My Testimony: Out of Catholicism Into Eternal Life

I was raised in a Catholic family. As a child, being Catholic meant going to church every Sunday, going to confession every week or so, doing an occasional Stations of the Cross, lighting an occasional candle at church (you had to pay based on the size of the candle), and attending catechism, weddings, etc. Attending mass mostly meant standing when everyone else stood, sitting when everyone else sat, and kneeling when everyone else knelt, since the mass was in Latin at that time. When you took communion, the priest placed a wafer on your tongue that was believed to be the actual body of Christ. We were told to cooperate carefully with the priest while he was placing the wafer on our tongues, because it would be very, very bad if the wafer fell and touched some other part of our bodies, although we were never told exactly what would happen.

When you went to confession, you entered one side of a dark booth and a priest was on the other side with a wall in between. The priest would slide a little screened window open so you could hear each other, and you would begin your confession by saying, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned, it has been 2 weeks (or 1 month, or whatever) since my last confession.” Then you would tell him the sins you committed since your last confession - “I lied three times, I got angry twice”, etc. When you were done he would assign you a certain number of prayers to say depending on how bad you had been, and then you would exit the booth and pray them silently in the pew. Usually, the priest assigned three ‘Our Fathers’ and three ‘Hail Marys’. I remember hearing a joke about a priest that would always assign the same penance no matter what you had done. “Father, I just robbed a bank.” “For your penance say three ‘Our Fathers’ and three ‘Hail Marys’.”

Sins were divided into two classes: mortal and venial. Mortal sins included only really bad things like murder, adultery, and missing church. If you sinned a mortal sin, and you didn't make it to confession before you died, you would go to hell forever. Everything that wasn’t a mortal sin was a venial sin. venial sins would send you to purgatory to suffer a while, but eventually you would get to heaven. There was also a place called Limbo, which was like the garden of Eden, and which was for people who would have gone to heaven except that they hadn’t been baptized. I remember getting pretty excited as a kid when it was time for me to go through “Confirmation”. When you were confirmed, you became a soldier for Christ, and you got to start over with a clean slate with no sin; plus you could start wearing these little pictures on a string around your neck (under your shirt) that would help protect you from sinning so you could keep the slate clean. Of course, its not long before you realize that you’ve sinned again, and that kind of takes away the excitement of confirmation and those little pictures on the necklace.

I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow as a teenager, I stopped going to church, confession, and such. But when I began to go through some trouble in my life, I took a Catholic prayer book, and went into the bathroom, and prayed a full hour of all kinds of prayers that I had never seen before. But it didn’t help at all. So then I took the huge family Bible that was only used to record marriages and births, and began reading it. I was shocked and amazed at what I read. I had only heard the same little excerpts from the gospels on an annual cycle during mass. Catechism had been merely memorizing questions and answers about sacraments and such. But here I was reading things like, “the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? ... The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come, and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be delivered”, Joel 2:11, 31-32. So whenever there was a storm, I would lay awake in bed at night, so I could be awake to call upon the Lord if he was coming in the storm to judge the world.

I also polished a little table in my bedroom and placed the family Bible there on a doily as if it were an alter, and read it daily. I noticed that version of the Catholic Bible had a warning in front that only the Pope can understand the Bible, so it would be safer for us common folk if we didn't read it. The author quoted II Peter 3:16, “in which are things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest ... unto their own destruction”. That Bible also had a list of indulgences prominently displayed. Indulgences are points that you get for doing certain things, like lighting candles, that help reduce your time in purgatory. The list showed that you could get X number of indulgences for reading your Bible everyday, but you could get a lot more for kissing your Bible everyday. However, I wasn’t interested in getting indulgences at this point, and despite the risks, I had to keep seeking.

I was also handed a gospel tract on the street downtown about this time. It was entitled, “You’re Dead A Long Time”. I didn’t understand a word of it, but I kept it (and later after I accepted Christ it made perfect sense). I also started praying the rosary for the first time ever. I carried it around in my pocket and fingered the beads and prayed as I went about my day. Each bead represented one ‘Our Father’ or ‘Hail Mary’. During this time I also started asking people, “Did you ever read what’s in the Bible? You’d be surprised at some of the things that are in there.” I said this to a schoolmate in shop class one day. He was a Christian and went home and told his parents, and they told him to invite me to a Word of Life basketball marathon in Danville. Now, I had never been interested in basketball before then and I haven't been since, but for some reason that year I was interested enough to chip the ice off the driveway so I could practice. I went to the marathon, played terribly, and got my glasses knocked off and stuff. But half way through the tournament, Bobby Muir, who had been the leading high school scorer at one time, gave a simple gospel message.

Bobby said, “If I asked how many of you know how to go to heaven, would you be able to raise your hand?” I thought, “Well, it’s quite complicated. You do good things but you also do bad things. You go to confession for the bad things, but there’s also indulgences, and sacraments, and ...”. Bobby said he would tell us how to go to heaven. He quoted from the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life”. He pointed out, “It doesn’t say, ‘He that goeth to church’, or ‘He that is good’; but rather ‘He that believeth on the Son’ that has everlasting life. And it's not enough to believe in the Son; you have to believe on the Son. Like an elevator, you can believe in it all day, but until you get on it, it won’t help you.” As he spoke, I realized that when the Bible said, “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered” (Joel 2:32), it was talking about calling on him for salvation from sin, not for salvation from his coming in the clouds in wrath. I also realized that the death of Christ that I had seen represented on the crucifix in the Catholic church every Sunday actually counted, and that it satisfied God’s requirements for the punishment of sin.

At the end of the message, Bobby asked us to bow our heads and close our eyes, and to raise our hands if we wanted to believe on the Son. I raised my hand. Then he said that those of us that raised our hands should come down to the front so they could give us a gospel of John. I was a very shy person at this time, but I had raised my hand, so I went to the front along with many other people. They took us to a classroom, and as we sat at desks, they asked people if they understood what they had done. I don’t know if I would have lied if they asked me, or what, because I was too shy to have said so, but I hadn’t done anything by this point. I was planning on waiting until that night when I was alone in my own bedroom to ask Jesus to be my Savior.

That night I did call upon the name of the Lord. I asked him to save me, and acknowledged my trust in the salvation he provided for me through his death on the cross. The next morning I woke up early and fixed myself something to take along in a sandwich bag for breakfast at school, and I did something else I had never done before. I went to the Catholic church by myself on a weekday when there was no service scheduled. It never occurred to me that the church building might be locked, but it wasn’t, so I went in and knelt in the pews, and thanked God for my salvation. That was the last time I ever went to a Catholic church. The following Sunday, the family of the classmate that had invited me to the basketball marathon, brought me to a Baptist church with them. It was refreshing because the service was in English, the windows were bright, and especially because we sang songs together. The next week, the family switched to a different Baptist church, and I continued to attend with them.

It was also helpful that a man from the church visited me at home and gave me a book about the First Epistle of John. (Epistle means ‘letter’, and the epistles of John are not the same as the Gospel of John.) That epistle was written so we could know we had eternal life. “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God,” I John 5:11-13. He pointed out that when God promises in his word that we have eternal life if we believe on the Son, then so long as we are sure that we believe on the Son, we can be sure we have eternal life, because God doesn’t lie. All my sins were future to Christ’s death. When he died for my sins, he died for all of them, not just for those up to the point I believed on him. Since all our sins, past, present, and future are forgiven when we believe on Christ, we have eternal life.

This idea of believing on the Son to receive eternal life is one of the most important themes of the New Testament. It is the topic of the entire Gospel of John. “These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name,” John 20:31. The word ‘Christ’ is a Greek word meaning 'Anointed'. The equivalent word in Hebrew is ‘Messiah’, which in usage refers to an appointed one that comes to save and deliver. The word ‘believe’ also means ‘trust’ or ‘faith’. All three English words are translated from the same Greek word in the original New Testament writings. The word ‘believe’, or some form of it, is used about 98 times in John’s gospel.

Here are some more verses from the Gospel of John that talk about believing:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up (on the cross): That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God”, John 3:14-18.

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” John 3:36.

He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life”, John 5:24.

And lest we should think that ‘believing’ on him means something complicated like trusting in church sacraments or something, John gives us many examples of people who believed on him for eternal life, and people who did not.

The Apostle Peter: “Simon Peter answered ... thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God”, John 6:68-69.

Many Jews: “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins ... when ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he. As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him ... ”, John 9:24-31.

Mary, Martha, and Many of the Jews: “Jesus said unto her (Martha), I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world ...Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him, but some of them (who didn’t believe on him) went their ways to the Pharisees”, John 11:25-27,45-46.

The people mentioned above, Peter, Martha, Mary, and many of the Jews believed directly on Jesus. There was no church in existence yet, but John says these people believed on Christ and thereby obtained eternal life.

Not only the prophet Joel, as mentioned above, but also the apostle Paul talked about calling upon the name of the Lord, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? ... of them that preach the gospel”, Romans 10:13-15. That is all that is required: a preacher preaches the gospel, you hear it, you believe on him and call upon him, you are saved from sin and receive eternal life. I've heard the objection raised that "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not ... in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity", Matthew 7:21-23. Certainly, I am not advocating merely mouthing the words "Lord, Lord" (Matthew 7:21), nor telling him about the “many wonderful works” (Matthew 7:22) we have done, but rather calling upon him for salvation. All men "work iniquity" (Matthew 7:23) and need forgiveness of sin to recieve eternal life. We must do the will of the Father in order to enter heaven, because it is the Father’s will that we believe on Christ for salvation. “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. ... Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life”, John 6:40, 47.

Jesus already paid in full for your sins. The gospel is being preached unto you now. Believe on the Son in your heart now, and call upon him in prayer for salvation from sin. You can use the words the apostle Peter used when he called upon Jesus for salvation from drowning, “Lord, save me”, Matthew 14:30. Tell him you are depending on his death in your place on the cross for your salvation and eternal life. “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye search for me with all your heart”, Jeremiah 29:13.