Saved by Love Alone: A Seminary Wife’s Journey

Jan 26th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog Posts

My conversion story begins with the fruitful evangelization efforts of my brother, and my pursuit of baptism at the hands of an Episcopal priest. It continues through a persistent question by my non-religious sister, and a very dark time for my faith and my relationship with the Lord. It ends with my confidence in my husband, along with his humility, and the blessed reception of that which I had so long desired: union with my Lord, body and soul.


Beth & Barrett Turner

I was the youngest of four children, and grew up in an intact, non-religious, loving home near Washington, D.C. When I was in middle school, my brother came home from college a changed man. Suddenly, he was seeking out my company where he had seemed disinterested in it before. He spoke of God with reverence. He prayed before meals. I wrote a story about the remarkable change I noticed in his behavior, and how it had made me believe in God, too. I shyly gave the story to him as a gift for Christmas my freshman year of high school. The night he read it, he came to me, smiled kindly, and told me about Jesus. To give you a sense of how clueless I was about religion at this time in my life: I was not even certain how belief in God and this man by the name of Jesus were even related! The cross, as a popular symbol, held no meaning for me. Honestly, this all sounded very strange. But I put my confidence in the word my brother spoke to me about Him and in the change I had witnessed in my brother’s life.

A year later, I sought baptism at a local church. I had picked that church because I could walk there. I was unable to drive, and my parents did not attend church on Sundays. It was an Episcopal church, and I learned a lot simply by attending to the words of the liturgical prayers and hymns. I recognized my weakness and dependency upon God. During Lent before I was baptized, I read the Gospels for the first time with great delight. The week before Easter in 2000, my sophomore year of high school, I was granted an intense longing to be united to Him in the sacrament of baptism. I remember the occasion – attended by my brother, my father, and a few Catholic friends – very well.

I had many Catholic friends during this time in my life. I always considered them allies in the pursuit of the truth, the effort to live well, and other matters of faith. These friends included a boyfriend and his former girlfriend, as well as a good friend and classmate. I recognized that there was something common about the efforts of Protestants and Catholics, and there was a true and lively devotion to be found among both. I wanted to stand as a bridge between them.

After my baptism, I quickly learned a lot about the differences between living and thinking as a Christian or as a non-Christian. My sisters conversed with my brother and me, very often to the point of tears and frustration. We argued about the authority of the Bible, the necessity of religion (or lack thereof?) to live a moral life, and the existence of God. One question my sister continually asked me really influenced the rest of my journey: “If the Bible is the definitive word on morality and salvation, and yet people come up with such different interpretations of it, how do you know which interpretation to follow?” She was referring primarily to the wide variety of Protestant denominations, and the distinctions between them. I had no answer, and remained skittish about affiliating myself with any particular denomination for a long time. In fact, I refused confirmation and accepted only baptism from the Episcopal Church for that very reason. I was not yet ready to sacramentally commit myself to any particular Christian community without a firm understanding of the differences between them.

When I came to the University of Virginia, I immediately sought out the Anglican Church where my brother’s faith was born and nourished. But ultimately, I worshipped at many different places on Sundays: non-denominational churches, Acts 2 churches, rural bible churches, Assemblies of God churches, liberal Episcopal churches, black Baptist churches, white Baptist churches. I also attended campus ministries of all kinds: Chi Alpha, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, Chinese Christian Fellowship, Impact, and RUF. Ultimately, I found myself engaged in a bit of missionary dating with my future husband, Barrett. He chose to go to the local PCA church and RUF, and I chose to go with him, imagining that my presence might encourage him to keep going to meetings and to pursue God.

I did, however, avoid the Catholic Church and its campus ministries. I knew I was not welcome at their eucharistic table, and I knew there was a lot about being Catholic that I simply didn’t understand. I had also begun to absorb something new from my devout Protestant friends: anti-Catholic rhetoric and prejudice. I found myself thus isolated from, and suspicious of, Catholic doctrine, practice, and people. The suggestion that Catholics were not “real” Christians – while I confessed with my lips that it was false – held real influence over me through the power of fear.

Barrett grew in his faith, and we both learned more together about the Reformed tradition. Barrett became more and more convinced, and though I tried very hard, I became more and more confused. What I seemed to hear from many a sermon and lecture on the topic was: “Nothing you do is ever good enough to even bring a smile to God’s face. You are culpable for all your sins, but God is responsible for all your good deeds. Everything good that appears to come from you is, in fact, something bad dressed up to look good. In fact, God is so disgusted by you and your sin that He placed Jesus in front of you, like a curtain, to avoid having to even look at you (*or maybe not, if you are not one of the elect, in which case His angry gaze is upon you still).” Yet I also heard that God loved me, and that I was not to abandon myself to despair. For some reason, I was even still supposed to try to live a moral life, despite the fact that utter failure was inevitable and it wouldn’t matter to my salvation anyway. Only God’s election could save me and no word I spoke with my lips, no good deed I worked with my hands, and nowhere I could go with my feet would affect my salvation one bit.

These things seemed contradictory to me. If the sins I committed were capable of destroying my salvation, surely there was something I could do that would restore the relationship? I longed to know whether I was living well, and I longed to be urged not only to trust in Christ in the face of my failures, but also to take up good works. I only ever heard that my failure was overwhelming and inevitable, and I could not bring anything close to good enough to the Father I loved so much.

I languished under these spiritual conditions. I developed a permanent sense that God was angry with me for my sin, that I was constantly in danger of committing a sin, and that I was not capable of pleasing Him with my life in any way. The Father may have chosen, before time, to cross my name off the list of the damned and stand Christ between me and Him so I wouldn’t be so terribly offensive to His sight…or perhaps He hadn’t. I could trust that I was among the chosen, I was told, because I desired it. But what if, at some point in the future, I no longer had the desire to be close to Him? What if, at some point, I was going through the motions simply in the hope that my affection would return and prove my favor with Him? Was God’s salvation still upon me in the dark days when religion could only be a work of my hands because my affections were so far from Him? These days were, I feared, already upon me.

I was depressed. I was anxious. I sought counseling and psychiatric medication. My journal entries from this time period are tortured. I was told that it must be a “family of origin” problem, and my parents were to blame. But days, weeks, and months of reflection led me to the conclusion that it was either the theological system whose message I was hearing week after week, or a failure to truly understand it. I assumed it was the latter, and continued to try to wrap my mind around God’s love.

Barrett proposed marriage to me in September of 2005. Shortly after that, he decided to go to Covenant Seminary. As odd as this turn of events may seem to some readers, I actually found myself relieved and somewhat enthusiastic about accompanying my soon-to-be husband on this journey. I had come to a point where my understanding of Reformed theology had led me down a very dark path. Now, I would be married to an expert! Surely, through the rest of our lives, he would be able to explain the mysteries of the Scriptures as read rightly by the Reformed tradition. Failing that, as a Christian wife, I would be bound to trust the judgment of my husband and spiritual head, even when I didn’t understand all of it. Besides, so many good men that I trusted put forth this interpretation to me as the correct one: my brother, my first and dearest Christian witness; my pastors, whose lives were full of kindness and goodness towards me and the other students; and my husband, who was studying it and would continue to study it thoroughly. The Reformers’ interpretation of the Bible, transmitted through my husband, thus became my magisterium. I became like a little child, and was at peace once more. I wasn’t certain that I would ever be able to teach a Bible study as a pastor’s wife, but I at least trusted that God would lead me, through my husband, to the truth.

My ecumenical Christian beginnings and my desire to find harmony with the Catholic Church, however, did not go quietly. One night during our engagement, Barrett and I discussed the immaculate conception of Mary. I asserted that nothing in the doctrine directly contradicted the Bible, and it therefore could not definitively be stated false without extra-Biblical evidence. Barrett sputtered in disbelief, not sure he wanted to marry me any more. In an effort to resolve the crisis, we called an Anglican priest who had been meeting with us for premarital counseling. He suggested that we should proceed with the wedding, go to the seminary, ask these questions together and find the answers. He somehow managed to convince Barrett that I would change my mind. He also reassured me that if four years passed and I was not comfortable being a Presbyterian pastor’s wife, I wouldn’t be. Our marriage and my spiritual welfare would always come before an individual calling Barrett might sense to be a pastor. So we were comforted by these words, but shaken by the conflict. The conversation had brought up some painful insecurities I had about the Reformed tradition. I was still frightened to commit to it because of how my understanding of it – or my misunderstanding of it, I wasn’t sure which – had fractured my relationship with my heavenly Father.

That night, I took a huge risk. Perhaps it was a feminist-studies streak in me (I had briefly considered a major in this area) which caused me to seek out some unique form of feminine participation in salvation. Perhaps it was a female saints class I took, in which women so wise, so good, and so in love with the Lord spoke about the Blessed Mother with such tenderness and faith. Perhaps it was because I was weary of seeking help from a God I believed continually and thoroughly displeased with me, no matter what I did. Whatever it was, I prayed to Mary that night:

God, if I am committing a sin, please forgive me. As I understand it, you certainly would if I were among the elect anyway.

Mary, I’m not sure if you can hear me. I think you are highly underrated by Protestants. Please help if you can.

If Calvinism is true, let me not be afraid. If Catholicism is true, let Barrett not be afraid.”

It was the first time in months that I had prayed without coming away angry or crying. It was over within seconds. By the time I woke in the morning, I had completely forgotten about it and never told a soul.

************

Barrett and I were married, at the same small Episcopal church where I had been baptized, in July of 2006. Our RUF pastor presided. Two of my bridesmaids – Catholics – stood at my side, along with my sisters, who claimed no religion at all. Barrett was attended by young men from his college small group. Two weeks after our honeymoon, we packed our belongings into a U-Haul and departed for Saint Louis, Missouri, so that Barrett could attend Covenant Seminary. We made wonderful friends with whom we shared the difficult first year of marriage, as well as the difficult times of pregnancy and raising your first child. We were welcomed like family to a local PCA church. I worked a couple of jobs, and Barrett studied hard. We would occasionally talk theology at the dinner table or with our seminarian friends and their wives. I attended two counseling classes and a bioethics seminar. We participated in a small group through our church.

In many ways, however, I consider this time a period of sleep for my soul. I was no longer clinically depressed and anxious, but prayer was still a great struggle. My trust in God was very weak, and my fear of Him remained more fierce than my love. So I largely avoided prayer, except at church on Sundays. I don’t recall a lot of soul growth occurring during this period, but God does a great deal of which we are not always consciously aware. I patiently waited for the theological system through which my pastors, my husband and his friends were reading the Bible to come together in my mind. I trusted that God would work through my husband’s study of the Scriptures to reveal His goodness and His love to me. But the more I read them on my own, and could not make sense of the interpretation being held out to me as the correct one, the more confused I became. The joy and delight which had been mine upon my first reading of the Gospels, before my baptism, had given way to pain and fear.

Thus I waited for about two years. At that point, in the summer of 2008, Barrett began asking questions and saying things at the dinner table that raised my gaze towards the mysteries of the faith once more. I understood the new questions he asked. They wakened in me some of my own confusion about Reformed theology. I began to walk more closely next to him in his study. We learned we were expecting our first child, and we had many questions about the efficacy of the baptism we planned to seek on his behalf. I wondered: what does baptism do for a child who is not elect? It seemed that the answer from the Westminster Confession was “nothing.” Baptism could not add to his election if he were elect, but it also did not seem to accomplish any relational purpose with respect to God if he were not elect. Then why baptize children, as was the tradition of the Church for centuries and, seemingly, biblical? Bryan and Carol Cross, local converts themselves, clarified the differences between Reformed theology and Catholic doctrine. Barrett pulled the Catechism of the Catholic Church down off our bookshelf, where it had been collecting dust for several years. He opened it and read it alongside the Westminster Confession and the Bible. More questions popped up. He talked to his seminary professors and classmates.

In April of 2009, a few short weeks before our son Symeon was born, we met with the Crosses at their house for dinner. Dr. Larry Feingold, a local Catholic theologian, and his wife, Marsha, were also present. Barrett asked his questions, and Dr. Feingold gave answers. As I listened to the questions and the answers, my heart burned within me, and my understanding of God’s love was opened. My confusion began to lift.

The good things I do are pleasing to God! It’s not only the bad things that make Him angry and affect our relationship. The good things I do please Him, and are actually the manner in which faith saves me! The faith that begins as a seed in my soul must necessarily flower fully in good works. Faith is a gift, but inseparable from the good work God commands. These flowers bear fruit for the life of the world, and these same good works are necessary fruit to sustain the life He graciously bestowed upon me.

God is not looking at Christ between us because He can’t stand to look at me, He actually looks at me with great pleasure! He longs to see my life and my good works, not simply Christ’s works instead of mine!

My son’s baptism would not only be an expression of our hope that he was eternally counted among the elect of God. Baptism was not just a sign, but was itself a gift of God’s grace. God humbly promised His friendship to all who approached its cleansing waters! Original sin in children was real and frightening, but so was God’s saving, life-giving remedy in baptism!

Mary’s sinlessness was first a gift of God, but also a free and faithful response from the woman who said “yes” where Eve said “no.” To honor her took nothing from God, but was another way to admire His great work of salvation!

The night began to feel sacred and holy, and the faith that I had placed in my husband’s guidance was now accompanied by the hope that salvation in Christ was near at hand, found most fully in the sacraments and other mysteries taught to us by the Catholic Church. At the end of the evening, Barrett inquired about RCIA, and a quiet joy filled my soul.

We began RCIA in September of that year. We also began to attend mass, and regretfully stopped attending the PCA church where we had been so tenderly embraced. My continued full-time work at a local law firm and the care of our newborn son consumed me, but we continued to walk dutifully towards and through the mysteries God laid before us. We told our friends. Some rejoiced with us, some identified with our questions but maintained objections to the Catholic Church, some were puzzled and asked why, and some warned us that this posed great danger to our souls. Barrett continued his study of relevant Scripture passages and doctrines, following their questions and his own. My non-religious sister, the one whose question about biblical interpretation had nagged at me for so long, even commended our decision. She told me that she had always found the Catholic Church to be the most consistent among Christian denominations.

One day, as Barrett and I were discussing these matters together, Barrett was pondering aloud his doubts, his fears, and his questions. Barrett became frustrated with me, perceiving that my attitude was too laissez-faire, and that I was not sufficiently committed to one course of action or another. He asked: “Are you going to become Catholic at Easter or not? What if I don’t?”

I was puzzled by the question. Honestly, since that night in April with the Crosses and the Feingolds, it had never occurred to me that Barrett wouldn’t become Catholic. This process had seemed, to my trusting faith, the way in which God was revealing the great mystery of His love to me. I had entrusted the care of my soul to my husband, and it was beginning to come more and more alive as we came closer to the Catholic Church. I was simply following him. My soul was reverberating with joy as we approached the sacraments of the Church, through which God would communicate His grace to us. I guess I had wrongly assumed that my husband’s soul and mine were in harmony on this point.

At that moment, sitting in our small dining room, I became acutely aware of Barrett’s agony and uncertainty. For one terrifying moment, I realized that I might actually lose my spiritual companion in this earthly life. But at the same moment, I was freed to make my own confession of faith in Christ, and where His Church could authoritatively be found on earth. I had been immeasurably aided and guided by my husband’s pursuit of the truth, but now I was standing upon Our Lord’s gift of faith to me, personally. For the first time in four years, I supplanted the magisterium of my husband’s understanding of the Scriptures with that of the Church.

“Yes. Yes, I will become Catholic at Easter either way. But I hope that doesn’t happen, and I don’t think it will!” Thanks be to God, within a few weeks, Barrett was similarly ready to make this confession of faith.

Right before Lent began, I committed to learn more about the rosary and how to pray it. It was one of those Catholic practices that I approached hesitantly, but I trusted the Church and was firmly committed to understanding my mother’s instruction. After a couple of weeks praying like this, a gentle voice brought to mind the prayer I had made four years earlier: “Mary, I don’t know if you can hear me. Please help if you can ….” The memory of kneeling on the carpet at the side of the bunk bed I shared with my roommate in our two-bedroom college apartment came gently back. I remembered the words I had said almost exactly, and how I had meant them with all my heart. The Lord now wanted me to honor His mother, because she had helped me in my time of need. She had asked, on my behalf, during those two sleepy years when I could barely pray: “My Son, show her your love and your truth, and where she can go to find it.” She had prayed for Barrett, that his search would be earnest, thorough, and humble, so that he could guide us both to the feet of Christ, united as man and wife. And slowly, patiently, at His mother’s tender request, Christ drew us to Himself.

We found Him most perfectly and most preciously in His body and blood, the Holy Eucharist, the night of the Easter vigil in 2010. It is difficult to describe the longing with which I arrived at that mass, and the pure joy of receiving His life in my body and my soul. I’m not sure words will ever be enough to describe the perfection of that gift! God had loved me, saved me, and drawn me, eternally and always. I was finally responding, as He intended, with my whole self: physically coming to the sacraments He prepared for us, presenting myself as a gift to Him at His altar, opening my mouth to receive His flesh, the bread from heaven, and opening my heart to all the ways in which He desired my hands and feet to be His on earth.

The Reformed tradition had made me think that this mouth, these hands, my feet, and everything else I did with my body was never enough, and ultimately displeasing to God. The Catholic Church taught me that Christ actually cares so deeply about what I do with my body, and He finds it so beautiful, that He took on its flesh in Mary’s womb, He washes it in baptism, and He unites Himself to it in holy communion. So although I do believe the Reformed tradition to be lacking, I did not leave primarily for that. I left primarily because the Lord opened up the great mystery of His love for all of me, body and soul, in the Catholic Church. I pray you may find it, too!

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  1. Dear Beth,

    This is beautiful. Thank you so much for writing this.

    A Sister In Christ,

    Christie

  2. This brought tears to my eyes. Welcome home!
    Susan

  3. Beth,

    Thank you so much for sharing this testimony to the love and faithfulness of God, and to the glorious revelation that by his grace we can become, in so many different ways, “fellow workers in the truth”. Bible verses that can seem threatening or simply beside the main point surely do come to life in light of this. Life comes to light because of truths like this. Your story is compelling throughout, thanks again for sharing it.

    Andrew

  4. Beth,

    Praise God for his mercy and the great love wherein He loved us! May we all as Eph 3 says,” .. have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Thanks for sharing your story.

    Kimd

  5. Beth, Thank you so very much for writing your story!! So much of it resonates with my experience in the Reformed world. God bless you and Welcome Home! :-)

    ~Annette~

  6. Thanks, Beth! This was inspiring. What a great story!

  7. Beth;
    Thanks for sharing your heart in such a beautiful story. Many of us had a “Catholic Church -shaped hole” in our hearts and truly could not rest until we found our rest in Him and the Church he have us to best experience Him in. God bless you and your family.

  8. Beth,
    Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him forever!
    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt journey of faith that led you home to the Catholic Church…as others have also said, welcome home! May the Theotokos continue to guide you on your journey of faith. God bless you & your family! ICXC+NIKA

  9. Thanks to all for your kind comments!

  10. Beth,

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective in this helpful piece. My experience as a “Reformed Baptist” was different from yours in many respects (and not just in terms of ecclesiology and mode and timing of baptism). To be sure, I did have my angst-ridden struggles, at times, as to whether I was actually, truly one of God’s elect, in Calvin’s understanding of St. Paul, but overall, I found Calvin’s view of God’s sovereignty in our salvation to be a comfort, rather than a terror and a source of torment.

    In short, for almost all of my time as a five-point Calvinist, I was happy and contented to be one. This fact makes reading about your very *differing* experience both fascinating and enlightening for me. Thank you for sharing your insights here. I will be re-reading and thinking about this article in the weeks and months to come, and I will be growing from it in my understanding of both Reformed and Catholic Christianity! Welcome home to the Catholic Church, sister!

  11. Christopher L – your response to my story is similar to many I have heard. People are bewildered that these hurtful things would have been communicated to me, as they have not ever felt the anxiety and pain I did. I truly don’t have a well-formed answer to how the real doctrine and theology of Reformed communities made my experience such a painful one, and have spent a lot of time in the last few days attempting to sit, in humility, before a mystery that I don’t always understand from either the Catholic or Reformed perspective. I’m grateful to my friends who remain in Reformed churches for helping me try to reason through these issues.

    Even so, the doctrinal issues over which I came to believe Reformed theology was mistaken or inadequate (baptism, authority to interpret the Scriptures definitively) were somewhat different than the ones which hurt me so deeply (predestination/election, total depravity). I think people may look at me and think that I left the church in a pathological state without proper analysis and reflection, but this was not the case. I also relied, as I mention heavily in the story, on my husband’s research and judgment on these matters. I should think women, especially, would find that this pattern makes sense of a healthy Christian marriage, but perhaps some would find that a problematic aspect of in my journey, too.

    Thank you for commenting!

  12. A very moving, sincere and uplifting read. Keep writing please, keep telling your story and writing about God’s love, you do it so beautifully with such grace. My eyes were full of tears at the end.

  13. Beth,

    Thanks for this great article and being willing to share your story publicly. I’m so glad you did, CTC definitely needs more of a feminine voice, and we’re blessed that the voice speaks as well as this article does. I hope it encourages many other women to reflect on their experiences in the Reformed tradition… and maybe inspire some other wives of Reformed-turned-Catholic guys to share their stories! blessings, Casey

  14. hi Beth. Thanks for sharing your story about entering the Church. welcome home! :)
    I have a question. You mentioned in your account that you considered your husband the head of your marriage. In your last comment on this thread, you added “I should think women, especially, would find that this pattern makes sense of a healthy Christian marriage…” I’m wondering if your understanding of this, how husband and wife relate, has changed or deepened at all since you converted?
    By way of background, I’m a student at a Catholic liberal arts college, taking a class on Moral Foundations of Theology-(Pope JP2’s Theology of the Body)-. Thanks!

  15. Thanks for stopping by, Jeremiah! I’m sure that my husband – a moral theologian himself, training to be a professor at the college level – would be glad to have a student like you, asking good questions, in one of his classes. :) I should preface, by way of background, that I am not as familiar with the Church’s teaching on conscience and freedom of religion as others, so I will rely on other commentators to fill out my comments as they see fit.

    I included this detail of my story – submission to the magisterium of my husband’s interpretation – because I think it naturally flows from a lot of what I heard, as an evangelical Protestant, about the submission of a wife to her husband (Ephesians 5). I thought it would be a point that many of my friends from Covenant could relate to. I also found it such a significant part of the way that I came to the Catholic Church. I truly believe that God was pleased by my obedience in this matter and saw fit to lead me to the fullness of truth with, rather than apart, from my husband. He led me through this obedience, rather than in spite of it.

    Protestants often find that differences between Christian denominations are about matters which are not “central to salvation,” and they are matters about which Christians may legitimately disagree. This makes it easier to look at the Ephesians 5 passage and ask wives to submit to their husbands in religious matters – at least, in Christian marriages – so that the unity and peace within the family may prevail. This way of assessing differences among Christians shares some similarities with the Catholic Church, but also some differences.

    But you will also notice that my personal conscience plays a very important role in the story, too. It arises first when we spoke to the Anglican priest who recommended that we go to the seminary, in spite of our unresolved questions. Barrett truly believed that I would change my mind while at Covenant, and I also truly believed that my religious convictions would be sufficient to seek a change in the course of our family’s life. While I remained in (what I believed to be) confusion and misunderstanding about Reformed theology, however, I was content to submit to the convictions of my husband.

    It arises in the second place when Barrett pressed me on whether or not I was convinced enough of the Catholic Church that I would receive her sacraments, even if he didn’t. Ultimately, the answer was yes, and this was because I had finally started pondering the mysteries of the faith once again. The questions were too painful and confusing before, so I let Barrett ask them instead. (I would occasionally discuss them at the dinner table, but never to any satisfaction). Now, I had seen enough of the truth of the Catholic Church to seek her out, even apart from my husband’s convictions.

    Most matters of “ought” and “should” within marriage are complicated, on everything from childcare to work outside the home to sexual intimacy to conflict resolution. Conscience/religious conviction are no exception to this rule. I probably haven’t answered your question, but I hope that my reflections help fill out your understanding of the situation I was in. I have no regrets about submitting to my husband when I had pain and confusion in asking theological questions, because I trusted that he was diligently seeking the answer on my behalf. That is similar to the way in which I trust the Church now. I also have no regret about the place to which it led us – that is, the Catholic Church. And at the time after I had made my confession of faith regarding the Church, but before my husband had, I was also not frightened by the idea that I may have been called to prefer the grace found in the sacraments of the Church to the unity of our marriage.

    This is similar, I think, to the way in which parents make religious decisions for their children, until such a time as their children have reached an age and level of understanding to make the decision for themselves. In fact, parents have a right and a responsibility to do this for their children. They have the responsibility to instruct and inform, but children do ultimately make it their own at some point. When I was in pain and confusion about Reformed theology, I felt that, in my understanding, I was not in a position to make that decision for myself (feminists of the non-religious variety may very well be wringing their hands right about now!). So I trusted myself to my husband. When I had been so enlightened as to comprehend these matters on my own, I could then rely on the gift of faith God had given to me, personally.

    Hope that helps!

  16. […] probably sensed by now how much I appreciate a good conversion story, right? Well, the one recently posted at the blog over at Called to Communion is one of the best. While we usually hear the conversion journeys of Presbyterian seminarians and […]

  17. I think men and women respond very differently to both Calvinism and Catholicism. My comments echo Mr. Lake’s. Reformed guys like John Piper stress the body a lot, and Reformed women like Edith Schaeffer are overwhelmingly positive. But each person takes away what they do! from their encounters. I guess while I never felt like Calvinists thought our efforts were “bad,” I do laughingly agree with you that the ed up making you wonder what on earth you *can* do if nothing at all matters. When I joined my PCA church I told the Elder I thought their stringent requirements would help me get some needed discipline, and he freaked out: “Oh, I hope you are not trying to earn brownie points with God!” It was disheartening for me. But overall, I found far more doctrinal clarity and community solidarity and support in Calvinism. As for people’s quirks and doctrinal abuses, I think they exist on equal sides in both communities. Enjoyed your testimony. May you continue to walk in the Faith.

  18. Beth has given a detailed map of her journey to the Catholic Church. Her husband too was a very active friend in the journey. I wish many non catholic friends who are searching for truth read this testimony.

  19. Regarding the question of the baptism of infants and what Christian parents should believe about the election of their children, I’m struck by the following from the Canons of Dort:

    Article 17: The Salvation of the Infants of Believers

    Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.

    Either (a) this is a non sequitur (of the gross logical blunder sort), because election to glory is not entailed by membership in the covenant, and therefore believing parents ought not presume that their children are elect to glory, or (b) if this is not a non sequitur, this presupposes that all children born of believers are elect to glory. The difficulty for this latter option is that Article 10 a few paragraphs earlier appeals to Romans 9 in its support for the doctrine of election: “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” If, however, all children of the covenant were elect-for-glory, then since Esau was a child of the covenant (being a son of Isaac), he too was necessarily elect-to-glory, and therefore not hated, or else the verse is not about election-t0-glory. But if the verse is about election-to-glory, then since Esau was not elect-to-glory, we cannot justifiably assume that every covenant child is ipso facto elect-to-glory. And in that case, Article 17 is an example of a logical blunder.

    There is a third possibility, however. And that is (c) embracing the irrationality of fideism, i.e. it does not matter that election-to-glory is not entailed by covenant membership; parents ought to believe anyway that their covenant children are elect-to-glory, even if there is no rational basis for believing that the likelihood that their children are elect-to-glory is higher than 50%. It is because we say so that they ought to do so, even if we have no rational basis that such presumption is more likely to be true than false. We simply stipulate for pragmatic pastoral reasons (i.e. parents will do a better job raising their children if they presume their children are elect-to-glory rather than withhold judgment regarding the question or presume that their children are not elect-to-glory) that parents ought not to doubt the election of their children. In other words, there is no rational basis for presuming this, but you’ll be a better parent if you presume it, so presume it. But this requires living according to a presumption one knows could be false, and thus in a manner contrary to what one knows, or in a kind of pretend or make-believe reality. I make-believe my children are elect-to-glory, even though I know I have no basis for believing that it is more likely that they are elect-to-glory than that they are not elect-to-glory. And this prescription to engage in make-believe seems to disconnect faith from truth. So all three options are problematic.

  20. Bryan,

    This is a very good point that I have not previously considered.
    It strikes me as somewhat analogous to the dilemma the Reformed Christian has vis-a-vis his own assurance. Westminster teaches that one can have infallible assurance, and that one can falsely believe that one has infallible assurance.

    I remember Jason Stellman once putting it this way, “The elect know for sure that they are saved, and I might be one of them.”

    -David

  21. Bryan,

    Are you advocating that parents ought to doubt the covenantal election of their children, particularly when they are infants? Surely you would not look them dead in the eye and tell them it was a very real possibility they fall away, right?

    I think it is also important to note that the Canons are simply trying to extrapolate pastoral advice from biblical passages. The covenantal principle in Old and New Testament is that God is the God of believers and their children (Acts 2:38-39). Notice that the Canons explicitly state that it is not by the nature of the child that assures the parents, it is the promise of God in the gracious covenant he has established (and while not explicitly stated the child’s baptism is a further ratification of that promise).

    You’ll notice how your three options subtly distort the nuance of the Canon. Options A & B turn the negative command into a positive one. Not doubting their election based on the promises of God and also recognizing that it is a *possibility* that they fall away are not mutually exclusive.

    Option C distorts the biblical basis that parents are told not to doubt their children’s election. Option C instead inserts some other basis for the Canon’s statements (which are not in Canon 17) like the possibility that parents will be better parents if they presume their children are elect. To be clear, the Canon makes the parents ability not to doubt their child’s election in God’s promises and grace and not in something subjective in the parent or child.

  22. Brandon, (re: #21)

    Are you advocating that parents ought to doubt the covenantal election of their children, particularly when they are infants?

    No, I’m not advocating that.

    Surely you would not look them dead in the eye and tell them it was a very real possibility they fall away, right?

    I would be negligent as a parent if I didn’t tell them (at the appropriate age) that sin is crouching at their door, including the sin of apostasy, and that they can truly fall into mortal sin, and must resist the temptation to commit all sin, including mortal sin, and the sin of apostasy.

    I think it is also important to note that the Canons are simply trying to extrapolate pastoral advice from biblical passages. The covenantal principle in Old and New Testament is that God is the God of believers and their children (Acts 2:38-39). Notice that the Canons explicitly state that it is not by the nature of the child that assures the parents, it is the promise of God in the gracious covenant he has established (and while not explicitly stated the child’s baptism is a further ratification of that promise).

    I agree that their motives are great. The problem is with the position.

    You’ll notice how your three options subtly distort the nuance of the Canon. Options A & B turn the negative command into a positive one.

    The claim that parents “ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children” entails that parents ought to believe that their children are elect [to glory]. That’s not a distortion; that’s a logical entailment, because not doubting x entails believing x.

    Not doubting their election based on the promises of God and also recognizing that it is a *possibility* that they fall away are not mutually exclusive.

    Only if one is talking about covenantal election rather than election to glory. But the whole section is talking about election to glory, not merely election to covenant. So it would be special pleading and equivocation to propose that only here (in Art. 17) is it talking not about election to glory, but only about election to covenant.

    Option C distorts the biblical basis that parents are told not to doubt their children’s election. Option C instead inserts some other basis for the Canon’s statements (which are not in Canon 17) like the possibility that parents will be better parents if they presume their children are elect. To be clear, the Canon makes the parents ability not to doubt their child’s election in God’s promises and grace and not in something subjective in the parent or child.

    All this presupposes that God “promises” that the children of believers are elect. And again, the problem with that claim is that either it involves equivocation (by switching here from election-to-glory to mere election into the covenantal community with the possibility of being reprobate), or it entails that no child of a believer is reprobate, but all children of believers are elect-to-glory. Which is it?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. Hey Bryan,

    Thanks for the interaction. In response to my question you said,

    I would be negligent as a parent if I didn’t tell them (at the appropriate age) that sin is crouching at their door, including the sin of apostasy, and that they can truly fall into mortal sin, and must resist the temptation to commit all sin, including mortal sin, and the sin of apostasy.

    I think we are on the same page here. Do you think that the Reformed position or Canon 17 does not allow for this?

    You continue by saying,

    The claim that parents “ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children” entails that parents ought to believe that their children are elect [to glory]. That’s not a distortion; that’s a logical entailment, because not doubting x entails believing x.

    It is important to notice the context of the question pastorally. In the question I asked you above, you said you would *not* tell a parent they ought to doubt their child’s reception of efficient grace. As far as I can see, this is exactly what the Canon is saying. It does not mean that you are telling parents to presume their child is elect, but it means that based on the promises of God in Scripture (that God will be a God to you and your children) that we need to rest in the promises of God as they are given to us in Scripture. It is not a guarantee of a child’s election, but it is being comforted in the promises of God in Scripture. Do you dispute that God has promised to be a God to us and to our children? (I would assume we agree; I just want to be clear)

    You continued by saying,

    Only if one is talking about covenantal election rather than election to glory. But the whole section is talking about election to glory, not merely election to covenant. So it would be special pleading and equivocation to propose that only here (in Art. 17) is it talking not about election to glory, but only election to covenant.

    This is true in one sense. The section is speaking of election to glory and the doctrine of reprobation. Articles 15-18 are particularly concerned with this doctrine and Article 17 speaks directly to the question of children and infants–are they elect or reprobate?

    The response is that Scripture speaks about these children as being holy and set apart by the grace of God (Acts 2:38-39; 1 Cor 7:14). As such, we should not assume they are reprobate, but the language of Scripture reminds us that our children are holy and that God promises to be a God to them. As such, the Article is not affirming that all children are elect, it is providing the pastoral advice that God’s Word speaks tenderly of the children of believers and incorporates them into his body. To presume them reprobate would be contrary to what Scripture teaches.

    You conclude,

    All this presupposes that God “promises” that the children of believers are elect. And again, the problem with that claim is that either it involves equivocation (by switching here from election-to-glory to mere election into the covenantal community with the possibility of being reprobate), or it entails that no child of a believer is reprobatem, but all children of believers are all elect-to-glory. Which is it?

    The Article is saying that based on the way Scripture speaks in relation to the covenantal relationship of children to the Church that parents ought not doubt the election (to glory) of their children. It does not make the equation that the children of all believers are elect nor that they are reprobate. Instead, inferring from Scripture, we trust in the promises of God regarding children of believers.

    If parents ought not doubt the election of their children (agreed to above), how do you think they should be viewed? Obviously there is some difference since baptism offers you the grace of initial justification, but not all those baptized receive efficient grace, right?

  24. Brandon (re: #23)

    Do you think that the Reformed position or Canon 17 does not allow for this?

    Yes, because it teaches that parents should not doubt the election [to glory] of their children, and teaching a child that he or she could fall away and/or end up in hell would presuppose doubting the child’s election to glory.

    It does not mean that you are telling parents to presume their child is elect, but it means that based on the promises of God in Scripture (that God will be a God to you and your children) that we need to rest in the promises of God as they are given to us in Scripture. It is not a guarantee of a child’s election, but it is being comforted in the promises of God in Scripture.

    Telling parents not to doubt that their children are elect-to-glory is telling parents to believe that their children are elect-to-glory. The basis for this exhortation is “the promises of God.” But if there is no “guarantee of [the] child’s election,” then the promises of God do not ensure that the child is elect-to-glory. Nor do these promises entail that the child is more likely to be elect-to-glory than not elect-to-glory. Hence the promises give us no basis for the exhortation not to doubt our children’s elect-to-glory status. The exhortation is not justified by the promises.

    Articles 15-18 are particularly concerned with this doctrine and Article 17 speaks directly to the question of children and infants–are they elect or reprobate? The response is that Scripture speaks about these children as being holy and set apart by the grace of God (Acts 2:38-39; 1 Cor 7:14). As such, we should not assume they are reprobate, but the language of Scripture reminds us that our children are holy and that God promises to be a God to them. As such, the Article is not affirming that all children are elect, it is providing the pastoral advice that God’s Word speaks tenderly of the children of believers and incorporates them into his body. To presume them reprobate would be contrary to what Scripture teaches.

    It says more than not presuming them to be reprobate; it says not to doubt their election. And that’s the problem. That position is not justified by the data recognized by Reformed theology. It forces parents to go beyond what is justified by the data when requiring them not to doubt their children’s election-to-glory status, because the data gives them no reason to believe that the likelihood of their children being elect to glory is higher than the likelihood of their children not being elect-to-glory. There is no passage or set of passages in Scripture that places the likelihood of believers’ children being elect-to-glory at greater than 50% but less than 100%. But even if parents knew the likelihood was, say, 75%, they would still not have a good reason not to doubt their children’s elect-t0-glory status, for the same reason that even though the likelihood of not being struck by lightning during a thunderstorm is very high, parents who know this very high likelihood and who have children playing in an open field during a thunderstorm should doubt that their children are providentially destined to be saved from all lightning strikes.

    The Article is saying that based on the way Scripture speaks in relation to the covenantal relationship of children to the Church that parents ought not doubt the election (to glory) of their children. It does not make the equation that the children of all believers are elect nor that they are reprobate. Instead, inferring from Scripture, we trust in the promises of God regarding children of believers.

    Where “trust in the promises of God regarding children of believers” is interpreted to mean not doubting their elect-to-glory status, when, in fact, no promise given by God justifies believing either that one’s children are elect-to-glory or that the likelihood that one’s children are elect-to-glory is greater than 50%.

    If parents ought not doubt the election of their children (agreed to above), how do you think they should be viewed?

    The Catholic doesn’t have this problem, because in Catholic teaching regeneration (which comes through the baptism of the infant) does not entail election-to-glory, and because election-to-glory status is known only to God. Hence the parents make no presumption either way concerning their childrens’ election-to-glory status, just as the parents make no presumption about their own elect-to-glory status.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  25. Hi Beth,
    Thanks so much for sharing your story! My husband and I attended RUF in college and spent the first 7 years of our marriage in Presbyterian churches. Through a variety of circumstances, we began to study the claims of the Catholic Church and were just received into the church at the Easter Vigil this past weekend. We are thrilled to be Catholic, but I am having a hard time knowing what to say to our reformed friends (we have moved several times, so some of them are long distance and don’t know of our conversion yet). Do you have any advice for sharing about your conversion (besides writing a great story like you’ve done!) in a way that’s honest and yet not threatening? Also, in your story, you mentioned handling friends who were concerned for your spiritual welfare. How do you respond in a way that doesn’t dismiss their concerns, but also affirms the fact that you know you are following Christ to the best of your ability? I know you’re probably busy – thanks so much for your time!

  26. Rose – welcome! It brings me great joy to hear of your entering full communion.

    First of all, I really benefitted from Tom Brown’s series back in January of this year, posted on this blog, for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. You might check those posts out for help on this topic too.

    I’ll just throw out a few things that come to mind and you can ask for clarification if you wonder about or disagree with anything I’ve mentioned:

    -I think it’s OK to give it a little time before you try to broach the issue with friends. This will help you form your thoughts in charity before sharing. At that point you could call or e-mail or write letters to anyone you’d like to share it with. Your first word, so to speak, is the witness of your entry into the Church and your reception of the Lord’s gifts in the sacraments of penance, communion, and confirmation. Extra words about why will probably not be necessary at first.

    -In preparation for answering the question, “Why did you become Catholic?”, think about your top three doctrinal issues (either with the Catholic doctrine or with what you heard from Protestant teachers) and how they were resolved in the Church. That is a good place to start if someone asks why you took this step.

    -Whenever the issue does come up, I would not immediately begin by denying the Protestant formulation. Rather, I try to begin by sharing the Catholic one (as best as I can express it and understand it). Invite them in first! Then, when you understand their particular concerns well enough, you may be able to gently criticize their position.

    -Remember that your issues may not be the same as theirs, and nor will the issues be the same for all of your friends. It’s important to listen carefully to each and every person you encounter.

    -Ask lots of questions. I think a good starter question with anyone you speak to is: “What do you think about our conversion?” or “What do you think about the Catholic Church?” Ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand what they are trying to imply, or trying to say. Sometimes their response will include a bad experience they had with Catholics or the Church. Sometimes it will include fears about whether your relationship will continue with closeness and affection. Sometimes it will include a misunderstanding of a particular Catholic teaching. Sometimes it will include a knowledgeable contradiction of a Catholic teaching. Since you may not know their response ahead of time, you can just let it sit with you for a few days or a few weeks or a few months before saying anything in response.

    -Remember how long it took you to ponder these things. When you speak, don’t expect immediate acquiescence from anyone. When they speak, you won’t always be able to or need to respond right away. Give them space in the same way the Lord gives us space to ponder and meditate. Be in it for the long-haul: in friendship, in prayer, in seeking the truth about God together, and in acts of love towards one another.

    -There is still a lot you share with Protestants, and it’s great to find agreement wherever you can. When articulating the Church’s position, you can first note how it might be similar to your friend’s, and only subsequently approach how they differ.

    -Do not be afraid of correction from a Protestant, as though that will somehow harm the Church. I trust that you probably know the Church’s teachings well, but don’t be afraid to be caught in a minor mistake. Be humble enough to admit that you may need to look into it further, and then return to the Catechism or other people you trust to help you understand the teaching more thoroughly. Also, don’t be afraid to apologize if you sin against anyone – in thought, word, or deed.

    -Some may reject you. Many rejected Our Lord, too. Do not be afraid of rejection! Try as best you can to remain open, in love. Don’t be the one to shut the door on a conversation about matters of faith. Silence may be necessary in the face of the worst of the insults and vitriol (think of Our Lord’s silence on the night of His Passion), but don’t close your heart to them even then. Be willing to come back, even with those who have hurt you most, at a later time and after much prayer.

    -Do not be afraid to be wounded. Do not run from the sorrow. Entrust it to Our Lord who knew agony, and to Our Lady whose soul was pierced. You may go through times when no one – your Protestant friends, your husband, or anyone in all the earth – seems to understand the pain of not being able to share your joy, not knowing how and what to share and when, not knowing how to respond to accusations, rejection from others, mocking, etc. But Jesus and Mary do, and your sorrow is a gift which unites you to them.

    -When you speak about these issues, you are sowing seeds. Those seeds will flower in ways that even you do not expect. As the Lord instructed his disciples following his lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman, he told them that some will sow and some will reap (John 4:34-38). You may just be the sower. Never give in to despair, impatience, or discouragement about any one conversation or person’s journey.

    -Pray always, and remember that if and when you pray for anyone’s conversion, you must necessarily pray for your own humility, too (“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”). I highly recommend a prayer called the “Litany of Humility” by Cardinal Merry de Val for help with a willingness to accept, with humility, everything that occurs between you and those you love.

    -Pray also for the gifts of the Holy Spirit – “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful…” is one which comes to mind. This is for both you and your friends. These gifts have to do with wisdom and understanding, and also perseverance in pursuing the “know-how” you seek: when to speak, what to ask, what to share, what to say in response, how to read the Church’s teaching rightly, etc. This knowledge does not all come at once, but it does come. A novena to the Holy Spirit in preparation for Pentecost this year might be an especially appropriate devotion for you and your husband, as you begin to share with friends and family!

    I rejoice with and pray for you in this special time!

  27. Beth,
    Thank you so much for your advice! It is so helpful. I am going to spend some more time contemplating it and looking up the prayers you recommended. I really appreciate you taking the time to share this with me.

  28. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am a revert to the catholic church and I also went through a VERY difficult time coming back into the church but I am so filled with peace now that I have come home. God Bless

  29. What a wonderful story. I relate so very much. I would say the doctrines of election and total depravity wounded my faith the most. If God is sovereign to the degree in which my Calvinist circles preached it, it led me to question the need to even pray. My spiritual life led to one of lack luster licentiousness. The Lord has increased my interior life one hundred fold since my reversion (led by husband’s conversion) a little more than a year ago. Welcome Home! No better place to be than resting in His Divinely protected Church. What a gift! Bless your family.

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