Your Conversion Experience Does Not Determine Your Spiritual Worth

Your Conversion Experience Does Not Determine Your Spiritual Worth May 19, 2020
Image credit: pxfuel.com

A former acquaintance on Facebook who has become outspokenly anti-Catholic had recently posted on social media, and I quote verbatim:

Different types of conversion:

When a Catholic converts to Protestantism, it’s almost always the case that the person, in doing so, experiences a true conversion: they experience a radical reorientation of heart and mind. No longer is prayer and Church attendance an obligation or burden, but something they really love and enjoy doing. Certain sins just melt away. They become preoccupied with Christ, with following Him, with sharing the good news.

When a Protestant converts to Catholicism, it is almost always the case that they *already* experienced that transformation. Their conversion rarely ever involves a melting of sin, a reorientation of heart and mind. And often times, their desire to evangelize and share the Gospel diminishes while their fascination with the Roman Church and converting Protestants take that place.

In response to this, I’d be wrong to say that this sort of transition doesn’t happen. I’ve witnessed it myself where some Protestant converts to Catholicism develop a relentless desire to convert their former church members. This is often paired with an underlying thought that Protestants are not true Christians and are ‘severed from the true vine’ so to speak. These types can often be seen on social media donning a crusader profile picture with ‘Deus Vult’ or ‘Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus’ as their banner. As a former Protestant Evangelical, I can honestly say this can be a severely off-putting impression to any non-Catholic — and if this is their only impression of what Catholics are like, that could completely turn them off from ever wanting to explore the faith. Hence why I wrote my article ‘Anti-Protestant Discrimination Bothers Me.’ As Catholics, we are obligated to acknowledge all believers in Christ based on the Apostles and Nicene Creed.

Some notable paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church state,

“From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. Among the Church’s members, there are different gifts, offices, conditions, and ways of life. “Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions.” The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity. Yet sin and the burden of its consequences constantly threaten the gift of unity. And so the Apostle has to exhort Christians to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” — CCC 814

“The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” — CCC 838

When it comes to any group being on the outside looking in, we often withhold our own preconceived notions and prejudices of what certain groups are like. For example, many Christians tend to believe that all atheists and agnostics hate God and are hell-bent on destroying religion. In reality, many of those who are non-religious have not been exposed to religious communities in the same manner as those who were raised in them — in which case, many of them wouldn’t harbor the stereotypical resentment towards God that many Christians would depict. My own atheist and agnostic friends whom I associate with do not believe in God simply because it doesn’t make sense to them, not because they ‘hate’ Him. Likewise, if I only became friends with them specifically to convert them, then my relationship with them is no different than that of a sleazy car salesman and a potential consumer.

In my article ‘Stop Treating Evangelism Like A Sales Pitch,’ I talk about how the best form of evangelism is how we as Christians allow Christ’s example to be shown in how we live our lives as opposed to winning people over in a theological argument. Not everyone enjoys debating theology and apologetics, and debating or arguing someone into converting is not a one-size-fits-all tactic. Granted this realization, a desire to evangelize and share the Gospel does not necessarily diminish when a Protestant converts to Catholicism, but the general approach to evangelism changes. Sometimes that form of evangelism comes in the form of art, song and liturgical expression. This is one of the many reasons why many converts find themselves attending a Tridentine Latin Mass because the beauty and reverence of traditional worship is a testimony within itself.

One of the things we as Christians ought to keep in mind is that the Church (in a universal sense) as well as the Bible is bound by God, but God Himself is not bound by the Church nor Scripture. And with that comes the possibility that not every encounter with Christ is experienced in the same way as others. People have encountered Christ in a variety of forms that aren’t limited to a church-type setting. Some have encountered Christ in dreams and visions, such as my late father-in-law who struggled with substance abuse and depression in his younger years. He experienced a vision as though a hand reached out to him and pulled him out of a deep, dark pit of despair. He was convinced that this was God reaching out to him in a similar manner Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus.

 

For those who have been following my blog for quite some time, you would be familiar with how I have written about my encounter with Christ at an Evangelical Bible camp when I was a teenager. As someone who had been the subject of frequent and hostile bullying in my school years, forgiveness was never my strong point. It wasn’t until I heard a speaker at camp address the importance of forgiveness that my sinful nature and need for a savior was fully realized. Had it not been for this experience, I doubt I ever would have considered Christianity.

As far as my experience converting from cradle-Catholicism to Protestantism, the alleged claim that ‘certain sins just melt away’ has no basis in reality. Even though my encounter with Christ led me to realize my need to forgive others, my struggle to forgive has been ongoing even to this day. When the very people who claim to know Christ treat you worse than the ones who made your life miserable in the past, your ability to comprehend the teachings of the Gospel are put to the test. You can’t help but wonder if you were duped into some kind of cult. And when the very people in your congregation avoid and ghost you, it only feeds the speculation that of all the parts of the Body of Christ I am the appendix. I could be cut off, discarded and forgotten about at the first sign of swelling as though I was only a means to an end. People do not suddenly stop becoming sinners at the moment of their encounter with Christ. Justification and sanctification tend to be viewed by Protestants as an instantaneous event, whereas Catholics and Orthodox view it as a lifelong process (Matthew 24:13, Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 10:26). Habitual sins sometimes take an entire lifespan to finally master, albeit with the help of divine grace.

As for my reversion to Catholicism, my experiences exploring other denominations and with the congregation I associated with for over 12 years led me to realize that much of what I was taught about the Catholic Church was misinformation. I had come to love Christ enough to desire reverence in worship and to continually seek out the transformation of my heart and mind through the very Sacraments instituted by Christ Himself. Confessing my sins to a priest has allowed me to tangibly unload the baggage within me akin to shining a light into darkness. As far as Catholicism is concerned, attending Mass, confessing your sins and receiving Christ in the Eucharist is not a burden, but a joyous gift worth talking about.

For someone to say one person’s experience with Christ is more ‘authentic’ than another is to imply every relationship ought to be socially and culturally the same as their own. People encounter Christ in a variety of settings, whether through enduring hardships, dreams or visions, or even experiencing the beauty of Christian art, song and liturgical expression. To say that Protestant conversion to Catholicism rarely involves a melting of sin and a reorientation of heart and mind is disingenuous and an attempt at gaslighting people into believing newly converted Catholics are not sincere in their faith. As Christians, we are called to unify in faith and baptism — and if that leads some to explore the richness of Catholic Christianity, the only ones who should feel threatened about it are those who would rather see the Body of Christ perpetually divided.


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