Skip to comments.Southern Baptist Pastor Leaves Everything for the Eucharist
Posted on 05/01/2008 5:07:35 PM PDT by annalex
I grew up in a strong Christian home. My parents were, and still are, two of the most devout Christians I have ever known. They instilled in me not only the importance of knowing about Christ, but knowing Him personally. When I was 10 years old, I pledged my life to Jesus and was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. My teen years were filled with opportunities for spiritual growth thanks to the encouragement and example of my parents and youth leaders. When I was seventeen I dedicated myself to full-time Christian service. At that time, I assumed my future ministry would be that of a pastor. Therefore, I felt I needed a four-year degree in Christian studies and graduate studies in ministry. My family was not in a position to send me to a four-year private school, much less an expensive one, but my trust was in God. If He wanted me to be there, I believed, He would provide the means for me to get there. In what I can only describe as a miracle, I was awarded a four year presidential scholarship and found a job as a resident assistant, which payed for all of my expenses.
In college, I experienced a profound conversion of sorts. Having the opportunity to study under some of the brightest minds in the Evangelical world, I discovered a deep love for learning, especially Scripture, History, and Theology. I became so enamored in fact that I quickly gained a reputation for being a know-it-all. Unfortunately, I had earned that reputation with a head full of pride and a heart lacking in charity when it came to dialogue. I should explain at this point that I was discovering that because of the charism of knowledge, study came very easy to me. Things just seemed to be absorbed as if my mind were a dry sponge. There is nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that I was not tempering my newfound knowledge with humility and personal piety. This flaw would prove to be a major factor in my conversion.
I was so wrapped up in ministry preparation, language studies, and reading that I wasn't even looking for a woman. That's probably a good thing, because while I was distracted, God was preparing my wife over in the ladies' dorms. We met the summer of my freshman year while we worked at a youth camp. It was as close to "love at first site" as I can imagine. We took things slow and filled our non-work time with long walks, talks and Bible studies. I knew very quickly that this was the woman God had chosen to be my wife. We would be married less than two years later and begin our lives together.
Life wasn't super easy for us as we were new to married life, new to bills, and new to pretty much everything else. However, God helped us through our first years with few, if any, major problems. We also learned the importance of health insurance after my face was broken during a pickup mud football game. One thing we had been convinced of as a couple was that God was to be in charge of blessing our lives with children. As such, we did not use contraception, choosing instead to practice the billings ovulation method. Oddly enough, we were not the only ones at our Baptist school who felt that way. As I neared my graduation, God blessed us with the news that we were expecting our first child. Now I would be a father as well as a husband. Apparently, there were more lessons for me to learn outside of the classroom. In spite of a tough course load, three part-time jobs, and school related ministry opportunities; I still managed to graduate on time with a BA in Christian Studies and minors in both Greek and History.
Seminary life was exciting. We were gaining the reputation of being a magnet for top scholarship and theological soundness, which was something many Baptist affiliated schools could not claim. Once again, my desire for knowledge had me taking difficult courses and loving every minute. My professors were challenging my heart as well as my mind, and I'm forever grateful. In fact, their example, along with that of my college professors, led me to pursue a future in theological education. I believed that it was in the classroom and lecture hall that I would be most useful to God as a minister. While I was gaining all this knowledge and continually fueled by a desire to become a great teacher, I was also letting my growth in holiness decline. Daily prayer and Bible study became to me opportunities for lesson planning and sermon writing. I was looking at the Bible for its academic properties and neglecting much of my spiritual encounter with God in the Scriptures. Busier than ever, with a new baby, a new job, and with school, I was beginning to substitute activity for piety. But I didn't notice my mistake.
What I did notice was that my denominational "constituents", for the most part, were historically and theologically myopic. I vowed to myself that a major portion of my ministry would be to take Baptists back to the practices and beliefs of the Baptist founders, which, I believed at the time, to be synonymous with the beliefs and practices of the early Christians. In order to prove this, and to prove the historicity and rightness of Baptist theology and polity, I decided to study the earliest Christian writing I could find in addition to the Bible, namely the Church Fathers.
I had first met the Fathers in college as translation work in advanced Greek classes. Translation of extrabiblical Greek texts honed our skills and eliminated our "crutch" of cheating on translations for which we had memorized the English scripture verses. I first met Saint Polycarp and was so intrigued by him that I wanted to read more. In seminary, I would read the writings of St. Polycarp, St. Clement, St. Ignatius, St. Irenaeus, and St. Justin Martyr. My studies of the Fathers would reveal to me a sacramental Faith, a tangible Faith, a structured Faith, a faith that I was having trouble reconciling to my present denominational affiliation. But my patristic studies would have to wait because shortly after the birth of our 2nd child, I had found a pastoral ministry opportunity to be an associate pastor of youth and education near my hometown.
Church ministry was great because it helped force me back into the devotional practices I had been only weakly observing. Aided by the forceful words of men like John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, and CS Lewis, I was challenged to adopt the principle of "incarnational" living. I wanted the truth to be so ingrained in me that it permeated every portion of my life. This proved to be my final undoing, but at the time, it was spurring me to make changes in my life. Still, I held some things back from God, including my role as a father. I was so busy studying and doing ministry work that I wasn't making time for the kids or my wife, so busy that I didn't even notice my neglect.
In my studies, I continued to read the pre-Nicene Fathers of the Church. The spiritual might I saw in these men showed me that I was lacking something in my life, but I couldn't place it. What I was realizing, however, was that their Church and mine looked totally different. They had an authority structure, bishops, priests, and deacons. They had a liturgy that was rich in beauty and meaning. They had sacraments, most especially the Eucharist. It was the Eucharist that intrigued me most. The more I read, the more I became convinced that Christ was not speaking figuratively in John 6 at Capernaum or in the Upper Room. I was convinced of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, something we as Baptists did not have, but that I wanted.
What I saw in my future was a life as a Catholic, but that couldn't happen yet. I still had way too much ministry to accomplish. I decided to shelve the "Catholic thing" so I could concentrate on finishing my work there. I figured that after five or six years I could step down quietly and pursue my Catholic studies then. I had no desire to cause a scandal. In fact, to make sure no "papist" teaching came out in my ministry; I made a point to provide my senior pastor with copies of all my lessons and sermons before I taught them. It was important enough for me to finish my ministry agenda before pursuing anything else. In fact, I told no one about my desire to know more about the Catholic Church. I studied on my own time, alone, to see if the ancient Church and the modern Catholic Church were one and the same.
My search was very lonely. There was no one I could talk to because if word got out that I was even considering the claims of the Church, I could easily have lost my job, putting my family in jeopardy. I wasn't willing to risk that, even though I was becoming more and more convinced of the Catholic Faith. After a while, I found myself going to Eucharistic Adoration at the Catholic Hospital during my hospital visitation rounds. I set up appointments to talk with priests "under cover of darkness" because I had questions. But I still had no one to share with. I was alone and, quite frankly, terrified of what the future might hold.
I stumbled upon the Coming Home Network almost by accident and was encouraged to find that there were other ministers like me who were asking questions. I found two friends with whom I felt comfortable sharing my struggles. One was a Baptist pastor, like myself. The other was a recent convert from an Evangelical Free background. They became my prayer partners and my sounding boards. When I finally got the nerve to call CHN, I was encouraged by Jim Anderson, who not only talked with me, but also provided books and study materials to aid me in my search. I thank God for the Coming Home Network. I didn't feel quite so alone anymore.
Things continued smoothly, just as I had planned, until we had to travel to California for a wedding. The wedding was beautiful and San Francisco was amazing, but something was not right with me. God was pressing His thumb upon my heart and I noticed it. The whole time we were there, I found myself in constant debate with Him over the state of my spiritual life. The night before we were scheduled to leave, God had His final say with me in what I can only describe as an emotional confrontation. He revealed to my heart, in no uncertain terms, that I was shipwrecking my life. He clearly showed me that my heart was not with my wife or with my children, but with myself and my activities. I was a shallow and selfish man who blamed his ministry for not having enough time to read to or play with his own kids or spend time conversing with his wife. I was living my dream as a teacher, but I was failing to practice the very truths I taught. I was living a lie and I had no excuses.
I wept all night before finally asking God, "What am I supposed to do now?"
"You're going to have to resign."
"But I don't want to resign."
"If you don't step down on your own, I'll remove you myself."
"What am I supposed to do for a living? How will I support my family?"
That was all I remember before crying myself to sleep. It was a deep cathartic cry because my hard heart was finally seeing the message God had been trying to get through my thick skull for almost eight years. He was trying to help me get my life together, not just my personal life and my family, but my eternal life and the eternal lives of my wife and kids. I had to obey. Yet as scared as I was, I had a calm peace that kept reminding me to trust God. I didn't say a word to anybody about this or my decision until I was in the car with my wife, driving from the Memphis airport to our home across the state. We were able to have a seven hour discussion of all God had been showing me. I asked for her forgiveness and for my kids forgiveness, and I made a commitment to earn their trust and win their hearts.
I still had to resign. There were no flashing signs or helpful books to guide me into the unknown. However, I did find strength from my friends at the Coming Home Network. I also found a job. God was reminding me again to trust Him. The resignation itself wasn't that hard, because I had the confidence that I was being obedient. I was determined to be the man God wanted me to be and not to occupy a leadership position until I demonstrated true leadership and not mere academic acumen.
To shorten this story a bit, after resigning and relocating for my new job, I was able to meet with a priest for instruction and formation as a Catholic. I knew that the answer to my spiritual hunger was the Eucharist. On Christmas Eve 2002, my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church. Since then, I have been growing, sometimes by small steps, but sometimes by great leaps. Most precious to me are the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. God has heaped His grace on me and I can see a change in my heart. He has brought balance into my life. He has saved my marriage. He has reconciled me to my children. He has also, a little at a time, allowed me to resume ministry, this time as a lay catechist and evangelist. I still have my struggles, as we all do, but now I have something I did not have before, hope. I have hope for the future and strength for today through the Eucharist. God continues to teach me to trust in Him and to depend on Him. Through the Sacraments, I continue to grow in my faith, hope, and charity.
Believe it or not, folks, that was the short version. God probably has reserved a crown for you in Heaven just for persevering through my tale. I'm happy to discuss my journey with you, and I'd love the opportunity to pray for you as you search. I'll leave this post with a closing comment.
People have asked me, "Was it worth it?"
Last edited on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 10:32 am by Polycarp
“The Orthodox have an issue with the entire magisterial system. Both Marian dogmas themselves are not a problem for the Orthodox Church. The notion that a belief that was not spoken about with a single voice by the Church of the first seven councils, could be clarified with such precision by the Latin Church, is unsettling to them.
I am pinging Kolokotronis who can clarify this better than I can.”
Orthodoxy rejects completely any notion that the Pope is infallible and there is no nuance to make the idea acceptable to us, but you both know that. You, Paridel, should know that our resolute rejection of papal infallibility, however defined or limited, says nothing about our understanding of the role of the pope of Rome as the primus among the Patriarchs and bishops of The Church during the first 1000 years of the Church’s existence.
The question we Orthodox have had about the Assumption is why it was ever dogmatized. Quite aside from the fact that we reject the idea that the pope can do such a thing sua sponte, the dogmatization was unnecessary as it combats no heresy and one is hard pressed to understand why it is that belief in the Assumption is a sine qua non of theosis. In fact, however, I have never met an Orthodox Christian who does not believe in the Assumption.
The Immaculate Conception is, to an extent, a different matter. Alex says that the consensus patrum accepts the IC. This is incorrect. That dogma of the Latin Church as a belief is necessitated by the Latin Augustinian notion of Original Sin which the Church in the East rejects. Without Original Sin, there is no need for the Immaculate Conception notion. Furthermore, as Orthodox theologians make clear, the idea that Panagia was born in some fashion different from the rest of humanity means that her Son was not the Son of a true woman but rather of something else, a goddess of sorts, which leads straight to a Christological heresy denying the two natures of Christ. If His mother was not human, then He could not be true God and true Man. Now no one can gainsay the Orthodox when it comes to Marian devotion so it stretches credulity to the breaking point to assert that refusal to believe in the IC results in damnation. It too suffers from the defect that it addresses no heresy.
This is not how the Catholic Church works.
It is true that the Immaculate Conception is necessitated by the doctrine of the original sin, and for that reason is more problematic to the Orthodox. I should have mentioned that.
The heresy both marian dogmas combat is modernism: darwinism and atheism especially.
“In Protestant thinking (I don’t know what the Anglican thinking is), salvation is what happens at the time a believer makes a decision for Christ.”
Not according to a Soveriegn Lord. Nobody’s right hand can save themselves (Job). Some ‘free will’ protestant do think that and their way of thinking tries to rob the Lord of His glory in “having mercy upon whom I will have mercy”
In 1 Peter, Peter describes life after the spiritual rebirth....
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith”
It is not the re-birth that takes a life time. That happens in an instant. It is the testing of that faith that lasts a lifetime. We reborn ELECT are not insulted from the ramifications of sin, Inherited or otherwise. However, perseverance of the saints is always in effect. “Nothing can pluck My sheep from My hand”. AND that salvation, once sealed is forever....
1 Peter 1:23 states, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”
Romans 10:17 states, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Thw WORD of Christ. Not Catechism. Not tradition. Not some druid-looking priest that slips a wafer into your mouth. The WORD, through the Power of Christ, according to Him. Period.
Right.....never mind history then.
“The heresy both marian dogmas combat is modernism: darwinism and atheism especially.”
As to darwinism, how so? As to atheism, well that’s sort of a catch all, isn’t it, Alex? Couldn’t any dogma or even theologoumennon be said to combat atheism?
I don’t understand the point you are trying to make, especially as you seem to connect some scripture quotes to your apparent dislike of the Catholic Church.
Reason, academic achievement, intelligence and good intentions have nothing whatsoever to do with things of God or faith unless submitted to the spotlight of revealed Scriptural truth.
The man was using his reason and academic achievement precisely to do that, to get to the scriptural truth. The article describes his discoveries.
You also seem to concentrate on his qualifications for Baptist ministry. I don't see that as relevant: we are not discussing his leaving the ministry, we are discussing his leaving the Baptist faith community altogether.
None of these heresies were combatted directly by the recently proclaimed dogmas. Still, Immaculate Conception counters the darwinist insistence of strictly natural origin of life, and Assumption of Mary sets forth a tangible promise of resurrection in the body: where she has gone, we shall follow.
The conditions of his personal life were concurrent with his “ministry.” His first duty was/is to his primary relationships - his marriage. At this point, he should have left his duties as a minister and returned to his basic responsibilities.
Reason and academic standing mean nothing to God. Truth is NOT apprehended through these means anymore than Washington leads us into better government through increased use of experts. Truth can only be attained through the Holy Spirit in the life of a yielded servant. Academics may aid this, but the key is submission.
“Assumption of Mary sets forth a tangible promise of resurrection in the body: where she has gone, we shall follow.”
Where does that idea come from? I should think the traditional theologoumennon of The Church would be sufficient. Is it astonishing to the West, or otherwise insufficient, that the Theotokos would be bodily assumed into heaven? Why does it have to mean more than it plainly does?
“Still, Immaculate Conception counters the darwinist insistence of strictly natural origin of life....”
How does a dogmatic insistence on Panagia being free from Original Sin (which of course presupposes that Original Sin is real) counter secular notions of a strictly “natural” as opposed to divine origin of life? I will agree that such a notion is likely heretical.
What makes you think the Holy Spirit did not lead him to the Catholic Church as soon as he yielded to Him?
I didn’t say that. In fact, I referred to Catholocism as another Christian fellowship. What I point out is that his issues are far more basic than some problem with SB doctrine. Oddly, you continually gravitate to that as though you believe Catholocism is the path of truth - not submission to revealed truth in Scripture...
OK, I see your point. I read these passages not as indication of any actual sin but as a desire for fuller sanctification, — part of the same process of “yielding to the Holy Spirit” as you put it, that lead Him to the Eucharistic Christ. What we have here is hearing the call to repentance, the precursor to conversion.
There is no "not" here: Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life subsists in the Catholic Church. Read the scripture, and that will make you Catholic. Or Orthodox. In fact, both.
It should be, like with any dogma, but the fact is, people dispute the Assumption.
Immaculate conception shows that God as the sovereign author of life created at least one woman perfect as He designed all human life.
I agree that none of this enters a point-by-point polemic with the heretics, but the desire was to introduce a beakion of hope in two especially bleak moments of recent history, the aftermath of the revolutions of 1940's and the Second World War.