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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Message sent to Dr. Al Mohler regarding his recent remarks about the Pope

 
HABEMUS PAPAM! We have a Pope! With fellow Catholics around the world, I have been riveted by all the events in Rome over the past several weeks, culminating in the election of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. What an exciting time to be Catholic!
 
I have been pleased to notice that this excitement has not been confined only to the Catholic faithful, but have found many non-Catholic Christians to be also interested and excited: The Orthodox Patriarch Batholomew I of Constantinople was actually on hand in Rome for the Papal Inaugeration, which has not occurred since the Great Schism of 1054. Even among Evangelical Protestants, who are usually most allergic to anything Catholic, several prominent leaders have been quite positive in the media about Pope Francis: Rick Warren, Gary Bauer, Luis Palau to name a few. There was even a nice article in Christianity Today.
 
But, of course, not all Evangelicals are overjoyed about the positive attention given to the new Roman Pontiff by those in their ranks. One notable voice among them is that of Dr. Al Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. A prominent Evangelical leader in his own right, he has been present in media outlets seeking to quell enthusiasm for the new Pontiff among the Evangelical faithful.
 
Take his 03-14-13 audio "Briefing" posted on his website (albertmohler.com), in which he repeatedly reminds listeners that the Pope holds an "unbiblical office." He is quoted elsewhere saying the same thing here, here, here, and here.
 
His words got me thinking, which often impels me to write - and so I ended up submitting a short message directly to Dr. Mohler through his website:
As a former Evangelical and Southern Baptist, and now Catholic convert, I am always interested in what my former compatriots have to say about my beloved Catholic Faith.
What I have read of your negative take on Pope Francis is surprising, given the many positive comments I have read from other Evangelicals and Southern Baptists. I think it is a time in our culture and world for faithful devout followers of Jesus to stand together in our love for Our Lord and in our stance on important moral issues, than to actively promote divisions, divisions which are already painfully there. 
You seem to feel the need to keep saying that the office of the Pope is "unbiblical." I won't pursue the argument that it is indeed biblical, as you know well enough that the Greek word for the bishop's office (ἐπίσκοπος, epískopos) is in the New Testament, and the "Pope" is the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, who of course is also in the Scriptures. A very solid scriptural basis for the papacy can be made. But I won't get into that, you've likely heard it before.
When you say something is "unbiblical," I know you are referring to the belief that everything in Christian belief and practice must be found in the Bible; I used to hold this belief myself. However, this is logically untenable since that very belief, that all Christian beliefs and practices must be found in the Bible, is itself not in the Bible. Sola Scriptura is "Unbiblical." That ironic and logical fallacy is part of what led me to end up becoming Catholic. This is after a very dedicated and fervent Evangelical life, and graduating from Liberty University, and moving to Louisville. (I've been to your Seminary before!) but I must follow where Truth and Our Lord leads me.
Another ironic fact about you saying that the Pope's office is unbiblical is that your own office, "President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary" is unbiblical, is not mentioned in Scripture. In fact, seminaries themselves are nowhere mentioned in Scripture, nor are doctorate degrees. Your Southern Baptist Convention has a President, an office which is equally "unbiblical." You see where all this leads.
In fact, you wouldn't have a Bible at all if you truly relied on Sola Scriptura, as there is no table of contents as part of the canon of Scripture, and most of the books themselves do not claim to be scripture. An outside authority, established by Jesus when he was on Earth, is needed. 
I will pray for you whenever I drive by Southern Seminary - you have a Catholic praying for you! - that you continue your fervent Christian service and following of truth, but that you tone down your public negative attacks on Pope Francis, and at least promote a common effort of all Christians to preserve this culture from its current moral degradation.
God Bless!
 
I don't look for Dr. Mohler to write me back, but it sure made me feel better to write to him about this!

Have a blessed Easter Triduum, and pray for our new Holy Father Pope Francis!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

VIII: Further Down the Road to Rome


My new foray out into the world took me initially to the far reaches of coastal New England. The new sense of freedom growing in me made America seem wide open to my relocating whims. I figured that I would first give the Northeast a try. In planning for the journey, I had gone to the library and jotted down some monastic guest houses that were close to where I would be travelling. There was always something in me that was very strongly drawn to those settings of prayer and quietude.

One night, I stayed at the Abbey of St. Benedict in Still River, Massachusetts. It was actually quite a short visit, but in looking back it was a pivotal experience. Some years later I would write a letter to the monks which detailed my visit there and the impact it later had on me. The letter appeared in an earlier post. When I arrived there, I still considered myself firmly Protestant. Nevermind that my reading material was written mostly by medieval Catholic saints, and that I liked visiting Catholic monasteries - I was still a Southern Baptist.

At the Abbey, after a friendly dinnertime debate with some of the monks about their Catholic beliefs, a fellow guest gave me a copy of “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic” by David Currie. She said that she would be praying that I would one day become Catholic. I thought to myself that she could pray all she wants, but I would never become Catholic. I tucked the book into my things and moved on the next morning.

I eventually settled in Louisville, Kentucky where some of my friends from college were living. Over the months that followed, I continued to try to find a Southern Baptist church to suit me, but I was unable to do so. I knew that I needed more than what I was getting in the typical Baptist service. Occasionally, in my private time of prayer, I would enter into moments of that certain deep contemplative peace, but I found that when I was in a Baptist church service I would be pulled into something much more superficial, with all the songs and preaching and giddy exuberance. I recall on one occasion, I managed to make it through the songs at the beginning of the service, trying with little success to get into the spirit of the singing, but when we sat down and the pastor got up to preach, I felt strongly compelled to get up and bolt out of the door - which is exactly what I did. I decided that I could not sit there like that any longer and endure another lengthy talk. Christian worship had to be more than that. But where would I go? I had experienced, in years past, the extremes of Pentecostalism and I knew that I did not want that. On the other hand, the more “reverent” liturgical Protestant churches seemed, in recent decades, to have softened into a sort of limp liberalism, so I avoided them as well.

I decided to look objectively at all the different types of Christian denominations, and I began to become quite discouraged with the fractured nature of Protestantism: So many competing groups, all claiming to be following the same Jesus and reading the same Bible. If the Bible was the sole authority, why did all these Christians disagree on so much regarding doctrine and practice? I read more on the histories of various denominations and the competing theologies and in the process my eyes were opened to the fundamental fallacy of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the Protestant belief that the Bible alone is the sole authority for Christian belief. As I later discovered, this issue was the turning point for so many who end up becoming Catholic: The teaching that all Christian teachings must be taught in the Bible is itself not taught in the Bible. When the paradoxical truth of that statement settled into my heart and mind, I realized that I could not remain Protestant any longer. Protestantism was illogical at its very foundation. The whole structure fell apart with an invalid authority system. However, although I could not remain Protestant, I also felt that I could not become Catholic either. I still thought that with doctrines like Transubstantiation, “worshipping” Mary, praying to the saints, the infallibility of the Pope, Purgatory, indulgences etc. Catholicism was a gravely misled religion.

I spent many months in this odd limbo of being between worlds and with the frustrated feeling that I was at an impasse. After wrestling with it from all angles, I decided to “just live” and not to drive myself crazy over it. At least I still believed in Jesus, even though He seemed so distant to me most of the time. He was real to me by faith and I would try to trust Him to sort all these things out for me in time.

Since I did not know which group to associate with, I actually stopped going to church services for a while. But I did not stop reading the Bible and trying to pray. Praying, at least with words, was like trying to swim upstream, but I tried not to worry too much about it. I eventually gave up trying to pray actual words at all and would just allot a certain portion of time each day to quietly kneel before Our Lord.

I began making weekly day-trips to the nearby Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky (where Thomas Merton had lived) for more intense quiet time with God. These peaceful retreats were the most nourishing times to me during this period, and it was the closest that I felt to a spiritual home. I would often attend Compline, or Night Prayer, in their chapel. Being there with the monks chanting the Psalms was a very peaceful and prayerful experience and it caused my spirit to truly soar. There was a strong sense that my seeking after God had specifically brought me there and it matched so well the longing of my spirit.

But they were Catholics and I was not Catholic. However, I ceased to try to make everything fit together and make sense in my mind. I could gain nourishment from these Catholic resources and places without actually being Catholic. Besides, I was not Protestant anymore. I was not sure exactly what I was - except a follower of Jesus Christ - but I was neither a Protestant nor a Catholic. It was a strange time.

Continued in Part 9 of my Conversion Story: At the Doorstep