I made my first encounter with Evangelicals when I did my Master degree at Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand. Directly I was appealed by their zealousness and love to Christ, Scripture and evangelism. While they are not the first Protestants I met in my life they looked different in term of zealousness and eagerness to live and to share their faith. At the same time I also sensed their dislike or even hate to Catholicism. I remember on my first day in the institute (all students stay in the provided dormitories inside the institute) I was introduced to one former Catholic turned Evangelical from the Philippines. He gave me strange look upon knowing my Catholic upbringing, as if I did something terribly wrong. Nevertheless after some time I decided to join Bible study with one Evangelical – let me refer him as my evangelical mentor. He is Navigators trained person and former student who then worked at the Institute and was one of the leaders of the Evangelical Fellowship (AITCF) in the campus . For those who do not know the Navigators, it is Christian ministry founded by Dawson Trotman (1906 to 1956) with the aim to train and to equip Christians for evangelism. The goal is to make (obedient) Christians (1) place Christ at their centre of life, (2) have fellowship with another Christians (Evangelicals), (3) witness to non-Christians, (4) pray and (5) read/study Scripture. Through my evangelical mentor I was introduced to memorizing verses of the Bible. The first verses I memorized were Assurance of Salvation (1 John 5:11-12), Assurance of Guidance (Proverbs 3:5), Assurance of Victory (1 Corinthians 10:13) and Assurance of Forgiveness (1 John 1:9). As I spent more time with him, more verses I managed to memorize. I was not aware that gradually he transformed me into evangelical Christian. There was hardly any opposition from my side, despite of many years of Catholic upbringing. I was like empty or blank sheet on which my mentor wrote without having to erase anything. What happened to me is common to many Catholics who make friends with Evangelicals – in fact Catholics are their easy and favourite target of their evangelism. Most Catholics are not trained to defend and to explain their faith and therefore become easy prey of their evangelism. They are favourite target because they, though being nominal or cultural Catholics, are already equipped with fundamental beliefs that Catholics and Protestants share like Trinity, Divinity of Christ, Virgin birth etc. – the Evangelicals do not have to start from zero to convert them. I was aware that my evangelical mentor expected me to join their fellowship on Sundays, and I was really attracted to do so. One (and the only) thing that hindered me was their arrogance, especially those who were former Catholics. By arrogance I meant they acted as they were special and better quality Christians. While I agree they knew more about Bible and they expressed their relation with Christ in their daily life, I didn’t like the way they looked down at those who were not Evangelical, be they Catholics and non-Christians. My evangelical mentor is not former Catholic but he nevertheless openly expressed his anti-Catholicism to me. At one time he said Catholics worship idols because Catholic churches have statues inside. He told me that purgatory was unscriptural and that the Bible says all Christians are saints, or the title saint does not belong to only selected persons as according to Catholic Church (now I know that he was wrong, the Catholic Church does acknowledge communion of saints on earth, in heaven and purgatory). I was defenceless; my knowledge about my faith and Scripture was not enough to argue with him. He expressed his arrogance by saying countries with Protestant majority are wealthier than those with Catholic majority like the Philippines, Mexico and South American countries. He belongs to group of Evangelicals who believe that if you are Evangelical or at least Protestant, God will bless you materially (not all Evangelicals or Protestants share this view). His worst statement was when he said South Africa, then was still under apartheid, was blessed by God because they were governed by Protestants (Dutch Reformed Church). I call it worst statement because it made me look at him in different way – in other words I stoped looking up at him as a role model. I always don’t like arrogant people. I am not saying all Evangelicals are arrogant – in the course of time I met Evangelicals who show respect and love to others and who do not look-down at others. Despite all of these negative things I continued having weekly meeting with him for one-to-one Bible study until I completed my Master program. While I never joined their fellowship (they did put my name as member but I attended their Sunday service only couple times) he managed to turn me into Evangelical. I believed in distinct Evangelical beliefs like salvation by faith alone, that we do good works because we are saved and not for being saved, that the Bible is the only and highest authority and I only read Protestant Bible (66 books). Obviously as good Evangelical I ignored Virgin Mary and stopped saying Rosary.
After completing my master program I got scholarship to continue my study at the University of Tokyo , Japan. My Evangelical friends made sure that I made contact with local Evangelicals – they gave me names and addresses and even contacted and informed them about my arrival. So I joined evangelical fellowship of foreign students in Tokyo – we met once a month for fellowship and Bible study. At the same time I hopped from one church to another, mainly because somebody from that church invited me. Then I faced another new challenge, this time from my Muslim friend. He gave me booklets written by the late Muslim apologist from South Africa, Ahmed Deedat. By Grace of God I managed to overcome this challenge – it even strengthened my faith in Christ and in God’s words. The other thing I learnt is you get distorted view if you learn Christianity from non-Christian source. Then I realized that all the time I myself only listened to what my Evangelical friends told me about Catholicism. No matter how sincere they are, they are not reliable source of information. I made up my mind to start learning about Catholicism. Yet it was not easy to get reliable source on Catholicism in Japan (then there was no Internet). Anyway I started attending Masses at Franciscan Chapel Centre in Roppongi , Tokyo. I went there on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning I attended Protestant service. Then one day I met a friend who invited me to his church. It was a small church with only few members as compared to Tokyo Baptist church in Shibuya , my Sunday (Protestant) church that time. But what shocked me was not their small size but their attempt to “steal” me from Tokyo Baptist church. They encouraged me to switch to their church. The pastor told me that he used to be a member of Tokyo Baptist church until he discovered that the pastor (then Pastor Richard Horn) did not believe the Bible is God’s words. This was quite serious allegation! I did not bother to check whether the allegation was true or not – after all I was not an official member of Tokyo Baptist church even though I attended their Sunday worship regularly. But I kept on asking myself why they did that? At that time I naively thought all Protestant churches are same, i.e. they believe and teach the same thing. Their different names (or denomination) are just names, something like franchise names in business. Thus MacDonald and Burger King have different names but they sell the same (or more or less same) hamburgers (BTW I don’t like fast-food). Anyway I decided to examine the beliefs of different Protestant churches. To my dismay I discovered that although all of them declare that the Bible alone as their final and highest authority, they disagree with each other on its interpretation. They use the same Bible (66 books) and claim they are guided by the same Holy Spirit, yet they produce conflicting teachings. This happened not recently but it has been going on and on since Reformation. At the end what they practise is not “sola scriptura” (Latin for Scripture alone) as authority, but their interpretation of the Bible alone as authority. The Reformers seized the authority to interpret Scripture from the Catholic Church and passed it to whoever can read the Bible. While it may sound appealing and certainly looks more “democratic”, it is the source of the establishment of many churches with contradicting teachings. Many Evangeliclas told me that they do not need (Catholic)) Church to interpret the Bible for them – they have the Holy Spirit who will guide them on one to one basis. It sounds good but if the Holy Spirit guided Martin Luther to teach that Baptism regenerates and is applicable to infants, the same Holy Spirit will not guide others to teach Baptism is only symbol and applied only to adults after they profess their faith in Christ. Something is wrong here! Which one of these churches I should belong to? How do I know I choose the correct one? An evangelical or “Bible only” Christian will answer that I should choose the one who place the Bible as the final authority and Christ as the centre. Unfortunately there are many who make that claim and yet they disagree with each other. Their disagreement is not restricted in non-essential matters like whether Christian men are allowed to dance with opposite sex or not, but even in serious matters like whether our salvation is assured or conditional, whether Christ died for all or only for some, whether Baptism is necessary for salvation or not etc. Others might say to choose church that will make you feel comfortable and will help you to grow spiritually – in other words use your own judgment, but how do we know we make correct judgment? Then the words of Christ in the Gospel gave the answer: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the power of death shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18, RSV). I knew I must return home, to the Church Christ promised to be built on Peter. I never look back.
I did not transform into Catholic overnight – it took me years to finally dismantle what my evangelical mentor painstakingly built in me. I spent time investigating and studying what the Catholic Church really teaches, especially on essential issues like salvation, justification and Scripture – and to this day I am still learning as there are still many things within Catholicism I still do not know. From what I already learnt (and I can say with confidence I have sufficient knowledge) please read my brief posts on salvation in Catholicism and Justification: contrasting Catholic and Protestant’s position. I also spent some time investigating formation of books of the Bible, especially those of Old Testament – under Old Testament category you can find what I wrote.