This morning, I greeted folks as they were driving home from Fairwinds Baptist Church in Bear, DE with a homemade sign reading: "Catholics Come Home .org" and "Google: Ready with a Reason."
The idea is simple: I would like to invite Catholics who have left the church to come home to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the church founded by Jesus Christ on Peter and the apostles, the only church that has been around since the beginning, and the church in which the fullness of truth subsists.
Although standing outside a church with a sign may be perceived as an attack, I can assure you that this was not my intention. My intention was to invite: to invite former Catholics to return, or at least to get them to ask why they should even want to return. (In this regard, my visit was a success. One man stopped to ask why I was holding this sign near a Protestant Church. I responded that there were many former Catholics who attended Fairwinds and that I was inviting them to come home to the Catholic Church. The gentleman asked a good question: "Why would they want to do that." I told him to Google "ready with a reason" and that I would be happy to let him know. There are a thousand reasons, all of which are summed up in one word: Jesus. The fullness of Christ is found in the fullness of His Bride, the Church of the Living God. In this church are found all--not some--all of the gifts. And Jesus himself is the most unspeakable gift of them all, as he communes with us through the Most Holy Eucharist.)
My intentions for visiting can summarized by a story told by former Baptist preacher Stephen K. Ray. Imagine that you are a member of a large extended family that all dwells together in a giant mansion. God has richly blessed this family with everything it needs: a father figure to unite the house, an pantry stocked with a seemingly endless supply of food, a first-aid clinic for healing any sort of ailment, a family history book recording the history of the family, and rich oral tradition that had been passed down to every family member explaining everything about what the family history book meant. While this family has had its problems (what family doesn't), it is still, above all, a family, in good times and in bad. It is a community of love, a community of the Father who founded her, and it has stood the test of time; your family has safely dwelt in this mansion for over a thousand years.
Sadly, divisions have recently begun threatening the family. Some family members are dissatisfied with the family's head and have stopped trusting that it is ultimately God who protects the family gathered in the mansion, despite the flaws of the authority figures who dwell in it. And so these family members decide one day to leave the family. They pack a tent and head for the backyard. In this tent, they have some of the food from the mansion, but not all of it. They took a copy of the family book, but not all the chapters, and once they left the mansion, they lost the family tradition that explained what the book actually meant.
As a result, the group that left quickly splintered. Now there were two tents in the back yard, and every day and every night, the family members looked out the window and saw more and more bickering and dividing among the people in the tents. One week, there were two tents, then four, then sixteen, then over two hundred tents. The only thing the people in the tents could completely agree on was that they refused to join the family in the mansion. And so the people in the tents developed many reasons not to go back to the mansion. Some of the original people to leave the mansion even spread lies regarding the family in the mansion and what they believed, just so that future generations would not think of returning.
All the while, the people in the mansion continue to look on with sadness, sadness that the family is divided and that those outside the tent no longer have all the gifts that God has left in the mansion. As time has goes by, many people both inside and outside the mansion have forgotten what it was like to live in perfect unity. They forgot that the Father intended the family to live united in the mansion. Even though many people in the tents still love the father, and even try to serve him more faithfully than some of the people in the mansion, the Father's will remains that all his children receive all the gifts, and these gifts are only found in full in the mansion.
So, very recently, the Father placed men in charge of the mansion who began inspiring members of the house to go visit the fallen-away brothers and sisters living in the tents. The message was a simple one: we love you and we want you to come home. Come inside the family. Come enjoy the fullness of all God wants to give to you. You know all those things that you love in the tent -- the family book and the occasional family meal? While in the mansion, we not only have the full family book but we even have the interpretation of the book that was passed down from the Father. You know that meal that you enjoy once a month or once a quarter? We have an even more abundant meal every single day, just like the earliest members of the family when it was united (see Acts 2). Those things you enjoy in the tent are good precisely because they come from the mansion! Unfortunately, a lot of things have crept into the tents from outside the mansion--false teachings, traditions of men, and the like--and those living in the tent are missing many of the gifts that exist for everyone in the mansion.
And so I, like many others living in the mansion, decided this morning to visit my family members living in the backyard. That is why you saw me outside your tent. I was there out of love and out of a desire for unity in the family--a unity that Jesus fervently prayed for the night before he gave his life for you and for me. Jesus prayed in his high priestly prayer in John 17 that we "may be one." Jesus wants us to be one. But we are not.
I stand with mind, heart, and arms open to welcome you back into the mansion, or even just to chat about what keeps us separated. So please, if you look up churches in the yellow pages and are disturbed to see so many tents in the backyard, might you consider at least knocking on the door of the mansion, that beautiful, well-stocked mansion that has existed since Jesus built her 2,000 years ago? Please leave a comment on this post or email me. I'd love to get reacquainted!
May God be praised now and forever!