Here’s my confession: I have some issues with the Catholic Church. It could be due to my sister-in-law’s long held insistence that the Catholic Church is the only “true” church and how she persistently prays our family will convert to Catholicism. It’s an ongoing joke at this point and I don’t hold it against her… anymore.
But, for the record, her prayers are in vain because we won’t be converting.
I also take issue with how the Catholic Church holds their traditions and the Magisterium on the same level as Scripture. (I’m a sola scriptura girl.) Frankly, I just don’t see a lot of these additional rules and ordinances supported by scripture. In some cases, they are in direct opposition to scripture. (Catechism 841 is an example of that. Sorry… I’m not going to tell you what it is. But, you should look it up for yourself. It’s fascinating. Truly.) However, helping Sydney with her religion homework in second grade (she went to a private Catholic school for three years) was really what pushed me over the edge.
They were studying the 10 Commandments and the curriculum being used completely ignored 90% of the Second Commandment. There was no mention of idols, or graven images. When I brought this to her teacher’s attention the following day, the explanation I received centered around not wanting to confuse the students about praying to the statues of saints. My amused (and probably sarcastic) response: So, because you don’t want students to see those little statues as idols, you decide to change the Second Commandment?
Needless to say, Sydney’s days in Catholic school came to an end soon after that.
But, in that moment, the Lord also opened my eyes to a deeper truth. Sydney would have gone to school that day and raised her hand during religion class to ask why the 10 Commandments in her homework didn’t match her Bible. (That’s what she did to me the previous night.) The Lord was showing me the difference between childlike faith and childish faith. Children ask questions, endless questions. So, when Jesus tells the disciples to be like children (Matthew 18:2-4; Luke 18:16-17), maybe this is what he was underscoring. Childish faith, on the other hand, is immature, uninquisitive… dare I say gullible and easily swayed.
It was about this time that I started to push back against what I was seeing in the church, specifically the things that didn’t line up with scripture. Definitely not a coincidence.
But, despite my resistance to Catholic teachings, there has always been this nagging question? Was there a way to find some semblance of unity with those in the Catholic Church? It doesn’t seem like a difficult question, but, I promise…. people have some pretty strong feelings on it. On both sides of the aisle. However, it really wasn’t something I thought much about until a couple of years ago.
On our first trip to Haiti in 2017 (the one where Be The Change Youth Initiative was born), we met PJ Anderson, a Catholic worship artist from Nashville, TN. Over the last couple of years, PJ and his family have become dear friends. They’ve opened up their home to us when we’re working in Nashville. They’ve gotten Sydney where she needs to be when traveling on her own. But, most importantly, they have become like family.
Our travel schedule had us in Nashville for Easter. We were planning to spend the morning at our favorite church (Strong Tower Bible Church) and then spending the remainder of the day back at the RV. But, PJ invited us to spend the day with them and some of their friends, which led to one of the most comical moments on the trip thus far.
PJ lives in a quiet, unassuming neighborhood, but you never know who you’ll run into at the local sandwich shop, or even at his house, because it’s a community filled with Christian artists. Our very first visit had us buying sandwiches at the neighborhood sandwich shop with Chris Llewellyn, the lead singer of Rend Collective. And the night before Sydney wrote her first song with professional songwriters in Nashville, we had dinner at PJ’s with Mike Donehey, lead singer of Tenth Avenue North, and his family. (Which was one of my favorite nights ever because he gave her the BEST dating advice we could have EVER asked for… and she has NEVER expressed any interest in dating since that night!)
On Easter, some of the friends PJ happened to be entertaining we’re Matt Mahar and his family. It was a complete shock to walk into the kitchen and see them sitting there. Well, it was a complete shock to everyone except Jamie… because he had no clue who Matt Mahar was! My kids were trying SO HARD to not freak out in that moment and they were doing a really great job until Jamie extended his hand to say, “I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”
For real. I’m pretty sure they DIED inside. But, it was so great. It’s one of the many reasons why I love Jamie so much. His cultural ignorance makes him unassuming… and keeps me entertained. For the record, Matt Mahar is the real deal. Super humble and really funny. He also spent some time helping Sydney do some research for an upcoming performance. When people of that caliber actually see your kids and take the time to help them, it leaves an indelible mark on both you and your children.
Shortly before the Mahars’ left, another young couple came over… Sarah and Dom. (And if you haven’t heard of Sarah Kroger, you should check her out!) This couple is so hilarious and full of life. You really can’t help but smile, and laugh, when you’re around them. We spent the rest of the evening talking about life, faith, and unity in the Church. All of these guys are a part of the Catholic Church.
We talked about the importance of the Holy Spirit: the power of the Spirit, how to walk in the Spirit, how to live in the Spirit. These weren’t topics of conversation in the Catholic circles I knew. Shortly after our time together, Dom reached out and asked if I would write a devotional for a project he was working on.
My response: You know I’m not Catholic, right?
His response: So?
That following week, PJ had his monthly worship night, The Summit. Every month, people come together to worship, hear a short message and then head over to the church across the street for mass. PJ asked Sydney to help with worship and then give the message for the April gathering. The experience was beautiful because she was surrounded by some of the most talented worship leaders in the Christian community, Catholic or otherwise.
This was another step. The Lord started a work in Haiti, almost two years to the date, and was continuing the work now. Looking back, it’s almost like this beautiful tapestry, with so many threads representing all the people He has brought into our lives. (Right now, as I write this, our family is in California…. six months removed from this story. The added threads to this tapestry are many. The colors vibrant. The work being created by the Lord is beautiful.)
I don’t agree with a lot of the doctrine coming out of the Catholic Church, but I also don’t agree with everything coming from ANY Protestant denomination. (I’m also completely ignorant when it comes to so many theological nuances.) Doctrine IS important because TRUTH is important. But, Jesus says there are two laws: Love God and love others as yourself.
What happens if we FOCUS on those things, not forsaking truth… but making sure those two laws remain the priority when seeking truth? What if we can humbly seek truth together, sharpening our theological swords in a healthy way, instead of dulling our swords in the echo chambers of our insular communities of faith? What if we stopped trying to prove we are always right and humbly concede the possibility we might be wrong? Because here’s the truth: We all have something wrong and our arrogance (and ignorance) is prohibiting our spiritual growth, as well as our witness to the world.