Almost a year ago, I decided to join the Roman Catholic Church. I waited months to tell anyone except my parents, worried my new conversion would fade. It didn’t. This fall I am going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and next year I will enter the Church.
I spent my high school career as an evangelical Protestant believing Catholics were superstitious and ignorant of the Bible. Even while attending a Catholic liberal arts college, I challenged my theology professors and despaired about the errors I believed they taught. No matter what kind of Christian I become, I told myself, I will never be Catholic.
But for a long time I had felt disconnected and uneasy at my Protestant church. I longed for what I imagined as the ideal Church—a united body that taught the same truth everywhere, that cared about the poor while defending human life, that believed what Christians had believed from the beginning. I thought I would never find it. I gave up on attending church.
A few months later, I read a book called The Catholic Controversy, by St. Francis de Sales. Targeting Calvinists in 16th-century Europe, De Sales uses Scripture alone to argue for the Catholic Church. Though he died almost 400 years before I was born, De Sales systematically tore apart my assumptions against the Church. I was persuaded.
With a year to gather perspective, I have put together four reasons I decided to convert to the Catholic Church. I hope “U” will find them compelling.
The Church is unified. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his Father, “I pray not only for [my disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one…” (John 17:21 New American Bible). Regardless of his followers’ conduct, regardless of corruptions and partisanship, Jesus asserted that he was founding one Church. He did not will us—His Body—to split into warring pieces. Only the Catholic Church has demonstrated this kind of enduring unity.
The Church is universal. Jesus taught that his Church would make disciples “of all nations.” The only Christian tradition that exists on every continent, with one centralized authority to guide it worldwide, is the Catholic Church. Contrast that reality with other traditions, such as Southern Baptists in North America or the Coptic Church in Africa. The word “Catholic” means universal, and there is a reason no other tradition has claimed that title.
The Church is unchanging. If you compare the Church’s teachings from 2,000 years ago to the present, you will find the Church has preserved its essential beliefs over time. No other tradition has displayed such consistency. Protestant theology, for instance, has evolved violently. John Calvin, the French Protestant theologian, taught that a person’s salvation or damnation is fixed according to God’s will and that human choice means nothing. 500 years later, evangelical Protestants have instead made “once saved, always saved” their creed. On this matter and others, it is absurd to think that the Holy Spirit revealed the truth only after 1,500 years of wrangling with errors, especially because Jesus promised in John 16:13 that the Spirit would lead his followers into “all truth.”
The Church has an unbroken connection to the roots of Christianity. Catholics are the only Christians who have always held the historical view of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. Jesus taught that his body was “true bread” and his blood “true drink” (John 6:55). St. Paul likewise said that those who take communion “without discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:29) are in error. These passages indicate that the Church believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist from its beginning.
History recorded in the Book of Acts also corroborates many of the Church’s supposedly extra-biblical teachings. The apostles observed days and times, such as the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:6) and Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Councils of elders considered matters of conflict and issued teachings (Acts 15:6). The faith had a central authority based in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:2), and later at Rome, to which disputes were directed. The belongings of saints such as Paul were reported to have healing powers (Acts 19:11-12) granted by God, just as the Church teaches today about relics from saints who led holy lives.
Over the past year I have been thrilled and humbled to recognize these truths, and others too numerous to include in one post. I have learned, in the most profound way, what it means to “join ‘em” if you can’t “beat ‘em.” Because there’s only one Church. And once you see that, you just can’t beat it.
For two thousand years, the story of the vineyard workers in the Gospel of Matthew has confronted its hearers with an implicit question: Is God fair in the way we expect him to be?
The parable (Matthew 20:1-15 NKJV) tells of a landowner who hires laborers and sends them into his vineyard. He gathers men all day until “the eleventh hour” (v. 6), when he discovers a group of idlers and commands them to work for him with the promise that “whatever is right you will receive” (v. 7). At sunset the laborers come to get their wages. The “eleventh hour” group receives one denarius, a Roman silver coin worth about fifteen cents, the typical pay for one day’s work. The first hour’s group expects a greater reward, but they are given the same. When they complain to the owner about this inequity, he dismisses their demands. “Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as you” (v. 14).
Clearly Jesus was not teaching an economics course on how businesses should salary their employees. He used the story to attack a lie many of us believe without realizing it: we think the nature of our choices and actions is what makes God’s love for us possible.
How often have you viewed a bad day—inconvenient weather, unproductive work, illness or exhaustion, arguments, moral regrets—to be a manifestation of God’s retribution for your wrongdoing? God loved me less today, we tell ourselves, usually unconsciously. I’ve got to do better. The opposite applies, too. When we work “in the heat of the day” (v. 12), when we feel proud about a commendable choice, we’re more willing to feel God’s love for us. I really earned it today, we think. I can feel good. Everything’s okay with me and God.
When we follow this attitude, we submit to legalism—the ledger balancing the accounts of our right and wrong actions to see what we’re worth to God. We deceive ourselves and deny the contentment that grace can bring us. “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins…who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3 NIV). No human alive could ever claim God owed him a blessing. Likewise, it’s impossible to argue with God’s right to give us more than we’ve earned.
So don’t yield to the superstitious ups and downs of legalism. Forget about complaining that “these last men have worked only one hour” (Mt. 20:12 NKJV) when you think you deserve better. Refuse to feel suspicious when God opens “the windows of heaven” (Malachi 3:10) and gives you far more than you could ever hope to repay. He allows the hard days for his purposes. He gives us free gifts to remind us he’s good. He’s not just impartial; he’s radically fair. No matter our inadequacies or how persistently we do good things, our outcome still hinges on our answer to his most important question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15)
For generations, books like David Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined and A.N. Wilson’s Jesus: A Biography have assaulted the Gospels and convinced the public they are legendary—fabrications engineered by the church. In the age of CSI and murder trials broadcast on TV, the world has ceded its mind to these claims. We have developed a cultural unwillingness to trust eyewitnesses without a hair, a hard drive, or a half-eaten ham sandwich to support them.
While it may be true that people lie (for whatever purpose) and that we don’t have the nails from Jesus’s cross, the Gospels provide their own defense. The truth is in the text.
Only a terrible writer would think that the narrative of Jesus’s death and resurrection would make good propaganda. If the aim of the early church’s leaders was to gain power, they wouldn’t have spread the story that the Messiah had been hung on a wooden cross—a form of execution reserved for terrible criminals “accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23 NKJV), not the foretold king of scripture.
Likewise, no one would easily accept a savior whose followers “forsook Him and fled” at the moment of his capture (Mark 14:15). The man appointed to lead the early church, Simon Peter, is recorded as denying three times that he is a follower of Jesus (Luke 22:55-62), after which he recalls Jesus’s prediction of this betrayal (v. 34) and weeps with guilt. Why would the church devise a forgery that tarnishes its first leader? The earliest Gospel, Mark, was composed by a scribe loyal to Peter, under the direction of the apostle himself. Peter had no motive to carve a terrible lie about himself into the record; if anything, being a weaker man, he might have tried to conceal his failure. The only reason he would have insisted on that incident’s inclusion is if it was true.
Jesus’s resurrection produced another conflict for the first Christians. There were two camps in the Jewish establishment in Jesus’s day: the conservative Sadducees, who believed “there is no resurrection” (Mark 12:18), and the Pharisees, a group that in the last two centuries had formed a tentative belief in a future resurrection. Until Jesus came, however, no religion admitted that a man could be raised from the dead in the present day. That’s why the disciples “did not understand what He was saying, and were afraid to ask Him” when Jesus taught them that he would be killed and rise the third day following (Mark 9:31-32). Beyond Judaism, the Romans who ruled the Jews in the first century found the idea of a resurrection offensive because they considered the material world evil and the body a prison. The first Christians’ radical new theology endangered their lives by offending every major authority of their day. Nobody hoping to preserve his life, much less gather followers, would write the story this way.
These facts have persuaded some of the Gospels’ former critics. A.N. Wilson, the biographer mentioned before, converted to Christianity after decades of atheism. He writes a wonderful essay here about the doubts that led him to faith. The power of the Gospel to enact such a change in the human heart is a great testimony. But perhaps the greatest witness to the Gospel is the lives of the apostles. Peter, according to tradition, was executed by the Emperor Nero. The apostle Thomas, famous for his doubt, was killed while preaching in India. Paul was imprisoned in Rome for two years and executed. John, author of Revelation, was exiled to the island of Patmos. None of them received wealth or glory for their missionary work; indeed, their commitment cost them. That kind of testimony is unanswerable—because nobody is willing to die for a lie. We can either ignore that challenge, as millions do, or we can yield to the truth.
“Classic—a book which people praise and don’t read.” – Mark Twain
If you went to a normal American high school, then you probably sat through normal American litorture—that’s my horrible hybrid word of “literature” and “torture.” Maybe you listened to Faulkner’s Sound and endured his Fury, or said Farewell to Hemingway’s Arms. Maybe you read The Great Gatsby (I couldn’t come up with a pun for that). If you love books as much as I do, then you might have felt puzzled, or even ashamed, if you happened to think the hallowed canon didn’t live up to its laurels.
But isn’t it heresy to frown at the work of these dead, bearded, alcohol-tolerant men? (Yes, I know, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s face was as smooth as a doll. But still!)
Anthony Otten has published stories in Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Wind, Still: The Journal, and others. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. He lives in Kentucky.
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