Former Baptist Pastor Explains His Conversion to Catholicism | Catholic National Register
John Thompson is an energetic and good-humored Catholic, anxious to share his faith in Christ with others. He speaks with deep conviction and unshakable certainty, declaring that the Catholic Church is “the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church founded by Christ”, and invites others to examine the history and teachings of the Church. Church.
However, John did not always have this point of view. In 1990, then 41, he resigned his post as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Orange, Calif., A 125-member congregation located not far from Holy Family Cathedral, which was previously the Cathedral Church. of the Diocese of Orange (before the purchase of the Cathedral of Christ in Garden Grove).
Born in Long Beach and raised in Fullerton, John has since visited many parishes to share the story of his conversion. He spoke with this writer to discuss his conversion and shared his perspective on the Church and Protestantism.
What were your first attitudes towards Catholics?
Negative. I was brought up with an anti-Catholic bias. I didn’t know anything about Catholics, other than that they were secularized, profane idol worshipers who obviously did not know God; they did not talk about God in their personal life. I have maintained a lot of the vague prejudices that Protestants are brought up with, that Catholics are somehow less than Protestants, not really Christians, and that they don’t really live their faith. There is a lot of fear and mistrust of the Catholic Church based on ignorance.
When did you start to have doubts about your Baptist faith?
Around 1988. I started to study to find out why different Christian religions use different forms of worship. There is a great variety of forms of worship. I wanted to confirm in my mind that what I had been raised to be truly right.
I went back and watched the worship in the early church. I expected to find the Baptist Church with preaching and worship reflecting Baptist beliefs. Yet I have discovered that the earliest post-biblical documents available to us speak of the liturgy from the very beginning. You do not find the free worship of the Baptist or the evangelical tradition. We find the liturgy, cults and prayers fixed very early in the Church.
And, most importantly, you not only find the Liturgy of the Word, the Word of God proclaimed or preached, but you have the Liturgy of the Eucharist. You discover the double action of hearing the Word of God and responding to it by offering the Sacrifice by which you receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist. When I started to see this, I was touched. This is what I lacked in worship, the double action of hearing and receiving.
Looks like Thomas Howard [1935-2020] conversation story in Evangelical is not enough.
Really, when I read his book, I realized that was exactly what I was feeling. Howard explained many of the shortcomings of Evangelical Protestantism. I highly recommend his beautifully written book. It is devastating to evangelical Protestant belief in the view that the Protestant Reformation, as necessary as reform in the Catholic Church may have been in the days of Martin Luther, threw up the very heart of the Church.
Martin Luther is perhaps best known for his teaching that the individual believer is saved by faith alone.
Yes, but the Bible never says we are saved by faith alone! By faith, yes, but not by faith alone. It is totally biblical, however, to say that we are saved by faith. and works, as the Catholic Church teaches. Scripture says we are saved by faith working in love [Galatians 5:6].
As a Baptist minister, I was troubled when I came across passages such as the one where the Lord Jesus said that he who perseveres to the end will be saved. [Matthew 24:13]. And how many times has Paul compared his experience with running, and how he says he hasn’t finished yet, he hasn’t yet won the prize he’s striving for [1 Corinthians 9:24-27]. Paul also urges us to work for our salvation in fear and trembling. [Philippians 2:12].
There were a lot of other Scriptures that I, as an evangelical Protestant, I sort of reviewed. The whole of John Chapter 6, we kind of closed our eyes to it. What did Jesus mean by eating his flesh and drinking his blood? The Baptists sure don’t subscribe to that.
This topic brings us to the whole question of sola scriptura, the common Protestant belief that the Bible is the sole source of revelation from God, and that the individual believer has the ultimate authority to interpret this scripture.
As I struggled with my identity as a Baptist, I really came to see how sola scriptura opened the door to real problems in the life of the Church. Each person is free to read the scriptures, pray to the Holy Ghost, and then determine what the scriptures mean to them. Then, the believer is free to choose the Christian denomination that best suits his reading of the Bible, or to start his own denomination for that matter!
Yet something is wrong. When the scriptures were given to us by God, he must have had something in mind. If a certain passage means A, then it cannot mean B, even though the denomination XYZ says that is what it means.
There was real tension here for me as a Baptist pastor; how would I know what the scriptures really mean? Former Evangelical Minister Scott Hahn said that if Protestant ministers were truly honest in preparing and delivering their sermons, they would say from the pulpit, “This is the Word of God, I believe.
This is exactly how I felt. Scripture is not what most Baptists and Evangelicals think it is! The word of God is more fluid than ink dried on a page. The scriptures are living documents reflecting God working through people. This is where the Catholic Church teaches us that the word of God comes to us not up to date, but through the living tradition of the Church. When you reject the teaching authority of the Church like Protestants do, there is no way you can know with authority what the Word of God is.
This perspective, in turn, divides Christians and leads them in a variety of different directions.
The huge divisions within Christianity and the proliferation of thousands of different Christian denominations bothered me for a long, long time. Christ established his Church, a Church, one in love, one in doctrine, one in striving, one in the Spirit, and yet what happened, mainly triggered by Martin Luther, was a whole process of bursting. And when Martin Luther’s disciples disagreed with him about his interpretation of the Scripture, then they split up, and broke up, and broke up, and broke up.
What emerges then is not the cooperation, the unity and the love that Christ wanted, but a formidable competition between the denominations. This is one of the things that most troubled me about Evangelical Protestantism, the sometimes tacit competition between and among churches for members.
This must put enormous pressure on Protestant pastors to perform well.
Of course, like me in my little Baptist church. But take the case of a large growing church like the Church of Calvary of Santa Ana. What will happen to this church if its pastor retires, moves, or dies? Unless they find someone as dynamic as him in terms of speech, personality, and charisma, membership in this church is going to crumble. Thus, another downside of Protestantism is that individual churches rely too much on the personality and charisma of their pastors for their success.
Why do we see Protestant churches dividing rather than unifying?
For me, I had to go back to something like the Creed. There is the core of the faith that we Catholics profess. An evangelical would look at the Creed and say, “I agree with that. Although I am not sure of this line on the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; I should redefine these terms a little differently from the Catholic Church. But yes, I would stick to this Creed.
But is the Creed written? No, it’s a tradition. It is a tradition of the Catholic Church. Protestants stick to certain traditions, those they find useful and convenient for their own interpretation, but then they reject anything they cannot find in the scriptures. They think it’s anti-Scripture. Yes, the amazing thing for me was that the more I studied Catholic beliefs and practices, throughout thinking that these things were totally unbiblical, the more I realized that they were completely consistent with the Scriptures. Not all Catholic teachings are found in the Scriptures verbatim, but they are there in spirit.
And I in turn would ask my non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters: How can we give up things like the authority of the Church? How can we give up the orderly leadership of the Church, bishops, and priesthood? How can we abandon the sacraments? How to renounce the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? These teachings became real and compelling to me. The Catholic Church no longer looked like the fucking Babylon I thought I was. More and more, the Church has become the beautiful bride of Christ, beckoning and calling me, saying that hers is the truth.
Does God call all men and women to be Catholics?
Yes! Yes! I firmly believe it. Not all can hear this message and not all are able to receive this gift of faith, to see the truth in the Catholic Church. But certainly, if the Catholic Church is the Church which Christ founded on the Rock which is Peter and the Church which he endowed with his Spirit, if it is the same Church which traces its roots back to the Apostles , and yes, this is where all men and women belong.
I lived this reality with my head and my heart, and I thank God for my gift of faith and for showing me the path of his Church. It’s great to be at home.