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."
Baptists...please tell me if this is true. Do you hate us? Why?
Then the Catholics have their own set of problems with the SCORES of petted pedophile priests, caught in an unnatural celibate situation, caught in the sin of pedophilia (a rampant problem over the years), ruining scores of young lives as well as their own, and yet the Catholic hierarchy covered up for these pampered elite little boys for decades. That is hypocrisy - and hypocrisy is present in ANY organization where the ambitions of man take control, be it catholic or protestant.
The priesthood of the believer is scriptural and something to stand upon.
The problem was more homosexual rather than pedophile. It was also a small percentage of priests. I agree its scandalous and shatters the faith of those impacted. But dont be so smug, this sin is also a problem in Protestant denominations.
The priesthood of the believer is scriptural and something to stand upon.
Please tell me what is to be believed.
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.
For any SB FReepers, is that right?
Or, it could be that people have heard the calling of the Holy Spirit. Most of the former Catholics I know, it has nothing at all to do with divorce and a great deal to do with doctrine. The point is, of course people convert to Catholicism and of course Catholics leave the church for other churches. Which one is right depends on your theology, and is not an argument that is going to be resolved on a political bulletin board.
Most? My point was its not uncommon. What is your Church's stance on Divorce and Re-Marriage?
and a great deal to do with doctrine.
That would be the main reason. Once a Catholic loses their belief in the Real Presence they typically become CINOs or leave the Church altogether.
I’m not a Southern Baptist, but I hang out with one on the North Carolina board :-). Charismatic gifts seem to be considered very “far out” by most Southern Baptists. There was a recent dispute (within the last couple of years) about whether a person who prayed in tongues could be a Southern Baptist missionary.
Disallowing marriage is ABNORMAL and scripturally condemned, and disobeying clear scripture always causes problems. The HIDING of the rampant homosexual problem among Catholic priests by Catholic hierarchy for decades is disgusting.
I tell the truth, and I am labeled by you as SMUG. - I’m not defending any degree of pedophilia or homosexuality in the Protestant camp either. I am neither CATHOLIC nor PROTESTANT in the eyes of the Lord, so I have no bone to pick in not mentioning sexual immorality in the Protestant churches. It’s there; just not quite as rampant and hypocritical as in the Catholic hierarchy.
Which is worse? The rampant tendency among the Protestants to practice “musical divorces and remarriages” or the hypocritical practice among the Catholic hierarchy to declare marriages of long duration as “annulled” so the Kennedys and others can legally dump their wives and children in order to remarry their latest mistresses?
When I was attending a Protestant church, when I finally told myself the truth about the pastor (priest) and his wife using the little church as their own personal cash cow, I realized I was not a Protestant - and a lifetime of observation of organized “religion” and a lot of its rotten fruit - I’ve decided that I’m just a Christian - period - NOT Greek Orthodox, NOT Roman Catholic, NOT Protestant.
I don't know of anyone who hates Catholics because they are Catholic...
I have been to Baptist churches, Methodist, Pentecostal, Reformed and even a Catholic church...I have friends and relatives who are Catholic...
It's a matter of heaven and hell...If you believe in a real heaven and a real hell, it becomes a serious issue for you...You likely have friends and relatives that will end up in both places...
Weeping and wailing and knashing of teeth (for eternity) for a Mother or Father, or a sister or brother should shake a person into reality...
It should come as no surprise that although we have the same characters, we have different religions...We can not both be right...
I back everything I believe with scripture, the word of God...You back everything you believe with a little bit of scripture and a lot of religious tradition...
The plan of salvation your church teaches is not biblical...The scripture I posted shows that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ thru the grace of God...That's biblical...Your tradition teaches differently...
I am not against you...I am against your tradition...I will show people that much of your tradition is not biblical every chance I get...It's a matter of heaven or hell...
LOL!!! I guess you WERE raised that way!!
People hate what they don't understand.
For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.
Good point. I really had never heard they think Catholics aren’t CHRISTIAN!!! It’s positively LAUGHABLE!! and sad.
Gotta love these convert threads!
**But please be sure to ping ETH, Eckelberg, and all the others as they seem to be slacking.**
I find this practice of some on the edge of very rude. It would be like talking to someone privately at a large gathering, and momrntarily stopping the private conversation to yell, “Hey, everyone! Listen in to this private conversation. You will get a kick out if.”
It’s all about manners in my opinion! But perhaps I should say — a lack of manners! Just a pet peeve of mine.
Really. If you are going to slam someone at least ping them. Or are you afraid of them? I have no idea who ETH is
Oops — momrntarily
**kick out if.**
kick out it. Typing too fast. Sorry!