On Good Friday, 2008, fewer than 24 hours before my wife and I joined the Catholic Church, I spoke to my father-in-law on the phone. Because my wife is a 4th-generation Pentecostal preacher’s kid, I knew that the conversation would be one which inflicted pain. The call went as well as could be expected. Though hurt, he was kind, understanding, and respectful, as always. He summed up his concern in a comment that brought everything home to me, albeit in a way he didn’t intend. Concerned that we were completely shunning everything about our Pentecostal heritage, predominantly in the Assemblies of God, he said, “I’m just worried about what you have to forsake.”
Your mind can process a lot in a very short amount of time, and in the second between his comment and my response, I saw a movie-type, rapid-fire time lapse of all of the major moments in my life leading up to that Good Friday, but in the context of my Pentecostal faith. I saw Toddler Nic in years of Sundays in Children’s Church, learning about the Old Testament. I saw Pre-Teen Nic getting baptized at New Jerusalem Church. I saw 4 years of high school youth group, learning of Christ’s unconditional love for “Idiot Nic”, as I lovingly refer to myself back then. My first mission trip, Atheist Nic (while attending Bible College), our wedding at Jacelyn’s home church with her father presiding as pastor. Countless moments of God’s grace, mercy, and guidance, now looked at through the split-second lense of “what do I have to forsake?”.
Amazingly, after that introspective second of concern over what would be lost, I was confidently able to reply, “Actually, all I think I have to forsake is the works of Satan!” And, basically, that’s true. I realize, of course, that there are 5 promises in the baptismal vows and that fidelity to “the Holy Catholic Church” is included in them; however, the heart behind any of the vows you take is a rejection of all that is evil and acceptance of the fullness of what is good.
While I was leaving behind theological confusion and incompleteness, I was leaving nothing that was truly good about my heritage. In fact, the biggest challenge in the whole process was trying to find the right words to adequately explain why we would choose to do such a thing as leave our “freedom in Christ” to be “subject to a yolk of slavery” and “manmade traditions”. Attempting to show our bewildered family and friends the true light we’ve found in the Church has presented obstacles time and again, many times simply because of the drastic difference in terminology between Catholicism and Protestantism.
With that in mind, and per the brilliant advice of my much-smarter wife, I’m planning to use my next few articles to make a sort of cursory “Catholic’s Guide to Pentecostal Traditions, Terms, and Nuances”. I hope to take a few key aspects of our particular religious background, explain what they meant to us at the time, and also show how they are all fulfilled, purified, or resurrected by the life-giving existence of the Catholic Church.
Tall order, I know, but I’ve always been a fan of the Big Gulp, so I’m confident this will all work out fine.