Evangelical Convert

Adam Crawford

A lifelong Protestant, Adam came home to the Catholic Church when he was 39 years old. He currently lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California with his wife of 20 years Missy, and their three boys. Adam also blogs at his site, A Faith-Full Life.

Your Starting Point Doesn’t Always Determine Your Conclusion…

Part One - Context

A pastor friend who had heard of my conversion to Catholicism cautioned me that, “Your starting point always determines your conclusion.” Often this is a maxim that I would wholeheartedly agree with. I too have recognized that frequently a faulty conclusion is indeed the result of an erroneous starting point. This certainly seems to be a maxim that can be applied to many endeavors involving human reason and logic – endeavors such as science, mathematics, philosophy, and theology. And yet, while this maxim seems to generally hold true, there are exceptions to the rule. In science for instance, one starts with a hypothesis (starting point) which often must be abandoned during the course of research, since your research may lead you to a very different conclusion indeed. In theology and religion, these exceptions to the rule are most often referred to as conversions – i.e. people whose starting point (like Saul of Tarsus) very much does not determine their conclusion!

Having said that, I wanted to start by providing a bit of context for my conversion story. I was extremely fortunate to be raised in a Christian home by parents who did an excellent job of acquainting me with the Holy Scriptures. Our Christian faith was a very central part of our life and identity as a family. Within our faith, I was exposed to both ends of the spectrum so to speak, both to legalistic and fundamentalist churches that were very dogmatic and certain about everything, and also to more “regular” denominations that were very certain about some things (the necessity of speaking in tongues) but not so certain about others (predestination vs. free will). Over the years, we attended various denominational and non-denominational churches, but they were all characterized by the idea that the bible alone was our only basis for truth, faith, morals, and authority. Many of these churches also tended to interpret Scripture in very literal terms.

Nevertheless, I frequently found myself at odds with the accepted theological beliefs of our Christian friends, many of whom could probably be best described as Evangelical Fundamentalists. As a result, I frequently felt that my own views bordered on the “unorthodox”, leading me to feel that I struggled with issues of faith more than most. In particular, starting when I was about seventeen, I really began to struggle with the idea of the Bible alone. I couldn’t seem to get a good answer as to where this idea had come from or more importantly where the Bible asserted this doctrine. I found myself at odds with the doctrine of sola Scriptura for primarily logical reasons. If it is, “the Bible and the Bible alone” then where does the Bible make this claim? If anything when I studied the Bible I found that it seemed to argue against this idea as it was full of times when God spoke both through direct revelation, and also times when He spoke through others (prophets, priests, judges, kings, etc.) to His people. In Scripture I saw that God revealed Himself through His creation, through His incarnate Son who dwelt among us, through the disciples who, “handed on … what [they] had in turn received:1” (oral tradition), through His Church, etc. Obviously this revelation was inscripturated and preserved for those of us who came later, and Scripture is indeed God’s revelation to us, but this was never the primary means by which God choose to reveal Himself. In other words, He didn’t, with the notable exception of the Ten Commandments, choose to simply drop a written users manual from heaven in order to communicate with us – and even that didn’t end up working so well!

I also encountered many of the problems that come along with a very literalistic interpretation of Scripture. For example, most of the churches we attended failed to take into account the fact that the Bible is ancient Near Eastern literature and comprises a wide variety of literary types. Many pastors also forgot that the author may have intended a meaning that has nothing to do with our modern context. Additionally, I struggled with the ideas of faith alone, faith as somehow opposed to science, and especially the lack of agreement over countless different doctrines. Everyone seemed to understand Scripture in a different way, and it profoundly disturbed me that there seemed to be no way to know with any certainty what the bible meant about anything. The only “solution” proposed for this problem was to learn to accept it. To me this was no solution, and left only a gnawing frustration. The Bible was asserted to be our only guide for all matters of faith and morals, and yet no one agreed on what it meant, and no one else seemed to find this particularly problematic. I wouldn’t have categorized any of these issues as being fundamentally Protestant versus Catholic at that point, as I honestly had very little notion of what Catholics believed. I have since discovered that almost all of what I thought I knew of Catholicism was either flat out wrong, or very misleading.

I should clarify that I bear no ill will towards any of those churches or their people; on the contrary, many of my closest friends, people who are unquestionably fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, are still Protestant. Having said that, I always felt that I stood very much at the fringe in these communities with questions that no one had good answers for. Since I didn’t have any frame of reference at that point to categorize any of these issues as Protestant vs. Catholic, I wound up thinking that these were issues that I had with Christianity in general - issues that most other Christians didn’t share. I felt that my faith was lacking and my views were “unorthodox” Christian views without realizing that they were probably more accurately unorthodox Protestant views. As it turns out, many of my views are entirely orthodox from a Catholic perspective!

When I was nineteen I went to bible college for a year at Western Baptist College in Salem (now Corbin College) with my fiancé, where I majored in youth ministry. The next year we were married, and I quit bible school to work to pay off the bills we had accrued after one year of private Christian college – around $40k for the both of us – and that was 20 years ago! I continued to pursue my theological study on my own, going through countless Protestant theology books and slowly trying to piece together my “own” beliefs out of all the competing theories. I did a lot of study through my early adulthood and was very confident when it came to the claims of Christ, but on countless other issues I kept ending up with different conclusions than everyone else when it came to our faith. I would sit very quietly any time creationism came up for instance because I had views which, from a fundamentalist mindset, would potentially call into question my very salvation. I also found that I had a much greater respect for communion than many of the Christians I worshipped with; for them communion was merely symbolic, and often times entirely optional or only partaken of very erratically. The more I studied Scripture, especially the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, the more I was convinced that there was something more going on - something that wasn’t merely symbolic.

And, increasingly I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the implications of Scripture as the only measuring stick that we used. Scripture was used to justify everything in peoples lives from their unwise life decisions regarding jobs and finances, to their multiple divorces and remarriages, or even their homosexuality. I’m not saying that we don’t all make mistakes and bad choices, I was just bothered when God and the Bible got blamed for all of them. I also noticed that even when Scripture was interpreted by those who were honestly trying to follow God and to submit to Scripture’s authority in their lives, they invariably arrived at very different conclusions from one another. In other words far from Scripture being the “final authority” it really just opened the floodgates for division and a lack of certainty within the church.

This division within the church – especially when it came to our inability to even agree on what constituted salvation, has always bothered me tremendously. Gradually, I gravitated more and more towards “Bible churches” like Calvary Chapel, and non-denominational churches that refused to take a stand on anything that could be considered remotely divisive, but fundamentally sought to bring people into a personal relationship with Christ. This could be both good (less divisiveness), and bad (a lessened ability to proclaim truth). They basically taught a “relationship with Christ” as the penultimate truth – the only truth which really mattered (No Creed but Christ). Many of the “Bible churches” and non-denominational churches could probably be best summed up by the statement, “Just me, my bible, and Jesus.”

This resulted in churches that were very uncertain about almost everything doctrinally. Churches where no one could say for sure that this is what the Scriptures mean when they said ___________. Churches that tended to start with the assumption that as mere men it was presumptuous for us to think that we as finite beings could be “certain” about the Infinite. And, there is an element of truth to this. God is Infinite and Uncreated, Triune in nature, too Numinous, too Holy, and beyond our comprehension. But ultimately this overall lack of certainty on much of the Protestant side results in the statement, “We can’t really know for sure” or perhaps, “We can’t agree with any degree of certainty on what ought to be sure.” And I was told that we had to be okay with that, because that is the way things are. In fact, those who were most certain about any given doctrine were looked down on as being arrogant and legalists – which often times they were!

Through the years that followed, it seems as if I was always involved in ministry of one kind or another, and as I said, I really enjoyed studying theology and especially teaching others. We moved to Boise, Idaho when I was around thirty, and got involved with a small non-denominational church in Kuna, Idaho called New Beginnings. Our time at New Beginnings was wonderful! Where previously my learning and growth had always been largely up to my own studies and discipline (or lack thereof) I now found myself in a community of believers where I was actually being taught and challenged by others. Many of those in leadership were involved in some manner with Boise Bible College, and one of the founding pastors was a professor there. During our time there, I had the opportunity to take un-accredited classes through Boise Bible college for around two and a half years and I was asked to move into a ministerial role serving as one of the pastors at the church. Feeling led by God to move towards ministry as a full time vocation, I even applied and was accepted into a Masters of Divinity Program through Fuller Seminary. Due to my previous individual studies and my ministerial experience they were willing to make a special provision for me in spite of the fact that I hadn’t completed an undergraduate degree. I was definitely moving along in a certain direction, and for me that direction did not include the Catholic Church!

Part Two - Catholicism and the Reformation

Before moving on I should note that I’ve always been fairly anti-Catholic. Growing up I was raised in a context that was dubious about whether or not Catholics were even saved, and I was even exposed to the occasional fundamentalist who was convinced that the Catholic Church was the beast of Revelation and the Pope was the anti-Christ! If you had suggested to me a few years ago that I would ever be considering a conversion to Catholicism I would have literally laughed in your face. I had not the faintest inkling that the Catholic Church was even a remote consideration. I would have thought it about as likely that I would convert to Islam or Judaism. If asked, I would have probably allowed that there were “real” Christians in the Catholic Church, but probably more at a uninformed lay level, i.e. the people of “simple faith in Christ” who were being led astray by those higher-ups within the Catholic hierarchy.

There was, however, a gradual softening in my attitudes to towards Catholicism over the years. Even as early as junior high I had talked with a gymnastics coach of mine who was a strong Catholic and asked him about prayers offered to Mary and the saints. I was surprised, even at twelve, to find a very reasonable answer given and one I couldn’t easily refute. From that point on prayer to the saints wasn’t something which I personally practiced, but I had begun to understand it and no longer viewed it as “wrong.” Additionally, I had believers in my life who began to expose me to the writings of people like Henri Nouwen, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton, and others. I began to realize that some of the authors whom I most admired and who had influenced me the most were either Catholics themselves, or very Catholic in their theology like C.S. Lewis who was a member of the Anglican Church.

As I began to read these Catholic authors, theologians, and philosophers, I discovered that not only were they “Christian” (to my great surprise!) but in many cases profoundly so. They were, in fact, some of the most deeply committed Christians, insightful theologians, and brilliant philosophers I had yet been exposed to. This didn’t change my mind on Catholicism, but it definitely began to soften my previously superior attitude. This exposure in fact softened my anti-Catholic views to the point where I began to suspect the reverse of my earlier position. Namely, that at the “higher levels” of Catholicism there were perhaps some of the very best Christian theologians, apologists, and philosophers. I continued to feel however, that large portions of the Catholic laity didn’t necessarily share this deeper understanding of Christianity. This is sadly probably the case with not just the Catholic Church, but most of church-going Christians in general. As I continued to study Catholicism with a progressively more open attitude I was very surprised to find that much of what I thought I knew about Catholic belief was either flat out wrong, didn’t do justice to the nuances of the position, or was based on “straw-man” arguments. I also discovered that many of the authors I had been reading were converts to the faith. Men like G.K. Chesterton, Peter Kreeft, and Cardinal John Henry Newman who once famously said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” While I am not sure that this is a maxim that would apply to everyone, it was certainly true in my case.

I decided to teach a Church history class at the church I was pastoring at. I wanted to teach it at a collegiate level, and to try and cover a period of time from Christ thru the present in about sixteen weeks of one hour classes plus homework for the students. I wanted to tie each portion of Church history to a particular Christian of that period who had really made a difference in the life of the church. My goal was to give attendees some familiarity with the heroes of the faith since the time of Christ – to provide positive role models who would hopefully inspire our congregation to live lives of heroic virtue themselves. I didn’t think of these “heroes” as saints, nor did I realize that this idea, this communion of saints, was a deeply Catholic one. It was an ambitious undertaking, especially for me as I had never really studied Church history in any sort of intensive way. All of my studies of Church history up to that point had either been broad overviews, or very thorough studies of particular aspects of Church history such as the Reformation, or the early American Revivals. Like most Protestants, for me Church history began in Acts and then in some vague and indefinite way “veered off course” around the time of Constantine. Then there were even vaguer interludes of crusades and inquisitions, with Church history thankfully resuming some 1500 years after Christ with the Protestant Reformation. I had, of course, been acquainted with snippets of Augustine and Aquinas, but had never really understood them to be Catholic. I spent countless hours preparing to teach my class and reading multiple Protestant books on the history of the church. As I studied, for the first time it came home to me that, for the first 1,500 years of Christianity – for fully three quarters of all Christian history – to be Christian was to be Catholic.

All the early church fathers, saints, theologians, etc. were Catholic. There was no other expression of the church until the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. I know that it’s kind of dumb, but this floored me. I had never taken the time to consider it from an intellectual perspective before. From the time of Christ until some 400 years ago there was no question as to whether Catholic theology, teaching, and practice were an authentic expression of Christianity – they were the only expression of Christianity which existed. I shouldn’t say no question, because there have always been heretics and dissenters to the true faith, but heresies aside, the Church was one, holy, apostolic and Catholic until very recently in her history. I will readily admit that reform was needed within the Catholic Church during the time of the Protestant Reformation; but in reality the Church is always and in every age in need of reform because she is composed of sinners such as myself. It is a historical fact, however, that Luther didn’t intend to leave the Catholic church but to reform it. Furthermore, his excommunication from the Catholic Church was for his heresy - not his efforts at reformation. Consider the following quote from Luther himself:

That the Roman Church is more honored by God than all others is not to be doubted. St, Peter and St. Paul, forty-six Popes, some hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have laid down their lives in its communion, having overcome Hell and the world; so that the eyes of God rest on the Roman church with special favor. Though nowadays everything is in a wretched state, it is no ground for separating from the Church. On the contrary, the worse things are going, the more should we hold close to her, for it is not by separating from the Church that we can make her better. We must not separate from God on account of any work of the devil, nor cease to have fellowship with the children of God who are still abiding in the pale of Rome on account of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, no amount of evil, which should be permitted to dissolve the bond of charity or break the bond of unity of the body. For love can do all things, and nothing is difficult to those who are united.2

And this is precisely where I began to have my own problems, because when I began to take a hard look at the five solae of the Protestant Reformation - the reasons which the Protestants gave for leaving the Catholic Church - I found that I disagreed with most of them.

I’ve already covered some of my objections to sola Scriptura, but as a side note, it seems telling that even the fathers of the Reformation who believed in a doctrine of Scripture alone still felt it necessary to write extensively on how to properly interpret Scripture so as to arrive at the same conclusions that they did. For instance, have you ever tried to get through all of Calvin’s institutes?! It was around this time that I came across an interesting quote from the Orthodox Church in America.

“…the Orthodox Church does not accept the notion that everyone can properly interpret the Bible as he or she wants. Some Protestant bodies believe in this, but Orthodoxy does not. We say that the Church has the ability to properly interpret Scripture, and this means that we should study and adopt the interpretations that have been handed down over the 2000 years of the Church’s living history. Given the fact that that which is contained in Scripture is the inspired word of God, revealed to mankind and not to a single individual, no individual has the right or ability to offer ‘the’ definitive interpretation of Scripture.3

I also took issue with Luther’s teachings on sola fide – by faith alone. Justification by faith alone without the necessity of good works seems to contradict the vast majority of Scriptural teaching on the subject. This contradiction between Luther’s theology and Scriptural teaching was emphasized by Luther’s addition of the word “alone” to St. Paul’s declaration in Romans 3:28 that it is by faith that we are justified, and his desire to entirely remove the book of James (which he labeled an Epistle of straw) due to it’s assertion that faith without works is dead. This seemed to be a very inconsistent position for someone who had just affirmed the sufficiency and authority of Scripture alone for all matters of faith and morals!

My problems continued with the doctrine of sola gratia or “grace alone.” Contrary to Catholic teaching that man can cooperate with the graces given him by God, and that works done in Christ can have value; Luther taught that man cannot by any action of his own, even acting under the influence of grace, cooperate with God’s grace in order to “merit” greater graces for himself or others. In Luther’s view, even as Christians our works have no value and are, “as filthy rags.” Since even the good works done in Christ have no value we must rely on God’s grace alone. But this creates serious problems when you consider the inverse of this doctrine; namely that our lack of good works and our sin will also not in any way adversely affect our relationship with God or our salvation.

Consider the following quote from Martin Luther, “If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.4This however stands in stark contrast to St. Paul who writes, “Should we go on sinning that grace may abound? May it never be!5 and, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No sexually immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.6 I also have lesser issues with the two remaining solae which I won’t waste time on here.

I’ve spoken to many Protestant friends who have agreed with me on various aspects of my objections to the five solae, but then say that those aren’t the reasons why they reject Catholicism. They have their own reasons! Maybe they reject Catholicism because of its teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist – but Luther and Calvin still believed in this after their split from the Catholic Church. In fact this doctrine was the reason for the first of the divisions which have plagued the Protestant movement for the last 500 years, this one occurring between Luther and Zwingli. Or perhaps they have issues with Catholicism due to the veneration of Mary and the saints, but Luther himself continued to highly venerate Mary saying among other things,“[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. ..She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough.7 John Calvin said, “It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor.” and Zwingli said, “I esteem immensely the Mother of God” and “The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow.”

Often my Protestant friends don’t realize how many “Catholic” beliefs and practices were held by the fathers of the Reformation. Not because they were Catholic beliefs, but rather because they were the historic, orthodox, and Scriptural positions of Christians from the time of Christ forward! For instance, they often don’t realize that the fathers of the Reformation believed in the necessity of baptism for salvation, that they practiced infant baptism, and that they taught that there was no salvation outside of the Church. Granted, they took that doctrine to mean their church rather than the Catholic Church as we see in Calvin’s remarks, “Herman has, if I am not mistaken, in good faith returned to the fellowship of the Church. He has confessed that outside the Church there is no salvation, and that the true Church is with us. Therefore, it was defection when he belonged to a sect separated from it.8 Nevertheless, this was the historic Christian position – not just of the Catholic Church but also of the fathers of the Reformation.

The bottom line was the more I looked at it, the more it seemed as if, The objections to Catholicism that the Reformers initially held weren’t objections that I shared, and the objections that my friends held weren’t objections that the early Reformers shared!

This led me to begin to study what the early Church actually believed when it came to Sacred Tradition, confession, the Eucharist, the communion of the saints, and other “Catholic” positions. To my shock I found that virtually all Catholic doctrine found its roots in the teachings of the early Church – and almost all of it is attested to within the first two hundred years after Christ! There has obviously been an ongoing process of defining doctrine along with the refinement and development of that doctrine, but I was shocked at just how many “Catholic” doctrines were actually early Church doctrines. {As a side note, I highly recommend Jimmy Akin’s book The Fathers Know Best which arranges more than 900 quotes from the early Church Fathers by topic.} This destroyed my previous assumption that somehow around the time of Constantine or shortly thereafter, the church was led into error, probably largely due to Roman influence, and that human reason and meaningless church tradition gradually replaced the true authority of the Scriptures. Instead, I was forced to ask the question, “If the early Church was wrong – was she wrong from the very start? If not, why have we dispensed with so much of what the early Church believed, practiced, and taught based on the say so of Martin Luther and other Protestant Reformers?” This is still following the tradition of men – just men of much more recent descent.

And that is fundamentally my problem. There are logical inconsistencies with the argument on the Protestant side that I just can’t seem to resolve. You have men arguing against the authority of the Catholic Church and for the authority of Scripture alone, but ultimately all they are saying is that they have the right to authoritative interpretation and the Church doesn’t. This requires us to believe that God didn’t work through His Church to teach right doctrine and properly interpret Scripture, but instead we must believe that God has worked through Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other “Reformers” to teach right doctrine and properly interpret scripture. Protestants assert that the Reformation was divinely ordered and necessitated a split from the Church which Christ founded, but most of them don’t even agree with the theology or doctrines of the original Reformers. And, in the end, I just couldn’t seem to find a logically consistent argument for the split from the historic Catholic Church.

Part Three - Conversion

Even though I was raised being told that we couldn’t be certain about a great many things, I was also raised to believe that truth was absolute. If that seems like somewhat of a contradiction - well, it seemed that way to me as well. The absolute nature of truth comes from the premise that truth conforms to a fundamental reality of which God is the foundation. If truth conforms to reality at a fundamental level, then by definition it is both certain and absolute. That means that truth isn’t relative in spite of the morally (and now religiously) relative society that we live in, because truth by its very nature excludes. Not in a negative sense, but in the sense that two diametrically opposed things can’t both be true at the same time. Sometimes, people will object asking whether mere men can even apprehend the truth. While it should be admitted that just because absolute truth exists, this doesn’t mean that it can be apprehended with certainty. But, I would point out that this is the same slippery slope which leads to agnosticism. The agnostic position is primarily the acknowledgement that God may exist, but that we can’t know for sure – i.e. that we can’t have certainty. For me, introducing divine revelation into the equation really helps to answer the question of whether we can know and apprehend truth.

This lack of certainty has always bothered me intellectually, but it began to bother me in increasingly more pragmatic ways as well. As a young man, my father had the unfortunate job of trying to answer all my questions about sexuality. Incidentally he did a very admirable job – he would schedule entire weekend get-aways with each of his kids out in a cabin in the woods just in order to “have the talk.” Certain things were very clear – no sex outside of marriage. Other things were much less clear. Is masturbation right or wrong? My dad explained that he was raised having been taught that masturbation was a sin. However, James Dobson, an Evangelical Christian psychologist said that masturbation was natural and not a sin. Who was right? He wasn’t sure, and so he couldn’t present me with a certain answer. These same issues plagued me many years later when I became a father and began to have “the talk” with my boys. I found myself struggling with the same questions that my father had, namely, “What do I tell them?” Lengthy conversations with bible college professors and friends who were pastors, led in turn to lengthy conversations with my sons which amounted to reservations, warnings, cautions, and a whole lot of “I don’t know”. Probably better if you try not to; but it’s only natural. I don’t want you to feel guilty, but you really have to watch out for lust. On the other hand, I’d rather have you manage your lust in that way than actually have sex outside of marriage…

This lack of certainty began to bother me even more profoundly when I became a pastor. To have others ask me questions and to only be able to give them multiple options to choose from while pointing out the pros and cons of each position was incredibly frustrating. To have to say, “We can’t really know for sure…” and to find it as deeply unsatisfying as they did even as I tried to convince them that, “that’s just the way things are” was for me completely unacceptable. It felt wrong. It felt untrue. I was not sure that I was willing to accept the premise that we can’t be certain. That it was somehow “wrong” or simplistic and naive to desire certainty.

To me this issue of truth and certainty seems to be a fundamental difference between the Protestant and the Catholic. Within my Protestant upbringing there was no “certainty” on what constitutes and is necessary for salvation. Whether salvation can be lost. Whether baptism is necessary. Whether baptism and communion are Sacramental. Whether or not Sacraments exist at all. Whether works are necessary in addition to faith, and the list goes on and on. And I found it unacceptable to be unable to answer our congregation with any degree of certainty on not just these basic issues of faith, but also questions of morality as well. Is masturbation wrong? Is birth control wrong? Is divorce and remarriage okay? What about homosexuality? For me, the answer cannot be, “I don’t know” or, “well, let me tell you what I think…” This is unacceptable to me as both a father and as one who was shepherding God’s people.

So, do I believe that we can know everything with certainty? Not remotely. Do I believe that we should be able to articulate what is necessary for salvation and to live a life which is pleasing to God? I do. Do I believe that we should be able to declare with all Christians everywhere the historic Creeds of Christendom, confident that they are true and certain summaries of our faith? I do.

We had moved to Northern California and I had taken a new job – largely so that I could begin to work on my Mdiv at Fuller’s Sacramento campus, and all of a sudden I found myself at the proverbial crossroads of life. I had taken a step of faith and moved with my family so that I could get my degree and pursue full-time vocational ministry, and now I was seriously considering not only the claims of the Catholic Church, but also what claims that Church may have on my life. I found myself reflecting on a passage from Saint Mark’s Gospel where Christ commands the disciples to go before Him by boat to Bethsaida. They obey but are forced to fight the wind and the waves all night long before Christ comes to them around 3am walking on the water. He comforts them, calms the wind and the waves, and they proceed together to the other side of the lake where they come to land at Gennesarat9. Did you catch that? He tells them to go to a certain place, allows them to struggle all night to try and get to where He directed them to go, and then comes to them and brings them somewhere else entirely. No comment is made, no explanation is given.

Looking back, I feel very certain that I was following the leading of Christ when I applied to seminary and moved my family to California. He just hadn’t told me yet where He was truly leading me and why.

Coming to the point of actual conversion (for lack of a better word) was unbelievably difficult. Not because of doubts – for the first time in my life I was receiving answers to my previously unanswerable questions! The difficulty was instead in accepting the words of Christ who said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.10 The difficulty was in forsaking friends and family and church for the sake of Christ. Of letting go of my plans and dreams and desires and giving them to Jesus. Of trusting Him to lead me even when I didn’t know where my final destination would be, or why the journey there had become so difficult.

Throughout this process, our friends and family were incredibly gracious, but they were also very concerned for our wellbeing. They were much like I was before I began to truly study Catholic teaching; they had many misunderstandings about Catholicism, and many wrong notions. As I have remarked on my homepage, “It is often difficult to describe to others all the individual steps taken along the path which have brought you along the way to where you are today. Many have perhaps misunderstood my decision as a leaving behind of one thing for something else, when in reality the experience has been one of adding to, not of taking away – of entering into the fullness of the Christian Faith. There have been many who have asked me why I felt that it was necessary to enter into the Catholic Church; and I cannot find a more perfect answer than that of G.K. Chesterton who wrote that, “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” I would add that for me, there was also the indescribable joy of finding my home – of coming home to the place where I belong.”

For me the process was one of intensive study for almost two years before I finally told my wife that I needed to begin attending Mass and exploring for myself the claims of the Catholic Church. I promised her that I would continue to go to church with her and the kids, but that I could no longer resist God’s pull in my life towards Catholicism. When I said that, I honestly didn’t know if she would agree to attend Mass with me or not! But she was willing to go for my sake, and for six months we attended a local non-denominational church in the morning and St. Teresa of Avila’s parish in the evening as a family. My kids really got a lot of church during that time! Missy and I both agreed that we would enroll in RCIA classes (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and nine months later we were received together into the Catholic Church on Easter Vigil of 2013. I can honestly say that that Easter Vigil service was one of the most profound and joyful experiences of my life!

All of this isn’t to say that I no longer have any questions at all or that I am under some delusion as to the Catholic Church being perfect. She has obviously had her share of failings and problems over the years and will continue to do so, maybe even more so now that I am a member! There have been priests who were dismal failures, bishops and Popes who were motivated by greed, selfishness, and a desire for power rather than love. The Church has done things both amazing and horrific in the name of God. But…she is Christ’s bride, made holy and without blemish by Christ Himself and by the righteous deeds of His saints11. And like all brides, she has been joined to Him that the two may become one flesh. And it is through this incarnational mystery that we, the bride of Christ, become in that marital union of one flesh, the very body of Christ, with He Himself as our head12.

You see, for me, the balance has shifted to the point where I can no longer in good conscience consider myself Protestant. As I pointed out in my post Sola Scriptura ~ An Anachronism:

“I have a sizable problem with any theory that proposes itself in contradiction to the words of Christ who said, “And I tell you,…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.13Every Christian denomination which has since split from that Church, has essentially proposed some variation of the theory above. Namely that Christ was wrong; His Church was not preserved by Him, the gates of Hell did prevail against it, and it has now become necessary to split from the Church which He founded and start an entirely new church in order to return to the original teachings of Christ…”

I have come to the conviction that it was indeed Christ who founded His Church - not Luther, or Calvin, or Zwingli, or the King of England, or John and Charles Wesley, or Joseph Smith, or Chuck Smith, or anyone else since that time. I have decided to trust in the plain words of Christ preserved in the Scriptures for us. I have, as a matter of fact, decided that when He guaranteed His Church that He would be with her always – even to the very end of the age; and that when He promised her that He would preserve her against the very gates of Hell14 - He meant it. I have decided that if I am to be His disciple then I should begin with obedience, and in obedience, belong to the Church that He established. And finally, I have decided that Christ is not into polygamy – He desires only one bride.

I will leave you with the words of G.K. Chesterton who wrote, “It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment a man ceases to pull against it he feels a tug towards it. The moment he ceases to shout it down he begins to listen to it with pleasure. The moment he tries to be fair to it he begins to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair.”

Adam works for Permobil and TiLite providing custom complex power and manual wheelchairs for individuals with disabilities. He and his family are active members of St. Teresa of Avila’s Parish in Auburn, CA. He also enjoys blogging at his siteA Faith-Full Life.

Adam Crawford Recommended Reading:

  • The Fathers Know Best - Jimmy Akin
  • Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic - Patrick Madrid

  • The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth - Scott Hahn

Adam Crawford Recommended CD’s:

  • The Lord’s Supper - John Michael Talbot
  • All The People Said Amen - Matt Maher

1“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

2 Martin Luther – An Instruction on Certain Articles: Late February 1519

3 Orthodox Church in America Website

4 A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment) Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche Schriften Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590.

5 Romans 6:1-2

6 Ephesians 5:3-6

7 Martin Luther – Sermon, Christmas, 1531

8 John Calvin – Letters of John Calvin, trans. M. Gilchrist, ed. J.Bonnet, New Y­ork: Burt Franklin, 1972,

I: 110-111.

9 Mark 6:45-53

10 Matthew 10:34-39

11 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27, “…and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Revelation 19:7-9

12 “He is the head of the body, the church;” Colossians 1:18a, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” 24, “These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” 2:17-19

13 Matthew 16:18

14 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

If you have found this story helpful in your spiritual journey we hope you will consider sharing it. Have feedback or would like to share your story? Email us at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Evangelical Convert

Ryan McLaughlin

Ryan McLaughlin is a husband, father of three, math teacher, and a recent law school graduate. After years of searching, praying, and reading, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church at the 2012 Easter Vigil.

The Spring of 2005 was an inconvenient time to have my worldview interrupted. I was finishing up my junior year of college as a math major and had a full load of difficult classes. I was also working at a Panera and picking up odd jobs as a math tutor. In short, my schedule was as jam-packed as a 19-year-old's could be.

But when I think back to that time in my life, I usually only remember being busy with one thing: my church. It was truly the all-consuming center of my life. I frequently had church activities 7 nights a week. I led a Bible study for young men, was in charge of a puppet ministry for kids, helped out with the youth group...if there was something going on at church, I was there. My huge circle of friends was a part of either my church or one of our sister churches elsewhere in Florida. I was preparing to go on my second mission trip with our denomination to Cuba that summer, and I had gotten into the habit of going to 5-6 denominational conferences a year. I was planning to go on for more schooling to be a pastor after I graduated.

My church was Reformed and vehemently so. We had a lot to say about what was wrong with other Christians: Dispensationalists, Arminians, Pentecostals, mega-churches, mainstream Protestants...all sorts of groups were frequent targets of our derision. And of course, we trashed Catholics. "I mean, if those people ever picked up a Bible, they'd figure out how dumb what they believe is, right?" We had debates--and I mean serious debates--about whether the Pope was the Antichrist (not any one Pope in particular, mind you, more just the papacy in general... the alternative Apocalyptic role for the papacy in our hermeneutic was the "whore of Babylon"). In the worldview I shared with my friends, to be Roman was to be ridiculous.

And then, in March of 2005, I inexplicably found myself engrossed in the news coverage of Pope John Paul's final illness and eventual death.

Up until that point, I had remained blissfully unaware of the life of Pope John Paul II: why would I have bothered learning about a man I thought was the head of the most absurd denomination on earth? I had no idea about his role in Solidarity, the movement that eventually led to the downfall of communism in Poland. I had never heard one of his passionate sermons or been exposed to his brilliant writing. I think I knew that the current Pope was called "John Paul", and that was probably about it. But when newspapers began to feature articles about his final illness, for some reason I couldn't stop reading about this man whom I had dismissed for so long. I watched every TV segment and listened to every radio story intently, not really understanding why I was so drawn to it all but unable to stop paying attention.

In his final days, the Holy Father made no effort to hide his suffering...nor, for that matter, his joy. Here was a man whose body had been ravaged by disease and aging, but who, for all his pain, couldn't seem to be distracted from how much he loved Jesus. This man, who had fought against communism, fought for Life, and fought for the Gospel, was finishing his race with an endurance that defied explanation. I remember hearing one commentator say, "For so many years, John Paul has taught us how to live. Now he is teaching us how to die." When he finally went Home, I was stunned by the millions and millions of people who traveled great distances to thank their Pastor for a life well-lived. I remember thinking, despite myself, "Maybe this guy was the vicar of Christ..."

I realized then that John Paul II had a holiness and a strength that my theology couldn't account for: in the end, what I had believed about this man and his office was simply bigotry. There was now a gaping hole in the way I thought about the world. And as someone who was planning his life around a particular denomination and a particular theology that were opposed to the Pope in every way, that made me extremely uncomfortable. I began to silently question what I was being taught, as well as the people teaching it.

But whatever concerns or doubts I had about the doctrine I had embraced, it was going to have to wait: I was way too busy with church life to slow down and consider the implications. It would be two more years before my discomfort with my church finally came to the surface, and I lost so much of what I then held dear...


From there, my life became even more consumed by my church. I graduated from college in 2006, and the next month I began working as a pastoral intern. But the doubts I had about our theology--and about my church--were only growing. In my internship, I saw a lot of "behind-closed-doors" sort of things that made me extremely uncomfortable.

By the beginning of 2007, I knew I needed an exit strategy. My conscience just wouldn't leave me alone, and I began to dread going to church...and since I was still going to church events 6 or 7 nights a week, that meant my life had an awful lot of dread in it. The only problem was that I was now engaged, and my fiance Fallon and I were planning our wedding at the church. Most of the groomsmen and bridesmaid were a part of the denomination, one of the pastors at the church was officiating, our cake was being baked by a woman at the church... once again I kept my doubts to myself and bided my time. I did quit the pastoral internship though, citing financial reasons--I was getting married and a church intern's salary is, well, non-existent...

I married my beautiful wife, Fallon, in June. As I shared my doubts and frustrations with her, she became very concerned as well, and we decided we needed to leave. By October, we had found another church to attend and determined to try, as far as possible, to slip out the door quietly and not make a scene. We sent a very complimentary email to the pastors, thanking them for the role they'd played in our lives for many years, and mentioned a few of the reasons we were leaving. We figured that would be the end of it.

From there, though, my former pastors decided to implement what a friend of mine has called the "scorched earth policy”. The pastors called a church members' meeting about us. At the meeting, the senior pastor told a lot of lies about us, me in particular. We were suddenly scorned by all of our friends from the church. Many people who were in our wedding party a few months earlier were no longer speaking with us, including some of my wife's family. We felt betrayed, abandoned, and confused about what God could be doing through all of this.

For the first six months, I was primarily angry. Then, depression and doubt set in. It was undoubtedly the darkest time in my spiritual life: why had God allowed me to invest almost six years of my life in people who would ultimately turn their backs and say terrible things about me? I had believed that Calvinism and Reformed theology were a better way of doing Christianity, and yet the church had proven to be just as vicious, cruel, and shallow, if not far more so, than the denominations we spent so much time criticizing. I felt like "scorched earth": so much of what had grown in my life had burned to the ground.

Eventually, in the midst of my depression and confusion, I determined to "pull a Descartes": I crawled into a hole in my heart and doubted everything I could bring myself to doubt.

Everything I had come to believe was open for questioning. In the end, I doubted just about every Christian doctrine except for a few "Nicene-level" basics, i.e. God's existence, the Trinity, etc. Throughout my time in my old church, I had really only read books that were on the "approved reading list": in other words, writing that conformed to a very narrow interpretation of Calvinism and Reformed theology. So now, in my time of doubting, I read everything else: I learned as much as I could about every other Christian viewpoint, denomination, and theology.

In particular, I felt myself drawn to church history, because I realized that I had some enormous gaps in my understanding. The Reformed worldview I had been presented with more-or-less skipped from the death of the apostles to John Calvin's writings in the 16th century, with a brief stop at St. Augustine in the 4th century: everything in between was viewed as corruption and heresy. So I began to read about the "lost years", and what I found out absolutely stunned me.

Take, for instance, St. Ignatius of Antioch: Ignatius lived in the first century A.D., and was a student of the Apostle John. It's believed that he was appointed as the leader of the church of Antioch by the Apostle Peter. Ignatius died a martyr's death at the hands of the Roman Empire sometime around 110 A.D., not long after the completion of the last of the New Testament writings. If anyone was truly NTC, it was Ignatius.

On his way to Rome to be martyred, St. Ignatius wrote seven letters, which we still have. Here's what he had to say about the Lord's Supper:

"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes." — Letter to the Smyrnaeans, chs.6-7

And elsewhere:

"Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God." --- Letter to the Philadelphians, Ch. 4

Here we have an important early Church leader, an apprentice of the Apostles themselves, writing less than a hundred years after Christ's death, who clearly believes and teaches the Real Presence in the Eucharist and the three orders of ministry. Far from being corruptions that came in at a later point, these doctrines (and others I hope to explore in later posts) were a part of the faith from the beginning.


By the spring of 2009, I felt the need to be a part of a church that took history seriously; a community that desired continuity with the ancient Church as she truly was; a group of believers that valued the things that Ignatius and his contemporaries valued, such as the Sacraments. As far as I could tell, that left me with three options: Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, or Catholic...

The deeper I read into the history of the Church, the more my beliefs grew Catholic. My enjoyment of the ancient Church Fathers led me to read more and more modern Catholic authors as well, especially Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). I was blown away by how these writers combined brilliant theological insight with an all-consuming love for God. In addition to my reading habits, I grew increasingly Catholic in my devotional practices as well.

But in the Spring of 2009, Fallon and I were still struggling from our previous church experience. We had moved to Boston so that I could attend law school, and had found it very difficult to even go to church, much less think about making more major life-changing decisions. So we began attending a small Anglican parish nearby: it seemed that Anglicans shared much of my desire to be rooted in the history of the Church and the Sacraments, but didn't require formal conversion steps, such as classes or Confirmation.

It was a great fit for a while, and we made some wonderful friends. Most importantly, we were refocused on Christ and strengthened in our pain in a most unexpected way: the liturgy.

I say it was unexpected because of our backgrounds: I was raised mostly in Charismatic churches and was used to contemporary worship and services that followed a simple structure: a few songs followed by a lengthy sermon. Fallon became a Christian in high school at the church we left together, which likewise had contemporary worship. Neither of us had any experience with liturgy, and I had always been told that it was a bunch of dead ritual and rote memorization: lukewarm Christians did liturgy, real Christians, who love the Lord, sang rock songs and raised their hands.

For those not familiar with liturgy, it is the worship style of the ancient Church that has been handed down to us. It was initially modeled on the synagogue services that the earliest Christians (and of course, Christ himself) would have been familiar with. It includes the reading of Scripture passages, responses from the congregation, singing hymns, hearing a brief sermon (called a homily), reciting the Nicene or Apostles Creed and several prayers, and finally and most importantly partaking of the Lord's Supper. Depending on where you are and what part of the year it is, it can also include the burning of incense, lighting candles, icons, priestly vestments, and more. Anglican liturgy, having mostly come from the Catholic liturgy, is very similar in almost every aspect.

Far from being a dead ritual, we found the liturgy to be a life-giving and sustaining routine. Every week as the service moved towards the Eucharist, the priest would say "lift up your hearts!" and the response of the congregation was "we lift them up unto the Lord!"...every week, regardless of whether we felt like it or not, we lifted our heart unto the Lord, and then met Him in a powerful way in Communion. All throughout the week we found the words of the hymns, the Creed, and the Scriptures coming to mind in times when we needed to trust the Lord.

I'll always be grateful for our time in the Anglican Communion, because it was there that we learned to love liturgy...


I spent the Summer of 2010 doing an internship in the Netherlands. When I came home, I had the most wonderful surprise waiting for me. Fallon met me at the airport gate, with a beautiful smile on her face and a few tears running down her cheek, and said, "I have a present for you." She handed me a pair of baby shoes and I immediately knew what she meant. I sat down in the middle of the floor at Boston Logan Airport and began to cry a little bit myself...

After a long, dark winter, Arthur brought Spring to our family on April 16, 2011. He was 8 lbs., 5 oz., and 21 inches long, and was born at 10:44 in the morning, after his beautiful mom suffered through 32 hours of labor. 8 days later, we had him baptized at the Easter Vigil.

That Spring was my final semester in law school. Still wrestling with many questions, I signed up for a seminar called "Catholic Social Thought and the Law". The class was taught by Fr. Greg Kalscheur, who is both a Jesuit and a law professor. Here I encountered the "consistent ethic of life" for which the Church's teachers and theologians have powerfully argued. Once again, Pope John Paul II deeply affected me, this time through his writing: his encyclical "The Gospel of Life" is one of the most profound writings on life issues that I've ever read.

I read the Holy Father's words in class: "'By his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every human being'. This saving event reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God who 'so loved the world that he gave his only Son', but also the incomparable value of every human person." Then I went home, and held my wonderful son in my arms. There simply aren't words to describe how I felt...

After Arthur was born, I began to pray more to the Blessed Mother. Anglicans vary quite widely in their opinions on Mary, ranging from very Anglo-Catholic believers who have almost no differences in Mariology from Rome, to very low-church believers who see it all as a bunch of heinous idolatry. Our Anglican parish tended to lean more towards the latter. But there were a few of us who, with a wink and a smile, would talk about how in our devotional lives we would "call home to Mom."


In 2011, the group of Anglican churches we were a part of (AMIA) experienced that most protestant of problems: a split. It all happened within a few weeks, and it wasn't driven by any major doctrinal issues, just personality conflict. It left us deeply saddened, and we felt driven back to where we were a few years ago, considering Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism.

For a few months, we tried out an Anglican parish that was in a different branch of Anglicanism. Then, we visited three different Orthodox churches. We loved the beauty of Orthodox liturgy, and met kind and welcoming Christians at these parishes, but as we read about Orthodox theology and practices, we realized that was not where God was leading us. In the end, though, our hearts were drawn in the same direction that we've been slowly pulled for years now: towards the Roman Catholic Church.

I have to admit that we agonized over the decision. It is amazing how becoming a parent lends a new sense of weight and urgency to your decisions. When you realize that what you decide will not only effect your life, but the life of the precious child you hold in your arms, you find yourself considering things in a whole new light. We want Arthur to grow up with a consistent church life, without us constantly changing where we go Sunday mornings. If we were going to join the Catholic Church, we wanted to make sure we were in for life.

Over the course of these last 7 years, I had reached the point in my life and thinking that I could say that I was 99% Catholic. Moreover, I was tired of the constant spits and schisms that seem to be an inherent part of life as a protestant. But before I could take that last step to Rome, there was a last, pressing question: is the Catholic Church what she says she is? Can I truly say that this is the Church that Christ founded? I would not, as a matter of integrity, stand up and say "yes" until I was truly convinced.


I found the answer I was looking for in the writings of another former Anglican: John Henry Newman.

For those of you not familiar with Cardinal Newman, he was an Anglican priest in the mid-19th century. As a young man, he was a rising star within the Church of England and at Oxford University, but he gave up prestige and position when his convictions finally led him to join the Roman Catholic Church. He went on to write a number of classic books and was made a Cardinal shortly before his death. He has now been beatified by Pope Benedict and will likely someday be a saint.

In his famous work on his own conversion, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Newman writes of reading the works of St. Augustine, who was a bishop in North Africa in the 4th century. Augustine, in refuting a group of heretics known as the Donatists, said this: "Securus Judicat Orbis Terrarum!" "The verdict of the whole world is conclusive!" By this he meant that the Church had stood together as one for the Truth, and that he had confidence in the powerful witness of the Holy Spirit at work in Christ's Bride throughout the world and throughout time.

These words tore into Newman's heart as he read them:

"For a mere sentence, the words of St Augustine, struck me with a power which I never had felt from any words before ..... they were like the 'Tolle, lege, — Tolle, lege,' of the child, which converted St Augustine himself. 'Securus judicat orbis terrarum!' "

Newman came to the conclusion that the truth about the Catholic Church was attested to by the lives and deaths of many countless saints throughout the world and throughout the ages. The Church has survived the persecutions of the Roman Empire, invasions by barbarians, a schism with a much more powerful and wealthy (at the time) East, Vikings, the Dark Ages, the Protestant Reformation, and countless wars. She has survived bad Popes, bad bishops, pandemic nominalism, and the grievous sins of her own members. By all rights and by human understanding, she should have died out a long time ago. But here she is, still testifying to the same Truth that has been her message from century to century.

As I read Newman's testimony, the same words became a mantra in my own mind: "Securus Judicat Orbis Terrarum!" I thought of St. Ignatius of Antioch, from whom I gained my understanding of the Eucharist, despite the 19 centuries that separate us. I thought about the many wonderful Catholic Masses I have been too around the world, from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to Notre Dame in Paris, from Lima, Peru to Clifden, Ireland. I thought of the life and testimony and beautiful death of John Paul II. I thought about little old ladies praying the Rosary in front of abortion clinics, and about the little old ladies I see streaming out of 7 a.m. Masses every single day on my way in to work. I thought about the 1.2 billion people who make up the Catholic Church today, many of whom are suffering and dying martyr's deaths even now. I thought all these things and still the words came: Securus Judicat Orbis Terrarum!

Just a few days later, we went to Mass with some friends. When the time came for Communion, I watched as Boston's faithful Catholics streamed forward. Men and women, young and old, Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic, all came to meet the Lord at His Table. They were there despite the pain this Archdiocese has known: Boston was where the clergy sex abuse scandal first broke ten years ago, and yet the faithful still trust in a Truth greater than the betrayal of their bishop. They believe in the Verdict that has come down to them by blood, spoken with joy from one generation to the next.

It was the "secure verdict" that pushed me, at long last, over the edge: here was the Church. I leaned over to Fallon and whispered, "I think I'm ready to be Catholic."

Ryan enjoys writing about the beauty and grace he's found in the Catholic faith on his blog, The Back of the World. He welcomes any thoughts, questions, or feedback at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you have found this story helpful in your spiritual journey we hope you will consider sharing it. Have feedback or would like to share your story? Email us at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ryan McLaughlin's Recommended Reading

Evangelical Convert

Mindy Goorchenko

Mindy Goorchenko is a Catholic convert, mother of five, and nurse in Alaska.

My journey toward Catholicism began when I attended a small, intimate prayer session led by a group of college students in our evangelistic Protestant congregation. The talented young leader guided us in prayer amidst electrifying contemporary worship music. A wave was rippling through our church~~one which may have been present since ever there were youth in a church congregation. These beloved kids invited us old folk to be a part of something deeper, more authentic~~to have a true encounter with the Holy Spirit.

My children were welcome and I brought them along, dubious not so much about my own fate in the area of deep and authentic worship (I knew that it was unlikely I’d give myself wholly to the Spirit while peeking out from one eye at them the entire time) but whether anyone else would be able to with my several young children present. Indeed, as I lifted my own arms in praise of God, my opportunistic six year old immediately reached up and tickled my armpits. This consequently distracted me, and I decided to take my dancing, whooping youngsters out of the room. We played for an hour in the gymnasium at the church~~to simply engage in our vocations called motherhood and childhood.

Evangelical Convert

Renée Lin

Renée Lin joined the Catholic Church in 2003 after a lifetime in Evangelical Protestant. Renée currently works in research at a medical practice in central Virginia.

“The Bible says it…. I believe it…. that settles it!”

If Thomas Road Baptist Church had an unofficial mantra back in the 1990s, that probably would have been it. Dr. Jerry Falwell was fond of saying that, and I enjoyed hearing it. I took the Bible seriously, very seriously, and if Scripture made a pronouncement on an issue, it seemed only reasonable to me to take those verses as literally as possible and to act upon them. If a Christian couldn’t base his life on the Word of God, then what else was there?

One Sunday morning when Dr. Falwell proclaimed that “everything we believe and do here at Thomas Road comes straight from Scripture,” I took that seriously, too. Everything we believe and do…. Everything?

Evangelical Convert

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a convert to the Catholic faith who entered the Church in 1983. Her apostolate, Loaves and Fishes, is dedicated to teaching, evangelism and prayer through word and song.

I was baptized Catholic, but raised, Confirmed and Communicated in the Episcopal Church because my parents had both been divorced and remarried. My mother and I attended a Billy Graham Crusade the summer before I entered the 6th grade. That event introduced us to a personal relationship with Jesus which led to our joining an Evangelical Free church with a choir, Bible studies, and a dynamic youth ministry. I graduated from a Catholic girls' High School. Then, I left home for college.

When I became a Roman Catholic, I became the unimaginable—at least what had been up until that point, unimaginable to me. There was no reason to make a drastic move like that. After all, I had Christ. I certainly didn't need anything else. Both faith and Scripture were in my back pocket. Aside from my ambitions and goals, Jesus was the focus of my life. In my teens, it was easy for me to believe that even my unquenchable drive for success, somehow, served Him. Freelancing faith seemed like the best of this world and the next. But a series of experiences over the course of five years added up to convince me otherwise, so much so, that on the Vigil of Easter in 1983, at St. Paul's Church, as a senior at Harvard, I came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Evangelical Convert

Russell Stutler

On August 14, 2011, at the age of 54, Russell Stutler joined the Catholic Church after being an evangelical Protestant his entire life. Russell currently resides in Tokyo, Japan.

I was raised in a Protestant Christian home in Akron, Ohio, and we went to church every Sunday. During my childhood my family changed churches several times. We went to the Lutheran Church, Church of the Nazarene (where I promised God I would become a missionary someday), United Methodist Church (where I was baptized), Presbyterian Church, and a non-denominational evangelical mega-church called the Chapel in University Park where I became a member in my early 20s. It was a great teaching church, and I studied the Bible and memorized parts of it, which was the norm for members of that church. I studied New Testament Greek on my own so I could get at the underlying nuances in the text. I was very active in fellowship and evangelism programs, and my sense of calling to be a missionary was re-kindled there. I even went to Japan on a summer missionary program in 1983.

Evangelical Convert

Jason Workmaster

Jason is a lawyer and Evangelical convert to Catholicism who entered the Church in the Summer of 2011. He lives in the suburbs of Washington DC with his wife Nikki and four children. You can read Nikki's conversion story (from the Baptist tradition) here.

As a lifelong evangelical Protestant, I am right now at a place I never thought I would be, having just entered the Catholic Church with my wife and kids at the Feast of the Assumption in August. How I "came home" is difficult to explain. As many Catholic converts have commented, "all roads lead to Rome," which makes it hard to know where to start the story.

Before anything else, though, I must give thanks that I was raised in a Christian home. Because of that, I can't remember a time that I did not believe that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and that on the third day He rose again from the dead. I also was always taught that I should follow Jesus no matter where He led. And, so, from that time to now, although there have been detours and a number of twists and turns, I've had this sense that I've been chasing Him. It was only as I came closer to the Catholic Church, however, that I felt that He--to an unimaginably greater extent--had been pursuing me.

Evangelical Convert

Laura Locke

Laura is an educator and freelance writer in Calgary, Canada.

The road to Catholicism for new converts is as varied as the personalities of converts themselves. Mine came by means of the sublimely cracked perspective of a neurological disorder called Tourette Syndrome.

Raised in a mainstream Protestant church, I found myself drawn to evangelical circles in early adult life by the zeal and commitment I found there. Active church involvement, university, marriage, three kids and a fulfilling career in education filled the years that followed. Time sailed along at the hectic pace of most young families, until our youngest son, Peter, started having marked difficulty coping with the normal, everyday stresses of school life.

Evangelical Convert

Richard Maffeo

Richard was born into a Jewish home in 1950. Twenty-two years later, he discovered Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and served Him in evangelical Protestant churches for more than thirty-two years. In 2005 he was received into the Catholic Church.

My movement in 1972 from Jewish faith to Christ was so profound an experience, I can tell you when it happened, where I was and what I was doing when I committed myself to the Lord and joined the Protestant church.

But I cannot tell you when I knew I belonged in the Catholic Church. That process was more gradual. I didn't know I was moving toward Rome until I opened my eyes and discovered I had arrived.

Evangelical Convert

Pam Forrester

Pam Forrester writes from Fallbrook, California, where she lives with her husband, Mike, of thirty five years. They have seven children. The youngest was six when her mother entered the Catholic Church.


When I was eight I asked my mom to take me to the little church at the end of our street. She began to drop me off every week for Sunday School. One Sunday, my teacher presented the Gospel and encouraged us to accept Jesus Christ as our savior. “But,” she told us, “you must be willing to do anything for God, like be a missionary.” Well, I really wanted to be saved but I did not want to be a missionary! I had to think this over. I went home and thought about it for a while, my little 8 year-old soul struggling against selfish desire. Some weeks later, I convinced myself that I would be willing to be a missionary for Jesus and I asked Him to come into my heart.

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