. “Jesus is all about relationship, not religion” is their cry. “Religion sets rules, Jesus sets us Free!”
The pendulum had swung from the extreme of church-lady-legalism to the other extreme of using messiness and personal experience as the measure of an authentic relationship with Christ.
I was left to wonder which Jesus people were talking about. . Jesus, the Christ, the savior of the world, commanded following “rules”: He said, “If you would enter eternal Life, keep the commandments”.
“Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven…For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19-20)
And if those comments don’t throw a wrench in the “Jesus isn’t about religion” campaign, how about this? Jesus actually commanded that the teaching of the Pharisees be followed!
“…practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:3). When they failed to practice the weightier matters of the law, he told them they should have done them without leaving the others undone. He still expected them to observe the laws they were practicing.
And what about this? Paul and Timothy “traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey“.
Those inconsistencies compelled me learn more. I had one group of fellow Christian friends defining the gospel one way and another defining it a completely different way. And they were both equally passionate about their version of the gospel. Its easy to get passionate about a religion that’s made in our own image. Its fulfilling to get on board with something that makes sense to us, moves us and motivates us to change the world. But that passion and fulfillment doesn’t mean its true. Its possible to change the world to look more like our view of Jesus than like Jesus himself.
I wanted to know Jesus, not man’s opinions about him. I wanted to know what He intended for his “church” to be. So I went back in history. Wow, was I surprised!
I began to question. Was I worshipping and serving Jesus on HIS terms. Or mine? Which church I could trust to teach what Jesus taught? This much I knew. Jesus, my Lord and Savior was a king. A reigning king. And what does a king do? “A King sets the terms of His kingdom. We receive the terms of our faith from Him. We don’t make them up for ourselves”.
At that time, I believed that Scripture was the final authority for all matters of faith and practice. But I discovered a major a problem with that idea. Scripture doesn’t interpret itself. Someone always interprets it.
Christians of good will don’t agree on what Sacred Scripture says about HOW we are saved, WHO can be saved, baptism, the Eucharist (communion), the role of the Holy Spirit, or even what the Word of God is. These are not “non-essentials” of the Christian faith. They are foundational!
For example, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you”, When Jesus says something is crucial to eternal life, then doesn’t it make sense that he wouldn’t leave us to guess what he meant? Would you expect him to give us a way to know what he meant? He did exactly that!
The understanding of what Jesus meant was unanimously accepted among the very first Christians and all the church fathers because he had given them a way to know his meaning. He had given his apostles His AUTHORITY. He told those apostles to teach others to OBEY everything he had taught them. He gave his apostles the authority to speak for him, “whoever hears you, hears me and whoever rejects you rejects me”. Jesus established a Church, He gave it authority and said the “gates of hell will not prevail against it”.
What church was that? Which church speaks infallibly so that we know we are hearing him? A friend of mine attended a weekend charismatic conference where two different speakers received a ‘word from the Lord’ on two different days. Both of them proclaimed, “The Holy Spirit is saying “x”‘. The problem is, Pastor 1’s statement was in direct contradiction to Pastor 2’s statement. The Holy Spirit can’t lie or contradict himself. That night, my friend recognized that his faith tradition was not equipped to safeguard the truth. He cried out to the Lord and said he would follow Him wherever he led. And he was led to the Church that does have a safeguard of the truth. The Church that Jesus established.
Jesus commanded that we take disputes “to the church”. Which church would that be? Do we take it to the church of our choosing? Which church has authority when there is a church split? Which of the four churches in this photo has the authority to settle a dispute if wanted to follow Jesus command to ‘take it to the church?
Here’s a picture of downtown Tulsa. Its cool, but as you can see, its not a big city.
I just did a quick search and there were over 70 churches listed in the downtown Tulsa vicinity alone. I’m not talking different church buildings. I am talking different churches that have different beliefs. This picture is of just a few of the large mainline denominations that are downtown-within sight of each other. There are also dozens and dozens of smaller churches that all interpret scripture differently.
Where is the ONE church that Jesus spoke of? Where is the Unity Jesus prayed for? Each claims to follow Jesus. But, as this chart shows, the way people pick denominations based on their own personal beliefs, not on what Jesus said:
Which one teaches what Jesus taught? As Christ followers, we want to follow what He says, right?
Jesus Prayed For Unity-Why Won’t We Honor His Request?
Division among Christians has profound consequences. Jesus prayed that we would be One. He asked the Father for us to ” be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
Whoa, now! Let that sink in. Our unity shows the the world what? That God sent Jesus , and loves them.
We are quick to tell the world, “for God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son”, but we are not doing the thing that Jesus prayed would show the world that He loves them!
But, what about, “They will know we are Christians by our love”? Truly, without love, we are nothing. Love is essential. Our love for each other tells the world who we are.
But, the way the world will know that God loves them and sent Jesus for them is by our unity. Both love and unity are essential! They see our love and know we follow Jesus. They see our unity and know Jesus loves them.
What does it say to the world that Christianity has so many denominations and para-denominations that all believe something different? What does it say when Christ followers minimize Jesus explicit commands?
“Astonishingly, two of the things that Jesus explicitly tells us to do are minimized and/or redefined to be “symbolic” by most Protestants. How can this be among people who claim to be Jesus followers?
How can a people who profess to base their faith on Scripture alone ignore the very things — in fact, some of the only things — that Jesus told us explicitly to do?”
… Compared to the rest of His teaching in the Gospels, Jesus gave us few direct, unambiguous commands. Among them are some of the last words he gave us before departing this earth: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mark 28:19) — an explicit imperative to baptize — and His words at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
Baptism and the Eucharist are the only two of the Seven Sacraments that Evangelical Protestants have preserved in any form — but even these are relegated to the status of marginal, symbolic acts in very many cases.
One would think that the Apostles and the Early Church would place great emphasis on these things. And in fact they did: they were the very basis of early Christian worship, as St. Justin testifies.
Whatever Happened to the Eucharist Loney Pilgrim
I began to wonder… Why are there only 2 sacraments in my Protestant churches compared to 7 in the Catholic church? And why do churches disagree about what they mean? So I delved into history.
To Go Deep In History is to Cease to be Protestant.
As I shared in my first post I went deep in history, reading original sources, and discovered that Jesus started a church and that Church alone has the fullness of the Christian faith. That meant the only option as a follower of Jesus was to follow Jesus into His church.
i was surprised to discover that everything the Catholic church teaches is completely scriptural when it it understood in context.
For example, Scott Hahn, a reformed Protestant minister and scholar of Revelation recounts the first time he attended a mass to see what it was all about. He slunk down in the back row and was prepared to critique it. First, he was taken back that the mass is soaked in scripture. What?? Aren’t Catholics supposed to be illiterate when it comes to the bible? Why did their liturgy have more bible readings than a Protestant service??
Second, he began to recognize that the liturgy, the vestments, the candles, the Alleluia, the Amen, the wine, the Lamb of God, etc. came straight out of the book of Revelation! He began to realize that the mass is actually a participation in the liturgy of Heaven! Whoa. Something Holy, something that transcends time and space was going on. The rest of his story can be read in The Lambs Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. Raise your hand if you don’t want to participate in what is going on in Heaven here on earth. I didn’t think so.
This chart shows all the verses and where they relate in the mass.
When my husband and I became Catholic, most of our Protestant friends and family assumed it was because Catholicism was appealing to us. I get it. Protestants are used to choosing a church that aligns with their personal preferences and beliefs. So, it makes sense that people would assume that we just found a church that appealed to us.
But that wasn’t the case.
We weren’t drawn to Catholicism because it was appealing. In fact, I was so anti-Catholic that I told my husband at one point of our journey , “Anything but Catholic! Orthodox maybe. Possibly even Anglican. Just. not. Catholic.” Shows how much I knew. Thankfully, God didn’t let me have my way!
We didn’t convert because it was easy. It wasn’t.
We didn’t start attending the Catholic church for social reasons. For the first year we attended mass, we had no friends in the church. (We did know one person who had recently converted, but he attended a different parish). We weren’t Catholic yet but we we weren’t attending our former church so we were in the lonely place that exists between 2 worlds. Our friends and family didn’t understand and it caused a lot of heartache.
We weren’t drawn to the Church because we were attracted to the “style of worship”. The liturgy was unfamiliar to us. Like many cradle Catholics who go through the motions every week, with no knowledge of what the mass is really about, we weren’t tuned in (yet) to the profound and glorious mystery that we were participating in. We felt awkward not knowing when to sit and stand what to say and when, or what different motions mean.
So, Why Did I Become Catholic??
The short answer is what G. K. Chesterton said,
The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said,
Not 100 people in the United States hate the Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Catholic Church is.
That was me. That was my family. We had no idea what the Catholic Church really is. We only knew a gross caricature of it.
As I wrote before, finding the truth was not an easy journey. As a Protestant who was convinced the Catholic church had corrupted the true gospel, worshipped Mary, wouldn’t allow people to read the bible and had invented man-made traditions and empty rituals, I believed that any true believers in the Catholic church who had a relationship with Jesus did so in spite of the Church. I thought that they were really Protestants at heart-they just didn’t know it. I thought they would be better off worshipping in a church that had thrown off the baggage the Catholic church had picked up over the years.
After my husband and 2 of our children learned what the Catholic Church really is we went through RCIA and came into full communion with Christ and his Church at the Easter Vigil in 2014. It was wonderful! I couldn’t wait to tell our friends and family about what we had discovered! I wanted to explain how we had learned about the myths and lies about the Catholic faith weren’t true and they were keeping us from full communion with our Lord and Savior. I wanted all my family and friends to experience full communion too!
But most people didn’t even ask. Of those who did, most were simply asking out of a polite curiosity, not really wanting more than a fill-in-the-blank answer. There was a learning curve in reading how much people really wanted to know. Often I said way too much. Like turning on a firehose when someone asked for a drink. Some people were hurt and offended. Other people were sure we had gone off the rails from the historic Christian faith and were concerned for our souls. There were quite a few in the “whatever floats your boat is good as long as you love Jesus” crowd. They weren’t interested, but they weren’t judging either. There were the few dear friends who said, “I know you and I know how you research and if you have studied it, then I want to hear more” who were each lights of grace on a hard and lonely journey.
Its not as lonely now. I still long to share the beauty of loving Jesus in His Church with those closest to me, but I found its better to just live it out and let God work in his timing.
Serving a God Made in His Own Image
I hope it is clear by now, that we can’t have Jesus without his Church. We can’t have the King without his Kingdom.
That new kid in town? He’s peddling a god that is known by imagining what we think Jesus would do. A god that requires no religion, no authority to submit to other than our own experience or our own interpretation of scripture. He often looks nothing like the Jesus of the bible and history.
The real Jesus left us an authority to submit to. Jesus prayed that we would be One. Wouldn’t it be great if we can come together and honor his request after nearly 200 years of anarchy and division? Wouldn’t it be great if all Christians everywhere were in full communion with each other and with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church? We have a common creed. Let’s come together in unity in the Church. “The fact that he’s a King means he reigns over our lives and hearts and wills and minds”. Let’s do it, so that the world will know. Let’s set the world on fire for Christ the Lamb, Lion and King.
I can’t begin to express what I have discovered in His church and after two years and I can honestly say I will not be able to fathom the riches offered within in a lifetime. My heart is to have all the people experience those same riches and to receive Christ himself, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. So I invite you to check it out for yourself. To come to mass with me. To ask questions, present challenges-bring me your best arguments and let’s compare notes. I promise to not to turn on the firehose. 😉
Come Holy Spirit, Fill the Hearts of your Faithful, and Kindle in them the fire of your Love!
I leave you with this.
Jefferson Bethke’s video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” obviously expressed how a lot of millennial Christians ‘feel”. People want to hear what resonates with them reflected back to them. But truth isn’t defined by what resonates with us. This priest responds to Jefferson in love, showing how his video fuels atheistic opinions. And you know you want to see a rapping priest…