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."
‘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...’
Actually that is perfectly in accord with Catholic teaching.
Wow. What an unChristian remark. Shame on you.
For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." -- 2 Corinthians 2:14-17
"Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." -- 2 Corinthians 2:14-17
But the prophets never abandoned God's chosen Israel despite its pathetic string of apostate kings, its Jezebels and gigolos. And to abandon His Church on account of hypocrites would be like abandoning Jesus on account of Judas.
Paul recommended his converts not to marry, but to remain single just as he was... voluntarily.
Subsequent breakway churches (like the Albigensians) "disallowed" marriage, but this was clearly and forcefully repudiatedd as heresy by the Catholic Church.
Nobody in the Catholic Church forbids marriage, or even has the authority to do so. Those who want to be celibate (as our Lord was, and as Paul was) take such a vow of their own free will. Nobody ever coerces the taking of the Sacrament of Holy Orders; and if a man and his future bride are are both free to wed each other, nobody forbids trhem to do so.
Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:
Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of interest.
You’re getting lost in semantics there. Yes, of course we agree with you that the Church is the Body of Christ (which is very different from your other definition of “just people”). But a church, meaning the building wherein Mass is celebrated, is not just a building as your church is, because it’s formally consecrated; it is a sacred space containing the Blessed Sacrament (see scripture, “last supper” - sorry we Catholics don’t bother to memorize chapter and verse, we know the stories well enough).
Your comments remind me of something I read yesterday in a book of Flannery O’Connor’s private letters (some here might appreciate it):
“I am a Catholic. This is a fact...However, I am a Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern consciousness, that thing Jung describes as unhistorical, solitary, and guilty. To possess this WITHIN the Church is to bear a burden, the necessary burden for the conscious Catholic. It is to feel the contemporary situation at the ultimate level. I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”
Since you love scripture, try Leviticus and Ezekiel.
I’ve never “gotten” Flannery O’Connor. Maybe I’m not gifted enough to be tormented, or something.
The Catholic Church makes me happy. I’m not upset, I’m not desperately enduring, suffering agonies ... maybe I’m just dull. I love my family - married forever to Der Prinz, eight children so far. I accept the Church’s teaching on marriage and children without reservation. Not without nightmares (what will Mom say?) but without reservation.
And I’m happy with my parish, old Bostonian Democrat priest and all. I’m happy to be serving in the Hispanic ministry, even if some of the congregants are illegal. I could go on, but you get the point.
Maybe one of the blessings of a large family is that it doesn’t leave you the time and energy to get upset over a lot of the things that other people allow to make them unhappy.
Of course, Jean Calvin told us Cumbie was predestined to do this.
There are those who label “The Church” as an earthly organization (namely, The Catholic CHURCH) - an organization of multitudes of lavish buildings and costly possessions of silver, gold and marble statues). . when in reality, Christ’s Church is US, all true Christians who call upon the name of Christ to be saved. It appears to me that the hierarchy and most members of the Catholic Church consider itself as THE ONLY way to Christ. In scripture, Christ himself said that He was the ONLY way to the Father, so forgive me it I fail to be able to buy that a big old bulky organization of any kind is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and the idea of so many hypocritical priests presuming to go from fondling little altar boys to passing out the sacraments is to me - (and I am entitled to an opinion as is anyone) - sickening and a pollution.
In summary, if not in those precise words. I was brought up Presbyterian, and my mother sometimes suggests that I'm still a Calvinist at heart :-). One of the extremely numerous things that I don't let bother me ...
Fwiw, Southern Baptists get the schnitz from real-live Calvinists for being Arminian. (Or Armenian, if the Calvinists ain't all that edicated.)
They all look alike to me. ;OD
You have to get in the spirit of cultural anthropology!
You are surely not telling me that extreme pressure is and has not been put upon many a young man to fulfill his mama and papa’s dreams of becoming a priest, the height of prestige in the Catholic Church - which means that he HAS TO REMAIN CELIBATE. So, priests are DISALLOWED to marry and it has wreaked havoc on that organization and cost millions of hard earned dollars that ordinary, poor parishioners lovingly placed in the collection plates. I’m sorry, but it is disgusting.
Your post's casual relationship with truth? I agree: disgusting.
Using that reasoning, I was "disallowed" from becoming a Catholic homeschooling mother of eight-children-so-far ... and I'm actually an old maid with catz and Commissioner of Internal Revenue.
Does your denomination recognize free will?
But your stories are not the chapter and verse stories...There's no such thing in the New Testament as a consecrated, sacred church building...That's my point...Your sacred church building has nothing to do with the church of Jesus Christ...
No no no --- we're an organization of multitudes of hypocritical sinners. Remember?
"...and costly possessions of silver, gold and marble statues"
Depends on where you are. We worshipped in a remodeled high school gym. And we don't bow before statues now: we bow before felt banners... :o)
"It appears to me that the hierarchy and most members of the Catholic Church consider itself as THE ONLY way to Christ."
No Catholic can in good conscience believe that only signed-up, card-carrying Catholics will be saved, because that view is specifically forbidden by Catholic doctrine:
Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Go ahead and click. It's even grander when read in context.
"In scripture, Christ himself said that He was the ONLY way to the Father."
Amend to that.
1. There is absolutely nothing “unnatural” regarding celibacy. Please read Matt. 19:11-12, Matt. 19:29, 1 Cor. 7:27, 1 Cor. 7:32-33, 38, for starters. Consecrating oneself to the Church is the true model of Christ’s love for the vocation of marriage between husband and wife.
2. The problem is now proven to be worse in Protestant denominations. You want to see rampant sex scandals and cover-ups?? Go to http://stopbaptistpredators.org/index.htm. The rate of sexual scandal in these unstructured, unaccountable organizations is up to 2 and 3 times worse than that of the peak of the Catholic Church’s problem before they cracked down. On another note, nothing compares to the outrageous sexual misconduct occurring in our public schools.