By Timothy Hutchinson

My journey from Evangelical Christianity into the Catholic Church is full of many colours: some bright and joyful, others more peculiar and hard to fathom. I will share a few of these shades.

I learnt to love God when I was a young boy, growing up in a vibrant Christian community in the surfing town of Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. Values such as submission, sonship, accountability and order were strongly emphasized. I came to cherish these ideas as vital in the Christian life. They are not popular ideas, especially for many young people.

I have often heard Christians express a fidelity to Christ alongside contempt for other Christians – an attitude that more or less says, I love Christ but I can’t stand the Church. I began to see that this is deeply misguided. To be devoted to Christ we must be devoted to His Body also. We must love both.

It wasn’t long before I became aware of the divisions among Christians. In my little town, despite the admirable efforts of our pastor to encourage unity, there seemed to be unnecessarily clear distinctions between the different ‘churches.’ Congregations that had very similar values and doctrines spoke about each other as different ‘families,’ separate ‘churches.’ It didn’t seem like we were one Church meeting in different places. When congregations had differing teachings on speaking in tongues or adult versus infant baptism, we would sometimes question whether we were part of the same religion.

These divisions began to trouble me deeply, believing that love for Christ and love for His Body were two sides of the same coin. No one could supply me with a satisfactory explanation for this disunity. Having grown up harbouring my own suspicions and dislike towards Catholicism, I was certainly unprepared for where the answer to my desire for unity would come from.

Allow me to fast-forward a few years in the story to describe a scene to you when I was a university student.

It starts at a birthday party in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town. I find myself in the kitchen where a conversation is taking place about Creation theories, evolution and dinosaurs etc. I’m listening casually. The people talking are from one of those youthie congregations that spend a lot of time on that sort of debate. It’s been going on for some time when a young bright-eyed, dark-haired guy about my age joins the conversation and steers it in a different direction.

‘I don’t think Christians should be so concerned with pre-historic theories, as interesting as they may be.’ Says Darren. ‘I think it is more important for us to be concerned with Church history. And this would inevitably bring us to study the history of the Catholic Church.’

Immediately my ears perk up. A small uproar starts as Darren begins to share all the things he had been discovering about the Church. But surely Catholics worship Mary? No, it’s not true, according to Darren and what’s more there was a wealth of goodness we were frankly missing out on as non-Catholics – centuries of wisdom and sound teaching, a clarity and simplicity of what it means to be a Christian, the examples of thousands of saints who lived holy lives. It went on and on.

I was not convinced and neither was anyone else but I was very interested. Darren then said something that took me completely unawares.

‘…and most people see The Reformation as God’s purging the Church of its sin, but why would God use division to purge His Church? And Protestantism has been dividing ever since.’

Everything went silent – not literally; in fact the conversation raged on wildly as ever. But for me, all of a sudden, I felt like I was in an empty room with Darren’s words ringing in my mind.

I gathered my thoughts and rejoined the conversation, asking Darren, ‘Are you saying that Martin Luther may have had valid reasons for protest but he should have worked them out within the Church, that he never had the right to break away and cause division?’

This concept made perfect sense with regard to my values of Church unity. I just had never seen it before. Darren smiled and looked me in the eyes. ‘That’s exactly what I’m saying.’

Answering one question often generates new ones. This was certainly the case with me after that evening. I was not convinced that Catholicism had all the answers but something in my heart had been softened and the idea that Christianity was once largely united before the Reformation fascinated me. I wanted to learn more. I began a three-year journey investigating the claims of the Catholic Church unprepared for the wellspring of Truth I would find.

I began to notice a connectedness between each teaching, as if each were a part of a greater whole, resting on the same fundamental. This discovery was nurturing to me and still is, as it confirmed to me the integrity and truth of Catholic teaching and provided a framework for my own thinking.

My world was shaken and rebuilt when I read that St. Paul spoke of the Church as the ‘pillar and foundation of truth (I Timothy 3:15).’ Until then, like any good Protestant I had believed in Luther’s idea he called Scripture alone – Scripture as the sole authority of truth. This grounded me in my love for the written Word, but I had never realized that it subtly excluded the Church from its function of bearing truth. The Gospel story became a little clearer. Christ had established His Church long before the completion of Scripture – a Church He promised to build and that would stand against the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).

As another story all on its own, I could speak also of my yearning for the Eucharist, the Word become Flesh and truly present in the bread and wine. All of us who have stumbled into the Church, whatever may have started us on that journey towards her, the Eucharist is always what eventually and inevitably draws us to her most.

I was yearning for unity and that desire in my heart was finally answered. As we say in the Creed, ‘I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.’ Christians may divide themselves but the Church will somehow always be intrinsically one. There was a joy in discovering that I was connected to this Church already – by merit of the grace of my baptism. All that was left for me to do was acknowledge this, which I did formally through the sacrament of Confirmation.

My entrance to the Church was less about conversion and more about communion, about coming home for dinner – the Supper of the Lamb; and the marriage of Christ and His Bride.