Skip to comments.EWTN - The Journey Home - Sept. 2, 2013 - Dan Burke, convert from Judaism
Posted on 09/02/2013 4:16:25 PM PDT by NYer
|Mon. Sep. 2 at 8:00 PM ET
Tue. Sep. 3 at 1:00 AM ET
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Marcus welcomes Dan Burke, a convert from Judaism to discuss his journey to the Catholic faith.
DAN BURKE'S CONVERSION STORY
From Hatred to Hope: One Mans 20 Year Journey into the Catholic Faith
by Daniel Burke
My first exposure to Catholicism was through an abusive step-father. A few key memories include our home being destroyed end-to-end in a drunken rage, and forensic photographs of my mother after a brutal encounter. My most prominent memory is of gunfire in our home during a shouting match between him and my mother. I was only nine years old. Not the greatest introduction to the faith.
As a young boy, these and a seemingly endless string of dark trials led me to frequently consider suicide. However, a few of these experiences, particularly my mothers dabbling in the New Age movement, resulted in the idea that there was something more to life there must be. There was a spiritual reality behind the gray haze of my existence. In my late teens I began an energetic and deliberate search for God.
During my quest, I encountered a co-worker at a pizza restaurant who was unusually kind. Upon inquiry about his motivations, he revealed that he was a Christian. Christ had lifted him out of drug addiction into a life of grace and the transformation was obvious. Though I did not follow through on his invitations to Bible study and church, he illumined a path that I have wandered now for some twenty years.
Years later my first church experience came at Glenn Memorial Baptist Church in Covina California. I had been listening to the Bible Answer Man on the radio for some time and the host, Walter Martin, indicated that he was a Southern Baptist. So, one Sunday on my own, I slipped into the back row of the nearest Southern Baptist church I could find. My hope was to go unnoticed as I anonymously checked this Christian thing out. Well, the first five rows were soon packed, and I found myself all alone in the back with about twenty empty pews between us.
The pastor committed to a few hours every Thursday night to answer my questions and talk about life. Over the next year we spent most of our time studying Josh McDowells Evidence that Demands a Verdict. In the end, it became clear to me that the Bible was a reliable document and that Christ was who he claimed to be. I prayed the sinners prayer, made my public profession of faith, and was baptized.
The anti-Catholic bent of this church fit well within the grooves of the emotional scars of my youth. Loraine Boettners infamous work, Roman Catholicism was the text book of choice. I poured through his book, memorized Scripture, witnessed door to door, taught Bible studies, and became a deacon. Though I carried much of the pain and weight of sin into my faith, my encounter with Christ was real and life-changing.
Constant Scripture reading and study however, resulted in a nagging discomfort and doubt regarding the teachings of my denomination. I was fascinated by Church history and enamored by the idea of being able to see Gods hand at work in time. Even so, Church history, even slanted Reformation-side, served to fuel my unease.
Meanwhile, my pastor was obsessed with the idea of getting back to the purity of the early Church. This also drove me deeper into history, and deeper into struggle, not with Christ, but with the Protestant view of the Church. Before I continue I must say that I am deeply grateful for my Protestant heritage. It was a Protestant pastor who introduced me to Christ and the richness of His word. I have worked daily for almost fifteen years among evangelicals and I could not imagine working among better people. They have a passion for Christ and the family that has changed my life. To them, I owe far more than I can ever repay. That said, an early encounter with a Jehovahs Witness and a Catholic woman at work set the trajectory of my faith toward the Catholic Church.
The Jehovahs Witness was passing through my neighborhood and initiated a conversation. He introduced me to the idea that the Emperor Constantine had corrupted the Church and that political power had overcome the true Christian faith (Arianism). My instinct was to take him at face value; after all, I already knew that the Catholic Church was a corrupt institution. I decided to research his claims and assumed that some documentation of this event (the council of Nicaea) was available for scrutiny. To begin my studies I purchased, among other books, a copy of the Early Christian Fathers edited by Cyril C. Richardson. I still have that copy today.
The second trajectory setting encounter was with a Catholic co-worker whom I hassled regularly. In my mind she was not a Christian and thus a target for evangelism. Worse yet, she was a wolf among sheep (we worked together in a prominent evangelical ministry). After a year of patient replies to my constant prodding, she announced that she was leaving. At her going away party she asked five of her co-workers to sit on high bar-stool like chairs prominently placed at the front of the department meeting area. She then, one by one, recounted how each person had positively impacted her life, gently removed their shoes and socks, and then washed their feet. I was one of the five. It was clear to me that day who had a more substantive Christian life and relationship with Christ.
These events behind me, I continued to study Church History (Reformation and beyond), the early Church Fathers, their lives, and their writings. I was astonished at the depth of the faith of the Fathers as demonstrated by their steadfast suffering. Several ideas became prominent as I studied. First was the idea of proximity to the disciples of Christ the Apostles themselves. Many of their writings overlapped the timeframe of the New Testament authors. It was an easy extension of sound reasoning to assume that this proximity granted them a view into the meaning and context of Scripture that could not be replicated through a sola scriptura lens. I concluded that it just might be wiser to listen to their counsel than to those two thousand years later who had no real interest in the context out of which the New Testament was birthed.
The second powerful realization was that of the piety of these men. Like the Apostles, they lived and often died for their faith. The most prominent and bold radio preachers and pastors of my early Christian experience had never suffered a hairs breadth in comparison with these men. Whose witness and perspective was more credible?
As I continued to read, however, I began to notice nagging patterns, common beliefs that began to change my views of the early Church. The Church these noble Fathers described was nothing like the Protestant back to the early Church perspective I was surrounded by. At first I dismissed these ideas as an attempt to manipulate and control people within the context of persecution and dispersion. In one of the texts I have comments in the margins arguing with the authors and their obvious Papist Bias.
However, as my readings continued, I was confronted with life altering decisions. Did I truly believe that these men, because of their proximity and piety, should be taken seriously? If I did, what would happen to my faith and life as a Christian?
Regardless of the daunting prospect of bending to the teachings of these men, I decided to ask one simple question, What is the most obvious teaching that seems to be held in common by the Apostolic Fathers? I set to reading the texts again. What immediately surfaced for me was the idea of apostolic succession. Given the momentum of my study I could not get around this idea. The implications? My pastor did not have the authority that I had once assumed. This caused a huge dilemma for me because by this time I was solidly reformed theologically (a firmly TULIPd Calvinist). I believed that justification by faith alone was abundantly clear in the New Testament. Where could someone turn who believed in apostolic succession and justification by faith? The only answer was the Anglican Church.
At that point I began the shift into the shoes of a 39-Article-believing-Anglican (a rare thing in the U.S.). I began to search for an Episcopal church that I could attend. Still holding fast to the doctrinal Articles and apostolic succession, I persisted until I found the Orthodox Anglican Church. Because I already had aspirations to ministry, when I contacted them they prompted me to consider studying for the priesthood. I promptly enrolled at St. Andrews Theological College & Seminary in North Carolina.
As I began my affiliation and studies, I discovered the depth and richness of ancient traditions of prayer and liturgy I was permanently hooked. To this day I consider the earlier versions of the Book of Common Prayer to be unparalleled in beauty. It was obvious to me that the worship and beliefs of the traditionally rooted corner of the Anglican Church were far more closely aligned to the world of the Apostolic Fathers than I had ever experienced in other areas of Protestantism. However, the issue of the claims of Rome regarding Peter, the Papacy, and the magisterium continued to nag at me. I could not escape the clarity of the primacy of Peter in the New Testament, and the primacy of the see of Peter in the early Church. I was faced with more difficult choices than I had ever imagined.
A friend of mine who had preceded me to Rome confronted me with the most difficult choice I faced. When are you going to recognize that there are only two options? You either submit to the Church and the authority that Christ established, or you rule yourself on the basis of your own judgment which, he reminded me, was the fundamental choice that had spawned over 30,000 denominations since the Reformation. His question resonated with me and brought it all down to a very simple equation; I would either trust in my own limited judgment, or in 2000 years of consistent teaching of the Catholic Church.
Though extremely difficult on an emotional level, the intellectual decision was easy. I left seminary shortly thereafter. I was received into Christs One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in July of 2005. Aside from my first submission to Christ, it was and still is the best decision I have ever made in my life.
GREAT Article....however, I thought The National Catholic Register was almost against the Catholic Church.....am I confused with some other paper?
You’re thinking of the National Catholic Reporter.
The National Catholic Register is now owned by EWTN
(Dumb --- I feel like a thumb-sucker--- but it helps me remember the Register "is" the good one.)
If he was sincerely seeking a church which taught the Scriptural truth of salvation by grace through faith alone, he should have realized that it was not found in the Roman Catholic Church. I hope he realizes that there is NOT 2000 years of consistent teaching there, no matter what they say. I wonder how he feels about no longer having the assurance of his salvation, about not knowing he HAS everlasting life like Scripture tells us we can? A deep and spiritual relationship with Christ is available to all those who trust in Him. I hope the issue of the claims of Rome regarding Peter, the Papacy, and the magisterium continued to nag at him and he clings to the true faith he had before and never lets it go.
Hope you watched the program to hear his explanation.
James 2 specifically denies that salvation is by faith *alone*, so your "Scriptural truth" isn't found in the Scriptures, either.
Great Article. Isn’t it wonderful to see how God prompts us each, individually, to grow closer and closer to him! Stories like this, where people respond to God’s prompting in faith, are really great to hear.
Here’s something I always wondered about the “salvation through faith alone” crowd.
Say you’re right, that salvation is through faith alone and that we don’t have to do any works. We just have to have “faith”.
Then when a Catholic dies, and goes before God for his peculiar judgement, is God going to say to him, “You also did works in addition to believing in me! To Hell with you!”
Honestly, does that sound reasonable? Do you (or anyone) honestly believe that God is sending people to Hell because they dare do works out of their love for God?
Because that’s why Catholics do good works. The saving works we do, the ones that “count” are not done merely out of a desire to stay out of Hell. They are done because we love God and therefore want to do good things for Him. Just like any “good work” a normal human being would do for anyone they love. It’s not a “labor” or a heavy burden.
It’s something you just WANT to do, because you love that person.
So tell me, is God sending Catholics to Hell for doing good works because they love Him?
Because if not, the entire “debate” between “faith alone” and “faith and works” becomes pretty darn silly.
I think this is an excellent question to ask. Here's my answer.
God says repeatedly in Scripture that mankind cannot ever merit eternal life because his sin separates him from God. God cannot look upon sin and sin will not dwell with Him in Heaven. Sin MUST be dealt with. Do we agree so far?
So, what does God tell us needs to be done to "deal with" sin? Does he ever say good works, merits, good deeds, human righteousness or anything man is capable of doing is how He does this? The answer is a resounding NO. God clearly says that sin requires a DEATH. That only by the shedding of blood is there remission of sins. Blood, alone, makes "propitiation" for sin. Only by the blood is there atonement.
All the sacrifices described in the Old Testament that God initiated for the Jews had a two-fold purpose. One was that the people had faith that the blood sacrifice made upon the mercy seat of Holy of Holies in the temple once a year by the high priest was for a "covering" for their sins. And, second, that this sacrifice was in anticipation of the one final sacrifice of the Lamb of God. As Isaiah 53:6 said, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
That final and ultimate sacrifice was pointing to the Messiah - which is God with us. God the Son took on human flesh, lived a sinless life, died a cruel death and rose again so that the debt of every sin ever committed could be paid in full (that's what propitiation means and is what Jesus meant when he cried out, "It is finished.").
God offers this GIFT of grace whereby all of our sins have been taken away and He will not count them against us. We will be justified, made as righteous as God, sanctified and adopted into the family of God and even while still alive on earth, we are positionally ALREADY seated in the heavenlies WITH God because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account, to us. He offers this gift and He asks us to receive it by faith - trust that He is the Savior, Redeemer and Horn of salvation to all who place their trust in Him. The Old Testament saints looked forward in faith to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and we look back to when Jesus came as that Lamb of God. Both they and we are saved by faith - that's how it has always been with Almighty God.
That is why I KNOW that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone because of the grace of God alone to the glory of God alone! It's not a matter of us having to do any works since we are NOT earning or deserving of the gift of God - He offers it freely (that's what a gift is!). Where some people get tripped up is in thinking this free grace means God doesn't care about our sins and that we have a free "get out of hell" card for simply believing in Jesus Christ. This is never what Scripture says and anyone who preaches this is as accursed as the one who says we have to be "good" to go to heaven or our works earn us salvation.
All throughout Scripture as well as the writings of many of the first Christians we still have available explains that in IS through faith that we are saved. Jesus said it many times as simply that. So the real question is, what is faith? It is obviously more than just acknowledging that Jesus was real and he died on the cross nearly two thousand years ago. It is realizing that Jesus died for ME (YOU) and that by His sacrifice I (you) are made right with God. That by His shed blood He has purchased our salvation and that we are given by the pure grace of God something that we could NEVER have earned had we lived a thousand times - eternal life WITH God in heaven. The Holy Spirit works on the heart that is diligently seeking to know God and HE opens that heart to receive the gift of grace through faith. I ask you, how could anyone who really understood the magnitude of what God did for us EVER even want to go back to his former life filled with doubts, misery and sin?
There is an intrinsic change within a person who comes to saving faith in Christ - it is "new birth" where the old sin nature is rendered dead to sin (meaning it loses its power over us) and a new spirit nature takes up residence that is always pulling us to serve God in the good works which He has prepared for us in advance to do by HIS power and grace. The old nature with our mortal flesh will not be totally destroyed until we get to heaven and, if we are not steadfast, it can try to assert power again and is why we still struggle with sin in our lives. But we have an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, and we are never condemned by our sins. Sin will have consequences in this life, for sure, and our Heavenly Father deals with us as a good father does with discipline and chastizement, but we are not saved because of our righteousness so neither can we lose salvation because of our unrighteousness. That is how grace works.
I'm glad you asked these questions and I hope you don't mind my long answer. This is something that shouldn't be answered in trite sentences or quick quips. Whether or not someone is saved is based upon what they do with the gift of God. Salvation IS through faith alone and not our works - that is plainly stated - and if a person understands that and believes in Christ, receiving the gift of God, he IS saved. Someone who believes in Christ BUT also is trusting in his own works and merit to save him, isn't really trusting in Christ, since he doesn't believe that Christ paid for his sins. He is instead relying upon his own righteousness and not the righteousness of Christ - can you see the difference? I stand as NOBODY'S judge - only God sees the heart. You only need to read the Gospels to see how Jesus felt about "self-righteous" religious people - not good. He desires that we humble ourselves before Him and receive His gift of grace by faith - knowing that we did not earn or deserve it. THAT kind of faith WILL result in a life that seeks to please God because, like you said, it is out of love and gratitude for what He has done for us and because of the Holy Spirit within empowering us - NOT because we do them in fear of hell. That fear is cast away because perfect love casts it away.
Thank you again for your comments. God bless you as you seek to know Him better.
No, James 2 doesn't deny salvation is by faith alone. It's not even talking about salvation but what others see concerning your faith. A genuine faith WILL produce good works and others will see your faith BY your works. A faith that has no evidence of change for good by the new birth is a faith that is unfruitful and probably not genuine. We can only see the acts, the outside, but God looks at the heart. We are not saved by ANY of our works of righteousness but only by faith in Christ. It is by GRACE we are saved, after all. God specifically used that word "grace" because it means unmerited, undeserved, not by works, not earned. In other words, NO ONE can boast before God.