Serious Questions for Evangelicals: Why Two Missionaries Became Catholic (Part 2)

We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -G.K. Chesterton

Communion courtesy of

Part 2




Yesterday, we left our missionary couple entering Guatemala in 1992. Here is what Kristine had to say. “Shortly after we arrived in Guatemala, my tidy paradigm of “true Christianity” began to disintegrate.”
The Americanization of Christianity
They hoped to find a church with a distinct Latin American flavor. Instead they found transplanted, American-Christian styled churches,  the only difference being that Spanish was spoken. The music, the curriculum, the governing style were clones of the American church. She said it was like “watching the Dukes of Hazard dubbed into Spanish.”
Evangelicalism has been present in Guatemala for over 100 years. Supposedly there are Latin American, national pastors. However, she claims that American missionaries are the bosses, holding the real power in the churches.
Years ago, I worked for the Navajo Tribe as a home health coordinator (or should I say hogan health coordinator?). Under the Indian Self-Determination Act, the Tribe was, over time, to assume the functions and duties of various aspects of government from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a federal agency. They decided to do so in the area of home health care. This meant that the US government employees would lose their jobs and be replaced by Navajos. I was stunned at the recalcitrance on the part of the government employees. They fought the Tribe at every turn under the guise that the Tribe was not ready to give the vital care they believed necessary. Yet the federal employees would insist that they were not prejudiced and that they wanted to “train” the Navajos. The problem was that they had been training the Navajos for a very long time, with no end in sight.
One would imagine that the Americans in charge of the churches in this region would claim that they want the nationals to take the burden of leadership. Isn’t that what every mission group teaches? But in keeping with everything we have seen in many American churches, control is a very hard thing to set aside.


The Rich/Poor Divide and the Problem of Segregation
Although this fits under the previous category of American Christianity, I felt it deserved its own category. Basically, the rich people went to rich churches; the poor people went to the poor churches. One church, which had equal numbers of both, still allowed a subtle form of segregation. The rich people sat down front and the poor sat in the balcony.
She said a visiting missionary once told her that they targeted the wealthy and middle classes in large urban areas when starting churches. His rational was that the rich would not want to worship in poor areas but the poor would be happy to worship in the rich areas! Apparently rich people do not wish to be associated with a poor man’s religion.
I have seen this attitude alive and well in churches in the Unites States. Various denominations and families of churches target wealthy suburbs to start churches, presumably for the potential income that such a church would generate. Of course, it would be couched in the nicest of terms. “If we get rich people to come to church, just think of what we could do with all the money we would get. We could start soup kitchens and ministries to the poor.” It somehow doesn’t seem to end up that way in many instances. Instead it becomes a glorified “bless me ” club.
I remember when I was a member of Ed Young Jr.’s church, which was called the, Fellowship of Las Colinas when it was several years old and had between 1,000-2,000 members. It was located, as you can imagine, near a wealthy enclave. Virtually no money was given to missions from this church because, as Ed was wont to say, that church was a mission. Yeah, right. They really needed the upscale coffee and fancy rental digs.
In Guatemala, there was separation due to income levels as well as racial/ethnic groups. Apparently, in Guatemala there were two main ethnic groups. Ladinos who were European of Spanish descent and rich. Then there were the Indians who, for the most part, were of Mayan descent and poor. So the division went far deeper than money.
There is a saying that Sunday is the most segregated time in America. Few churches achieve racial integration of any significance. In fact, the ones that do are often found in the less desirable areas of town. It seems as if we imported this “value” to Latin America.


Interdenominational Dissension



Kristine says “ When the Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals and others well meaning missionaries came to Guatemala, they brought with them all their doctrinal spats that American churches split over. Guatemalan churches, like their American counterparts, are constantly in a state of strife and doctrinal turmoil, splitting into new churches. New denominations spring up in Guatemala at a breath-taking rate. Pastors found new churches, taking large portions of their former congregation with them.”
The author struggled over Paul’s concept of “one body, one faith, one baptism.” She began to realize that it hasn’t been around for a long, long time. She remarked that, at one point of time, the Catholic Church was at the center of the villages, drawing people together in a cohesive fashion. Unfortunately, unity went out the door with the coming of the various denominational missionaries. Yet, Christians are supposed to be unified. What has gone wrong?


“Each (church group) was promoting its particular brand of evangelicalism: Church of Christ, Presbyterian, non-denominational, Assemblies of God, Mennonite Bretheren, and Baptists of every conceivable stripe were all there, scratching around for converts and reminding their flocks that all other groups were strong (especially, of course, the Catholics).”
At one point, my husband and I were considering joining an Anglican church. During the new members class, I was suddenly struck by something the pastor said. This church was planning on “planting” another Anglican church nearby, in an area where there were many evangelical churches. I asked why, since the area had so many churches already. He seemed surprised, saying something about the fact that there were no Anglican churches in that area.
This bothered me. I remembered when Charles Swindoll decided to start a church in Frisco, Texas. There were a number of excellent churches in the general area at the time. Well, he had the big name and many Christians love the big names. So, there were thousands present when the doors to his church opened. But, they were not new converts. They were simply folks from other churches in the area. This move devastated a Bible church in the area and many churches lost members because of the celebrity draw. What in the world was accomplished? To this day, I have friends say they are attending “Swindoll’s church.” Swindoll? How about Jesus’ church? But I am not sure Jesus has anything to do with all of this.
Biblical Interpretation-my way or the highway (to hell)



This issue figures into interchurch acrimony. The author was taught how to carefully interpret Scripture. She had been reading and memorizing Scripture since she was a small child. She was taught the Bible was to be taken literally, especially when it came to creation and End Times. She had extensively used lexicons and concordances and had taken courses on the Bible, having attended Biola. As she put it, “Most educated evangelicals are confidant with their theology and I was no exception. For example, if I met a pastor who taught that infant baptism was acceptable, I knew he was wrong and I could prove it from Scripture.”
She spoke of Pentecostal preachers who cast out demons and non-Pentecostal preachers preaching against speaking in tongues which they warned was a sure sign of the devil. Preachers taught a variety of non-negotiable beliefs: health and wealth Gospel, an American style of democracy, infant baptism, believer’s baptism, and various versions of creation and End Time scenarios amongst many others. She recounts the following story “A Methodist missionary on one side of the mountain made a deal with the Pentecostal missionary on the other side saying, “ I won’t tell your people they need to baptize their babies if you won’t tell mine they need to speak in tongues.”


She says that the Protestant system of individual Scriptural interpretation is “functional agnosticism” in regards to the meaning of Scripture. So many proclaim that “The Bible says” and go on to offering various conflicting opinions while knowing, for sure, that their version is right. She said many of their friends would advise new converts to find a Bible believing church where Scripture is taught accurately. But what did that really mean? Charismatics meant a church that emphasized churches that had overt expressions of spiritual gifts. Bible church types meant a church with heavy emphasis on exegetical preaching and personal Bible study. So, which of these churches is the “most Bible believing?”
I used to be a member of a Baptist church, which threw teens and adults out of Sunday school classes if they questioned Young Earth creationism. I found out because a few of them ended up in our Sunday school class. When questioned, the pastors claimed that they absolutely knew that their interpretation was correct and that no other thinking would be allowed. Needless to say, my tenure at said church was considerably shortened.


The Problem of Illiteracy and Sola Scriptura



Guatemala has a literacy rate of only 50%. The author began to wrestle with the following question. “If a person’s knowledge of truth depends to a great measure upon his ability to read and understand and use Scripture, and if that person’s growth in Christ depends upon his being able to do the same, what about the illiterate?” She makes the point that illiterate people have always depended on their knowledge of the faith, not on the Bible, but on the Church and its teachers.
I find this both a profound and challenging thought. I know that many would say that we must teach people to read. But, even now, as well as through time immemorial, vast numbers of people are illiterate and have depended on the church for correct elucidation of it’s teachings. But, what teachings? These teachings are as varied as the number of preachers, evangelists and teachers. She says, “ In place of the ‘One Faith,’ I saw, in Guatemala, hundreds of ‘faiths,’ hundreds of competing preachers.” So which “sola scripture” were these illiterate people being taught?

They chose Catholicism
As these questions began to consume them, they embarked on a study of the early church fathers. She notes, “I noticed that the early church did not follow the Protestant concept of going by the Bible alone.” Instead “the early church showed the Scripture and Sacred Tradition, promulgated by the church’s teaching magisterium, was the model of authority for the early Christians.”


And so, seeking to unify their faith, they left the mission field and became Roman Catholics. Their families were none too pleased, thinking they had succumbed to the pressures of the mission field or had rejected the faith and walked into the “jaws of Satan.
A commenter on our blog, Watcher alerted me to the following blog “Called to Communion- Reformation Meets Rome”  which can be found at this link.
This is a site for those who are leaving Protestantism for Catholicism, many who are struggling with the same issues that this author elucidates. There is even an article that should strike fear into the hearts of true Calvinists everywhere entitled “How John Calvin made me a Catholic.”
As evangelicals we must wrestle with the questions that this article raises. There have been an increasing number of Protestants who have become Catholic or Orthodox in the past decade. I, for one, have been challenged by Kristine’s forthright confessions of her problems with evangelicalism and have to admit that I have many more questions now than before I read this challenging article.


Lydia’s Corner: Leviticus 6:1-7:27 Mark 3:7-30 Psalm 37:1-11 Proverbs 10:3-4



Serious Questions for Evangelicals: Why Two Missionaries Became Catholic (Part 2) — 22 Comments

  1. Good posting….I especially like this quote

    “She says that the Protestant system of individual Scriptural interpretation is “functional agnosticism” in regards to the meaning of Scripture. ”

    It’s one of the reasons I spent a long hard look into Catholocism. I would also say that this style of individual interpretation is essentially moral relativism….

  2. I think that a good number of people have difficultly living with uncertainty. They intensely desire a sense of certainty and security about their beliefs and the world around them. They find it very difficult to live with unresolved tension, anomalies, apparent contradictions, or other forms of duality within their worldview.

    This drive for certainty may be due to their basic personality / temperament, or various environmental factors, or a combination. Whatever the cause, they seek to develop a cogent, consistent set of beliefs that minimize the tensions of ambiguity. This is probably true to some extent for most intelligent and reasoning people, but some seem more compelled than others toward whatever system of thought most completely addresses their uncertainties.

    I may offend several different groups with this statement, but I personally believe that the need for certainty is behind a rigid commitment to fundamentalism, or to Catholicism, or to Atheism. In each system of thought there is a claim to “the Truth” that appeals to the desire for a greater amount of certainty. Fundamentalists find that certainty in their claim to correct understanding of the Bible through personal study and prayer. Catholics find it in the Church’s claim to correct interpretations of the Scripture. And Atheists find it in their ability to come closest to the knowledge of the truth through reason and science. But in all three cases, the underlying motivation is the same — the sense of security that comes with the closest possible approximation of certainly available.

    I am never surprised when a former fundamentalist becomes a Catholic, or an Atheist, or any switch from one of these to the others. To me, it appears that they have just replaced one for of certainty for another.

    I understand the appeal — having been raised in a family with a very agnostic and indifferent view of any religion, then having become a Christian and spending my early Christian years in very conservative, fundamentalist church settings, I felt a much greater sense of security in the certainty of fundamentalism than in the lack of a belief systems I was raised with. But after my own crisis of faith and struggles with deep doubt and the sense of anxiety, depression, and despair that came with those doubts (my long, dark teatime of the soul), I was able to accept the tensions inherent in life as a human on this planet.

    To me, now the greatest sense of peace and security comes in being able to say, “I don’t know the answers to all these questions, but I know the One who does.” And it is, for me, enough.

  3. Oh thank you for nailing the whole concept of “church planting”!!! It really troubles me… has for some time. (as an aside, the late Michael Spencer – originator of The Internet Monk blog – was a big believer in church planting. I tried to have some discussions with him about my reservations in blog comments, but am not sure we were ever quite on the same page… sweet guy, though!)

    I have seen people exchange one kind of fundamentalism (Protestant variety) for another (a certain kind of Catholicism that is as fundamentalist as the version they left behind when they converted). Having spent time with people who – after Vatican II – felt free to read Scripture for themselves and ask questions about their church’s beliefs, I just… want to help people who are in the throes of needing certainty to meet other Christians who are like the folks I knew back in the 70s, post-Vatican II.

    From what little I have read of early church history, and of early church writers, I think it’s very important to see their conflicts (some of them became violent!) and the overall history of the early church and its important figures and councils in a larger historical context. One person who has been writing about that is Philip Jenkins, though he’s by no means the only person to tackle this subject – and the controversies involved. (Though I would recommend the book at the link quite highly.)

    I want to find a church refuge, too – but I don’t want to choose it blindly. (Which I did do in the past, assuming that – as I had been told – the new place was *not* like the place I was leaving. I kept going for the same kind of place, and ended up getting the same results – churches that were dictatorial and abusive.)

    Though I *do* understand why the folks who went through this chose to become part of the Catholic church… and I believe it’s likely a good, nurturing place for them.

  4. One further thought on “church planting,” American style: to me, it seems patterned on a business model more than anything else.

    You know, starting a franchise – selling or buying into the franchise. (McDonalds next to Taco Bell next to Pizza Hut next to… at a strip mall. Or car dealerships.)

    It seems more Fortune 500 than Jesus… to me, anyway.

  5. Quote: “Few churches achieve racial integration of any significance. In fact, the ones that do are often found in the less desirable areas of town. It seems as if we imported this “value” to Latin America.”

    This statement is most likely true in every country of the world, however, I would hesitate to blame America for it. I have visited many churches in other countries and realize that prejudice exists everywhere – not just in America. I would venture to say that this would be true in places where no American missionaries have ever set foot. You can even see this in non-church organizations, villages, tribes, and societies.

    I have never visited Guatemala, but in other countries I have visited there have been demoninational churches, but they don’t look like American denominations. Most of the indiginous pastors have had very little bible training and certainly not enough to understand the nuances of all the demoninational differences. When I asked my Rwandan friend if the Assemblies of God church in Rwanda was the same as in the states he said no. The teaching is very basic at the churches I attended in Rwanda and the pastors seemed to get along just fine.

  6. strawberryred

    Like your name. Thanks for your insight into the missions in other countries. Do you think that Rwanda could be different than Guatemala, perhaps due to the distance from the United States?

  7. I wonder… if Central America is overcrowded with US missions simply because it’s relatively close to the US?

  8. I looked into Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy years ago. Many evangelical church pastors talk about their own experiences, being successful, or how to raise a family. It is refreshing to read Catholic and Orthodox writers that focus on Christ. I’ve come back to Protestantism though because I found there are still a few churches that still get it right.

  9. Junk, I can totally relate to your comment. Wish I could articulate it as well as you.

    ““She says that the Protestant system of individual Scriptural interpretation is “functional agnosticism” in regards to the meaning of Scripture. ”

    It’s one of the reasons I spent a long hard look into Catholocism. I would also say that this style of individual interpretation is essentially moral relativism….”

    doubtful, I really do not see the difference. The Catholics believe a few guys in funny hats and robes have the correct interpretation. Agnostics or Athiests believe they have the correct interpretation, too.

    In the end, we are all responsible for what we believe and why.

  10. “One further thought on “church planting,” American style: to me, it seems patterned on a business model more than anything else.

    You know, starting a franchise – selling or buying into the franchise. (McDonalds next to Taco Bell next to Pizza Hut next to… at a strip mall. Or car dealerships.)

    It seems more Fortune 500 than Jesus… to me, anyway.”


    Ekklesia “happens” because some believe and want to fellowship, encourage one another and grow in Holiness with other believers. We have spent a lot of time trying to “manufacture” that.

  11. Having known those who made the walk from Protestantism to Catholicism (which is how I know of Called to Communion), I have to say that the desire for certainty, for being told, seems to factor heavily into the appeal of the Catholic church for some, as Junkster said. No more questions about the canon, as that was given to you by the church; questions about one’s own interpretation of Scripture can be nswered by the authority of the church (although as I’ve been taking a closer look, I’d question whether that’s true or not). The doctrine of justification is set for you – New Perspectives on Paul, Federal Vision, or the traditional Protestant view debating each other need trouble you no more. It’s attractive.

    Of course once you start looking into it you realize that even Catholics, as Lydia pointed out, don’t have one single doctrine on many issues. In the source documents from the Catholic church and its theologians you find many. This has, I think, been amply demonstrated by Protestants throughout history with extensive quotes from sources. It doesn’t mean that those who end up in the Catholic church don’t find a level of certainty there, just that there is more debate than a surface view of the doctrines of the Catholic church might lead one to believe.

    For more on the sola Scriptura debate I’ve recently been alerted to a pair of books that showcase the best arguments on both sides. Not By Scripture Alone is the Catholic critique of the Protestant doctrine. Scripture Alone is part a response to the first book, part an exploration of the Protestant view of the doctrine.

    The more I’ve looked into the issues the more I’ve realized that those making the move from Protestantism to Catholicism have understandable reasons to do what they do. Myself, I don’t have their reasons, though, and it’s not a path I would encourage any evangelical or Protestant to follow. Carl Trueman is a Presbyterian church history professor who believes you should be Catholic if you don’t have any reasons not to, because it was the first denomination of the Christian church. He thinks there are good enough reasons to be Protestant.

  12. Junkster

    You hit the nail on the head (you often do). I agree that the Catholic church offers a certainty if one sticks to the magisterium. But they have their own share of protestors-anticelibacy groups, liberation theology complete with gun toting rebel priests, pro-abortion and pro-contraception groups.

    Like you, I had my period of questioning and have come out on the other side intact. Part of the credit must be given to three churches that profoundly changed my view on legalism-Park Street Church (Boston), Bent Tree Bible Fellowship (Dallas) and my current church. These churches teach essential doctrine, aren’t into legalism and hold to a firm evangelical stance.

    The teachings of these churches got me through my trial with a legalistic church. Once again, I am free and at peace with the unanswerables although I sure do like to debate them.

    CS Lewis, in the Chronicles of Narnia, refers to his Christ figure, Aslan, as “not a tame lion.” That is precisely what these folks in legalistic circles want to do-tame God. It is because of their lack of faith in the grace of Jesus that leads them to this position. You see, if you can act a certain way (let’s say-wear a head covering), believe a few easy approaches to Genesis and the End Times, you can be sure you are right and God will love you and take care of you.

    In these books, Aslan was often portrayed by a gentle lamb. But, in an instance, he could change to the lion. I think most people want to keep him as a lamb except when it comes to getting rid of all of those who disagree with them. Then they want him to be an avenging angel. To be sure, they often back themselves up with angels with law degrees.

    Grace is needed because, no matter how hard we try to control things, we can’t. That is when we rest in the freedom of grace. My current pastor says that if we truly understood grace, we would not be embarrassed with anything we have done because we will do sinful and stupid things. However, he said that he has about 5 or 6 things that he has done but he is too embarrassed to tell us about them! In other words, he is open about his lack of trust in grace. The class had a good laugh about this one.

    Anyway, glad to hear from you ,friend.

  13. Bubba

    I, too, have found some good churches. I am in one now. However, it is hard. The legalistic garbage is infecting many denominations. Did you know that Francis Schaeffer’s son, Frankie, converted to Orthodoxy about a decade ago? My father was Russian Orthodox and I occasionally attended services. Frankly, they have their own set of problems. But I agree with you. The services are very God centered instead of inane sermons that one sees at seeker driven churches.

  14. Very good article! For me, it not only made me think about the theological issues raised but also made me realize how little I knew abut the state of the church in Guatemala. I live in Brazil, and for me it’s kind of weird that I know a lot more about the church in the US, Europe, the middle east and even Africa, than I know about Latin America. I know a little bit about the church in Argentina, but anything other than that… From now on Guatemala’s church will certainly be in my prayers.

  15. Great post. I’m one of those that have considered Catholicism. We are sporadically attending that Anglican church actually, and because it is so different from the fundamentalist churches of the past, I the hurt feelings don’t resurface. I really enjoyed visiting an Emerging church recently, but unfortunately, we just live too far.

  16. like a child

    I actually enjoy the new Anglican churches. They combine the liturgy with contemporary preaching. It is well down and I am glad that you are at peace there!

  17. Julia

    Brazil! Wow, welcome. I am curious- why are you living in Brazil? One of my dear friends is from norway and she spent a few years in Rio and enjoyed it.

  18. I live in Brazil because I’m Brazilian! 🙂 But I really like to read about the church, all over the world. That’s why I follow your blog.

  19. There’s lotsa stuff in this post Dee, where does one begin? Holy Hannah! There’s grist enough here for a decent Master’s thesis on why evangelicals who jettison fundamentalism for for the old standbys, (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Episcopal, etc.) do what they do.

    If I were to take a gut guess (intuitive), I would say that the missionary couple you wrote about left American Protestant fundamentalism for what they percieved as a far greater sense of community amongst “Los Pobres de la Tierra” (The Poor of the Earth).

    Down there, the Church (activist Priests & Nuns) is more concerned with the here and now, say clean water projects and land reform for the peasantry, than it is with docrinal purity and the sweet by and by.