What made me leave seminary? Ash Wednesday

8/16/13 1:53pm. Happy to see how many new people are stopping by. Feel free to “like” my page on Facebook , subscribe on the right side of the page, or connect on Twitter. Also, as a note to my evangelical brothers and sisters–I still have a deep love for Southern Baptist Theological, as I do my evangelical upbringing. I regularly read Albert Mohler’s blog, think Russell Moore is fantastic at ERLC, and have not lost any evangelical friendships. Thanks!

8/18/13 1:06pm Welcome to all Big Puplit readers!

I woke up around four this morning and haven’t been able to sleep. After reading Waking Up Catholic for a bit, a book I was supposed to review on this blog a month ago, I started to reflect more on my last week at seminary in 2012, the high drama and turmoil within me and how little I’ve written down. The following is what I hope will be several posts on the subject. For other snapshots of my journey, read my original conversion story and one year update. 

What was the last straw before leaving seminary? Ash Wednesday. I’m pretty sure it was Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012. I didn’t even last two months.

Midway through college I had become enamored with my faith in Jesus and decided to become a pastor. I spoke with Mars Hill Church Downtown about an internship for the summer of 2010, but in December of 2009  John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life convinced me to devote my life to frontier missions. After a summer of missionary work (rerouted from central Asia to Poland, a funny excursion for another post) confirmed my calling, I turned to the idea of whether to fund raise a salary and leave quickly, or go to seminary first. Though I was a typical young evangelical and not loyal to a denomination, I was impressed with the Southern Baptist missionary program. Rather than have missionaries fund raise the rest of their lives, the International Mission Board paid for missionary families’ needs and encouraged them to attend seminary at a discounted rate. So I became a Southern Baptist.

After two farewell cakes and many kind gifts and hugs a year later, I pulled up to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in early January 2012 and began a three week, day-long course on Biblical Hermeneutics. I loved it. The past fall I had struggled for hours and hours over reconciling church history with Protestantism, likely spurred by my dad’s reversion to the Catholic Church and my deeper studies of the Bible, and in this classroom I found community, certainty, relief. My roommate was right–I knew the temptation to cross the Tiber would ease once I was surrounded by Truth at seminary.

As you know, the story doesn’t end there. During my Spiritual Disciplines class I read a long biography of Martin Luther, hopeful to be comforted but instead repulsed. Uncharitable comments made toward Catholicism by those around me, the cognitive dissonance I had between reading Church History I assignments and examining the disarray of Protestantism, Jefferson Bethke’s “Why I hate religion but love Jesus” video, the unconvincing nature of the evangelical systematic theology books/ Chris Castaldo’s (a Catholic convert to evangelicalism) book, and thousands of other factors led me to leave.

But please don’t think I thought this was inevitable. I was bargaining to the last moment. I submitted a sermon for a competition days before withdrawing. I was memorizing Psalm 119 to convince myself of sola scriptura. I set up meetings with professors. Near the end I regularly ran through scenarios like, “Maybe I can spend my life as a missionary, retire, and THEN become Catholic.” It wasn’t about the money. It wasn’t about career. I loved Jesus and telling people about Him, and I had been led to believe that  was irreconcilable with Roman Catholicism.  Because of this, and perhaps other issues related to identity, I cannot stress how much I hated the idea of becoming Catholic.

Ash Wednesday, though, was simply too much. There are many high church Protestants who practice Ash Wednesday but,  for me, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the “paradigm shift” described by Christian Smith in “How to go from being a good evangelical to a committed Catholic in 95 difficult steps.” Like many evangelicals, I grew up not observing the  Church calendar apart from Christmas, Easter, and maybe Good Friday. There is, though, a renewed interest in these ancient traditions for many of the same reasons that are leading others to become Catholic. A hip, Southern Baptist in Louisville held a morning Ash Wednesday service and many Southern Baptist students showed up to classes with ashes on their forehead. At chapel that afternoon a professor, who is renowned for his apologetic efforts against Catholicism, expounded upon the beauty of a thousand year old tradition called “Ash Wednesday.”

Afterwards I asked a seminary friend why contemplating one’s death and God’s mercy each year could possibly be a bad thing. He responded quickly with something about Pharisees and “man-made traditions.”

I shook my head. “I can’t do this anymore.”

Anthony Baratta is a former evangelical youth pastor who left seminary to become Catholic in February of 2012. Anthony is happily married to his wife, Jackie, and actively involved in his local parish. 



267 thoughts on “What made me leave seminary? Ash Wednesday

  1. For all the quotation of chapter and verse of Scripture, the disunity and disintegration that the Reformation brought about in the Body of Christ, is the clearest indication that, in its aftermath, something is seriously wrong. This disunity and disintegration seems to be increasing over time. If the Reformation intended to reform and restore faith, and to unify the People of God, it has failed miserably. At its core, there is something man-made about this disunity and disintegration.

    What the Reformation has done is taken us farther away from unity . . . not closer to it. We need to seriously reconsider all the detailed discussion of Scripture and theology and focus on that fact.

    • What the Reformation did was to bring back the gospel to the church. The church was corrupted by false doctrines and practices that obscured the gospel.

      • If what you say is true Eric, why has “. . . bring back the gospel to the church . . .” caused further disunion and disintegration? Why is the current situation with the church worse, not better? There is something man-made in the Reformation that has caused this further disunion and disintegration, a disunion which is quite unbiblical. And where was the Holy Spirit for the first 1,500 years of the church?

  2. In some of the posts someone was being asked if they were good enough to get to heaven. In my reading and study of the Catholic faith is is nowhere taught my the Magisterium that if we are good enough we can get to heaven. I have read that we are saved by grace and mercy. The good works follow as a natural result. I must have missed something somewhere.

    • Most Catholics you ask that question say they think so….just like Bob did. They believe just like the catechism teaches. You can earn your way to heaven.

      From the catechism…

      1437 Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father – every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins.

      Notice it what it says… Acts of worship contributes to the forgiveness of sins.


      1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.62 Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.”

      1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, “provided we suffer with him.”63

      All of which make the catholic faith a works based faith.

      • Sure Bob you actually said….

        “Glenn Kasper says:
        August 20, 2013 at 5:28 pm
        And Bob you still have not answered…do you think you are good enough to go to heaven?”

        Ultimately I don’t know……but I hope!
        So I assume you mean that you think you can try to be good enough to go to heaven. And yes I didn’t say that last time. My point was that most Catholics believe they can be Catholic enough to go to heaven.

        So yeah since I could be wrong…do you think that you can do enough catholic stuff to gain heaven?

      • Here ya go Eric. This may help…

        For example, in 1950, with Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII’s infallible definition regarding the Assumption of Mary, there are attached these words:
        Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which We have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

      • And since Pius XII was now infallible and speaking Ex Cathedra or from his preaching chair…it is probably a mortal sin to not believe the teachings, including all Marian dogmas, of the Catholic Church.

      • Heresy is the obstinate denial by a person baptized in the Church of some truth which must be believed with faith or is an obstinate doubt concerning some such truth. Such a person who would deny an infallibly declared teaching is, under Canon Law, automatically – laetae sententiae- excommunicated. It does not matter if the person does not reveal the obstinate denial or doubt. Hereesey is committed whether it is revealed publicly or not; therefore, the automatic excommunication does not depend on whether the heresy has been publicized.

    • The true gospel divides because men don’t want to accept that they are sinners and that the only solution to this problem is faith alone in Christ alone.
      What divides the church are false doctrines. The papacy is an example of this.

      If the Holy Spirit was truly guiding your church there would have been no crusades or inquisitions. Even during the time of the Protestant Reformation many Roman Catholics wanted reformation because they to saw the corruption in the church.

      • “If the Holy Spirit was truly guiding your church there would have been no crusades or inquisitions.”

        This fact is forgotten by Protestants: They cite the Inquisition and the atrocities committed by Catholics, but what does the average Protestant know of Protestant atrocities in the centuries succeeding the Reformation? Nothing, unless he makes a special study of the subject . . . yet they are perfectly well known to every scholar . . . What makes Protestant persecutions specially revolting is the fact that they were absolutely inconsistent with the primary doctrine of Protestantism – the right of private judgment in matters of religious belief! Nothing can be more illogical than at one moment to assert that one may interpret the Bible to suit himself, and at the next to torture and kill him for having done so!

        Was this the Holy Spirit truly guiding the Reformation?

      • From the same article that you quoted.

        “Nor should we ever forget that . . . the Protestants were the aggressors, the Catholics were the defenders. The Protestants were attempting to destroy the old, established Christian Church, which had existed 1500 years, and to replace it by something new, untried and revolutionary. The Catholics were upholding a Faith, hallowed by centuries of pious associations and sublime achievements; the Protestants, on the contrary, were fighting for a creed . . . which already was beginning to disintegrate into hostile sects, each of which, if it gained the upper hand, commenced to persecute the rest! . . . All religious persecution is bad; but in this case, of the two parties guilty of it, the Catholics certainly had the more defensible motives for their conduct.

        Of course they were the aggressors!! They were attempting to defy Papal authority! And the statement “the Catholics were upholding a faith, hallowed by centuries of pious association and sublime achievements.” hmm…I wonder if Galileo would say that?

        I know there are always two sides to every story but to say that they were the aggressors is like calling the revolutionary colonial army of the 13 states the aggressors…after all they were rebelling against the pious King of England.!

        And we digress. But I ask for a truce…both sides probably did not uphold the faith very well at all. It was as in every church split…a very yucky event to say the least.

        But this discussion is not a question of who is the smartest or whose side that spilt the most blood it is about who is right!

        In a effort to end the “who spilled the most blood” “my faith is more pious than yours argument.

        I ask this question…

        If we must go to a priest for absolution of sins does that not make 1Tim 2:5 error?

        1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

      • Glenn, it is not possible to give you a complete answer here, but I will say this:

        We DO pray directly to God and confess to Him, as well as partaking of the sacrament of reconciliation.

        In James 5:16, God, through Sacred Scripture, commands us to “confess our sins to one another.” Notice, Scripture does not say confess your sins straight to God and only to God…it says confess your sins to one another.

        In Matthew, chapter 9, verse 6, Jesus tells us that He was given authority on earth to forgive sins. And then Scripture proceeds to tell us, in verse 8, that this authority was given to “men”…plural.

        The Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another. It also tells us that God gave men the authority on Earth to forgive sins. Jesus sends out His disciples with the authority on earth to forgive sins. When Catholics confess our sins to a priest, we are simply following the plan laid down by Jesus Christ. He forgives sins through the priest…it is God’s power, but He exercises that power through the ministry of the priest.

        I suspect that this will be an unsatisfactory answer for you and any further discussion will not be particularly fruitful. For instance, I asked above, “Was this [Protestant atrocities and persecutions] the Holy Spirit truly guiding the Reformation?” and you responded by asking another, unrelated question. These discussions do tend to become meandering, less than fruitful exercises, which I ultimately do not have the time to engage in.

      • The answer to that whatever your name is…tpdcath is as spoken by the Jewish leaders in Acts I believe. They were discussing what to do with the disciples and finally one among them said …paraphrasing of course …if is of God it will not last…and he cited examples of past zealots whose influence faded. If you ever travel to Italy you will see the Catholic church and the notice that it is definitely in decline. The great cathedrals are empty…they don’t even have pews but in less than a tenth of the total square footage. In the church in Milan, where the papacy was seated for a few years there the cathedral is made entirely out of marble and granite…it is empty…except for but a fraction.

        So did the holy spirit inspire people to reform the church…absolutely…did the holy spirit inspire people to kill others to reform the church…absolutely not. Yes I know that some did some really nasty things I do think the holy spirit influenced people to kill others over the faith…on either side of the killing.

        As a final point….yes Paul says confess your sins to one another…he does not tell anyone to declare others sins as absolved nor what penance and “works of reparation” must be done to gain absolution.

        Jesus said it best in a parable….

        The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

        9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

        And yes there are other points that I will not point out…my only point is this…notice that both men seek absolution or forgiveness from God not from a mediator on earth.

        So if the catholic faith of today is “of the holy spirit” then it will endure if not it will not then God will reform it…yet again. Currently I believe that the reformation occurred because it was inspired by the holy spirit. Because the catholic church has lost it’s way…and God “pruned away” all the dead branches…which includes an ever virgin Mary. Yes she was blessed to the mother of our lord but she was assumed into heaven or sinless…if belief in it is a requirement for entry into heaven then it would have been mentioned in the pages of the bible.

      • Oops….NOT assumed into heaven. And since it is an article of faith then please show me. One shred of historical evidence or any early church father, before the canon was compiled, who said it or even hinted at it.

        You see the assumption was required…because the church could not ever admit it was wrong…so the “fix” to the “why did Mary die if she was sinless” was to Bandaid it with more required dogma to swallow.

      • Double oops….the spirit did NOT influence the killing on either side! Sometimes it is very hard to type on my IPAD!

  3. Guy,
    If a doctrine is infallibly proclaimed by the RCC and is found to be false, is that person who refuses to believe it a heretic?

    • You should expect evil from Protestants given that according to your church Protestants have rejected the truth and were condemned at Trent. The problem you have is that your church is claimed to be the only church guided by the Holy Spirit and yet is guilty of so much evil. It won’t do to claim its leaders are fallen. The Holy Spirit could easily overcome this.

      No doubt the Protestant Reformation was the will of Christ. Only in this way could the gospel have its proper place in the life of the Christian.

  4. I don’t mean this to be smug-it applies to me who studied philosophy at a secular university, questioned this or that particular about magisterial teaching, then jettisoned most of what the Church teaches- all this time, like the Hound Of Heaven, while I was fleeing him “down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind,” -He was relentlessly pursuing me; and this is what I see in many of the comments here – He is using His almighty power and love to have each of us spend eternity with Him and all of us here are subject to, blest by, this divine tractor beam. Bouncing like a willful pinball, we try to negate the divine flippers and each time we cause a “Tilt!”, the divine incline urges us back on the path to Him. For me-and I think for those here who express doubts, that incline is slanted across the Tiber, to the Church. God bless us, everyone. Guy McClung

    • Sorry I missed this comment! Anyway Guy, as one who did study philosophy, do you believe all tnat which the church teaches regarding Mary? Do you really believe she was for her entire life a sinless virgin?

      Do you truly believe that a belief in an ever sinless ever virgin Mary is a requirement to enter into heaven?

  5. I enjoyed the conversation y’all! Just one parting thing I’d like to ask. What works does the catholic church say are required for a person to go to heaven?

      • Dear Glenn, When I saw your question….I went “whew….boy!” I believe God puts each of us in contact each day with the persons we interact with so we can go to Heaven with Him and so we can be his influence/instrument in helping these others get there with us and viceversa they are our guides and signposts. And I immediately thought that cataloging my past sins in detail would not help you today on your way to eternity. Suffice it to say, I mean it every morn at Mass when I say “I confess…I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”

        Eric, we can have the faith/works debate ad infinitum…………….but after we sign off, how do we treat the people God gifts us with each day in every aspect of our lives? Of course I could not open the gate to heaven opened by Jesus’s saving sacrifice, but I can refuse to walk through that gate; I can choose not to be with God; and God will reply I hear you and I see that you are choosing not to be with Me, and I have given you free will as part of my wondrous creation and I will not thwart your free will, you choose not to be with Me for eternity and I will let your will be done.

        I do appreciate the chance to communicate with you all and hope that I can live this:

        EVERY WORD
        EVERY DAY
        TO HEAVEN

        Guy McClung

        * COPR 2013

      • So glm…the answer to the question is Yes…right?? There was a time in your life that you violated the comandment you quoted…right?

        So tell me … can someone on this planet be born and NOT violate that commandment? Basically can someone be good enough to enter heaven??

    • Glenn and Eric,

      You have made yourselves your own “popes”, your own gods.

      I sincerely doubt that either of you have any theological training at all, but feel that you can pick up the bible (yes….a Catholic book), quote it, call yourselves “experts” and erroneously refute 2000 years of Catholic teaching dating back to the time when Christ built His Church on Peter.

      Gentlemen…..this is arrogance. You have seen and heard the Truths of Jesus Christ here, but have pridefully turned away from it. You have betrayed Christ, much in the same way Judas has.

      And somehow misquoting me in your postings to others is just flat out lieing.


      • Where did I or Eric misquote you? And no…the assumption of Mary Doctrine was exclaimed Ex Cathedra in the 20th century. That is a different church from the one of the 2nd and 3rd. And I am not going to react to the name calling. I have not suggested that I am the Pope a Pope or God or a God. Aim just asking questions.

        So tell me Bob, do you really truly believe that if I follow all Catholic doctrines and practices and do not commit a mortal sin after my last confession and I was declared absolved by doing the works of reparations required by the Priest in that last confessional and I don’t confess that I don’t believe Mary was assumed into heaven am I going to go to hell if I die? … bottom line is unblelief in Mary’s assumption a mortal sin?

  6. Also Glenn and Eric…..

    Reading your posts over, you have essentially attacked and dragged through the sewer Jesus Christ’s own beloved Mother, Mary.

    Think, Fellas: If someone attacked and ridiculed your own mother (the way you have essentially “laughed at” Jesus’ beloved Mother, Mary) how would you react?? I know how i would react, probably not very positively. Do you believe Jesus is (and reacting) in a favorable way to your attacks on her?

  7. Bob,
    The Mary of Roman Catholicism is not the Mary of Scripture. Your church has made her out to be some kind of goddess. Just read some of the material that has been written about her. Take for example the book “Glories of Mary by Alphonsus Liguori”. This book was written by a doctor of your church and says things about her that no man should ever say. It is a sin to speak falsely and that is what this book does about Mary.

    • From the reviews of the book….

      This was one of the most fascinating books I have ever read on our Immaculate Queen, The Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Alphonsus Liguori crafted The Glories of Mary as if he were speaking to Mary as he wrote this magnificent creation. Mary comes alive in this book as St. Alphonsus quotes the many Saints who speak so glowingly and lovingly about the “treasure” we have in our Blesed Mother.

      Mary, the Immaculate One is the most powerful Saint in Heaven who has saved, from eternal damnation, countless individuals who were devoted to her during their life times. You must read this book to discover how our Blessed Lady protected her loved ones. This book is for those who know little about Mary Immaculate and for those who would like to know more about our Immaculate Queen, the greatest Advocate in Heaven and on earth. I hard such a difficult time putting this book down to complete other duties. When I was reading this book, I felt such peace and joy that continues to remain with me.

      I underlined so many important events, quotes from Saints, incredible descriptions of how our Blessed Lady saved her children. St. Alphonsus mentions in several locations the importance of praying the holy rosary to become closely attachd to Mary, the Mother of God! More than a great book, a masterpiece!

  8. Glenn and Eric, read below. You do not have any claims to apostolic succession, you have not been “sent:”

    Biblically one has to be sent with the authority of Christ, Christ empowers the Apostles, whom ordain bishops, Priests came into use because the Bishops could not be everywhere. The Catholic Church has direct Apostolic succession from the time when Christ gave the apostles authority. Protestant faiths broke from this Apostolic succession, and therefore do not have the authority coming from Christ.

    Here the Apostles receive the power of the Holy Spirit which changes them ontologically,

    Remember the Pentecost has not happened as yet.
    Jhn 20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”
    Jhn 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
    Jhn 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (The sacrament of Penance.)

    These powers/gifts are passed down by the laying on of hands generation through generation. By the Church established by Christ’s disciples, the Catholic Church.
    Jesus knowing our human nature, the need to touch and be touched, gives us the Eucharist so that we can remain in physical contact with Him.

    And where two or three are gathered in His name, goes back to Jewish tradition of rebuking/ correcting someone in the community acting wrongly. [“Where two or three are gathered than the Torah is between them.]

    First you approach the person personally, than if he does not listen, get another person to talk to him.. if he still does not listen? then take him to the Church, and if still does not listen he became ostracized till he came back to the way of the Church.

    Two guys on a corner is just that,,, They’re not the Church, the Church is community which meets to give God the Worship due Him.

    It takes instruction and faith to participate in Holy Communion, Lots of non Catholics have a problem with the re-presention of Christ’s Sacrifice.

    • So who was the supposed “pope” after Peter? And when was he chosen? And do you have any ancient documents whatsoever to list the second pope?

  9. Bob,
    The problem with “the re-presention of Christ’s Sacrifice.” is that the scripture does not teach that. Christ did one sacrifice for all time that is never to be repeated. Read Hebrews 10.

  10. That was fast: A man of action; a man of his word; a doer and no just a hearer. It may have been slow for you, but, from decision to implementation, that was pretty brisk. Bless you. Most people sleep on it for decades. You will not be sorry, as St. Augustine was, lamenting on lost years. I am sorry too, but, not like that. The problem and the solution were sort of hidden from me. I found Jesus anew at 58, and found myself Catholic at 66. With 5 consecutive heart attacks at 69 and a quick response, the Lord granted a new lease on life and I am trying to make up for lost time. So, you will come across yours truly here and there on Facebook. If you need help, let me know. If your story is not with the Coming Home Network, kindly, contact them and do something about it (for the sake of others, that is). God bless.

  11. Remembering Christ and what He did on the cross is not the same thing as representation of Christ’s Sacrifice on the cross.
    “”The mass is the sacrifice of the new law in which Christ, through the Ministry of the priest, offers himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine. The mass is the sacrifice of Christ offered in a sacramental manner…the reality is the same but the appearances differ.” New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, vol 2, question 357

    This is a denial of Hebrews 9:28- “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him,”

    and Heb. 10:10-12
    “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, 11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,”

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