Skip to comments.Former Southern Baptist Pastor Now a Traveling Crusader for the Catholic Church
Posted on 03/01/2008 5:51:31 AM PST by NYer
Once a Southern Baptist pastor, Michael Cumbie converted to Catholicism in 2001 and has since been traveling far from his hometown near Pensacola, Florida, to preach his new faith to the nation. At Saint Therese Catholic Church in San Diego for a "renewal mission" this April, he spent three evenings speaking about his conversion, Catholic worship, and the Eucharist. About 200 hundred came to listen the last evening's talk. While he gathered his materials after his energetic presentation, I asked him some questions on the same topics.
Can you say something about the experience of the Holy Spirit in your life that put you on the path to Catholicism?
"Most Catholics and Protestants are familiar with the charismatic renewal, that came to all Christianity in the '70s. It was a big renewing of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a little different from Pentecostalism, which started in the early 1900s. That movement of the Holy Spirit seemed to be of the less educated and maybe poorer people. Many folks would never have gone to one of those kinds of gatherings of people speaking in tongues and prophesying. But then in the '70s that experience of Pentecost which the Catholic Church celebrates every year, started to invade those mainline churches of educated people. Intellectual Christians started having the same experience that the Pentecostals did. I was swept up in that movement. But also, as a Southern Baptist, we did not believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that they still operated today or were meant for today. But when I was in college I got around a group of young people that just had such a powerful presence of Christ in their lives. I'd never seen that. All Christians I knew up to that time were pretty much all the same -- I use the little analogy all the time, 'you don't know there are any hundred watt light bulbs if you're always around forty watt light bulbs.' So I got around all these hundred watt light bulbs and I noticed how much brighter their light was, if I can say it that way, and it just really drove me crazy. After about three months I said to these folks, 'You know, you guys have something I don't have. You're Christians, I'm a Christian, I believe that, but you've got some secret. I sense this powerful presence, and besides that you have such understanding of the Bible even though you've never been to Bible college,' and they said, 'Michael, it's the Holy Spirit'. Then they used the term 'baptism of the Holy Spirit' and I'd never heard of that, and to make a long story short we went through hours and hours of theological discussion. Because it was against my training and teaching as a Southern Baptist, they had a lot to overcome to try to convince me that this was a Biblical, Scriptural schism. But once they did, and I prayed and had the experience, it changed everything for me. The major thing it did, which began my conversion to Catholicism, was that it put a crack in my foundation that my denomination knew everything.
"Never at that point did I think about Catholicism, although the very first thing that happened to me that was unusual other than this gift of tongues, was that I drove past a Catholic Church and for the first time, I felt drawn to go in there and pray. Now I was raised so anti-Catholic -- we were told, don't you ever go inside a Catholic church. If you go into one, you can't get out. We laugh about it now, but we were deathly afraid of Catholicism. We thought it was from Satan and was deceiving millions of people, full of man-made rituals, because it was so different from our form of Christianity of preaching and singing and evangelizing. But I went into that Catholic Church, I spent four hours in that old, traditional, beautiful church. The pillars of marble, high altar rails, canvas paintings, stained glass windows -- it arrested me. I could not imagine what the people who went there did. I thought, with a building that looks like this, what do you do when you come here? I noticed the pulpit was not front-and-center like it always was at our churches where the emphasis is on hearing sermons and preaching. That experience marked me -- it did something to me that I've never gotten over. It began my conversion to the Catholic Church, because it caused such curiosity in me. I went home and I began to read, and every time we'd pass one of those churches, for the next ten years, I'd get my whole family out of the car and make them go inside and look at that church, and the kids loved it. They loved the holy water (they didn't know what it was for), and they loved the statues. I'd read them the little plaques beneath the saint statues which told the saint's story. I couldn't figure out at the time why God kept pulling me into those beautiful old churches to pray, when I was so anti-Catholic in my theology."
Would you say that exposure to the aesthetic appeal of traditional Catholic churches was your entry into sacramental theology?
"Well, yes, although it took fifteen years. What happened was, I went to a conference where a pastor stood up and said to us, 'The church in America is irrelevant.' (Now when he said 'church' he meant all the Protestants). He said, 'It's not having any impact on society'. I knew he was right, I knew something had been wrong for a long time. We preached our hearts out, but it wasn't changing the nation. It wasn't causing men who had no use for God to even consider God. So it really made me start to examine what we were preaching and what was our method of getting people converted -- was our method of salvation the right way? So this little preacher got up and said, 'The church is irrelevant,' and then said, 'we believe the cure for the ills of our society is for us evangelical Protestant pastors to return to ancient liturgy and sacramental theology.' I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought, 'We have to do what?'
"My friend next to me said, 'Oh, no, he's talking about C-C-C-Catholicism.' That pastor proceeded to spend the next hour and fifteen minutes telling us why he said what he said, and it so disturbed me, because I knew in my heart he was on to something true, but my head was giving me fits. It went against everything I believed. So we gave ourselves the next two years just to study and read the early Church fathers. We realized how much we had lost in the Reformation, and made a vow to try to take all our congregations and restore everything that was lost. No small task. We started to call ourselves 'ancient historical Christians', which of course is nothing other than Catholic. After trying many other alternatives (such as the Episcopal church) my wife Sherry and I decided to become Catholic. We needed a pope -- to be in line with Peter."
In a post-Vatican II climate, in which the word "renewal" can equate to a watering down of the faith, what does the word mean to you?
"Well, the first thing that comes to mind is, 'What needs to be renewed?' and 'Why does anybody need renewal?' When I was a Protestant we used the word 'revival'. We believed we needed reviving because we've gone cold and indifferent and spiritually dead, and at one time the faith was on fire and vibrant and alive. So that's what renewal and revival means to me. The Scriptures say, 'Can these dry bones live again,' and give examples of breathing on something that's become a dead formalistic mental exercise and is not alive spiritually anymore."
Do you think this kind of renewal is at the heart of what was called for by Vatican II?
"I think the Vatican Council was about this renewal. Of course I'm a new kid on the block, and have heard a lot of controversy about the second Vatican Council, and I've seen some great things that have come supposedly as a result of it, and some not so great things. But what I find out about those not so great things is that those were things that were never intended by the Council anyway. So a misapplication and a misinterpretation have happened. I will go on record saying I believe with all my heart that the Second Vatican Council is the voice of God to the Church. It is the magisterium. There's no arguing with that. How it's implemented though -- people get involved, men get involved.... Without being uncharitable, I can say some men with their own agendas came out of the council and tried to use the phrase, 'in the spirit of the second Vatican Council ... we have to change, etc, etc.... ' I think the Council was God's way of trying to bring renewal to the Church in the twenty-first century. I have to say, all the things I read about Catholicism -- the rubrics of the mass, the silence of the sacred space, the kneelers and the formality of dress -- it was all so refreshing to me. But when I actually saw the typical Catholic churches, it was very different. If I had walked into a modern, updated, liberal Catholic parish I would never have become Catholic. Because it's so much like the Protestant environment that I left. I was looking for structure, and respect for the sacred, and love for the holy, and we didn't have it. And many parishes, I'm afraid, have become just like that "in the spirit of Vatican II" of making the church a "gathering space" -- even though it is still sacred space we don't act like it is. So I think some things have been very detrimental to the faith and have even caused tens of thousands of Catholics to walk out and lose their faith. And again, that's not the Council's fault but just the statistics. Of the thirty-three percent of Catholics who still attend mass regularly, sixty-six percent no longer believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is the crisis in the church, not pedophilia. This loss of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist -- that's the very doctrine that changed my whole life and caused my conversion, because all the Church's teachings flow from that doctrine."
Do you see the same need for a return to sacramental theology that you saw in the Protestant congregations?
"Absolutely. Dr. (Scott) Hahn says, 'We must evangelize the baptized first.' Evangelization has to start among our own people. And it's happening. There were about two hundred Protestant pastors that came into the Church the year I converted, and I heard two weeks ago that there are four hundred and seventy-nine Protestant pastors coming into the Church this year. So what's the Lord up to? He loves the Church. It's not going to die or fall apart. He promised that, but it may go through some real reviving and renewing and changing, and God is bringing hundreds of Protestant pastors, the leaders of Protestant Christianity, back home, to the roots of their own faith even as Christians. So it looks like the Holy Spirit is up to something."
Do you think there's a need to be especially careful when you are trying to make Catholic truths digestible to the average layperson?
"Yes, you have to be very careful. Most of us -- we converted pastors -- are not theologians, we're not experts, we learned just enough about the Church to know it was the truth. And what most of us try to share are just the things we know that changed our lives. There are many topics I will not touch. I cannot teach on a particular doctrine if I'm not educated in it. The things that I know according to Scripture, and that we can prove historically about the Church being the Church that Jesus started, I have no problem preaching up a storm on those kinds of things. But every teacher, apologist, or catechist has to be very careful. You try to make the faith as understandable as you can while avoiding any danger of heresy."
Do you feel that your call is to evangelize to the baptized first by sharing your story?
"By sharing my story, yes, but more importantly through apologetics. Why do we believe what we believe? You must be able to give an answer to anyone that asks you. Saint Peter said, 'You must be able at all times to give a reason for the hope that lies in you.' So first the baptized must be taught their own faith, and then taught how to answer criticisms of that faith from non-Catholic Christians who are very misinformed about the faith just like I was. And a kind answer turns away wrath -- you've got to be filled with love and with charity, but you have to know the faith. When it comes to those who have no faith at all, you need to ask yourself, 'Do I know how to share the love of Christ with them? Can I convince them of their need for God and salvation?' Can you love them into the Kingdom? God does the converting, we don't convert anybody. Our job is to be the best Catholics we can be. My job is not to tell you what to believe but to explain the faith. Then you must decide what you believe."
Mike Crumbie has a program that runs early on Saturday mornings. He has a heavy southern accent and big time ‘Amens’ :-)!
reference to read later
We prefer to call our accents “charming,” rather than “heavy”!
I didn’t read the whole interview yet, but I did get that evangelization starts with being joyous in your faith. Smart man.
Also, this thread should soon draw the usual suspects. I can hear it now, he wasnt really saved in the first place :-)
And our church is full of former Catholics. Guess it flows both ways.
Lol .... he only thought it in his heart ;-)
Who taught this guy that the church is a sacred building??? The Holy Spirit??? Or Something else???
Act 14:27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
The church is not a building...It is not an organization...It is not a pope or a magisterium...
The 'church' is people...Just regular people gathering together...Anywhere...Any other teaching is heresy...
This guy would have been far better off sticking with what God tryed to teach him in the scripture...
Anything but the scripture...
You should really try the Scripture. Even though it is a Catholic book, I think it might do you some good. It might even cause you to wonder what the bishops, presbyters, and deacons it mentions were all about.
Why’d you post a two-year-old article, NYer?
Yes it does flow both ways. Occasionally a Protestant conversion story is posted here and they tend to be vehemently anti-Catholic in tone. I attribute that to their losing the belief in the Real Presence.
Another common reason Catholics leave the church is the divorce/re-marriage issue. The Catholic position on this is very clear. Protestant Churches dont seem to have a problem with this. That should cause you some concern that the clear message of the gospel is being compromised in order to attract new members.
Shame on you NYer ! In the future, please check with Alex before you post an article :-)
With so many coming into the Church, it sure looks like those former Protestant ministers make some of the best Catholics.
Sure, you bet...OK...Show us all in YOUR scripture where the 'church' is an architectural showpiece...Where the chuch Jesus founded is full of exceedingly valuable paintings, stained glass, curtains of valuable cloth, valuable metals and jewels, unsurpassed beauty, rituals and chants...
C'mon, there's the challange...
Don't try to snooker anyone with the OT synagogues and temples...We're talking the New Testament church...The body of Jesus Christ...Show us some scripture that cantradicts the ones I posted...
Congratulations, it’s not often one of the Catholic haters gets in on the first 10 posts. It usually takes at least 15 posts. But please be sure to ping ETH, Eckelberg, and all the others as they seem to be slacking.
You seem to be under the mistaken impression that Catholics believe the Church is a building.
Where the chuch Jesus founded is full of exceedingly valuable paintings, stained glass, curtains of valuable cloth, valuable metals and jewels, unsurpassed beauty, rituals and chants...
So, you think that Jesus founded a Church that prohibits the enjoyment of the beauty of God's creation? Please show me that in Scripture.
Show us some scripture that cantradicts the ones I posted...
It is strange that you believe Scripture can contradict itself.
What a wonderful story! His experience is similar to my own. One by one, the rebel strongholds fall.
Night cometh. God gathers His flock to the fold as the wolves circle for the kill. But in His hand, the Shepherd holds not a crook, but a sword...
The Knights of Columbus have the swords :-).
>>>The Knights of Columbus have the swords :-).<<
And cool capes and hats.