At the age of 54, after being an evangelical Protestant all my life, I joined the Catholic Church.
Why did I become a Catholic?
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.
In the late 1970's I became a member of the Chapel in University Park in Akron. 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.
Hearing the missionary call
At the Chapel I had the opportunity to hear many messages from missionaries to foreign countries which 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 apparently God was simply holding me to my promise.
To prepare for this mission, I went to Malone College (now Malone University) in Canton, Ohio to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Ministries, which is the course that many take to prepare for pastoral ministry as well as missionary work.
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. A friend at the college also introduced me to puppet ministry, and I began to make puppets and perform with them.
Visit to Japan
While I was in college, 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.
At that time 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 I had a strong sense that God was calling me to Japan.
Discovering the Anglican (Episcopal) Church
During my final year at college, my old junk car wasn't up for the trip to my home church in Akron every Sunday so I started to visit churches near the college, sometimes catching a ride with friends.
I tried the Quakers, the Southern Baptists, the Episcopal Church, and even the Greek Orthodox Church because it happened to be within walking distance from my college. The Catholic Church apparently never crossed my mind.
I was attracted to beautiful liturgy at the Episcopal Church, and eventually became a member. The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Church.
An older Episcopalian once told me that the Episcopal Church is great at celebrating but not so good at educating. Fortunately I had received good Bible teaching at the Chapel and at Malone College.
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 as an Episcopalian and still retain all my theological views as a Bible-believing Evangelical Christian.
The road back to Japan
I still felt that God was calling me to Japan. It would have been an easy thing to become a missionary when I was still a member of the Chapel in Akron, but the Episcopal Church is a huge denomination and I was a new member and completely unknown to the people who made these decisions. I feared I had shot myself in the foot regarding this missionary call.
Correspondence with the American 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. 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 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,
I came back to Japan in 1987 as our sending board's only missionary assigned to this country.
The Anglican Church in Japan had been informed that I was coming, and the leaders were cordial to me, but were not particularly interested in what I was doing here.
So most of my fellowship was with fellow missionaries at the Japanese Missionary Language Institute in Tokyo where I studied Japanese for the next two years.
Puppet ministry in Japan
I was soon active in an 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 an invitation for people in the audience (mostly children) to pray a "sinner's prayer" and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
I had the opportunity to meet many Japanese Christians. 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 puppet shows.
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.
My wife knows her Bible well, and was uncomfortable with the unbiblical sermons she heard from the pulpit. I often missed the strange parts since the sermons were in Japanese.
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, but we did not have that freedom because I was in Japan as an Anglican missionary.
End of my Anglican missionary career
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 Episcopal parishes in America was severed.
By this time I was "dug in" with a Japanese wife, and still retained that strong conviction that God had called me to Japan, so I couldn't return to America.
I stayed in Japan and worked as an English teacher where I used my puppets in the classroom in addition to the puppet ministry on weekends. Since I was employed full time as a teacher and no longer tied to a missionary organization, my missionary career in Japan was officially over.
Evangelical Protestant once again
I was no longer bound to the Anglican Church, so my wife and I joined a non-denominational Protestant church in Tokyo.
With the encouragement of our new church, we continued to travel around Japan on the weekends to do puppet shows as self supporting missionaries, but it was very difficult as our full-time jobs left us pretty exhausted. After we had children of our own, we finally had to give up the puppet ministry.
Over the years we joined several churches, spending a few years in one church, and then moving on to another church.
Like many American Protestants, I felt that church hopping was a natural part of Christian life, and I searched for the perfect church that best fit my beliefs and concept of worship. And my long-suffering wife reluctantly followed me from church to church.
I played electric guitar or bass in the church bands, 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 daily "Quiet Time" was reduced to the bare minimum of short daily Bible and prayer time lasting only a few minutes.
Jolted by a Buddhist wake
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 my wife's strategy and went forward, crossed ourselves, and bowed our heads for moment of silent prayer for the bereaved family. Everybody seemed to be sympathetic and even grateful for our efforts. Our neighbor gave us a big smile.
Investigating the sign of the cross
I recalled that many years before, I had once considered the sign of the cross to be a useless and slightly pretentious practice that must have originated some time in the middle ages, but I started doing it myself because everyone around me was doing it.
Now I discovered what a useful tool the sign of the cross could be in a non-Christian culture! I wanted to learn more, and 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.
After an eighteen year gap nobody in the Anglican
Soon I experienced that personal 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 expanded to include Morning and Evening Prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
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 in the tiny choir every week, played guitar sometimes during the worship service and was a reader at the once-a-month English service.
The priest even urged me to go to seminary and become an Anglican priest. Life was good in the Anglican Church this time around.
Trouble 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 Anglican parish and 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 orthodox 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 might 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 our priest was assigned to a different parish, and my little parish got 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 started attending a different Anglican parish farther from home, but I knew this was a temporary solution as the cancer in the Anglican Church continued to spread from parish to parish. I felt as if I were on a sinking ship, hoping and praying for a lifeline.
A challenge to consider the Catholic Church
The plan was to establish national networks of churches called personal ordinariates which would have their own leader (called an ordinary) who would answer directly to the pope.
Until that moment, I had never dreamed of being a Catholic. I never doubted 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.
The truth was, I didn't know much about the Catholic Church, and much of what I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. My views of the Catholic Church had been formed in the 1980's by anti-Catholic pamphlets such as the Catholic Chronicles by Keith Green and those infamous Chick Tracts. Clearly, I had a lot of studying to do!
One of my old acquaintances was an Anglican priest whom I had met in Japan in1987. After I returned to the Anglican Church and re-established contact, I found that he had left Japan and the Anglican Church a long time before, 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 started to attend meetings of a small group of former Anglicans in Japan called the Nippon Kirisuto Sei Ko Kai (NKSKK) who were hoping and praying for the establishment of a personal ordinariate in Japan. They were headed by a former Anglican bishop. They only met twice a year, so I continued to worship at the Anglican parish on Sundays. I also created and maintained their web site.
I also began to investigate the Catholic Church, turning not to Protestant or anti-Catholic sources, but to the Catholic Church itself. I found lots of internet sources and informative books on Catholicism, many of them written by former Protestants who had converted to the Catholic Church. 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.
Stumbling upon an Anglican dead-end
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 through the Catholic Church.
My first reaction was "How dare he!" It seemed so cold and unfriendly and completely unnecessary 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 man who happened to walk into that church for the first time during communion -- and she 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 had given 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.
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.
Drawn to the Catholic Church
My focus had 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 its own personal ordinariate since that option was apparently for English speaking countries with large groups of Anglicans. 1
So I decided to join the Catholic Church as an individual rather than in a group.
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.
Joining the Catholic Church
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.
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.
Finally, I was confirmed and joined the Catholic Church and 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.
My wife and children attended Mass that Sunday to witness this big event in my life, but they have not chosen to follow me into the Catholic Church.
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
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.
1. Three personal ordinariates were eventually erected in Britain, America and Australia. Four years after I entered the Catholic Church, the small community of former Anglicans in Japan was finally included as a part of the Australian ordinariate, called the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross Ordinariate Community of St. Augustine of Canterbury (Japanese speaking), and the former Anglican bishop became a Catholic priest. I continue to maintain their web site and attend their Mass (all in Japanese) when it is held twice a year. I have not become a member of the personal ordinariate because of my duties at my own Catholic parish (currently a Lay Eucharistic Minister).
But I am enjoying one particular blessing of the personal ordinariate. 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 with those beautiful words from 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.
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