On August 14, 2011, at the age of 54,
after being an evangelical Protestant all my life,
I joined the Catholic Church.
Why did I become a Catholic?
There are not even 100 people in this country who hate the Catholic Church,
but there are millions who hate what they think the Catholic Church to be.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Part 1: My Story
My history of church hopping
I was raised in a Protestant Christian family in Akron, Ohio, and we went to church every Sunday. During my childhood my family changed churches several times.
We went to...
I wasn't aware of differences between these churches other than the atmosphere and worship style.
Perhaps my main Christian influence was the parachurch ministry Youth for Christ / Campus Life as well as the rock style music of the Jesus Movement which had swept across America from the West Coast and had a huge impact on Christians of my generation.
When I was a young boy I prayed the "sinner's prayer" to receive Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior -- not just once, but many times until I felt it actually "took hold" at the age of sixteen. Around that time I began the practice of daily Bible reading and prayer.
I went away to college in Pittsburgh and returned to Akron in the late 1970's where I became a member of the Chapel in University Park. The Chapel had a well organized Christian education program, great Bible preaching, and a large staff of ministers and teachers. It also had a great program for young adults and I since was a single, I was always at Church and was very active in their outreach programs.
During those years I had the opportunity to hear many well-known Christian speakers as well as missionaries who were taking the Gospel to various countries around the world.
One particular missionary to Swaziland gave a testimony that planted in me an overwhelming desire to become a missionary myself. I had already promised God when I was around seven years old that I would be a missionary, so it seemed as if God was simply holding me to my promise.
At the time I was working full time as a graphic artist, so I had to figure out how to prepare for such a drastic career change.
In the early 80's I went to Malone College (now Malone University) in Canton, Ohio, to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Ministries. I couldn't afford to go back to college, but God blessed me with a full scholarship before I even officially applied to the college!
During my time at Malone College, I was on the staff of the local Youth for Christ / Campus Life, and started a few Campus Life groups at local high schools.
Visit to Japan
While I was still a college student in 1983 I went to Japan on a summer missionary program with SEND International, and Japan turned out to be strangely familiar and stirred up old images and feelings which were just beyond my grasp.
That's because I was born in Japan in 1956, and am half Japanese on my mother's side. My family moved to America when I was six months old, and I have no recollection of the first six months of my life in Japan.
Yet when I visited Japan twenty-seven years later in 1983, I had the overwhelming feeling that this was my home.
I also met my grandmother (pictured with me in the photo) who had not seen my face since I was a baby.
I had brought my guitar and a few puppets to Japan that summer and found them very useful in evangelistic meetings. Many people encouraged me to come back to Japan, and one afternoon as I was looking at the mountains in the late afternoon after a rain, I had a strong sense that this was where I belonged.
Discovering the Episcopal Church
After my Japan visit during my final years at college in Ohio, I realized that my old junk car wasn't up for the trip from my college in Canton to my church in Akron every Sunday so I started to church hop locally, visiting several churches in the area, sometimes catching a ride with friends.
I didn't try the Catholic Church, but I did try the Greek Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church as well as the Quakers and Southern Baptists.
I discovered I was attracted to beautiful liturgy at the Episcopal Church, and became a member. Outside the United States, the Episcopal Church is called the Anglican Church.
It was good that I had received good Bible teaching at the Chapel and at Malone College because the Episcopal Church in general is great at "celebrating" but not "educating" as I heard one Episcopalian say.
There is a lot of room in the Episcopal Church for all kinds of beliefs; it has been called the "roomiest church in Christendom" and there was plenty of room for me to worship God in that beautiful Episcopalian setting with its traditional worship style and beautiful music and still retain all my theological views and personal convictions as a Bible-believing Evangelical Christian.
The road back to Japan
As an Episcopalian I felt that God was still calling me to return to Japan. It eventually became an overwhelming conviction which would give me no rest.
It would have been an easy thing to become a missionary when I was still a member of the Chapel in Akron where I was well known to the ministry staff, but the Episcopal Church is a huge denomination and I was a new member and completely unknown to those who made these decisions. I feared I had shot myself in the foot regarding this missionary call.
Correspondence with the national Episcopal Church headquarters confirmed my fears. They made it clear that they had no intention of sending me to Japan as a missionary unless the Anglican Church in Japan (the Nippon Sei-Ko-Kai) specifically requested that I come. Of course, they did not even know I existed, so I hit a dead end.
I joined an independent evangelical missionary sending agency which was comprised of Episcopalians, but was not officially sanctioned by the Episcopal Church.
This small agency was happy to send me as their first and only missionary to Japan.
To raise my support, I visited many Episcopal parishes in America and gave mission-themed Bible messages from the pulpit.
Since the only parishes who would invite me were the Evangelical and Charismatic parishes who supported evangelical missionaries, my exposure to the larger Episcopal Church was generally positive.
Finally back in Japan
I came to Japan in 1987 as our sending board's only missionary assigned to this country.
My first task was to find a place to live, enroll in language school to learn Japanese and discover how God wanted to use me in Japan.
So most of my fellowship was with Protestant missionaries at the Japanese Missionary Language Institute in Tokyo.
I studied the language and was active in a traveling evangelistic puppet ministry, visiting many different churches by invitation. I would give an entertaining puppet show and then follow it up with a Gospel message and then an invitation for people in the audience (mostly children and young people) to pray a "sinner's prayer" and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
During this time I had the opportunity to meet many Japanese Christians from many denominations. This was how I met my wife, a bilingual Japanese Christian and member of the Brethren Church.
After we were married we continued the puppet ministry as a team, and traveled all over Japan with our evangelistic ministry.
We also held seminars to help churches set up their own puppet teams and had a book published in Japanese which helped churches all over Japan start their own puppet ministries (it went into its second printing and was later translated and published in South Korea). We even appeared on television and in a few "praise music" videos for children.
On Sundays when we weren't doing puppet shows, we attended a local Anglican parish. I loved the liturgical Anglican style of worship. My wife was not so keen on it, but attended anyway because of me.
However, after a few years my wife grew uncomfortable with the strange sermons she kept hearing from the pulpit. I often missed the strange parts since the sermons were in Japanese, but when my wife told me later I shared her concern.
The parish priest also told us he did not approve of our evangelistic activity and preferred we just come to church on Sundays.
This put me in an awkward position: I came to Japan to be a missionary and do evangelistic work, but my own pastor was opposed to my activity. My wife and I longed to be in a church that actually encouraged our ministry and supported us in prayer.
Evangelical Protestant once again
It was around this time (about four years after I had come to Japan) that my missionary sending agency was unable to send me the support money I was depending on. Eventually they ceased operations entirely and my connection with the network of supporting evangelical Episcopal parishes in America was severed.
By this time I was "dug in" and had such a strong sense that God had called me to Japan, that I couldn't return to America.
I stayed in Japan and worked as an English teacher at a Christian "mission" school where I continued to use my puppets in the classroom. Since I was working full time as a teacher and no longer had any ties to a missionary organization in the States, my missionary career in Japan was officially over.
I tried to fit missionary work into my schedule as a self supporting missionary, but it was very difficult as the teaching job left me pretty exhausted.
This was not what I had planned on. But I wasn't bound by my career to the Anglican Church anymore, so my wife and I joined a non-denominational Protestant church in Tokyo.
With the encouragement of our new church, we continued to be active in puppet ministry on weekends in churches around Japan as well as in our own church in Tokyo. We even trained other members to do puppet ministry.
In the years that followed we joined several churches, spending a few years in one church, and then moving on to another church.
Like many Protestants, I felt that church hopping was a natural part of Christian life, and we searched for the perfect church that best fit our beliefs and concept of worship.
I played electric guitar or bass in the church band, and the worship service was usually fun and musically gratifying.
But I rarely felt that I had actually worshipped God after an hour or so of rock-style praise songs and a long sermon which often made me sleepy.
I felt something was missing. The emphasis on the Bible was there, but the worship experience I had enjoyed as an Anglican was missing. Why couldn't I have both?
After eighteen years in the Japanese Evangelical Christian community, my spiritual life seemed to dry up. I went to church on Sundays out of a sense of obligation, and my personal devotional life was reduced to the bare minimum of short daily Bible and prayer time.
Jolted by a Buddhist wake
Then in 2009 our neighbor's wife died, and we were close enough to the family that we were expected to attend the wake which was held the evening before the funeral. Buddhist wakes are a challenge for Christians in Japan because everybody is expected to offer a pinch of incense and pray to the deceased person's soul.
My wife and I tried to position ourselves where we could exclude ourselves from the ritual unnoticed, but suddenly everyone formed a line and we found ourselves at the very front! All eyes would be on this foreigner to see if I did things properly. My mind was racing, trying to think of a way to maintain my Christian witness while not angering everyone in the room, especially our grieving neighbor.
It was my wife who came up with a solution. She whispered to me, "Let's make the sign of the cross and pray silently for a few moments, so everybody will understand without words why we can't offer the incense."
I was surprised; I knew how to cross myself from my Anglican days, but I had never seen my wife do it, and wasn't sure she even knew how. But we followed through and everybody seemed to be sympathetic and even grateful for our efforts. Our neighbor gave us a big smile.
For the first time I recognized what a useful tool the sign of the cross could be especially in a non-Christian culture, and out of curiosity I began to research its origins. Of course this brought me into contact with the writings of the early Church Fathers. I discovered that Christians were apparently making the sign of the cross on their foreheads from the second century and possibly earlier while many of the twelve Apostles were still around. Some writings implied that the sign originated with the Apostles themselves. Christians later started making the larger sign (across the head and chest) as a more visible public statement.
My research reawakened in me an appreciation for Church traditions, and reminded me of the good old days in America. I had fond memories of being in love with God and the Bible and Church back when I was an Anglican (Episcopalian). There was something in the ancient liturgy and sacraments that gave me deep joy and burning zeal, and I longed to have it again.
I even considered the possibility of secretly visiting an Anglican Church service on Sundays when I wasn't playing bass in our own church band.
But how would I handle those strange Anglican sermons that made us uncomfortable so many years ago? I reasoned that since the Anglican liturgy always has at least three Bible readings every Sunday (much more Bible content than an average Protestant "Bible" church service) it would be possible to focus on them rather than the sermon if I had to. Besides, Anglican sermons are usually very short, under ten minutes, so maybe the damaged could be contained.
Anglican once again
After a few secret Sunday visits, I returned to the Anglican Church in the summer of 2009 after an absence of eighteen years. So the pendulum was swinging back, and I have to believe that it was the Holy Spirit who was drawing me in that direction.
I found a small Anglican parish with a very friendly English speaking priest and an average Sunday attendance of about twenty people.
My wife could not understand why I would want to go back, so she and our two children remained in the Evangelical church where we had worshipped as a family.
The Anglican priest's sermons were usually harmless from what I understood. But then again, a lot still goes over my head since it is in Japanese.
After an eighteen year gap nobody in the Anglican
Soon I experienced that spiritual revival I was hoping for, and I was once again excited about the Bible and going to Church just like the old days.
The worship services were in Japanese using the Prayerbook and hymnal, and my personal devotional life (still in English) expanded to include Morning and Evening Prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible. I fell in love with chanting the Psalms.
I also began to take an interest in "apostolic succession" which is the teaching that the bishops who were ordained by the laying of hands can trace their lineage all the way back to the original twelve Apostles.
I was enamored with the Eucharist (communion) and the teaching that when the bread and wine are consecrated by the priest, they mysteriously become the body and blood of Christ.
The fellowship on Sundays was also great. I sang tenor in the tiny choir every week, played guitar sometimes during the worship service and was a reader at the once-a-month English service. I felt accepted and appreciated, and a lot of the kids would smile and give me "high-fives" as they walked by my seat.
The priest even urged me to go to seminary and become an Anglican priest, and I said was seriously considering it. Life was good in the Anglican Church this time around.
Warning signs in the Anglican Church
But when I looked beyond the walls of my tiny parish, I felt like the frog who had the sense to jump out of the water as it was getting hot, only to jump back in when it was boiling!
The Anglican Church -- especially the Episcopal Church in America -- had departed from its own doctrines and had descended so low that when you looked past the beautiful facade, it hardly resembled anything Christian. At the highest levels of Episcopal leadership there was public denial of basic Christian doctrines such as the deity of Christ, and his role in our salvation.
The same problems existed in the Anglican Church in Canada and even in England, the heart of the Anglican Communion. And I had heard that the same problems were spreading in the Anglican Church in Japan as well.
But still I was happy to simply hole up in my own small parish with its rich liturgy and do my best to ignore the problems of the larger Anglican Church.
I thought I could go on living inside this bubble, safe from the boiling water outside.
However, the follies of the Episcopal Church continued to make headlines throughout the world, and I learned that practically all of the Episcopalian clergy and leaders whom I respected had left a long time ago.
Biblical doctrines can be redefined or scrapped entirely by a majority vote in the Anglican Church. Most of the faithful Episcopal/Anglican leaders had already been driven out, leaving a very unbalanced situation. Now the heretics were free to pursue their agenda and change the Anglican Church without hindrance. No Anglican parish in the world was immune under those circumstances.
I felt that sooner or later I would have to leave the Anglican Church -- once again -- but I was very reluctant to go backwards and return to the evangelical charismatic churches where I had felt such dryness.
Then the local Anglican bishop assigned our priest to a different parish, and gave my little parish a new priest; someone whose authority I felt I could not submit to in light of my understanding of the Bible. I won't go into details, but it was crisis time; this church-hopper had run out of churches. I was on a sinking ship, looking for a lifeline.
A challenge to consider the unthinkable
It was around that time that I heard the astounding news that Pope Benedict XVI had opened a door for Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church as groups and retain elements of their rich Anglican heritage.
I had never dreamed of being a Catholic. Now I didn't doubt that faithful Catholics could go to heaven the same as Protestants, but they seemed to be weighed down by extra baggage; all those spooky statues and too much emphasis on Mary.
Also, regarding those doctrines that the Anglicans had abandoned, it seemed that the Catholic Church had not allowed itself to drift away from its original moorings, and that was a point in its favor.
One of my old acquaintances was an Anglican priest whom I had met in 1987. After I returned to the Anglican Church and re-established contact, I found that he had left the Anglican Church. And he challenged me to seriously consider the claims of the Catholic Church.
As an evangelical I was reluctant to go in that direction, but here was someone whom I respected and had a similar background as mine who was actually encouraging me to do so (my Anglican priest friend had also an been evangelical before he became an Anglican).
So I joined a small group of former Anglicans in Japan called the Nippon Kirisuto Sei Ko Kai (NKSKK) who were hoping to accept the Pope's offer. I also created and maintained their web site. They only met twice a year, so I continued to worship at the local Anglican parish on Sundays.
I also began to investigate the Catholic Church. I found lots of internet sources and informative books on Catholicism, many of them written by former Protestants. I discovered EWTN, a Catholic television/radio network, and started listening to podcasts of its shows, such as The Journey Home, Catholic Answers Live, and Open Line.
During my research I also uncovered a bit of disturbing news. In 1896, Pope Leo XIII officially declared that Anglican orders were "absolutely null and utterly void."
In other words Anglican bishops and priests no longer had the authority which had been passed down from the apostles.
My first reaction was "How dare he!" It seemed so cold and unfriendly to cut off Anglican clergy like that.
I first read about this in 2010. In May of that year the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated its second openly gay bishop who was living in a same-sex relationship, and that summer an Anglican priest in Canada gave the consecrated host to a total stranger who walked in during communion -- and also gave one to his dog who had walked in with him!
Suddenly I realized the wisdom of Pope Leo's decree. It was as if the Holy Spirit gave him a glimpse of how far the Anglican clergy could abuse their authority once they no longer submitted to the authority of the Catholic Church and the pope. And I was thankful that the real body of Christ had not been fed to that dog.
Of course, the implications for my own personal experience of communion in the Anglican Church were devastating. I had been counting on the miracle of the real presence of Christ to be in the Eucharist, and looked forward to receiving it every Sunday. But now there was no guarantee that anything special would take place at all.
I spent more than a year of studying the claims of the Catholic Church, the writings of the early Church Fathers, and related passages in the Bible.
My objections started to melt as I became convinced that the Catholic Church is the true and original church that Jesus established on earth, that "city set on a hill that cannot be hidden" with a long, unbroken history going all the way back to the twelve Apostles.
In light of this, all of the Protestant churches I had attended throughout my Christian life were actually "ecclesial communities," something like tent villages located perhaps on the same hill, but clearly outside the walls of that city.
I also became convinced that Jesus had singled out Peter as the rock on which he would build his Church, and that Peter's successors, the bishops of Rome, would continue to fill Peter's office as the head bishop of the Church on earth.
I was also more convinced than ever that Jesus had intended for the bread and wine to miraculously become his real body and blood in the Eucharist,
So to my amazement I discovered that here was a church that had everything I was looking for in all my church hopping: biblical faithfulness and deep worship -- plus so much more.
Running to the Church
My focus changed. I was no longer running from the Anglican Church -- or from any Protestant denomination; I was eagerly running to the Catholic Church, and I would continue this journey even if all the problems in the Anglican Church were fixed.
After waiting for many months, I gradually became convinced that Japan would never have a Personal Ordinariate since the offer was apparently for English speaking countries with large groups of Anglicans wanting to become Catholic. 1
So I decided to join the Catholic Church as soon as possible, even if I had to come alone.
Now the question was how to go about it. How does an Evangelical Protestant become a Catholic?
During my period of study, I had visited several Catholic parishes in Tokyo on Sunday mornings and ended up in a small friendly Japanese Catholic parish with an English speaking priest just a few blocks from the Anglican parish I had been attending.
This allowed me to attend the 8:00 Sunday morning service at the Anglican parish and then walk over and attend the 10:30 Catholic mass where I could experience Catholicism first hand on a regular basis and make sure this was the right decision.
I continued in this manner for several months, taking communion at the Anglican service and watching everyone else take communion at the Catholic mass. I still preferred the Anglican hymns with those wonderful harmonies, but I was convinced that the real presence of Christ was in the Eucharist of the Catholic Church, and that this was the true and original church that Jesus Christ had established.
By the time I decided to join the Church, I had become a familiar face at the Catholic parish, and had made lots of friends there. So it was no surprise to anyone when I finally told the head priest I wanted to become a member. I figured the process would be long and drawn out with several months of classes, but the priest said that he could let me join at the next international mass which was seven weeks away.
For preparation, he only asked me to read one document from the Second Vatican Council about the role of the Church in the modern world (Gaudium Et Spes). When I asked why the process was so simple and quick in my case, he replied that it was because of my training and background as an Anglican missionary, and that I had studied the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I had actually read that book three times during my investigation of the claims of the Catholic Church.
A few weeks before I was to be confirmed, I went to my first confession. I knelt down in a small booth and confessed all the serious sins I could recall during my life since my baptism (I had prepared a list ahead of time). I wasn't embarrassed to confess my sins to the priest since I knew he had heard it all before. Then he said that I was forgiven of all my sins, and I knew he spoke with the authority that Jesus Christ had entrusted to the apostles, who in turn entrusted it to their successors down to the present day. All my sins were truly forgiven as Jesus had promised in John 20:23. It felt great.
Then a few weeks later I was confirmed and joined the Catholic Church and finally took communion there. My baptism as a teenager in the United Methodist Church was considered valid so I did not need to be baptized again.
As I had always done during my church hopping days, I brought my baggage with me, my theological views and personal religious convictions as they had developed over the years, but this time I unpacked my bags because I was finally home. I can submit all my ideas about the Bible and my personal beliefs to the authority of the Church, and I am confident it will not let me down.
When I was young I had prayed to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and lived for nearly half a century as an evangelical Protestant. Then I discovered the Catholic Church, the original church that Jesus Christ said He would build and preserve. I am reminded of the words of joy and wonder after the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana in John chapter 2.
And I am learning so much now, and discovering eye-opening verses in the Bible that I had never noticed in forty years of Bible study. I'll talk more about those verses in part 2 of this article.
My testimony also appears in an article in Religion en Libertad in Spanish
1. The Personal Ordinariate did finally reach Japan four years later as the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross Ordinariate Community of St. Augustine of Canterbury (Japanese speaking), and I continue to serve as their web page designer and updater. I have not joined their community as a member though, because they are very small and only meet twice a year, and I'm so involved at my own parish that it would be awkward to transfer my membership now -- and continue attending Mass as if nothing had changed.
But one blessing of the Ordinariate Community in Japan has benefitted me directly. The Catholic Church now recognizes the Anglican form of Morning and Evening Prayer as the official Prayer of the Church along with the Roman Liturgy of the Hours. Now English speaking Catholics all over the world can pray their daily prayers from the Book of Common Prayer with the Coverdale Psalms and canticles from the King James Bible. So the one aspect of being an Anglican which I missed the most has followed me into the Catholic Church. (Back to the story)
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The New International Version (NIV) is the most popular version of the Bible among Evangelical Protestants. My personal favorites have always been the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the King James Version (KVJ) which I also quoted in this article.
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