Conversion from Roman Catholicism to Biblical Christianity
First, I want to say that I am not trying to "bash" Catholicism in any way—I am simply sharing my own personal story and how the Lord led me to dig deeper into the Bible to learn of its truths and of the great news of salvation through Jesus Christ! Imagine thinking you were a Christian your whole life—only to realize that you didn't even truly understand the meaning of the word! I do believe there are many Catholics who are true believers, and I would never want to hurt anyone. However, I was once Catholic myself and was totally in the dark about salvation through grace, and that's why I feel the need to tell the story of my conversion. If you are Catholic and are not sure about your salvation, please take the time to read this! If you are Catholic and you are a "true believer", saved by the grace of God, then praise the Lord! Please read my story for what it is—simply my story and how I felt I almost missed out on Christianity completely!
I grew up in a loving family who attended the Catholic Church regularly—not just my immediate family, mind you(!)—but my entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.) was Catholic! I was a regular participant and played the organ at church and also was a leader in the "folk choir" for most of my teenage years. In short… I was as "Catholic" as they come!
I never doubted my faith because I was told to just believe everything the Church taught me without question. The Pope was supreme in his authority, and the priests and nuns were to be treated as "holy" and "special" servants of God who would never teach anything untrue. I remember how several times my non-Catholic friends would ask me if I was "saved". Mind you, I had no idea what that term really meant, but I assumed it was akin to the "Sacrament of Confirmation" in my church, so I would always say that yes, I was saved. My friends dropped it at that—never realizing that I had no idea what they were talking about! If you have tried witnessing to a Catholic friend who says they're saved, please be sure they understand it completely, or you may be losing the chance to bring someone into the kingdom!
I also remember my non-Catholic friends asking me about some of the church doctrines, such as purgatory, confession, the Pope, Mary, etc. I always would tell them, "Oh, that's in the Bible!"—but I had no idea where because we were never taught to read the Bible for ourselves but rather to simply believe what we were told. I had no idea these teachings were not in the Bible at all but were actually man-made beliefs that the Catholic Church had made up throughout the years. Many of the teachings they always said came straight from Christ were actually made up as late as the 1950's! But I defended my Church—I loved my Church and trusted it completely. One time a friend really pressed me about where in the Bible were the teachings about purgatory. I asked the priest about this and was given the verse where it says something about being thrown into prison and not getting out till you've paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:26) I remember thinking, "THAT is where you get the whole doctrine of purgatory from??!!" I started having some doubts around that time but just pushed it to the back of my mind.
When I was 21 years old, I had a special friend (Creg) who was a non-Catholic. He asked me about my salvation, and again I convinced him I was saved. However, the Lord wasn't going to let me get away that easily this time! I had been reading a magazine from the "Last Days Ministries", led by Keith and Melody Green and came across some pamphlets they were offering called "The Catholic Chronicle Series". I remember thinking, "Oh, great! Finally something about MY church!" I ordered them and was thrilled when they arrived. I thought this would be great to prove my church was okay to my non-Catholic friends.
I remember that evening so well… My best friend, Wanda (also Catholic), and I sat on my bed and started reading the pamphlets excitedly. After a few minutes, we both realized the pamphlets were not "for" the Catholic Church, but rather were explaining the differences between the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Bible. Our initial reaction was, "Oh, they don't know what they're talking about!" However, we got out our "Catholic Catechism" book (which contains the teachings of the Catholic Church to educate people interested in becoming Catholic) and my Bible and started to compare them. We took each of the Keith Green pamphlets and looked up every single Bible verse he quoted and then looked up the doctrine in the Catholic Catechism book. I started to feel my heart sink. Could this be true?? Wanda got so nervous and upset that she decided to leave.
So all by myself, I spent the next several hours—until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning—studying, reading, praying, crying, and being very confused. The next day I had planned to go with Creg to an out-of-town meeting about 2 hours away. During the trip, I had the time to tell him what was going on. I started reading the pamphlets to him, and he was amazed. "Catholics really believe THAT?!" he'd ask about the various doctrines mentioned in the pamphlets. I'd say, "Well, I didn't realize that's what they believe, but yes, I guess they do." You see, I'd been taking the doctrines that didn't make sense to me and explaining them away by changing what they really meant. For example, the doctrine of Mary and the "Immaculate Conception"… I had always assumed that this meant Mary conceived JESUS "immaculately"—through the Holy Spirit. In reality, what that teaching says is that MARY herself was born "without sin". The Bible plainly states that ALL have sinned except for Jesus! Another example is when people would ask me about why we pray to Mary… I'd explain that as being the same as if I were asking a friend to pray for me— that I was just asking Mary to pray for me. However, the doctrine really states that Catholics DO pray to Mary and even that we are to go through Mary in order to "get to Jesus"!! This is totally unbiblical! The Bible says that there is only one mediator between man and God—and that's Jesus Christ—not Mary, not the "saints", not a Pope—no one else but Christ!
Creg and I talked about all we were learning throughout the whole trip, and that evening when we got back to his house, he got his family together to help me understand "true" salvation doctrines. They got out their Bibles and went through everything with me—explaining how Christ's death at Calvary paid the price for my sins and that, because of that, anyone who accepts Him as their Savior is immediately brought into the Christian family and can be assured they'll go to heaven. I was totally amazed! The Catholic Church taught me that we can never be sure we're going to heaven—that it was a guessing game, depending on how good or bad we were, and whether we died "with sin on our souls" (meaning without having been to confession since sinning). They explained to me that when Christ died, He took ALL my sins away—past, present, and future—and that God wouldn't hold them against me anymore. There was no way I'd die "with sin on my soul" because Christ took them all away! I was in shock, and actually quite upset about my Church's apparent errors, but I was also pretty excited and hopeful…
While we were looking up the Scriptures, we came across one in my Catholic Bible that said, "Unless you do penance, you shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven." They all were quite shocked and said, "That's not what that verse says at all! It says, 'Unless you REPENT, you shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven'!!" "Penance" is a Catholic term which means going to confession and then doing what the priest tells you to do to "make up for" your sins. "Repent", on the other hand, is an internal change that happens when we turn away from our sins and turn back to God—a totally different meaning! Creg was so upset that my Bible had such untruths that he gave me his own personal Bible and told me to read it! And I did!
That whole weekend, I kept my nose in that Bible and read pretty much the whole New Testament. It was like a light-bulb had come on in my head. Words I'd heard many times before now made perfect sense—in this new light of salvation through grace. I felt light and happy and joyous—like I'd found the truth at last—something "real"! I called Creg a few days later and said, "Creg, this is amazing! I feel like a brand-new Christian!" He said, "Jacki, you are a brand-new Christian!" I realized then that while I was following the doctrines of the Catholic Church, I had never really been a "Christian" in the true sense of the word—believing totally in Christ's sacrifice at Calvary to save me from my sins. I mean I'd always heard from the Catholic Church that "Christ died for our sins", but it really had no meaning if you think about it. If Christ died for our sins, then why were we forced to go to confession, do penance, attend church, follow the other sacraments, etc., etc., in order to HOPE we were going to make it to heaven? And if Christ paid for our sins, why on earth would we still have to go to purgatory (which according to the Catholic doctrine is a "temporary hell") when we die to keep trying to make up for them?? Where did Christ fit into that picture? In reality, His death did me no good according to the Catholic Church since I still had to try to earn my own way. But the truth was that His death did everything! There was nothing I could do to add to it—He paid the price in full, and I could be assured of my salvation! The Bible even says, "I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13, emphasis mine) You can't get any plainer than that! Something about this made me feel so FREE and made me want to serve God with all my heart because of what He'd done for me.
Being a musician/composer, that day I wrote a song that expressed what I was feeling. Here are the lyrics:
Lord, I'm Not Worthy
Dear Lord, I'm not worthy of all You've done for me.
I'm just a lowly sinner, Lord, how can You care about me?
To gaze upon Your goodness, makes me want to hide my face.
On my own, I'm not worthy, but I'm made worthy by Your grace.
You lived a perfect life on earth—something I could never do.
You showed Your people how to live, and when Your days were through,
You showed the perfect love—You gave Your life upon that tree
Dear Lord, I'm not worthy, but with Your help I'll try to be…
More like You every day, pleasing to You in every way,
Loving You with all my heart, serving You—I'll try to do my part;
Praising You with every breath, living for You until my death,
Where on bended knee, I'll meet You face to face!
My Lord, I'm not worthy to stand before God's throne,
But through You, I am made worthy too; yes, now I'm one of God's own!
Like a father never leaves His child, I know You'll never leave me.
Dear Lord, I'm not worthy of all You've done for me.
This song was written on July 26, 1982—which is the date I call my "Christian birthday"—since that is the day I truly understood and accepted Christ as my Savior!
The next several days were so exciting for me! I learned about the Rapture and how we Christians who are still alive will be taken up to heaven to be with Jesus! I learned what heaven is going to be like through reading the book of Revelation. I never knew any of this was in the Bible! The Catholic Church actually taught that heaven was not even a real "place" but rather a "state of mind"! I have to admit, I felt cheated—like the Catholic Church had kept all these marvels from me. I was so happy to have finally found the truth that I started sharing all this with my friends and family. My younger sisters and brother all were anxious to receive God's "gift of salvation" and all accepted Christ into their hearts as their Savior. That was a precious moment for me…
My best friend, Wanda, was another story. She got so angry that I was saying these things about the Catholic Church that she turned her back on me. She said I was "dead" as far as she was concerned. My mother also had major problems with this. She had a very hard time believing that the Church she'd loved for more than 50 years could ever teach anything in error. I was very sad that this came between us, but I knew I had to choose between the Bible and the Church, and I chose the Bible.
I was just a week away from moving to Florida to attend college, so I continued to attend the Catholic Church before leaving. I heard words in a totally new light now, though. Words of the "Mass" that I'd heard a thousand times before and had just taken for granted—not even giving a thought to their meaning—now were so obviously unbiblical that I knew I couldn't continue to participate in the Catholic Church once I moved to Florida. I found a wonderful little Bible-believing church that helped me grow spiritually as a Christian. I have never looked back—never once regretted leaving the Catholic Church, never doubting that I'd done the right thing. I know now that every single belief I have comes straight from the Bible, and I'll never again have to "defend" my beliefs with half-truths and made-up stories.
Shortly after I moved to Florida, my mother pressed me about talking to a priest to try to "straighten myself out"! I told her I would. I made an appointment with a local priest and went with my Bible in hand. He thought he was going to counsel me on the teachings of the Catholic Church. For about 5 minutes, I asked him questions like, "What does the Church teach about Mary?" and "What does the Church teach about Purgatory?" Then I asked the biggie(!): "Does the Church teach we can know we're going to heaven?" I'll never forget what happened next! He just said, "Well… I wouldn't say we can know we're going to heaven—rather, we can only hope that we won't die with sin on our souls." I knew then that God had opened the door for me to witness to this priest! Here's the rest of that conversation:
Me: Okay, so sin is the only thing that separates us from God, right?
Priest: Yes, that's right.
Me: Okay, and didn't Christ die for all our sins?
Priest: Yes… (starting to look a little uncomfortable)
Me: Okay then—what's the problem??!!
Priest: You know, I'd never thought of it that way before!
It was wonderful after that! I counseled HIM for about 20 minutes—going through the Bible, showing him where it says we can know we have eternal life, showing him the many verses that say our salvation is a free gift from God and that Christ's death paid the price in full for our sins so that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God again…
He was amazed! He got very excited and said, "Maybe I'll include this in my sermon next Sunday!" (He was a young priest, by the way—maybe an older one wouldn't have received these teachings in this way.) He asked if I'd come see him again and talk more about this. I said I'd love to!
However, over the next several weeks, I tried many times to contact him and was always told he either wasn't there or was busy, etc. I realized I was being "put off" and gave up. I don't know if he went to his senior priests and told them about this and they tried to quiet him down or what happened. But I do know that I at least shared the truth of God's Word with him and that maybe it had an impact on him.
I truly believe that salvation is so "simple" that we humans try to make it way too complicated! The conversation between the priest and myself above explains all someone needs to know to be saved. I hope that my story has touched your heart and that you will study God's Word for yourself to see that what I've said is true. I hope that if you're a Catholic now, you'll take the time to learn that what your Church really teaches is not in the Bible as you've probably always assumed and that you'll have the courage to seek out the truth. I hope that this message will cause someone else to say, "You know—I'd never thought of it that way before!"
In His Love,
NOTE: If you're interested in learning more about this subject, you may wish to read the article on this web site called "Did You Know…?" – it plainly gives the scripture verses to back up what I've said in my testimony! Also, the Keith Green pamphlets that I studied are no longer available. However, there is a very informative web site that contains a "FAQs Concerning Roman Catholicism" section that has the same information I learned from the pamphlets. They also have the entire text of a wonderful book called "Understanding Roman Catholicism" that very simply and concisely compares Catholicism with the Bible (along with quotes from both the Bible and the current "Catholic Catechism"), written by another couple who have left the Catholic Church. If you want to learn more about this, I encourage you to read through this online book, as well as the other information there, and read and study your Bible with an open mind to seek out the truth. Another good site is Fascinating Reading of the Holy Bible for Roman Catholics.