Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How can church Doctrine help me grow closer to God?

How Can Accepting the Doctrine of the Church help you come closer to God?

As a convert to the Catholic faith, the organic nature of the development of doctrine is something that I have experienced first hand.  During my formative years I began to do what is most common in the Protestant denominations; that is I began to church shop.  Many protestants are taught that the bible is the sole authority of their faith, and that they should continue looking for a church until they find one that teaches the bible and only the bible.  The problem then becomes whose version of interpretation is the correct one? Who is the authority who has the final say in interpretation? The Holy Spirit of course is the answer, but in the physical world we also have to have someone speaking via the Holy Spirit to make decisions in matters of  faith.

One of my first memorable experiences of this sort of process in action was in a church in rural southwest Virginia.  As the preacher began his sermon for the day, he began talking about another preacher from a different church and condemned him for smoking tobacco.  He talked about how it was bad for the body and that scripture had clearly shown that our body was a temple, and that smoking was desecrating that temple.  He kept preaching into a fevered pitch and paused just long enough to spit his ambeer into the cup.  This man of God had just been preaching about the sinful use of smoking tobacco while clearly chewing tobacco himself. I began to look for another church.

My next experience of this sort of doctrinal formation was in a Pentecostal style church where they were very animated and vibrant. They began to argue though shortly after I arrived about the necessity of one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, glossolalia. One of the more prominent ministers argued that one must indeed speak tongues in order to be saved.  The pastor began to refute that argument with scripture and indicated that while it was indeed a sign of being saved, there were other gifts of the spirit and that speaking in tongues was not required of every single person. A few weeks of arguing back and forth, during church service mind you, and they decided to go their separate ways. So one minister who disagreed with the preacher, along with all those who agreed with him, formed his own church just a few miles away.   Now we had two separate churches just a few miles apart that agreed in every issue but one, but both would point to the other and say that they were going to hell. I again began to look for another church.

After a while I settled down in a small church of the non-denominational variety, where they preached 'the bible' and studied it quite often together. The Pastor seemed to be a very nice fellow who gave a very good sermon, and they often had visiting singers and preachers who would get the congregation 'stirred'.  Everything here seemed to be right on the mark, they talked about hell, gave altar calls, shared scripture in snippets just like always.  In Sunday school they had us memorize the 23rd Psalm and various bible verses that we should be able to speak at a moments notice. Then one day before Christmas, the pastor began to preach against Santa, and instead of sharing the Christmas story and God's love for us.. it became a tirade about how Santa was truly from Satan.  Each holiday became just the same, the Easter Bunny next, then Halloween. Eventually it was that time again, I began to look for another church.

One day, shortly after I began to really research the Catholic church at the insistence of my wife, I stumbled upon a verse that I had read many, many times in the past. “Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;  practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.'”  Here in Jesus own words was a verse telling me not to simply walk away and search for another church every time they did not agree with me. So I began to ask myself, which church is it that Jesus established? How can I know? What do they teach?

After many years of study and fighting the call of the Holy Spirit to become Catholic, I knew that it was here that I needed to be. It was only here that we had the seat of St. Peter, from whose authority the bishops and priests receive their anointing. It was here that we have the church with the power to bind and loosen.  It was here that we have the sacraments as Jesus himself initiated them. It was only in the Catholic church that I would find the fullness of faith, the teachings of the Apostles and of the Holy Spirit himself.

So how do those teachings help me to grow closer to God? For the last two thousands years men much smarter than myself have been studying, philosophizing, agreeing and disagreeing about various questions that I myself have seen others speaking about and arguing about.   Many of these have been put into documents, encyclicals, and into the Catechism of the church. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit many of those very questions that I have seen protestant churches splitting over, have already been answered and cemented as Dogma. Not only can I find the answers when there is a disagreement, but I can find the documents and biblical verses that back up those teachings as well. By following Catholic doctrine I have freed myself from a world where two men can split an entire congregation into two separate bodies; and joined myself to a church, that guided by the Holy Spirit, instead tries to keep the body of Christ as One Body.

The doctrines, teachings, and dogmas of the church also help me to find aspects of God that help me to further understand the mystery of his incarnation, of the trinity, and of the Sacraments. Through each of these wonderful teachings and writings on those teachings, I can further understand who God is, what God did for me, and how I can live to better please God.  I also have access to the treasure of the doctors of the church who have expounded in words much more eloquent than my own matters that sometimes seem very difficult to understand. As St. Peter said, “There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”  By finding the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, lead by the seat of Peter himself, I have found the key to understanding those scriptures.  I have found the source which will allow me to further understand and further grow closer to God, to find answers to those questions and find hope and grace in the Sacraments. That hope and grace draws me closer and closer to God himself.