WARNING: I don’t mean this to be incendiary, but I recognize that many Catholics and Protestants will take issue with this post.
Why I Went
One of the primary reasons I was open to visiting a Catholic church was because of the ministry of Catholic radio and websites. For a few years, I’ve enjoyed listening to different radio programs and podcasts and reading articles on Catholic websites. They’ve helped me see that, as a Protestant, I don’t have much to protest. When I hear what Catholics believe from Catholics (not the distorted message from Martin Luther and contemporary Protestants), I realize that the Church has very good reasons for believing what it does. While some practices might seem strange to me (such as praying to the saints), the motives behind those practices strike me as being perfectly Christian. I often think of myself as a Protestant who’s ended his protest.
Another reason why I wanted to go is that I’ve been getting bored at my church. That’s not a slam on my church. I simply get bored easily. Listening to the same person with the same perspective speak every week gets old. Singing the same songs gets old. Watching the same people perform on stage gets old. So, to a certain degree, I wanted something new.
I’m also a student of Christian history. I enjoy reading the documents of first and second century Christians. My thought is that those who were closer in time to Jesus and the Apostles probably have a better understanding of the faith than those who came later. The Catholic Church claims to preserve the historical teaching and authority of the Apostles. It would seem only natural, then, to follow its teaching.
I’ve attended a variety of Protestant churches for the past 33 years. I have a degree from a Protestant seminary. I’ve served as a minister in three Protestant denominations. I know what Protestants believe. I also sense that there’s another side of Christianity that I don’t know much about. Is it possible that the Catholic Church has something to teach me? If Jesus wants to show me something from this branch of the faith, I don’t want to miss it.
So, boredom, respect for the historical Church, and an openness to a new revelation of Christ are why I visited a Catholic church.
What I Found
It was fine.
Okay, I guess I should elaborate on that statement.
It was a church service. I had no problems with anything said or done and I especially appreciated some of the aspects of the service. For instance, whenever someone approached or left the platform, they bowed as a sign of respect for Christ. Even the children, when they entered the sanctuary bowed before taking their seat.
But with only a few minor exceptions, the service wasn’t much different from a high church Protestant service. If you’ve been to a Presbyterian, Lutheran, or United Methodist church, you would recognize and feel at home with most of what was happening.
My one complaint was that the service wasn’t very newcomer-friendly. The congregation responded to the liturgy from memory. They sat and stood and kneeled without instruction to do so. I leaned into the hand of the woman behind me once because she and everyone else were going from standing to kneeling while I misinterpreted the movement and started to sit. I felt her pry her hand from behind my back before I could lean forward again.
Now, I’m confident that anyone would have been glad to guide me with printed resources and an explanation of the movements, but the people leading the service didn’t give me any cues.
About halfway through the service, I wanted to leave. It wasn’t that I felt uncomfortable. It was simply that I didn’t see anything special about the service. Was Jesus being glorified? Yes. Was the Holy Spirit present in the service? Yes.
But no more so than in my very casual Protestant church.
What Jesus Said
I came home a little disgruntled because I was expecting more from the “one, true, Apostolic Church.” That night, I gave my frustration to Jesus in prayer. I said something like, “Lord, I want to be a part of Your Church, the real Church, where people serve You as You intended.”
He then interrupted my thought process (Jesus gets to do that) by saying, “You’re My Church.”
He didn’t mean that all I needed was Him and me or that I already know everything I need to. Rather, He impressed in my spirit that the Church really is all Christians, no matter where they attend to worship Him or what labels they use to describe their doctrine. If people are honestly seeking to know and serve Christ, they are the Church.
Why I’ll Continue Listening to the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church still has a lot of history and tradition that I can learn from. It has a very thoroughly thought-out theology. I believe that Catholic teachers can still help widen my view of Jesus with a different perspective than I’m used to. So, I’ll keep listening to Catholic radio and reading books and articles sanctioned by the Catholic Church.
And I wouldn’t mind going to a Catholic service again. I simply don’t have a reason to.