Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What is the Church?

The concept of Church being a sign and instrument of the communion of God and men was, as a non-Catholic Christian, difficult for me to grasp. I was taught that the church was an invisible, amorphous structure and came to think of it as an "add on" to the simple Gospel message Jesus brought. In other words, my concept was that the church was a man-made structure that Jesus reluctantly had to allow; a "well, if you must have, then go ahead, but " mentality.

Many of the non-Catholics coming from my particular background had a high degree of suspicion for anything that had structure or hierarchy to it, or remotely resembled Ye Church of Olden Tymes (AKA Catholic Church). Part of this was due to our lack of teaching regarding the early church and from where it derived it's structure and function. As the Catechism below illustrates, the "ecclesia" was used in the OT to describe the gathering of God's people. Complete it was with a hierarchy, officiating priests offering a sacrifice, and a liturgy. Jesus came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it. Why wouldn't the New Testament *ecclesia* have similar structure? My previous view that the NT Church should be a spontaneous gathering of Christians with no specified format or structure, invisible to the world was not consistent with the actual records of salvation history from Old to New Testament and beyond.

Catholics believe that Jesus gave us the Church to be the vehicle, if you will, to bring salvation to the world. Catholics don't separate Jesus from the Church the way I did as a non-Catholic. To be Catholic, one must understand salvation and the gospel in relation to the Church and not separated from it. Jesus is the head and can't be separated from the body, but actually that's what I was doing. My idea of the church was actually a disembodiment of Jesus. I wanted Jesus, but didn't want His church. I just didn't realize that He never intended to be separated from his body.

So, what is the Church?

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

751 The word "Church" (Latin ecclesia, from the Greek ek-ka-lein, to "call out of") means a convocation or an assembly. It designates the assemblies of the people, usually for a religious purpose.139 Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people.140 By calling itself "Church," the first community of Christian believers recognized itself as heir to that assembly. In the Church, God is "calling together" his people from all the ends of the earth. The equivalent Greek term Kyriake, from which the English word Church and the German Kirche are derived, means "what belongs to the Lord."

752 In Christian usage, the word "church" designates the liturgical assembly,141 but also the local community142 or the whole universal community of believers.143 These three meanings are inseparable. "The Church" is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ's Body

In Brief: 777 The word "Church" means "convocation." It designates the assembly of those whom God's Word "convokes," i.e., gathers together to form the People of God, and who themselves, nourished with the Body of Christ, become the Body of Christ.

778 The Church is both the means and the goal of God's plan: prefigured in creation, prepared for in the Old Covenant, founded by the words and actions of Jesus Christ, fulfilled by his redeeming cross and his Resurrection, the Church has been manifested as the mystery of salvation by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. She will be perfected in the glory of heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth (cf. Rev 14:4).

779 The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine. That is her mystery, which only faith can accept.

780 The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men.


Blogger + simonas said...

Lumping all evangelicals on this, I think, is not fair. Reading your story of conversion indicates that you came from quite a strange charismatic branch of evangelicalism. So, perhaps the teaching on the importance of 'church' was lacking. I would highly doubt if you can lump that with, say, Anabaptists, who have high ecclesiology. So, qualifications are needed.

July 15, 2007 9:02 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Hey Simon!
I did attempt to be careful to not lump all evangelicals together in this and if I implied that they all have a "low" view of what the church is, that was not my intention. My last charismatic (church where I stayed for 10 years) actually was not that unusual in the sense that they were in a communion with a large group of churches from Virginia to PA and had a higher view of church than the group I was with in the early days. They also had an accountability structure, so no one was going to get away with making you drink the *purple Koolade* thank God!
My last church was a traditional evangelical Methodist one in where I stayed for 5 years.
This post is based on my experiences and my conclusion from my perspective is that the body of Christ was indeed viewed as an invisible body, very different from what I believe Christ intended. Your mileage may vary :)

July 15, 2007 9:40 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Dear Simonas:
I reread my original post and I can see your point where I am implying a a "lumping together" from my wording. I will change the original post. Thanks!

July 15, 2007 9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Every encounter in my 15 year stint as a Protestant wasn't a question of the importance of "church" meaning whatever little community I belonged to at the time, but rather a promoting of the idea that "true believers" are part of an invisible church. In other words, I was taught that each visible church was made up of believers and unbelievers. Only God was supposed to be the judge of who those "true believers" were, but most of the folks I knew (including myself) took on the role of judge in our discussions about various people we were acquainted with. "Is he saved?" was a common question among us.

So if it is true that the church is an invisible body of believers within 1000's of visible communities, who decides what is true? Who decides if abortion is right or wrong? If homosexuality is normal or disordered? If Baptism saves?

July 15, 2007 10:35 AM  
Blogger Joyful Catholics said...

I had nearly the same experiences as did TJ. Some who thought it [Church] to be an amorphous and spiritual, nebulous, just invisible "bunch" of the 'saved.' Certainly not a tangible structure/body one could see.

We were told by some that the CC had 'totally become corrupt' and 'ran off the rails.' That only a small group of "true believers" the "true remnant" remained and amazingly, they were like some of the current "Evangelicals" are now. In certain evangelical
fellowships they now have it "set up" more like the "early Church" since they're not meeting in such large buildings, with such huge congregations anymore. The 'new thing' in their thinking and in that shared paradigm is to have "house churches" and "the church small."

"Gee, Wally,it was all about getting the big crowds a few years ago and now it's about being small 'n stuff, ya know, more like a family 'n junk," posed The Beaver to his big brother.

I can't reiterate enough how grateful I am to be back Home in the RCC where the buck stops! Where Sacred Tradition and the bible and The Faith of our Fathers are handed down through the anointed priesthood and sacrament of Holy Orders. Where Jesus, being God, has actually 'built a Church to last the 'duration' and the gates of hell have not, will not ever prevail against her.

Alas, we won't have to 'wait and see' when we all get to heaven who was 'right' and who was 'wrong' about those "pesky basics" that we're all supposed to magically believe in and hold hands singing about.

If Jesus [as GOD] couldn't even keep His Own Church together and united as One Holy Catholic and apostolic quote Flannery O'Connor again TJ..."the hell with it."


July 15, 2007 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

If the Church that Jesus intended to found consisted of 30,000 little fragments, many not infrequently in contradiction with one another, couldn't you accuse the Master Builder of shoddy workmanship? If our Lord somehow left his Church to wander around aimlessly for 1,500 years, could you then assume that it wasn't of that much importance to Him or that He didn't mean what he said that the gates of Hell would not prevail? Would this image of God inspire you to follow, even up to giving up your life?

Or the Church that has lasted 2,000 years, the one anchored on the rock of Peter, is the Church that our Lord founded and the gates of Hell have indeed not prevailed.

When the former became to my mind simply too implausible to accept as true, it reinforced my view that the latter must be correct, and that was when I had to come home to Rome.

July 15, 2007 9:17 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Continuing the Leave it to Beaver motif.....Geez Beev, Did Jesus really say that about the gates of hell and all that stuff?
Yeah Wally, that's what Dad says anyway, and he's sure gonna be mad when he sees what you did to his bible!

July 15, 2007 10:46 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Nancy and Susie and Anon: seriously, I appreciate your comments. If the truth be told, I really actually believed the Catholic Church did go off the rails and believed the "Trail of Blood" notion that there had always been an invisible group of believers, persecuted by Catholics!
It was the only way to imagine in my mind that the gates of hell weren't prevailing. I had asked my pastor once where the Church was if the only recorded history showed Catholicism before the 16th century. He just repeated "the hidden church theory." Honestly, because of my extremely strong anti-Catholic bias based on my dysfunctional upbringing, I latched on to the theory and didn't give it serious consideration until 4-5 years ago when I started wondering if perhaps Catholicism could be true. It is amazing how prejudice can blind you to the Truth.(at least in my case it did)

July 15, 2007 10:54 PM  
Blogger MMajor Fan said...

First papal letter written 63 AD in Rome by St. Peter, especially these sections where there are instructions to "built thereon into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood."

1 St Peter 2:1-10, 5: 1-11

July 16, 2007 2:27 AM  

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