“The Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using [Protestant churches] as means of salvation” (Vatican II).
(My photo: a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, an Anglican church in London)
Around the time when I was first rediscovering God and the Church, Protestants served as a great cloud of witnesses to the sovereignty of Christ. I went to college at Wake Forest, where Protestants made up a solid plurality of the student body. Many of my residents–I was an RA–and many of my co-workers were particularly strong in their faith. They would constantly invite me to Bible studies and to worship services. Though their passion for Christ often times felt a little annoying, I realized that there was something to them, a joy or a peace, that I did not fully have. They were confident in their identities as Christians, and, since I was largely postmodern and existentialist in outlook at the time, that confidence was appealing to me. I wanted something to which I could hold fast, but I also wanted that something to be true.
So, yes, I’ll admit: Protestants were the ones who largely led me back to Christ. Their evident personal relationship with Jesus invited me to consider my own commitment to the Lord. I thought, “Sure, I might be in the right Church, the Catholic Church… But if the essence of Christianity is an encounter with Jesus, then I have a lot to learn from my Protestant brothers and sisters.”
The language of “finding Christ” is becoming increasingly popular in both Catholic circles and Protestant ones. Its popularity is due to its truth, for Christianity is more about a person than about the principles that proceed from that person. It’s simple: no Christ, no doctrine from Christ. Before I can sit at the feet of the teacher and listen to his words, He and I must meet each other. In this way, Pope Francis certainly agrees with evangelicals when he says, “Our faith is an encounter with Jesus. This is the foundation of our faith: I have encountered Jesus, as Saul did” (http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/04/24/pope_francis_our_faith_is_an_encounter_with_jesus/1139230).
Now, if you are anything like I am–that is, if you have a stoic personality–then you will be highly suspicious of subjective language like “finding,” “encountering,” and “meeting” “Jesus.” However, if God opened my heart to such an encounter, then I have no doubt that he can open yours, too. In Christianity, trust is a virtue. Can you accept that truth comes both from trust and from logic, or are you limited to one or the other? Limitations at either of these ends of the spectrum lead to a certain fundamentalism, to a certain staleness, but a healthy dose of the two leads to growth, to the sort of organic tension that ends up expanding both the mind and the heart. Protestants helped me to come to this understanding. I’m better off because of it.
May Jesus, the incarnation of Love and the origin of Truth, be with you always!
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.