Allegheny Valley Church Of God
Pentecost or Pointed Hats?
There will be many who read this page who will be offended. There will be some who might be amused. There will certainly be many who will brand me as an "anti-Catholic." Please let me begin by saying that I am not an anti-Catholic, I am an ex-Catholic.
A Brief Testimony
I was baptized and raised in the Catholic church and did all the things Catholic children do, including first holy communion and confession, the confirmation where the bishop slapped me in the face, and week after week of catechism with one of the indistinguishable nuns. This was back when everything was in Latin and eating a hot dog at the Friday night football game meant eternity in hell. I remember the "Pilgrim Madonna", a large garish statue of Mary, which went to different people's houses where all the family members would come at 7:00 PM and kneel and say what seemed to be an endless chain of mindless, chanting prayers.
When I entered my teen years, I began to question the religion of my parents (imagine that for a teenager) and began to drift away from the church. "It's alright for them," I surmised, "they don't know any better." As I grew older and more rebellious, I grew farther away from any kind of religious structure. I started smoking marijuana and taking LSD (they didn't have crack back then, which dates me, I guess) and just about anything else I could get my hands on that didn't require a needle. (I don't like needles.) I was not a drug addict, just someone who liked to party and really didn't care about anything. This extended into my mid 20's when I started to get a little burned out. The drugs weren't fun any more, so I stopped doing them to a great extent. I would get high once in a while, but I was pulling away from drug use and just stuck with recreational alcohol.
Along with the use of all those mind altering substances came the kind of warped thinking which opens one up to all kinds of influence. I began reading different books on meditation and reincarnation, Edgar Cayce, new age stuff, all the typical out-on-a-limb kind of stuff. I started hanging out with a few folks who had some very strange beliefs. This went on for a few years until I finally came to my senses, called upon the name of the Lord Jesus and was saved. I'm thankful for the friends who cared about me enough to witness to me and pray for me, and not just drop me every time I said something like, "Keep your *&%# religion to yourself."
I received Christ in my apartment, laying on my bed alone. I had been listening to some TV preachers on the sly, and had been spending some time with some folks who had been newly saved. I asked God to show me if He was real, and He did. I can't explain how, but I knew beyond a doubt that there was a God in heaven who sent His son Jesus to die for my sins. Different people have different conversion experiences. That was mine.
I knew I had to go to church, but where? The only thing I knew was Catholicism, so, the next Sunday, I went to the local Catholic church, just a block away from my house. I walked in and everyone was nice and friendly, and the mass was as I had remembered it, but in English. The priest gave a brief message, which I remember was OK. Everything went well, but I felt that there was something that wasn't quite right. I went back a few more weeks, but could not shake the uneasiness of being there.
After sharing my feelings with a Christian friend, she invited me to go to the church she was attending at the time. I agreed. It was a large Assembly of God, and was unlike any church I had been in. Everyone smiled and shook my hand. They had great music that everyone could sing, there were people clapping and even dancing. When the preacher got up to speak, he went on for over half an hour and made a whole lot of sense and there were people saying "Amen" and really listening. There was no incense, no robes, no altar boys. The preacher seemed to be like everyone else. I liked it. And, most importantly, I felt as though I came away with something I didn't have before. Maybe just a little more understanding of the scriptures.
Shortly after that, I began attending the local Church of God, and the rest, as they say, is history. I received the baptism of the Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, was called to the ministry, and am now a pastor. I thank God for His mercy and grace. After reading the scriptures and understanding the clear teaching of the Gospel, I began to realize why I felt so uneasy in the Catholic church.
Onward, Christian Soldier
Initally, I became somewhat of a crusader for the cause of the Gospel as opposed to what I considered to be the bondage of Catholicism. When I told my Dad about my conversion, he asked the obvious, "What's gotten into you? What's wrong with the Catholic church?" At that point in time, I couldn't give a detailed answer, because I was new to the faith. All I could say was something like, "You don't need a priest, you don't need Mary, you don't need statues, all you need is Jesus." At first, he was dismayed and thought I got involved in some kind of cult. But as time went on and he saw in me a change that only the Lord could effect, he began to realize that there was something true in what I was saying. When I entered the ministry, he was actually proud of me, and even came to church a few times. I hope that, before he died, he understood the Gospel message and put his trust in Christ for his salvation.
Recently, I received a post on my e-mail. It was from a Carmelite nun who had read one of our articles about Elijah. After complementing me on the article and skillfully espousing just about every Catholic doctrine in just a few sentences, she proceeded to invite me to "come home" to the Catholic church. There followed a series of correspondence in which we bantered all the same old stuff. No one gave in, of course, and I can only hope that one of my argurments for the true faith might have planted just the slightest seed which will some day come to fruition. But there was one thing accomplished.
The crusader in me was awakened. I had fallen into the lets-play-footsie type of mindset that said, "We can work together." Well, the correspondence I had with the nun as well as previous and subsequent study has convinced me that we CAN"T work together. And any Catholic who really believes what their church teaches would agree. This doesn't mean that we have to hate each other. This doesn't mean we can't like each other, or even be good friends. This doesn't mean we can't work together on things that have nothing to do with religion. This doesn't mean that we have to degrade each other. But it DOES mean that the works-righteousness system of Catholicism, which can never promise anything but a "maybe you'll make it if you're a good enough Catholic" mentality, can never be reconciled with the assurance of salvation offered in the Gospel.
The Big Problem
In my correspondence with the nun, it was obvious that the bottom line to the differences between Catholics and Protestants all find their root in one place, namely, who or what has the authority to dictate to us how we should live and what we should believe.
The New Testament clearly establishes the idea that the church, the Body of Christ on this earth, must have order and government. It does not outline, however, what that government should be like. It speaks of deacons and overseers, pastors, teachers, apostles, evangelists, prophets, but does not give a flow chart of how this government should be instituted. It is also clear that a certain authority was given to those called to be leaders, as well as a great responsibility for proper leadership and doctrine. There are provisions for settling disputes, dealing with the rebellious, administering help to the poor and needy. But there is no organizational doctrine or dogma to which we can turn to structure our churches.
There are some indications, however, as to how the church should be governed. It is clear that the basis of everything we do, be it through a presbytery, or through a congregational type setting, or through an episcopal type government, must be centered on Christ and Him alone. Not only that, but those in authority are to be open and attuned to the Holy Spirit, for He will be the one who will give understanding and direction. This is why the day of Pentecost was so important, it was when the church was given the Spirit to be the comforter.
If we believe that the Holy Spirit also inspired the writers of the scriptures, it would seem reasonable to think that the same Spirit who wrote the scriptures would not contradict Himself by inspiring believers to do things which are contrary to what has been written, This is why it is hard for protestants, especially those who came out of Catholicism, to accept the traditions of the church which are not found in scripture and, in some cases, are openly condemned in scripture. Things such as endlessly repeating rote prayers, thinking that saying certain prayers ten times a day for seven days will bring about some kind of magical answer, praying to dead saints, worshipping (or,er, venerating) Mary, and thinking that a man with a pointy had is Christ on earth. Or believing that our sins cannot be forgiven unless we tell them to a priest, which isn't a ministry of the church anyhow, or believing that we are going to have to pay for the sins we didn't get dealt with through the confessional. We can go on and on, but suffice it to say that there's nowhere in scripture that even remotely suggests we ought to do these things.
To my Catholic friends who are reading this and preparing to write me and say something like, "You poor dear, you must have not really understood the teaching of the church. Perhaps you didn't listen very well, or your parents were too harsh." please. I was not raised in a dysfunctional home, I do not have anger against my parents for making me go to church, I did not have my head in a bag for the first ten years of my life. I know that there are those who can dissect Catholic teaching and, through the agency and ministry of Roman dobule-talk, can justify and defend just about anything by making believe it is different than what it really is. The truth is much of what Catholic theologians say is vastly different than what most normal run-of-the-mill Catholics do and what the local parishes promote.
Is it really OK to have gambling to raise money for the church? Is it really necessary to pay money to have masses said for the dead to get them out of purgatory? How much will it cost to buy a few million years of torment? Of course, the Catholic church does not deify Mary. But then why do we see the Pope bow down and kiss the feet of her statue? That looks like worship to me. But in the doublespeak of Catholicism, that is not worship, it is "veneration." Is it really necessary for men and women to divulge their secret sins, many of which involve sexual misconduct, to "celibate" men hiding in little rooms behind darkened screens?
No, friend. It is not necessary to do those things. What is necessary, according to the risen Savior, is to be born again, and to place our trust in Jesus and his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Believe He was resurrected from the dead, and know that the Father accepts you because you have been washed in His blood.
Trust in Him today and be saved for all eternity.