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

August 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Conversion, Paul McCusker

Life, As I Find It

In my last post, I recalled how my time as a Baptist actually helped me to become a Catholic – though not in Baptist Preparedany way that would have foreshadowed such an anti-Baptist decision. But I learned to respect (even cherish) the Bible and to respect the authority of the church. Both are now vital to me as a Catholic.

Another lesson I learned had to do with personal spiritual discipline. Admittedly, few Baptists I knew had any clue about concepts like “spiritual direction” or meditation or contemplation – the last two would have sounded suspicious and practiced by The Beatles. But, as a Baptist, I knew we were supposed to have personal spiritual discipline. We were told to pray. A lot. Unceasingly, in fact.

Prayer was essential to personal spiritual health and the health of the church. We prayed for ourselves, we prayed for each other, we prayed for the world – at home and at least four times in church services (at the beginning, before the offering, before the sermon and after before, during and after the altar call). The only praying we didn’t do was to or for the dead. The other group did those kinds of things and they were clearly confused.

Personal spiritual discipline extended to our church-going and service as a priority of life. Being a Baptist taught me that faith really wasn’t about sentimental feelings – unless it was time for the altar-call and seventeen verses of “Just As I Am” – but about doing. The healthy pressure to attend church on Sunday morning for Sunday School and the worship service (and helping with Bus Ministry), Sunday evening, Wednesday evening prayer meeting (or the quarterly business meeting), Thursday night Awana, and whenever else the doors were open was ongoing. And it was a good thing for me. Apart from the value of the teaching, it taught me to resist the feelings of But I don’t want to go – and go anyway.

As a Baptist I truly believed faith without works really was dead. Fortunately, many of the “works” were done as part of “fellowship.” Few groups do “fellowship” as well as Baptists. They seemed to understand the importance of relationships to commitment and growth. After any service or event, the majority of people would hang around to “visit” for ages – adding a half-hour to an hour to the worship service experience. There was no rushing for the exit as soon as the final hymn ended or the last Amen said.

I have said in other contexts how it’s ironic that Catholicism is supposed to be about Community, but tends to be very individualistic (if one were to judge by the scramble to the parking lot even before Mass has truly ended), while Protestantism is supposed to be individualistic yet tends toward Community (if the crowds hanging out and talking in the lobby are an indicator).

Yes, I know: I’m being terribly unfair. No doubt it depends on the church.

So, to summarize: as a good Baptist, I learned how to be a good Catholic by going to church, reading my Bible, praying, working, and evangelizing —

Evangelizing! That was huge for me as a Baptist. And I’ll talk about that in the next post.


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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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  • Charlie DesRoches

    I am a Catholic who attends a Baptist Church with my wife on a regular basis. I still attend services in the Roman Catholic Church as well. I studied for the Diocesan Priesthood and have a good understanding of the difference and similarities of the two groups. In addition, I have been very active within the Knights of Columbus; serving as Grand Knight, District Deputy and Faithful Navigator of the 4th Degree. I find that in our situation, the Baptist Church that we visit offers much more outreach to our unfortunate brothers and sisters as well as regular fellowship and Bible Study. I have work with the Knights serving in Soup Kitchens and Food Banks, and in fundraisers providing resources to the poor. I have been an active member of St. Vincent de Paul.

    The sense of community that I once experienced within the Holy Roman Catholic Church, is lessened by the concern for the international institution rather than the particular parish or church community. The Parish community of my youth was one of service to each other and the parish as a whole. Today it has lost many parishioners due to the importation of Indian Priests who do not speak the english language clearly and whose theology is Pre Vatican II. It grieves me to see such an internal strife occurring in the Parish of my Family and of my birth. I pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten and open all of our Hearts to the Eucharistic Christ!

    • Paul McCusker

      Thanks, Charlie. The practicalities you mentioned – Priests who are hard to understand, a wobbly “community” (compared to the very united Protestant alternatives), and deficient fellowship and/or study groups – aren’t uncommon in many parishes. The question is: what can be done about it in the short-term and the long-term?

      • Michael P. Daniel

        What can be done is a matter of the community’s willingness to do and to what extent. The shepherd must lead the way, but the flock must be willing to be led. Before this, however, the community as a whole must recognize the deficiency. Otherwise, their private little worlds, paralleled to those who are “personally saved” by a “personal savior”, are unaffected. They simply “go to church” because they are supposed to. They will never “lean in” to hear because they did not come to “hear” anything. It is the same in most churches of all denominations (I am a United Methodist pastor) and is perhaps reminiscent of the time upon us as spoken of in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 “when they will not endure sound doctrine … and they will turn away from the truth.”

    • Dear Charlie, what do you mean by “Pre Vatican II” theology?

    • LizEst

      It’s interesting that you speak about Indian priests “who do not speak the english [sic] language clearly.” That’s too funny! They learned their English from the British. They simply have an accent. Priests who do not speak as our ears are accustomed to should have the effect of making us lean in and listen better.

      When good people leave a parish because it is not to their liking, they weaken it. The Church itself is not at fault for the lack of a sense of community, service or outreach. This sense of community, service and outreach do exist within the Church. It is the individual parish’s onus to enflesh the Body of Christ and be that light for others. However, before we can give Christ to others, Christ has to live in us. That’s where the corporate parish exam of conscience needs to be.

      • Midget01

        Liz. Thank you for stating was I was thinking ever so clearly. My gut ached as I read that a man who studied to be a priest did not see the reason to stick it out and help to correct the issues he appears to be struggling with. Things are complicated enough when we struggle to accept one faith but then to complicate it with alternating 2 faiths it would appear that perhaps he and his wife do not truly have a clear cut view of what God is telling them. you can’t stand in 2 different churches expecting God to reveal himself in both at the same time. I know this is not a good analogy but that’s how complicated it makes me feel inside. I don’t mean to criticize his decision to keep both but it appears to solve nothing but add complication to whatever spirituality he maybe struggling to reach. Many parishioners who move from Diocese to Diocese have to deal with this all the time. I pray that Charlie and his wife find a home wherever God intends for them to be. They are living like divorced children and I know that is not comfortable. Ask any child who has divorced parents. There are 2 separate rules, 2 different congregations, 2 different styles of communion, 2 different hearts. Telling themselves they are ok is misleading not only for them for those around them. They need to make a choice so that they can work together in their marriage and not be always criticizing the things they don’t like at each church. Vatican II did not say for us to pick and chose what is good at others churches, but to accept them for who they are and not be critical of the areas that we can connect and share. It did not say join them. At some point I am sorry but I can’t help but believe He has gone off the path in understanding; thinking that everyone else is wrong. When is the last time He has read Vatican II Documents. Many priests in the 70’s misunderstood and did a lot of things to their parishes that they struggle to fix now.

        • LizEst

          Midget01-He did not say he abandoned the Church. He said he goes to both (interestingly, he called the Catholic component services not Masses). So, perhaps he is just over at the other in support of his wife, whom I took to be Baptist. But, perhaps I’ve made a bad assumption here. He will have to weigh in to clarify this matter. In any case, Christ didn’t abandon us on the cross; so too, we can’t abandon our parishes if they are falling apart and being crucified. Didn’t St. Francis hear “rebuild my Church” as opposed to “go to another church,” or “build your own church”?

  • jrbarrytx

    I think you are right in that it does depend on the church as to how the “Community” functions. Since I attend my husband’s Methodist Church with him (which is where I once was), I have laughingly told myself, I go there for “Community” and to my Catholic church for my private time with God! Our church is not good at Community though they try. Protestants are very good at “Community” and attending church because they want to, not because they have to. But I attend the Catholic church because I want to and love it so. Have to doesn’t even come into the equation for me.

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