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How Being a Baptist Prepared Me to be a Good Catholic (I of IV)

August 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Apologetics, Paul McCusker

Life, As I Find It

After joining the ranks of the Catholics, it was my hope to avoid the smug former-smoker arrogance that Baptist Prepared sometimes comes with such a dramatic change. You know what I mean: the I-used-to-be-so-stupid-and-now-I-see-the-Light attitude that is, in and of itself, irritating. (In my slow journey to the Church, I picked up a couple of well-meaning books written by former Evangelicals who exuded that very attitude. They were not helpful.) So, here’s my disclaimer: any comments I might make about Evangelicalism or Protestantism are meant to be good-natured and wry, or as close to an objective comparison as a non-academic can manage. You have my permission to call me on it if I sound otherwise.

Frankly, I doubt I would be much of a Catholic now without the benefit of all I’d been taught by Protestants as I traveled this way. I know that had I followed my father’s lead as a Catholic I wouldn’t be Catholic at all. (For him, it was a cultural identity, something handed down to him like an old coat he didn’t really want – if even that.) Any spark of faith in my life was fanned by my very-Protestant mother, faithful relatives and, in my formative years, the good people at Grace Baptist Church in my hometown.

Grace Baptist was founded in 1964 by Pastor Jack Dean who, with a group of dedicated Christians, sought to evangelize the new suburban development of Belair-At-Bowie (now just Bowie) 15 miles east of Washington, DC. The founding families were die-hard Baptists theologically and socially – gracious folks who brought the call to “accept Jesus into your heart” together with great Southern food and punch (no alcohol, ever).

I don’t remember ever hearing any hard-core anti-Catholic sermons. Catholics were simply that other group who were sort of Christians – but not really. It was our job to lead them to Jesus, given the chance.

I learned a lot of good things at Grace Baptist Church. So much that I remarked to someone from that church how my formative years as a Baptist actually prepared me to become a Catholic. I don’t think she was comforted by the thought at all. But it led me to reflect on how that happened.

One of the hallmarks of being a Baptist was the respect for the Bible I developed. We had Bible drills to learn its books and characters, timed competitions to see who could find a verse the quickest, we were told to do daily devotions and given memorization techniques to recall the most important passages (for evangelistic purposes). The Bible was proclaimed at every church occasion. Dog-eared, highlighted, annotated, and cherished – that’s what my Bible was. It was a fundamental part of being a Baptist. I never heard the phrase sola scriptura. We simply practiced it.

Now, as a Catholic, I marvel how Catholics seem to have surrendered the Bible to Protestants, as if it was their book. Yet I have found more Scriptural evidence to support Catholic theology than I ever found to prove Protestant theology. I’ve also noticed that all the verses in the New Testament we, as Baptists, found so troublesome are clearly resolved in Catholicism. The Bible truly is a Catholic book. I only wish more Catholics thought so.

This is only the start. With permission, I’d like to spend more time on my life as a Baptist and how it eased my way to Catholicism.

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Art for How Being a Baptist Prepared Me for Being a Good Catholic (Part I of IV): Still Life with Bible, Vincent Van Gogh, 1885, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Paul McCusker

Paul McCusker is an author. He converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in 2007. He still works for an Evangelical organization. Paul has over 40 published works, including novels, plays, scripts, and lyrics.

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  • Matthew1966

    Whilst coming from a culturally Catholic background (strictly
    weddings, funerals and christenings only) I first of all started by
    spiritual journey in a Baptist church via an Alpha course. I never
    envisaged discovering my Catholic roots again but I did. However the
    love and guidance that my Baptist brothers and sisters showed me was
    incredible and unlike most Catholic Church congregations here in the UK
    you knew that almost all of them went to Church because they actually
    believed, as opposed to just wanting to get their kids into the school
    attached to it.

    And they love the Bible. They truly do and we could take a lot from them on that.

  • Yule

    Good write. I can relate to this. I am from a Catholic family but the other sects made me familiar about the bible. I had a bible study for one year with the Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was 14 years old, though I was influenced with that bible study, I was skeptical of what they thought so I kept on being a Catholic. Then two years with the “Born Again” Christians which I cannot appreciate their church service of singing and be moved emotionally by their gospel songs and the members thought that it is the Holy Spirit that moved them into hysteria and tears. So I didn’t really let them baptized me and I kept on my Catholic faith. I just love the Catholic mass, and the multitude of saints, books and arts the Catholic faith produced.

    • Midget01

      I can now realize where you comments are coming from and because of my background and experiences my biggest thoughts might come across as skeptical but please don’t let your faith grow in a telephone booth. It is not just us and God. We are all in this together and because we are all different we perceive how the spirit is received. I have witnessed Catholics discovering their faith and while it might come across as a little less wild than a born again Christian it’s affects to them could be viewed as a very emotional movement and cause them to be overzealous with song. Look at David who danced in the streets with his cymbals and embarrassed his wife. I too love the mass but also feel that many Catholics just don’t get it. They would still prefer to use the mass as their own personal adoration chapel. We have separate times for that. They bring their bible to mass and rosary and isolate themselves from those who we are called to celebrate with and what is a party without music and joy.

  • walker_percy

    I was raised a … nothing, baptized Baptist in high school, became Presbyterian (PCA, naturally) in college, Episcopalian in grad school, Catholic my first year of employment. I learned from being Baptist a respect for the Bible; Presbyterian, the importance of theology; Episcopalian, a love for liturgy and a respect for tradition. I’ve been Catholic longer than anything else (close to 20 years now!). I had to sort of feel my way to Catholicism through these other traditions because I started as a completely blank slate. I have more PCA friends simply as a function of being that while in college. I had one negative encounter from one old college friend after I told him of my conversion but for the most part no one really seems to have minded. I resolved to be equally gracious, never push this on others, only defend but never strike a first blow. I am Catholic and will remain so. But Paul may attest that another thing a former Baptist may mourn, besides the Bible drills (and the requisite totin’ of a Bible big enough to slap sense in anyone), is the singing. A few weeks ago we began using a new Gloria at Mass. The congregation’s resistance –or maybe it was indifference to the matter — was rather painful and I’ve had to fight being annoyed with my fellow parishioners. (“Come on, people. This is a sacred drama and you’re supposed to perform your part with gusto!) I have been perhaps the only in the congregation to sing this new Gloria lately, much to my 8 year old’s chagrin. (Convinced I was singing in the cantor’s spot, she recently tried to wave me down to stop.) Massive liturgical differences aside, had it been a Baptist church, we’d lay into learning that piece of music. I try to remind myself of such things if I ever feel the need to congratulate myself for “getting out.”

    • MaryofSharon

      Walker, I’m so glad you have stuck it out. People like you are SO important to us cradle Catholics who become lukewarm or become deeply discouraged by the heterodoxy and lukewarmness of so many other Catholics. Thanks be to God for the infusion of passion and grace of former Protestants! You help us to see our Church as the treasure that She is.

  • walker_percy

    And I’ll add to my comment about the toting of great big ol’ Bibles, that the Bibles I recall were indeed quite large despite their missing several pages. 😉

  • Mary G

    Nice! Looking forward to reading the rest of this, Paul!

  • Rebecca Duncan

    I was raised nothing, but when I became Catholic I read the bible front to back. I don’t know why other Catholics don’t really read it or know it, probably because they don’t care about their faith much at all anyway. If you care about your Faith as a Catholic, you’re going to know the Bible. My two cents…which is usually wrong or not what anyone else thinks 🙂

    • Jeanette

      “If you care about your faith as a Catholic, you’re going to know the Bible.” Truly, I agree with your statement. I take a bit of an exception to the assumption of others that Catholics don’t read the bible…I think very many of us do but we are maybe a little too quiet about it. And, of course, we are exposed to much scripture during Mass and Divine Liturgy of the Hours.

      • Rebecca Duncan

        I usually react harshly to this kind of thing out of a bad habit. I suppose they could think other things are more important or that it’s ok to just listen to it at Mass or something.

      • walker_percy

        We are reluctant to proof text the way Evangelicals sometimes do. I think the reasons are twofold, but quite connected. First, we have the Magisterium to harmonize scripture internally and with tradition and we’re therefore much more likely to refer to “what the Church teaches” than “what the Bible says.” Second, we are trained to recognize how fraught with difficulty reading the Bible can be. Reading the beatitudes or Psalms is one thing, but reading heavy doctrine in Romans is quite another. I have seen church after church schism over pet readings of scripture, how easy it can be to pull out a verse to support a pre determined outcome, and how bad theology can skew one’s reading of scripture, leading one to rationalize away or skip over the passages that don’t fit one’s ideas. I for one am reluctant to jump to conclusions about what something means and prefer approaching scripture through the prism of doctrine. That said, Catholicism has given us Lectio Divina. Oh, and the scriptural canon. I think we have plenty of healthy respect for scripture. Going to Mass inculcates a great respect for scripture. We approach the Gospels with solemnity. We treat the Psalms as they were meant to be treated– we sing them. We’re mostly ok on scripture, but for this: from an apologetics standpoint, we mostly get pilloried when an evangelical intent on conversion hauls out from memory his biblical argument.

        • LizEst

          “…how easy it can be to pull out a verse to support a pre determined outcome, and how bad theology can skew one’s reading of scripture, leading one to rationalize away or skip over the passages that don’t fit one’s ideas.”

          This reminded me of something Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” ‘Nuf said!

          Thanks walker_percy…and God bless you!

        • Matthewfive

          I like what you wrote, very much. Have a blessed day!

    • Midget01

      Some of us Catholics were taught that we might get the wrong message. Perhaps it was not that way in your area. Being raised a Catholic since 5 we were read to and told the stories and the importance was not on espousing the words of the bible but telling the stories. Over the years we were lead to see the bible as a possession, a book on the shelf; but not something we read. Many Catholics need to be re introduced to this wonderful book and be taught to treasure the word within. Protestants tend to make many Catholics feel inadequate and fear that their style of forcing the bible on you was wrong then I shouldn’t get involved in that and because of that many Catholics leave their bible on the shelf to show ownership but not peak inside to actually learn what is there. I attended a ecumenical play where the main character was asked where her bible was and she told her husband that she used it as a brick in the kitchen to hold the back door open. A bit over dramatic but many Catholics have bibles but use them the wrong way. Their way of treasuring them and respecting them leaves a lot to be desired but for them they can say they have them and are aware of them. We just need to build on that and challenge them to open them and to awaken their spirit. Confronting them doesn’t seem to work but creating a challenge does. For example; As a Catholic how many Kings were there in the bible who went to see Baby Jesus. Everyone says three. Why? Because Eastern Tradition has created a story about the 3 wise men and gives them names but the bible only tells us that their were 3 gifts. We carry on the tradition and take it as truth but to prove it to a protestant we truly can’t do because our tradition is not printed in the bible on that subject. So now some begin to question if what they know is really true.

      • LizEst

        There has been strong encouragement for Catholics to study the Bible for a long time. In fact, “Pope Leo XIII [1810-1903] granted to the faithful who shall read for at least a quarter of an hour the books of the Sacred Scripture with the veneration due to the Divine Word and as spiritual reading, an indulgence of 300 days” (Preces et Pia Opera, 645). Some have done so, some have not. We have many Bible study groups in our various parishes. But, our worship is different because of the Mass, the Liturgy of both the Word and the Eucharist, the Word made flesh.

        It’s essential that Catholics know the Bible, just as Jesus instructed the disciples on the road to Emmaus. A good spiritual director will encourage directees to take up the Scriptures, read them, pray over them and meditate on them. He/she should guide them in their studies and help water the seed of the Word in their lives. Here we have another reason for spiritual direction: to help His Word grow and become enfleshed in our hearts…and, to help the directee to bring that Word to others through the witness of their lives and charitable works done for love of God and neighbor.

    • Paul McCusker

      I wouldn’t disagree with you at all, Rebecca. There are cultural and historical reasons many Catholics have abandoned their Bibles – the fear of misinterpretation, the notion that they’re getting enough Bible readings in the Mass, the reasons Midget01 has mentioned, even laziness. But I want to believe Catholics will reclaim the Bible. And it helps to have Catholic Study Bibles – Scott Hahn’s comes immediately to mind – that blends solid Bible notes with solid Catholic teaching. (I will admit, too, that I think the Orthodox Study Bible is exceptionally well-done, albeit from the Orthodox theological position.) The average person wants a reason to read the Bible – because it brings meaning, insight and inspiration to their lives. Sadly, the experience of many Catholics is that the Bible doesn’t give them that reason.

  • Lynda Durrett Hedges

    As a recent convert myself, I can relate much to this post, and am looking forward to reading the rest of your thoughts.

    Blessings,
    Lyn

    • Midget01

      Welcome to the Church and the group.

    • LizEst

      Welcome Lyn…and God bless you!

  • Ana

    I`m a born (long ago) catholic, and I thank you very much for your refle
    ctions. Looking forward for more of them.

  • Stephen B. .

    The way that I was brought into the Catholic Church was by sitting in an empty Catholic Church in prayer with my Bible.As an evangelical Christian, I already knew Christ and knew what it was like to sense His presece, that’s how, I believe, I came to recognize the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. My intimate relationship with Christ as an evangelical prepared me to know Him as a Catholic in the Blessed Sacrament. They also taught me the tremendous value of worship and praise.

    • MaryofSharon

      I don’t know if that comment that I first wrote came through, but I totally missed that this was “Stephen B.”, not “Stephanie B.” Please do not post either of my comments. (The fact is that just yesterday when I was posted, a new friend, Stephanie B., a former Evangelical, was telling me something quite similar.)

  • I’ve always thought that every good Catholic needed a few years of being Protestant. I am a cradle Catholic, spent 18 years in the Protestant faith, and returned to the Catholic Church one year ago. My Protestant friends and churches taught me to love the Bible. Without that base, I would not be where I am today in my faith.

    • LizEst

      I’m glad that worked for you, Malleson. But, I respectfully disagree. I learned to love the Bible from the guidance I received from my Catholic Spiritual Director and from listening to the Word of God proclaimed at Mass and explicated in the homily. I wouldn’t trade receiving Jesus in the Eucharist for anything. He IS the Word of everlasting Life and when we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we indeed have everlasting Life in us, a foretaste and promise of what we will have for eternity.

      God bless you, Malleson. It’s good to have you back! Let us rejoice and be glad!

    • Tracy Quebral

      Every person has their own journey, and God is the guide of that journey. I wish I had stayed a Catholic Christian from birth, but my journey was as a cradle Catholic to Presbyterian (from about 13 to 21 or 22 years old), and a revert back to our precious Catholic faith. I understand what you mean because I believe God uses many people, and teaches us many lessons, even when we may not be in union with the Church at certain points and time. God can use us each uniquely to serve Him and to bring others to the Catholic Church because of those experiences and all we learn in them. In my case, it was something a bit out of my control, being 13, and quite alone in my faith. I had just begun Confirmation classes at our religious ed, and it was horrible when another school’s kids came into our class (mocking, etc.). And the priest wasn’t very helpful. I felt quite confused in my faith, and very upset at the circumstances. My mom, who had been shunned by the Church (a situation with a priest publicly shaming her for being divorced, even though she and her 6 kids were abandoned by my father, and so she had no other choice). She never re-married. So she left the Church because she was humiliated, and didn’t understand. All that time, she’d brought us up in the Catholic Church because of her vows to a man who abandoned us after numerous affairs. She is my hero. She is now back to her Methodist church after years of being upset with church. My mom told me I had to go somewhere for church, so my only option was to go to a Presbyterian church with our neighbors, where my sister was also going. Those 8-9 years were years I treasure. My faith grew into such a deep faith, and I learned so many ways to serve God and study Scripture. I sang in choirs, and taught so many Sunday School and VBS classes, and was a camp counselor at the camp, etc. And then God used my husband and his family to bring me back HOME. I believe my Faith in the Catholic Church is stronger now than it ever could have been without that journey. But even if that’s not the case, there are so many ways I see how God taught me, and used me to serve Him. I now sing in choirs and teach religious education and RCIA in the Catholic Church, along with teaching our three children the truths of the Catholic Faith in our home school for 18 years. I consider my journey a blessing. I now treasure our Catholic Church more than anything in this world.

      • That is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, am married to a man who chose to have an extended affair. My daughters are 12 and 16. I see the pain in their faces when they think about what their dad has done. I do believe God is using that to strengthen me, but is is painful. Fortunately, there have been NO priests who have been condescending or who have shunned me. I’ve really had the opposite reaction so maybe things have changed a bit. God Bless you.

  • Tracy Quebral

    Being a revert to the Catholic Church, I can very much identify with this series of articles. I often say the journey God took me through from cradle Catholic, to Presbyterian, and a revert back to our precious Catholic Faith made me a better Catholic than I could ever have been if I hadn’t gone through that journey. I too believe that sharing that journey can be very helpful to the Catholic evangelization effort. And I am often very concerned about the lack of a clear evangelization effort for Catholics. I do believe that a lack of good catechesis for many years is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

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