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Truth for Catholics:  Genuine Catholic Information for Honest Seekers

From Agnostic to Fundamentalist to Catholic

B. Warrick

I became a Christian (got saved) in a Southern Baptist Church in 1976. Before that, in terms of faith, I'd have to say that I was an agnostic. I had been raised in a non-Christian home where the Bible was considered to be little more than a book of nice stories from which we could learn moral lessons... similar to Aesop's Fables. I remember that in high school, I had a lab partner in tenth-grade biology who actually believed in the creation story... and I was shocked at the thought that anyone actually believed that the Bible stories were actually true!

During my junior year of high school, however, I met a young man who attended a local Southern Baptist church. He claimed that he had been "called to preach". And frankly, if I hadn't had so much respect and admiration for the guy, I'd have thought he was nuts! As it was, I made fun of his faith: "Hey Ken! Did God just yell out of the sky 'Ken! Be a preacher!'". I thought the whole thing was hysterical, and made this sentiment very plain to Ken.

But Ken and God did not give up on me that easily. At Christmastime, Ken happened to draw my name in a gift drawing, and he gave me a copy of Good News for Modern Man [New Testament]. Upon opening this gift, I actually laughed - I took it as a "gag gift" and threw it up on a shelf.

But soon, as I got to know Ken better, I began to be curious about his faith. He seemed so enthusiastic about it! And he was a smart guy, after all! How could be believe in a fairy tale if there was nothing to it???

Eventually, I decided to attend ten services at his Southern Baptist Church.... I figured that ten services would give me a good understanding of Ken's religion. Then I could move on to more important things. But it only took Jesus three of those services to tug at my heart in such a way that I could not resist. Before I knew it, I was answering an altar call and "accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior".

I became very active in the Southern Baptist Church, even tho my family were not Christians and were not members. I was in the church adult choir and the youth choir. I attended Sunday School and was active in the youth group. I even went to a Southern Baptist college (in Birmingham, Alabama) and paid for it myself! I was that enthusiastic about God and about my new-found faith community.

However, while in college (around the end of my sophomore year), some of my friends suggested I check out an Assembly of God in town. This particular Assembly of God was "on fire for God", and I quickly got swept up in the whole thing. I was very involved in this church (which was very large) and spent practically half my week at church related activities - Sunday was 2 services (Sunday night was up to 3 1/2 hours long!), Tuesday night I went out on witnessing teams, Wednesday night was prayer meeting (also about 3 hours), and Friday and/or Saturday was a youth group function. We had revivals, tent meetings, you name it! On several occasions, for a week at a time, we had Benny Hinn come to visit (this was in 1980-81, and he wasn't "famous" and on TV yet) and on those occasions, we had church every night of the week. It was a wild time of my life, and I grew quite a bit in my knowledge of the Bible, which was the focal point of my faith.

A few of my friends from the Assembly of God were going out to Bible school at a place called Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) in Dallas, and after graduation, I decided to join them. It was here that I met a girl who is still one of my best friends to this day. Her name is Connie, she was my assigned roommate, and she was from Alaska.

CFNI was a pretty wild place. It was a school very devoted to the charismatic/pentecostal tradition, with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in full operation. Nationally know evangelists came to visit the school on a weekly basis, and there were many long services during which preachers preached, people were healed, and the joy of the Lord was expressed thru the Gifts of the Spirit, dancing in the aisles, etc. Anyway, Connie and I felt a little uncomfortable there (we were both from more "orderly" churches), and I didn't stay in Dallas but for a year. I soon went to visit Connie in Alaska, and eventually decided to move there. To this day, I believe the Lord took me to CFNI not for the bible school itself, but instead, to meet Connie.

In Anchorage, Connie was a member of a non-denominational fundamentalist "spirit-filled" church. It had been founded by two men who were both former pentecostal preachers - I'll call them Dick B. and Dick S. During my initial visit to Anchorage, both men were still with the church, and it was pretty balanced in many ways - Dick B. was very much into the "holiness" aspects of Christianity, and Dick S. was into the "love" aspects - and together, they balanced each other out quite well. But by the time I'd moved to Anchorage, the church had split and Connie had stayed with the church headed by Dick B. So that was the church I decided to join.

This church turned out to be perhaps the most legalistic church I have ever been associated with. Dick referred to himself as an "Apostle", and there were also pastors, teachers, and evangelists according to the Bible. There was also a system of elders, and it was expected that any Christian who was "pressing in" would "submit themselves to an elder". Submitting yourself to an elder meant that the elder was to be consulted on most major decisions - if you wanted to change jobs, buy a new car, buy a house, change apartments or roommates, or spend a lot of money on a particular purpose, the "good Christian" would check with their elder first. Further, the dating rules at this church were extremely intense. At this church, you were supposed to do things in groups only. Women were not to ask men out, and men were only to ask a woman out if he felt that he would be interested in marrying her. Elders were consulted before even the discussion of a date occurred, and the elder of the guy and the elder of the girl would have a chat about the situation before it was really supposed to move forward. Dating outside the church was absolutely unheard of - and dating someone from Dick S's church was considered to be just as bad as dating an unbeliever.

The dating rules caused all kinds of problems... because there was tremendous pressure. If a guy asked out a girl, it was construed as almost a pre-engagement! So you can imagine what the rumor mill did to individuals contemplating even a first date!!! Further, the expectations were so high, that many guys were terrified of asking anyone out. In fact, I know several individuals my age who never married, mostly because of the dating rules and their effects on these individuals. I know guys who have never asked out a single woman - and they are in their 40's. And I know of several wonderful, normal women who were never asked out at all during their time in the pews of this church. Many of these individuals are not even Christians anymore.... And they blame the church for the fact that they are so dysfunctional about relationships. It is very sad.

Another thing about this church was that you were supposed to tell leadership on anyone you saw committing a sin. Of course, oftentimes situations were misconstrued or misunderstandings occurred... and when a person was "confronted with their sin", many hurts and bitter feelings resulted. Essentially, many Christians grew to distrust other Christians... and if one was truly stuck in a secret sin, he would remain there rather than trust anyone to help him.

I was a member of this church for about 6 years. Ultimately I ended up marrying a guy that I met at that church, but he left me 4 years later for an 18-year-old girl he had been having an affair with.

It was then that I had a crisis of faith that ultimately lead me into the Catholic Church.

As a fundamentalist, I had always been taught that if you read the Bible, prayed, went to church, tithed, didn't drink, smoke, gamble, watch R-rated movies, dance, etc... that God would bless you. I was taught to "stand on the promises" and "get the victory".

Well, after my husband split, I wasn't feeling very blessed, and as for "getting the victory".... Victory may as well have been in another universe. I felt that God had abandoned me... that he either didn't love me or that he didn't exist at all! Or that I wasn't "good enough" of a Christian. That I hadn't worked hard enough... hadn't prayed enough, hadn't witnessed enough... didn't have enough faith - that this horrible thing was somehow my fault because I hadn't been a good enough Christian. I was very depressed and was nearing despair. And my elder (who I was in counseling with) had no answers. I had reached the end of the line.

Then a friend suggested I read St. John of the Cross. I was so desperate that I was even willing to try that! Until that point, I didn't know anything about anyone with "Saint" in front of their name - I was as anti-Catholic as they come, having been taught that Catholics had lost God long ago, that they followed the traditions of men, that they re-sacrificed Jesus, that the pope was a phony. I had read a series of articles written by singer/songwriter Keith Green in about 1980 which detailed the "horrors" of the Catholic Church - he published a four-part series in his Last Days Newsletter, of which I was a subscriber. In the back of my NIV [New International Version] Bible (which I have to this day, by the way) I had copied down all sorts of Bible references "proving" that the Catholic Church was wrong, and further, sinful:

I was prepared to "witness" to any Catholic who happened to show up - I was ready to lead them to Jesus.

I thought I knew the truth... but God had other ideas, I suppose. Desperate, I went shopping in search of St. John of the Cross.

The only place in Anchorage where one could purchase Catholic books was the Daughters of St. Paul... now called the Pauline Book and Media Center. I went down there for the first time looking only for this St. John of the Cross guy, and planned to spend as little time in that store as possible. They had real nuns there, after all! The ones in full habits! And that whole section of books on Mary.... I had to steer way clear of that shelf at all costs! And then there were all those dead Jesus' hanging on crosses. Didn't these Catholics know that Jesus had won the victory??? Saint this and saint that... all around! The place was a fundamentalist's chamber of horrors....

I asked a nun to show me where St. John of the Cross was, and she politely pointed me in the right direction. My plan was to grab a book and make as quick an escape as possible.... I didn't want to be seen frequenting a Catholic bookstore, after all!

But as I thumbed thru the rather thick volume entitled The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross I realized very quickly that I was not at all familiar with the "lingo". This book didn't read at all like the books I'd been purchasing in Christian bookstores for years - books by Billy Graham, Kenneth Copeland, Jimmy Swaggart. I didn't understand what St. John of the Cross was saying. So I decided to find a short that could be read in a setting or two... to "easy me into the Catholic lingo" and prepare me for St. John of the Cross. I found just such a book - simple and short - just a few spaces down on the shelf: The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. I picked it up and purchased it that day based upon the sole criteria that was short. But that book changed my life.

The writings of Therese quite simply changed my entire idea of the purpose of suffering in the Christian life - it is not simply a matter of "getting the victory" and "standing on the promises".... It is a matter of uniting ourselves with the Suffering Christ.... You know... the guy hanging on the crucifix! It is a matter of becoming one with God thru becoming one with his Suffering Son. It is only thru suffering with Him that one can really touch the Heart of God; that one can really even begin the experience and understand the depths of Jesus' love for us.

Look at it this way: In order to really know someone, you must see all facets of their personality and experience - until this point, I had never experienced this part of Jesus.... And experiencing it at last had a profound impact on my life.

But now I had another problem.... How could a Catholic (who, don't forget, wasn't a "real" Christian, after all!) know God like this??? How could an unsaved Catholic produce such profound insight? It didn't add up! And I was mystified. Finally, after much troublesome thought, I decided that I must investigate the Church's claims for myself.

I began to read a lot, and kept reading practically non-stop for over a year (I couldn't wait to get home each evening!). All I did in my free time was read the writings of the saints... and later, apologetics. The saints got me interested... but as you might imagine, I still had lots of issues with the Catholic Church: the Pope, Mary, praying for the dead, the Rosary, the Sacrifice of the Mass.... I was extremely skeptical of it all. But what I had been taught - that Catholicism was not Christian, clearly wasn't true either - these saints knew God. Not like Kenneth Copeland, or Benny Hinn or any of those guys. I'm talking on a level I had never even read about. And I had to find out about the Church that had lead these saints to such a deep relationship with Jesus.

I read the books Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating and Catholic and Christian by Alan Schreck. I listened to Scott Hahn tapes (very helpful - he is a former Presbyterian minister and Bible scholar who converted to Catholicism). I read more writings of the saints. I read some writings of the Early Church Fathers. And after a year of intense study... well, I was left with no other answer: I had to become a Catholic. I was convinced (and 8 years later, still am) that the Catholic Church is right. I finally went and sought out a priest, and told them I wanted to become a Catholic. I had still never attended a single Mass.

The priest was amazed at my story. She'd read St. John of the Cross?? St. Theresa of Avila??? That was seminary fare! He called another priest into his office with "Hey Father! Com'ere! Ya gotta hear this!!" and I went through the whole thing again!

For lack of any place better to put me, they told me to begin coming to the RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] class then in progress... but after two sessions they decided that they may as well just receive me into the Church. I knew Catholic doctrine better than most of the teachers, after all! I had had to study it in depth in order to satisfy myself about the claims of the Church, so I when I showed up on the Church's front steps, I was ready! Convinced.

And so, in September of 1990 I was received into the Catholic Church. And I still, to this day, am in grateful awe of the fact that God has allowed me to be a part of such a wonderful Church - His Church. That He opened my eyes to all the richness of the Catholic spiritual heritage. That He gave me a spiritual life like none I'd experienced in the fundamentalist churches. What He did in my life was truly a miracle. And each time I attend Mass, as I kneel in prayer before it begins, my first prayer is still, always, "God.... Thank you for bringing me into the Catholic Church."

© 1998 B. Warrick. Used with permission.

(Background image: St. Therese of Lisieux.)

Truth for Catholics:  Genuine Catholic Information for Honest Seekers
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(Created October 1, 1998; revised April 23, 2013.)