Fifteen years ago this Easter, my wife and I entered the Catholic Church. Our journey to that moment was similar to the journey of many fundamentalists and evangelicals who made their way from being overtly contrary to, or simply clueless about, the Catholic Church to embracing it as having been founded by Jesus Christ, being “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tm 3:15).
It has been said that fundamentalists reject past beliefs in becoming Catholic, while evangelicals fulfill held beliefs by entering the Church. There is truth to that statement, but I prefer to say that everything true about my Protestant heritage found completion in the Catholic faith, while everything that was false was challenged and then purged by the Church.
Today’s first reading (Acts 4:32-35) is the second of three descriptions of the life, work and worship of the early Church. The first, Acts 2:42-47 (the third is Acts 5:12-17), was a passage often quoted and referred to in the little “Bible chapel” I was raised in, as it provided the blueprint for how we sought to live as Christians.
This was especially true in our emphasis on “the teaching of the apostles,” which we understood as being found solely on the New Testament; “the breaking of bread,” which meant we observed an informal, somber “remembrance” of the Last Supper; “fellowship,” which meant meeting together every Sunday; and “to the prayers,” which we carried out by having Sunday and Wednesday evening prayer services.
In hindsight, I recognize these beliefs and actions as the “gifts and graces” referred to by Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Through those gifts and graces, the Council said, God works and operates among Protestant groups “with his sanctifying power” (No. 15). In my case, they instilled a love for Christ, Scripture, doctrine, structure, and communal prayer.
During my two years at Bible college, however, I kept bumping into questions that confounded easy answers: Why is there such disunity among Christians? Why do so many evangelicals not celebrate the breaking of bread? What did Jesus mean when he said to the apostles: “Who sins you forgive are forgiven them”? My study of Church history raised even more questions.
St. Luke described the early Church as being united in faith and practice. And that unity was rooted in faith in the risen Lord and Savior, and demonstrated within the Church through liturgical worship and celebration of the Eucharist. There was also a clear structure of authority; the early Church was apostolic. The other sacraments were also essential features. And that was many decades before the canon of the New Testament began to take shape — and when it did, it was confirmed through the bishops of the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit.
That unity of faith became a pressing issue, especially as I experienced “church splits.” Such splits are hardly new; they are warned against in the New Testament. But if that was the case, what church was the true church? What church has borne witness to Jesus’ resurrection for 2,000 years? What church possesses a final authority on matters of faith and morals? The Catholic Church.
We are Catholics by God’s grace and mercy. May we continue to grow in faith, hope and love, united in heart and mind.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.