I doubt if I would have ever become Catholic if it were not for my husband. He was the leader of our spiritual journey. I am in awe of his passion for truth. If I could say only one thing to describe my husband, it would be that he loves truth. It is the question always before him: what is true? Whether it is politics or science or philosophy or theology, the truth question is always supreme. We began our spiritual journey with the idea that God wants us to know the truth about Himself. He has revealed it to us, and He wants us to seek and find it. But in my Protestant world, every time I would try to dig deeper or ask more questions, there were so many conflicting truths flying around, I was often frustrated, confused, and discouraged.
I loved God’s Word and was committed to following Jesus. I was pretty well versed in and deeply committed to a number of very specific doctrinal views. As a Protestant, I responded wholeheartedly to the battle cry of the Reformation—“Scripture alone!” I was convinced that if I prayerfully studied the Word with an open heart, the Holy Spirit would lead me to the truth. I believed Scripture itself promised that!
After beginning to discover the treasure of sacraments, we left the Evangelical Free Church of America and became Lutheran. I had spent a great deal of time studying deep theological issues that separated Christians, and I realized that if two Christians believed contradictory doctrines, either one of them is true and the other false—or both may be false—but they could not both be true. I wanted to know which one was true.
I have always loved women’s Bible studies and, for decades, have both participated in and lead many studies. One day at Bible study, when the leader asked a question, a woman gave a typical Calvinist answer, and another, intending to supplement the previous answer, gave a typical Arminian response. I sat there, as a new Lutheran, and realized that the two women were actually talking past each other, but did not know it. And I, as a Lutheran, did not agree with either of their answers! I remember leaning back into my chair and thinking, “What a mess! What an incredible theological mess! I cannot believe God wants our Bible study to be so confusing!” How did we get into this mess?
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It was then that I began to ask hard questions about the doctrine of “Scripture alone.” Martin Luther believed that the Holy Spirit was leading Him to the truth. John Calvin made the same claim. Jacob Arminius believed the Holy Spirit was leading Him to the truth as well. So did John Knox…and John Wesley…and Charles Ryrie…and well, the list goes on and on. All of them loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him faithfully. All were studying the same Scriptures and believed that the Holy Spirit was leading them to the truth. Yet all arrived at contradictory doctrines. Why would the same Holy Spirit lead them to hold contradictory doctrines? Little by little, I began to realize that following the doctrine of “Scripture alone” meant that the final authority was me, or whatever idea had made an impression on me at the time, or whatever theological glasses I happened to be wearing at the time! An authority that is so changeable is really no authority at all.
I studied again what I had been taught was the foundational text of the “Scripture alone” doctrine:
II Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (NIV).
While this text teaches great truths about the nature and purpose of Scripture, I realized, for the first time, that it does not teach that Scripture is the only authority or source of truth.
Then I discovered, with Tom’s help, two more relevant Scriptural texts (which I had never noticed before). Tom asked me one day what I thought was “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” I immediately answered, “The Bible.” (Now imagine the honking sound you hear when your answer is wrong on a quiz show). He then read I Timothy 3:15, “if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (NIV ). I gasped, St. Paul called the Church the pillar and foundation of the truth?!! This was a totally new idea for me. And then I read II Thessalonians 2:15, “Therefore, brother, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught either by an oral statement or by letter of ours”(NIV - italics mine). The traditions spoken of in this verse are, of course, Tradition (capital T) that has been handed down from the Apostles—not the man-made customs and error-laden opinions which Protestants frequently stigmatize with the label “tradition." This finally convinced me. When I rejected “Scripture alone” and accepted the Scriptural position that Spirit-led individuals do not determine doctrinal truth but, rather, that Christ established His Church to be the pillar and foundation of the truth and that He transmitted His teachings both through the written Word and through the oral Traditions of His Apostles, I then found myself at the doorstep of the Catholic Church.
Here is a great explanation from catholicapologetics.org:
“There was no canon of scripture in the early Church; there was no Bible. The Bible is the book of the Church; she is not the Church of the Bible. It was the Church--her leadership, faithful people--guided by the authority of the Spirit of Truth which discovered the books inspired by God in their writing. The Church did not create the canon; she discerned the canon. Fixed canons of the Old and New Testaments, hence the Bible, were not known much before the end of the 2nd and early 3rd century.”
Eventually, I discovered the treasure of authority that keeps doctrine as stable as a three-legged stool. When I was depending on “Scripture alone”, it was as if I was seated on a one-legged stool, always losing my balance and shifting from one side to another. What led me into the Catholic Church was her teaching authority based on:
- The oral Traditions of the Apostles
- The teaching magisterium of the Church, which is the Pope and bishops united with him.
These three legs of authority never contradict each other but work together in perfect harmony. This three-legged stool is so stable, that the Church’s teachings have remained constant for two thousand years! That is not to say there has never been any development of doctrine. Just as a person grows and learns, but is still always the same person, so our understanding and applications of truth have greatly increased. But the foundational truths of our Christian faith are the same as they were for the Apostles. This stability of doctrine is nothing short of miraculous. It is the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made when He said He would send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. And it was the beginning of the end in my search for truth.
This stability of doctrine hit me with full force when I learned about the schism that has separated the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church since 1054. Amazingly, both Churches still have the same sacraments, the same structures, and the same faith!—even after a thousand years of separation! The Protestant “reformers” in contrast, could not go even 50 years without major divisions over sacraments, church structure, and theology. Just a mere five hundred years later, there are hundreds of different denominations of Christians, each with its own view of how the Scriptures are to be interpreted. The one-legged stool of “Scripture alone” is clearly not God’s plan for unity.
I love the treasure of authority in the Catholic Church. It is what ultimately drew me to the Church. I was absolutely broken-hearted when I left the Evangelical Free Church. I loved the Free Church and the beautiful people in it. But I would never want to return to the doctrinal chaos of the Protestant world.
Melanie Frei was an evangelical Protestant missionary to Hong Kong with her husband Tom, pastor and seminary professor. But when they studied Scripture and Church history, the two of them decided to leave their ministry and enter the Roman Catholic Church. Melanie is the mother of three incredible young adults and three awesome grandchildren and is also a substitute teacher in the Tomah Area School District. Her favorite ministries are leading Bible studies, music and pro-life work. For fun, Melanie is a total fan of BBC dramas and Regency romance.