By Tina Ehrhardt
(Originally printed in the January/February 1996 Issue of the MCOI Journal)
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you, free” (John 8:32). Being raised a Roman Catholic, I was ‘taught that Roman Catholicism was the truth and the only way to heaven.
I was the youngest of two children, born to two wonderful, hard-working, devout, Roman Catholic parents. Our biggest loves in life were our Slovak heritage and the Catholic Church. We truly lived and breathed our Catholic faith. As Catholics, we alone had all the special things from God, such as the seven sacraments, Mary, the Saints, statues, purgatory, indulgences, miracles, Mass and, above all, we had the Pope with his infallibility to direct us. I knew I could rely upon his infallibility because we had been taught that Jesus had left Peter in charge as the first Pope, and that any succeeding Pope was just like Jesus talking to us!
Never having read the Bible, I had no idea that, in Apostolic times Jerusalem, not Rome, was the “headquarters” of the early church, and James, not Peter, was the head of that church (Acts 15). Catholics are taught that they cannot understand the Bible without the Church’s interpretation. Since we were encouraged not to read the Bible, I did not read it. I was fearful that there must be some untruths in it, and I might be led astray. And besides, I reasoned, Bible reading was something Protestants did, and I knew that they didn’t have the truth! I realize that today, the Catholic Church does allow Bible reading and even has Bible-study classes, but this was not true in former times. In fact, I have learned that:
“The Bible was first officially forbidden to the people by the Church of Rome and placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Valencia (a cathedral city in southeastern Spain) in the year 1229, with the following decree: ‘We prohibit also the permitting of the laity to have the books of the Old and New Testaments, unless anyone should wish, from a feeling of devotion, to have a Psalter or breviary for divine service, or the hours of the blessed Mary, But we strictly forbid them to have the above-mentioned books in the vulgar tongue’.” (from Roman Catholicism by Loraine Boettner, p.97).
As a Catholic, the word ”mystery” was used whenever something could not be explained to me. I have to say now that it is a “mystery” to me how Catholics that do study the Bible can believe both the Bible and Catholic doctrines at the same time, because I have not found our “special” Catholic teachings in the Bible at all. But I have gotten ahead of myself.
The man I married was not Catholic, and I didn’t insist that he become one, because he promised that I could raise my children as Catholics, and that was what really mattered to me at the time. The children came: two boys and a girl. I found out that it isn’t easy to raise children in a faith not shared by your spouse. But my husband, not having any religious convictions of his own, never interfered in any way. When he did go to Church, he went with us. I hoped, though, that my children would marry within the faith so they could pray and share together as a family.
In 1985, my youngest son was the first to marry, and he married a Catholic girl, which I thought was wonderful. So far, so good.
Then, in 1990, my daughter married a non-Catholic, and did not get married in the Catholic Church. To make matters worse, I knew this man had spent some time as a Jehovah’s Witness (hereafter JW’s), and so, I was very fearful of the influence he might have on her beliefs. My worst fears were confirmed when she informed me that they were attending a Kingdom Hall. I knew I would lose her if something wasn’t done immediately, but what could I do? Where could I go for help? Of course, I went to my priest. What a disappointment I felt when it turned out that he knew nothing about the JW’s and could only advise me to pray for them.
In my frustration, I called everyone seeking advice. My son and daughter-in-law in Nebraska provided me with my lifeline. They gave me a number that they had found in their local paper that advertised help for families with loved ones caught up in the JW’s. I called and was given the number of Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. as people in our area who would be willing to help me. This led me to two wonderful and caring people who I will always love and keep in my prayers, Don and Joy Veinot. When I told them I was a Catholic, they did not refuse to help me, but gave me the help I needed right where I was. The first thing I had to do was dust off my Catholic Bible. (I surely never could use a Protestant one!) I was sent material on the JW’s that pointed out the numerous problems in that organization, including their false prophecies, I also read several books by David Reed, a former JW elder. I eagerly dug into the Scriptures, desperately seeking to find truths to share with my daughter and her husband, not realizing that these very same Scriptures were beginning to speak to me about my need for salvation. With all I knew about God, I didn’t know Him personally! Little did I know that, as I was reading, little Scriptural seeds were being planted in my own head. It was so strange for me to hear Don tell me to pray to Jesus. He kept telling me that. I remember the day I decided to take his advice. Until that time, I had been very confused about exactly who to pray to. Should I pray to Mary, her mother Anne, St. Theresa? I had never even thought of praying to Jesus.
Don and Joy advised me to proceed very carefully with my daughter and her husband, and gave me very specific advice about how to go about talking to them about the things I had learned about the WTBTS*. The Society has an emotional, “fear-based” hold on its members that must be broken with gentleness and care. As most cults do, the WTBTS warns its new devotees that family members, guided by Satan, will attempt to pull them away from the group, so if the situation is not handled with care, the relationship can be lost, or greatly damaged by reckless reaction to their involvement. It took two months (which seemed like an eternity) to present the right information to them. The day they walked away from the JWs, all I could say was, “Thank you, Jesus!” I was very thankful and, in the back of my mind, I hoped that my daughter would come back to the Catholic Church. Little did I know that, as my own search continued, I would leave the Catholic Church myself.
Meanwhile, in 1993, my oldest son married a Protestant girl and was married out of the Catholic Church. I was really in a confused state at this time and, to add to my confusion; in 1994, my first grandchild was born and I realized that this child was not going to be baptized or raised as a Catholic. Now I felt compelled to prove that the Catholic Church was the one, true church.
Deanna and Terry, the ones who had left the JWs, were meeting with Don and Joy to answer the questions they still had, and doing a Bible study with them. I was very happy they were doing this but Iwas, of course, still hoping that Deanna would come “home” to Catholicism. I began seeing a wonderful change in her, but she was not talking as a Catholic! She explained to me how truly easy it was to go to heaven and that salvation was a gift from God purely on the basis of His grace and through faith alone, not works (Eph. 2:8-9). I thought, “What is going on? Has she forgotten everything she learned as a Catholic? She should know that if you work real hard, you might be lucky and find yourself in purgatory! What’s this ‘gift’ stuff”
I continued my research to prove the truth of Catholicism to myself and my family, but it was not working out as I had planned. I discovered that many of the doctrines that I thought had been liberalized or discarded were still official “Church” teaching, though not as emphasized as they had been in my youth. For instance, I now had to accept that if my two children that had left the Catholic Church did not return, they would be condemned to hell, no matter if they believed in Jesus or not! My unbaptized infant granddaughter would be condemned to forever circle around hell in a place called limbo if she were to die in childhood. This became a major stumbling block to me with my Catholic faith. Why would God punish an innocent baby for the decisions of her parents? Was it not Jesus who said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14)? It seemed to me that limbo makes a mockery of Jesus’ love for these innocents. My doubts scared me, because I had never even thought to question what I had been taught before, or to compare the “Church’s” teaching with what the Scriptures teach as I was now doing. This had been my life for 52 years and I did not want to learn what I was learning. But I plunged ahead because there was no going back now.
The next thing to hit me right between the eyes was the Ten Commandments, I found they were a little bit different in the Bible than the way they had been taught to me. In Catholicism, the tenth commandment is broken up into two commandments, while the second commandment is skipped over as though it weren’t even there. In fact, in the Catechism, it isn’t there! What is the second commandment?
“You shall not make for yourselves a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third generation of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex 20:4, Dt. 5:8).
I really struggled with this because, if I was to believe that commandment and obey it, how could I continue my prayers to Mary and all the saints and surround myself with all the beautiful statues I was taught to venerate? It was so painful for me to deal with the fact that my search to prove the truth of Catholicism was, instead, leading me away from the religion I loved so much. One thing led to another as my belief system unraveled.
I searched the Scriptures like crazy to prove that Peter was the first Pope, but the Scriptures make no mention of a Pope. Peter, himself, was referred to as an Apostle, and as an elder, and he was a married man (IPet. 1:1, IPet 5:1, Matt. 8:14)! Although I had been taught that Peter himself was the rock upon which Jesus would build the church, I found, in the context of the passage, that Jesus was the Rock upon which the church would be built. No man can take the place of Jesus, for He is the perfect God-man. From all the research that I did, none of the Popes qualify to fill His shoes, and we have-no need of a Pope, since Jesus left us the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us (John 16:13). I realized that following a man, such as the Pope, is really no different than following men like the leaders of the WTBTS. We don’t need them to come between the Father and us.
Also, since Scripture says over and over again that Jesus died for our sins, why does the Catholic Church insist on sacrificing Him over and over again at every mass? I had never considered this as a Catholic. I would look at the host in complete adoration, believing that the priest was somehow changing it into the actual body and blood of Christ. Yet, the Scriptures say He died to sin, once for all. Christ is not received through ritual, Christ is received into the heart of the believer through prayer, and is present within those who invite Him in through His Spirit (Rev. 3:20, Romans 8:8-11).
I also discovered that Scripture teaches that only prayers directed to God through His Son will be heard and answered, and that there is only one mediator between God and men, and that is Jesus (ITim 2:5, John 14:6). As a Catholic, so much of my prayer time was directed to Mary and the special saints I had adopted. I now know that 1 had been misled in this. I found out that two doctrines related to Mary had been instituted only a relatively short time ago. The doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception,” teaching that Mary was conceived without sin from the moment of her conception just as Jesus had been, was not adopted until 1854. The “Assumption of Mary,” which teaches that Mary was taken bodily up into heaven just as Jesus had been, was not taught officially until 1950! If these doctrines of Mary are true, why are they not mentioned in the Bible? The Bible never places Mary on any kind of equal footing with Jesus Christ, yet I had given more devotion to her than to Him!
Purgatory was another teaching that worried me a great deal. According to Catholicism, the fire of purgatory does not differ from the fires of Hell The only way to Heaven is to attain a state of Christian perfection. I knew that 1 wasn’t perfect, but 1 had hoped for a shot at purgatory. Yet, in order lo get out of purgatory. I would need prayers and masses said for me. Who would do this for me? With two kids out of the Church, and a non-Catholic husband, that would leave only my youngest son to do all the praying. So now I have to worry about being stuck in purgatory, with two kids going to Hell, an unbaptized granddaughter, a Catholic son whose only hope was to end up in purgatory with me, and a non-Catholic husband who showed no interest in being converted. Here I believed this doctrine enough to scare me half to death, but in my research I found out that it was not taught officially in Catholicism until 1439! I couldn’t believe it! The fact is that purgatory is not mentioned in Scripture, and Jesus said in John 5:24. “He who hears my word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” What wonderful news!
“Roman Catholicism is often described as a religion of fear” (from Roman Catholicism by Loraine Boettner. p.221). I know the fears are real, because I lived it! I lived in fear of the priest, the confessional, the consequences of missing mass, death, and of the judgment of an angry God. You name it, I feared it. I found out that my fear was not brought about by what God taught in Scripture, but by Catholic Tradition- things not taught in Scripture but manufactured by men. The Scriptures clearly teach that we are to abide by the Word of God and not by the traditions of men (Mark 7:8). I had to make my choice between God and tradition, and I chose God.
It was not easy for me to come to the truth. I searched every aspect I could find to prove that Catholicism was the truth after all, but I could not find it. My faith and love for my church was so strong, I would have given my life for her, but I knew I had to leave her. With the grief I felt, it was like a death in the family.
Yet, I will never forget the morning I awoke and knew my struggles were over. I felt like I was about to start a new journey. I knew, though, that I would not be alone because Jesus Christ would be with me. I had one last thing to do before beginning my new journey, and that was to rid my house of all the statues and holy articles that I had been taught to venerate. Since my house could have passed for a mini St. Peter’s Basilica, it took some doing to collect them all, but it was done; and I can now direct my prayers to the one and only mediator between God and men, the Lord Jesus Christ.
By the grace of God, I have been reborn. My heart and soul belong to the Lord, and I no longer fear an angry God. I know now, through Scripture, that none of us can live a sinless life; and so He sent His Son to die in our place as the perfect sacrifice. One sacrifice, once for all. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The truth is Jesus, and He is the only way to Heaven.