My conversion to Roman Catholicism and why I left

Before I talk about myself, I think it would be helpful if I present a key difference between Roman Catholicism and those who believe in scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). Here is Keith Mathieson:

“A person who believes that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has special divine authority naturally looks at evidence for the claims of Rome in a much different way than a person who does not believe that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has divine authority. If a person firmly believes that the Roman Magisterium is infallible (i.e. incapable of error) under certain conditions; in short, if that is his basic theological axiom, then by definition he cannot at the same time believe that there is any real evidence of error. This is the reason that for faithful Roman Catholics, the very possibility of there being evidence contradicting the claims of the Roman Church is non-existent. Any alleged evidence of error offered by Protestants or others must be explainable in some other way.”

“Those who do not begin with the basic theological axiom of Roman Catholicism see abundant evidence against the claims of Rome in Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the documented events of church history. This evidence prevents them from believing that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has divine authority. For those who adopt the basic theological axiom of Roman Catholicism, all of this “alleged” evidence essentially ceases to exist. From the perspective of the non-Roman Catholic, the Roman Catholic is doing something comparable to reading a red-letter Bible with red tinted glasses. If he sets aside the glasses, he can see all the words printed in red. If he puts the glasses on, all the words printed in red disappear from his sight. From the Roman Catholic perspective, it is non-Roman Catholics who are reading the evidence with a distorted lens.”

During my second year at the University of Cape Town, I was baptised into the Catholic Church at the age of 19.  Within a few months, I was the University Catholic Society’s (Kolbe House) committee member for spiritual activities. I attended Mass most days of the week. Part of my duties was to help the chaplain prepare for Mass. I often served at Mass as well.

Why was I attracted to Roman Catholicism? There are so many captivating reasons:

1.       I was studying philosophy. I was also interested in religion. What a great delight to discover that   Roman Catholicism – contrary to Protestantism did not only embrace philosophy – especially Greek philosophy – but made it the foundation of its theology. Thomas Aquinas, the great “Doctor,” in his Summa Theologica, builds much of Catholic doctrine on Aristotle. For example, he explains “transubstantiation” (where the bread changes into the actual flesh and blood of Christ in communion) in terms of Aristotle’s concepts of  “accidents” (the colour, the taste of the wafer and of the wine) and “substance” (the flesh and blood of Christ). Although, the senses can only detect the “accidents,”  the communicant is really – claims the dogma – eating the flesh and blood of the living Christ who is sitting at the right hand of the Father:

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:3; see Psalm 110:1)

In my French and philosophy courses, I studied many Catholic philosophers, especially the French ones; Etienne Gilson, Jean Guitton, and Jacques Maritain come to mind. There was G K Chesterton. There was Professor Martin Versfeld, my professor of philosophy, who was a Catholic. He was a great influence. Later in my life, I realized that many Catholic philosophers were greatly influenced by Eastern Philosophy. Lately, I have become acquainted with the Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft. In his book “Ecumenical Jihad” against “moral decay”, he says that Catholicism is one among many valid religions. His ideas on tolerance and truth are very attractive to some if not many Catholics. No Papal anathemas in Kreeft.

2.  There were the great “Doctors” and “Fathers” of the Church such as St Augustine and St Anselm. As my mother always used to say – in Yiddish – about a place she admired: “The greatest doctors go there (In Yiddish, “Die greste Dokteirim geit dottern”).

3.       The great saints. Who is not impressed by St Francis, giving up his rich life for rags and the poor. And so many others who turned their back on the world to become a servant to mankind.

4.       The mystics. Catholicism was not only intellectually impressive to me, it also appealed to the “deeper” spiritual side. Not only could you theologise and philosophise about God, you could also become “one” with Him. I read the mystics. The two outstanding ones are St John of Cross and St Teresa of Avila.

The mystical kind of spirituality is very popular today among all kinds of religions and non-religions. Those who get tired of the “world” yearn for an experiential connection to God. But, this yearning downplays the place of faith and Scripture. It exalts “transcendental” experiences that propel the person out of the mundane into a higher “spiritual” plane. But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer. If any practice – be it prayer, or some other contemplative practice – does not square with the Bible, it is not of God. For this reason, mystical meditation and “centering” (Richard Foster, Abbot Thomas Keating) is more a flight of fancy than Biblical Christianity. Biblical spirituality involves the study and meditation upon the literal truth of the Scripture; mystical spirituality, in contrast, looks for a “deeper meaning”, where scripture is regarded as allegorical rather than literal (the normal meaning of grammar, meaning and context, where history does not become allegory).

“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16).

“Jesus the Son God is our High Priest. Our boldness of access is not a state we produce in ourselves by meditation or effort. No, the living, loving High Priest, who is able to sympathise and gives grace for timely help, He breathes and works this boldness in the soul that is willing to lose itself in Him. Jesus, found and felt within our heart by faith, is our boldness. As the Son, whose house we are, He will dwell within us, and by His Spirit’s working, Himself be our boldness and our entrance to the Father. Let us, therefore, draw near with boldness!” (Andrew Murray, “The Holiest of All,” Oliphants, 1960, p. 174).

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we read:

“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). The Church invites us to invoke the Holy Spirit as the interior Teacher of Christian prayer” (CCC 2681).

It is not the (Catholic) Church who invites us (Christians), but Christ. He invites us (who is His body, the “church”)  through his Word (the scriptures) to invoke the Holy Spirit to dwell in us in a deeper way.  “He breathes and works this boldness in the soul that is willing to lose itself in Him” (Murray above).

Here is a response I received from a Catholic with regard to my argument that if prayer (for example, what I described as “transcendental” prayer) does not  square with the biblical kind of prayer, then this non-biblical kind of prayer is not talking to God, the God of the Bible.

My respondent says: “How can you say that …But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer…’ Your narrow minded, prescriptive view of the world is really sad. The sadness is that you really believe the nonsense you sprout. God is infinite – to limit him to one narrow written tradition, and to damn all other prayer is arrogance which is breath taking.”

Yes, I do limit valid prayer to one “narrow written tradition.” That is the difference between many Catholics, for example, Thomas Merton (whom I wrote about here) and Carlo Carretto (whom I wrote about here).

In Newsweek, Sept 2005, appeared a feature article  “Spirituality in America.” It said: “Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God.” The article went on to describe the Catholic use of Buddhist’s teachings. For example, Father Thomas Keating, the abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, noticed how attracted Roman Catholics were to the Eastern religious practices As a Trappist monk, meditation was second nature to the Abbot. Americans, like everybody else, is looking for transcendental prayer, transcendental meditation (TM), which could, it seems, also stand for “Trappist Meditation.”

5.       The contemplative life. Here again, people left the world to pray for the world and to be closer to God. “The act of contemplation, imperfect as it needs be, is of all human acts one of the most sublime, one of those which render the greatest honor to God, bring the greatest good to the soul, and enable it most efficaciously to become a means of salvation and manifold blessing to others.” (NewAdvent).

In the last decade, contemplation as a fruitful pursuit is gaining in popularity. A popular modern author on this topic is Richard Foster. He says:

“The apostle Paul withdrew for thirteen years from the time of his conversion until he began his ministry at Antioch. He probably spent three years in the desert and then approximately ten years in his
home town of Tarsus. During that time he no doubt experienced a lot of solitude. This was followed by a period of very intense activity as Paul carried out his mission to the Gentiles. Paul needed both solitude and activity, and so do we. (Richard Foster, “Solitude” in Practical Christianity. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986), 305.”

As far as I gather from the Apostle Paul’s life, he did very little withdrawing, but was continually in the thick of people. Having said that, it is true that “time spent in quiet prostration of soul before the Lord is most invigorating. . . . Quietude, which some men cannot abide, because it reveals their inner poverty, is as a palace of cedar to the wise, for along its hallowed courts the King in his beauty designs to walk. . . . Priceless as the gift of utterance may be, the practice of silence in some aspects far excels it” (Charles Spurgeon in his “Lectures to students”).

The Bible advocates time for solitary devotion, prayer and adoration of God, but not the kind of sustained and continuous withdrawal from “life”.
Why does the Bible not contain any pattern of isolation? Let me answer by shooting off a mouthful of questions?

How do you learn to love if no one else is around to love? How do you learn humility on your lonesome ownsome? How can you be good, kind and gentle, patient on your own. Do you want  to be holy (sanctified)? Go and tell someone something he doesn’t want to hear. And it would be nice if it was a Bible verse.

6.       Penance and sacrifice. You could “mortify the flesh,” deny yourself and come closer to the sufferings of Christ and of others.

Penance and sacrifice are biblical doctrines, but what I reject is the notion that the works of penance and sacrifice are more than the fruit of faith, where faith alone, Protestants believe, is what justifies/saves.

Canon 24.  If anyone says that justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely fruits and signs of justification obtained, not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema. (Council of Trent sixth session, celebrated on the thirteenth day of January, 1547, Decree concerning Justification)

7.       Sacraments and rituals. The sacraments are the vehicles of God’s grace. The more you partake of them, the more the grace you receive. That is why I went to Mass and took communion daily at university. The greatest source of grace is eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ.

The “sacrifice of the mass” is not biblical. According to Roman Catholicism, Christ was not sacrificed once for all, but is, in the Mass, sacrificed constantly.

The term “constant” is from Pope John Paul II. In his teaching of the sacrifice of the Mass, Pope John Paul II writes:

. . . the Church is the instrument of man’s salvation. It both contains and continually (my italics) draws upon the mystery of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. Through the shedding of His own blood, Jesus Christ constantly (my italics) “enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption” (cf. Heb 9:12). (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Knopf, 1995, p. 139). The underlined section is the Pope’s rendition of Hebrews 9:12).

The Pope’s “constantly enters” resonates with the Council of Trent’s declaration that the Mass is not merely a “re-enactment”, but a real propitiatory sacrifice, which is repeated at every consecration of the wafer and the wine.2 (For further discussion see(The Constant Thirst and Constant Sacrifice of Jesus Christ: The Charism of Mother Teresa).

8.       Confession. If I committed a sin – a mortal sin – I confessed it to the Priest, did a penance and thus was reconciled to God. I wasn’t sure which sins were mortal or not (I don’t think many Catholics are sure), so I confessed them all.

9.       Then there was the unsurpassed European culture: music, literature and art, and architecture.  I saw the Sistine Chapel before they cleaned up the paintings. It was still magnificent. There is also Gregorian chant and Mozart’s requiem, and many other fine works of music and art.. Here is Carl Trueman’s impression of his first visit to St Peter’s Basilica and one major reason why evangelicals “cross the Tiber.”

I am not particularly impressed by size or age; but St. Peter’s is on a different scale. As I turned the corner and came to the square, the colonnades seemed to be sweeping out to greet me like giant arms about to embrace the world, an intentional vision of Catholic aspirations, I am sure; and as I walked into the building itself. I was cowed into complete and awesome silence. The only other experience I have had that came remotely close was my first trip to New York when I stepped down from the coach and looked up-and up and up and up
-at buildings that seemed almost to disappear into the sky. I felt small. And I felt even
more so as I entered the great basilica at the heart of Vatican City. The scale of the place, the paintings, the beauty, the statues, the faces of popes gazing at me, the good, the bad, but not (at least as portrayed by the artists) particularly ugly. The overwhelming power of the place pulled me in different directions. It was both terrifying and attractive. I suddenly realized why so many American evangelicals are attracted to the institution: it has everything American evangelicalism lacks-history, beauty, self-conscious identity, and, quite frankly, class. I also realized that such a vast organization simply does not need anybody else.” (Carl Trueman, “Where monkeys fear to tread.”)

10.  l not only had two Holy Fathers (God and the Pope), I also had a Mother, Mary. I went to Lourdes during my studies in France.

11.  The unity. Catholics all believed the same things. I have since learnt that this is not so at all.

12.  The Catholic Church is built on the rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This is not true. The Rock Jesus is talking about is Himself – the foundation stone.

13.  The Pope was infallible. The doctrines of faith and morals were infallible. As long as I obeyed the rules of the Catholic Church, I would be assured of salvation. Convince someone that the Pope is infallible, and he’ll believe anything: purgatory, the treasury of merit, Jesus suffers every time we sin, the immaculate conception of Mary, and on and on.

What does the Reformation have to compete with that? The scriptures. How can the scriptures compete with:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
there’s dancing, laughter & good red wine;
at least I have always found it so,
Benedicamus Domino!
Hilaire Belloc

There was of course GK Chesterton, who has been a great influence on many of us who “crossed the Tiber.” Not in my wildest could I have imagined that I would give all this  “Orthodoxy” up – for a solo book – 66 “books,” actually – Sola Scriptura. Late in life, I’ve come to understand that Roman Catholicism is a travesty of Christianity. Jesus teaches that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6″44). This is why no matter how much I talk about what made me see the light – for example, such things as my study of scripture and the history and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church – ultimately, the only reason why someone comes to the Christ is because God raised the person from the dead:

I was dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that was at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom I once lived, carrying out the desires of the body  and the mind, and  was by nature a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my sins, made me alive together with Christ— by grace I have been saved— and raised me up with him and seated me with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward me in Christ Jesus. For by grace I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that I can’t boast. For I am his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them (adapted from Ephesians 2:1-10).

I now bring together the core differences that separates the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. Here is James White:

When I rise in the morning I don’t fear the wrath of God. Why? Because I never thought about it, because I take it for granted? No. I do not fear the wrath of God because I know what has been done in my behalf will avail before that holy God each and very day. And I don’t have to say, ‘I have to get to Jesus today. I need to go and get in the car where Jesus is and get some more grace, get a little more propitiation because you see I approached what supposed to be the sacrifice of Christ just the day before yesterday. And the priest said hoc est corpus meam, this is my body. But according to Rome I can do that 10 times, 100 times, 1000 times, 10000 times, 25000 times in my life and still die in fear. I could die in mortal sin, not avail myself of the sacramental forgiveness and still go to hell. Same sacrifice allegedly. So I have to get in the car and go and visit Jesus again because I am not perfected by his one sacrifice. I have to go stand in front of an alter christus, another Christ [a priest]. He has to sacramentally bring Christ down from heaven and render him present, body, blood, soul and divinity upon the Roman altar, and this is how I am to somehow improve my relationship with God.

The reason, continues White, why I could never become a Roman catholic is because I am absolutely dependent upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect righteousness of another. I have nothing else to give. I know God is holy and if I do not have the righteousness of Jesus Christ, nothing else will avail. But you see Rome cannot give me the righteousness of Jesus Christ; it has no finished sacrifice, it has no finished work. You see the whole argument, Mr Reed and those of you who are planning of going across the Tiber river, if you’ve never read it, let me introduce it to you. The whole argument of the book of Hebrews is that the one-time finished sacrifice of Jesus Christ, perfects those for whom it is made. That is therefore is nothing to go back to. And one of the main arguments that the writer [of Hebrews] uses is that in the repetitive sacrifice of the old covenant there is a reminder of sin. You see, the high priest when he would go into the holiest place with the warm bowl of blood would see that he had been there before, that the blood was still dried upon the place of mercy, and that was a reminder that this blood of a goat, a bull is not going ever to cleanse anybody.

It was, adds White, pointing to something greater. The fact that it had to be repeated over and over again meant that it was imperfect and that is why there is only one sacrifice of Christ. It’s not re-presented so that you’re never perfected. It’s one time, singular, finished done. It is finished Jesus said. And what’s really really interesting is that when the writer to the Hebrews speaks of that repetitive sacrifice, there is a yearly anamnesis of sins, a reminder. A repetitive sacrifice, which is what you are limited to in Rome. The mass is an anamnesis of sin, because if you have to come back, you are not perfected. So all it does is remind you of the continuing presence of sin. But that word[anamnesis] is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and I’m so thankful that it is. Because that is the word that is used when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” in anamnesis of me. Christians have a new covenant, and that covenant has a single perfecting sacrifice. And so you see I don’t have a reminder of my sins; I have a reminder of my sin bearer, and that is why I have peace with God. Now if that was not taught to you in seminary or in your churches, I’m sorry. But you can’t blame your seminary or your churches because you [don’t] possess the word of God.

I could never, says White, go to Rome because Rome has nothing to offer but a treadmill of penances, sacraments, and never being able to know have you done everything that’s necessary to attain justification. In the words of the Word of God, I have justification, not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus Christ is…if these words meant something to you, you could never go there, because anyone who has actually, truly bowed the knee to Jesus Christ and understands [their] absolute dependence upon him can never give that up, can never trade that in. I pray for Mr Reed. By his own testimony, he never understood what the issues where. I hope these words will be taken the the way they were intended.  (See How green is my Tiber: James White’s impassioned plea to Jason Reed to come home from Rome).

The Reformers of the 16th Century divided true saving faith into three parts: notitia, assensus and fiducia.

Notitia comprises knowledge, such as belief in one God, in the humanity (1 John 4:3) and deity of Christ (John 8:24), His crucifixion for sinners (1 Cor. 15:3), His bodily resurrection from the dead, and some understanding of God’s grace in salvation.

Assensus is belief, a mental assent. This belief hasn’t yet penetrated the heart; it is still on the mental level – a mental assent.

Fiducia is full trust and commitment. This is faith proper; it’s the heart knowledge of Jesus’ prayer to His Father:

John 17

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Without the regenerative life of fiducia, one is no better off than the devils, who, having enough notitia and assensus to burst, still tremble. (See further discussion here).

As the scriptures I quoted above have shown, the only way one comes to fiducia faith is through a supernatural work of God, who raises the dead to life through and in Christ. The Bible teaches that it is not necessary to have (much) notitia or assensus to receive the gift of fiducia. The Bible also teaches (as in Ephesians 2, which I quoted above) that by grace I have been saved through faith. And this grace AND this faith is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works – my cooperating with God – so that I can’t boast.

The Roman Catholic Church has a radically different view of salvation and faith, which I believe is at best a distortion. For example, the “sacrifice” of the mass, the sacraments (seven of them) as the only means of grace, and on and on. But as I described above, there is so much that is captivating – like a kid let loose in a chocolate cathedral. Having said that, whether you’re a Catholic, Protestant or atheist, when you enter a Gothic Cathedral like Chartres or Notre Dame in Paris, you would be a liar – or a prig – if you said you didn’t feel a deep sense of awe at the beautiful forms of glass and stone.

The overarching stumbling block of the Roman Catholic view of salvation is decisionism. The following excerpt from the Vatican II document “The Church in the Modern World” explains what I mean:

“…Nevertheless man has been wounded by sin… When he is drawn to think about his real self he turns to those deep recesses of his being where God who probes the heart awaits him, and where he himself decides his own destiny in the sight of God”(paragraph 14).

That is what most Protestants believe as well. But not those Protestants – the Protestants faithful to the “Reformation” – who remained faithful to the original “catholic” doctrine of St Augustine’s era.

Catholicism, as with most non-Reformation Christianity, is “Arminian,” that is, the believer has the final vote in his salvation; he makes the final decision. The “Reformed Christian” position is that salvation is not man’s decision; instead salvation is an invasion of God’s grace that raises the dead to life, which then enables the raised person to willingly come to Christ; in other words he feels impelled from within (his heart) – therefore, not forced from without – to receive Christ.

William Webster, does a great job of proving that Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) – contrary to Rome’s  teaching that Sola Scriptura was a fabrication of  the Protestant Reformation – was in fact the central belief of the early Church for more than six centuries. Download the series here).

Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun. [45] And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word (no vain thing) for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 32:44-47).

Here is Charles Spurgeon preaching on the words in bold of the Deuteronomy passage above, namely:

For it is no empty word (no vain thing) for you, but your very life

“… much of the religion which is abroad in the world is a vain thing. The religion of ceremonies is vain. If a man shall trust in the gorgeous pomp of uncommanded mysteries, if he shall consider that there resides some mystic efficacy in a priest, and that by uttering certain words a blessing is infallibly received, we tell him that his religion is a vain thing. You might as well go to the Witch of Endor for grace as to a priest; and if you rely upon words, the “Abracadabra” of a magician will as certainly raise you to heaven, or rather sink you to hell, as the performances of the best ordained minister under heaven. Ceremonies in themselves are vain, futile, empty. There are but two of God’s ordaining, they are most simple, and neither of them pretend to have any efficacy in themselves. They only set forth an inward and spiritual grace, not necessarily tied to them, but only given to those who by faith perceive their teachings. All ceremonial religion, no matter how sincere, if it consist in relying upon forms and observances, is a vain thing. So with creed-religion—by which I mean not to speak against creeds, for I love “the form of sound words,” but that religion which lies in believing with the intellect a set of dogmas, without partaking of the life of God; all this is a vain thing (Charles Spurgeon’s “Religion – A Reality“).

I wrote the following reply to one of my readers who is thinking of becoming a Catholic:

Have you read/heard any of Martyn Lloyd-Jones? I haven’t found a deeper or truer teacher than him. You can download some of his podcasts at http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/living-grace/subscribe/podcast.xml. There are many more than those you see on this site. Once you’ve subscribed to the podcast, I think all the others will be available to you, such as “Christ in the heart” (3 parts). If you can get hold of his books on Romans and Ephesians, please read them. We both know that we should not neglect such a great salvation. This might hurt you and maybe you’ll give up on me, but I have to say this: Roman Catholicism is at best a dead-end. You don’t need all that stuff to experience Christ in your heart and be a faithful witness. What is dangerous in the RCC is that their doctrines such faith plus works (for salvation- Council of Trent), Mary as mediatrix, purgatory, the so-called “sacrifice” of the mass, and many more accretions contradict the Bible.

Related article:

How green is my Tiber: James White’s impassioned plea to Jason Reed to come home from Rome

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5 thoughts on “My conversion to Roman Catholicism and why I left

  1. HI Raphael

    Thought I would transfer from the RPP site after checking out yours. Interesting stuff. Do you livein Cape Town? I visited there once about 20 years ago and spoke at a conference organised by Rod Mechanic who used to lead Beit Ariel Messianic Congregation there. I know a lady called Leigh Telli who lives in Cape town and does some ministry amongst Jewish people there. I live in north London and run a fellowship in Golders Green (heart of the Jewish community – four shuls in the same street as our fellowship – mainly ultra Orthodox).

    I got to know Art Katz after he did some meetings in London in the 70s. As I had been a lefty in the 60s and spent time hitch hiking round Europe as he had done we had a lot in common. I never totally agreed with his position on Israel being uprooted (a defeated Israeli army parading through Cairo) and then regathered but had respect for his integrity and insight into many aspects of the faith. I have put a bit of my testimony below:

    Introduction.
    Out of the Sixties.

    “This is brinkmanship. We could be on the brink of a third world war.”

    The year was 1962. The place was a classroom in Bedford School. The event in question was the Cuban missile crisis when the United States and the Soviet Union confronted each other over the Soviet intention to put nuclear missiles on Cuba. I was 16 years old, studying for my ‘A’ Levels and we were having a lesson called ‘World Affairs.’ Our teacher, Mr Eyre, walked in and began his lesson with this dramatic announcement.

    As I sat there a flood of thoughts rushed through my brain. Could there really be a nuclear war? If so what chance had we got of survival? What kind of a crazy world is it in which the whole future of the human race can be decided by a handful of politicians over whom ordinary people like me have no control at all? What is the point of my studying to pass these exams and get on in the world if someone I don’t know can press a button and blow us all up in a moment of time? Above all, what is to be done about it?

    From that moment on a change came over my thinking. The possibility of doomsday entered my mind and I began to look for some way to make sense of the world, which had become so threatening to my future. Two thoughts began to take root – one to experience as much as I could of life and two to try to change the world. The results pushed me towards the counter culture of the sixties. I hitch hiked round Europe and beyond in the summer holidays, getting as far as Istanbul, Turkey one year and Tangier, Morocco the next year. I listened to music by The Beatles and Bob Dylan and agreed that ‘All you need is love’ and ‘The times they are a’changin.’ The new road of a world without war and competition beckoned to me with its promises of peace, love and socialism.

    By 1967 I was studying Modern Languages (French and German) at Cambridge University. French existentialist writers like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus appealed to my way of thinking, although their philosophy led to the depressing conclusion that life has no real meaning. I had also spent some time in Germany. While I was there one of the big questions which came to me, as I stayed with a German family, was, “How was it possible that these people who seemed so ordinary and not so different from us could have followed a madman like Hitler?” When I asked my hosts this question, the mother of the family said, “You have no idea what it was like to stand in one of Hitler’s rallies and feel the power that came out from his eyes.”

    The question of Nazi Germany raised another question I was grappling with. “Why do people always pick on the Jews? What is it about these people that causes such hatred?” At school and at university I had Jewish friends and felt sympathy towards Jewish people. In May 1967 I was revising for my second year exams when the news came through of the build up of Arab forces on the borders of Israel. The newspapers were predicting a war against Israel and I read of Nasser of Egypt threatening to drive the Jews into the sea. I felt deeply involved in the issue and for some reason, which I could not quite explain, I wanted to help Israel.

    One day I hitch hiked down to London and went to an Israeli agency and offered to go out to help Israel if there was a war. My parents were understandably horrified at this idea and as it turned out, when war did break out in June, Israel did very well in 6 days without any help from me. As the Israelis went into Jerusalem I knew that something very important had happened, although I did not know why.

    By 1969 I had finished my studies and was now working as a teacher. I had changed my course in my final year at Cambridge and graduated with a degree in English. I ended up teaching English at a Grammar School in Retford, Nottinghamshire, a place I had never heard of before. To be honest I did not find Retford the most exciting place in the world and as I knew no one in the town I became quite lonely. But I had so much work to do preparing lessons and marking books that I really did not have time for much else except the job.

    I had an ‘A’ level English class to teach and found some outlet for my interests in using my lessons to inject a bit of Marxist philosophy into these boys. There were two boys who were quite resistant to my ideas however. They annoyed me greatly by coming into class wearing little badges, which said, ‘Jesus lives.’ It turned out they went to a local Pentecostal church, which I concluded must be some kind of a weird cult as I had never heard people from the Anglican church I had been to in my youth going on about Jesus in the way these boys did.

    One day I set the class an essay to write on any book that had influenced them. I had not thought this one through, because what I got from these two boys was two long essays full of quotations from the Bible. Things like: ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ and ‘The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life’ and ‘You must be born again.’

    “This is serious,” I thought. “These guys are trying to convert me. Never mind, I know what to do. I have been to university and studied all kinds of thinkers and writers. I’ll soon cure them of this infantile delusion of believing in God. We’ll have a debate in the library and I’ll show them why they should not believe.”

    I really don’t remember what I said at the debate, but I do remember that about half way through the proceedings I had a sinking feeling that I did not know what I was talking about. One of the boys, Alec, said how he had come to know God personally through faith in Jesus Christ and how he communicated with God in prayer. Suddenly it came to me that they had been brainwashed into this by their parents and so I said, “That’s just your subjective experience. There is no objective evidence for the existence of God.”

    They then said that the Bible is full of prophecies which cannot be explained without the supernatural foreknowledge of God and that there were even prophecies being fulfilled today relating to the second coming of Christ.

    “Oh yeah? Like what?” I asked sceptically.

    “It says in the Bible that the Jews will go back to Israel and that there will be a lot of trouble over Jerusalem and then Jesus will come back.”

    Israel, Jerusalem, the Jews. My mind raced back two years to the 1967 Six Day War and I wondered if that was the reason I had felt that there was something so important about that event. Without admitting it to the boys I knew that I had lost this debate and had to get myself better informed about why I should not believe the Bible. So why not buy a Bible and start reading it to be better able to say why it is a collection of fairy tales?

    This event happened towards the end of the summer term. In the summer holidays it so happened that I had fixed up to go on a international youth conference organised by the Quakers in Sheffield at which there would be delegates from Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union. The idea was to do some work on a youth club in a deprived area and also to have political discussions about world peace. I did not have much time to read the Bible before I was pitched into high-powered discussions with the group about world events and how to create peace and a better world for the future.

    We talked about the big political events of the time and I was really in my element telling both the Americans and the Soviets how they needed to sort out their countries and get their troops out of Vietnam and Czechoslovakia respectively. Before long I had established myself on the left politically which made me interesting to the Soviet delegation. They were all good Communists because at that time it was impossible to get a visa to travel outside the Soviet Union without the approval of the Communist authorities.

    A very attractive Russian girl called Lara was openly flirting with me and on one occasion when we were alone, she asked me, “Do you believe in God, Tony?”

    “I’m not sure,” I answered.

    “In the Soviet Union all progressive young people do not believe in God,” she replied. “To make a better world we have to do it without God and religion.”

    I felt a battle going on inside me. During the three weeks of this conference I found myself increasingly moving away from God and the Bible and beginning to commit myself to Communism. I remember sitting in a park in Sheffield on my own and renouncing God in favour of the revolution.

    Because I was not happy in Retford, I had already handed in my notice at the school there and got myself a job at a Comprehensive School in west London. This school was much more multi racial than the school in Retford with many Asian pupils. I hoped they would be more receptive to my left wing ideas and that they would realise that the answer to racial prejudice is a socialist society. I went to lectures on world revolution at London University and joined demonstrations about Vietnam and South Africa and was excited at the prospect of really getting involved in the radical left scene in London.

    But however hard I tried to get away from God, I found that he kept popping up all over the place. One day I was going home from work on the underground and in front of me was a poster with a Bible verse on it. It said, ‘But know this, that in the last days perilous time will come; for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God’ (2 Timothy 3.1-4).

    Again thoughts went racing through my mind. “In the last days! And that’s a pretty good description of people today. Suppose Jesus is coming back and I don’t believe in him. What will happen to me? Suppose he comes back while I’m riding in this underground train. Don’t be stupid. Of course Jesus isn’t coming back. It’s a fantasy. Forget it.”

    But the thought would not go away. I went to a demonstration about the Vietnam War outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. I was standing there with a placard saying, “US Imperialists out of Vietnam!” when a girl went by giving out leaflets. Not an unusual occurrence as these demos were places where all kinds of groups were handing out information trying to get you to join their faction working for the great and glorious revolution. But this leaflet was a bit different. It began with a quote from the South American Marxist icon of the 60s, Che Guevara:

    ‘Hasta la Victoria Siempre’ – ‘Until the Everlasting Victory’

    We must uproot all injustice, hatred, greed and bitterness …. in ourselves.
    The revolution must begin where the problems begin …. in human hearts.
    Marx says change society and people will change as a result.
    Jesus says, “You must be born again”, not physically but spiritually, for:
    ‘If anyone is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come’. (2 Corinthians 5.17 NIV).

    Think about it. Decide for yourself who is right.

    Viva la Victoria Siempre.’

    I did not say anything to this girl but as I read this leaflet I knew deep down that it was true. The communist experiment had been a miserable failure, promising to free people from the chains of ‘hatred, greed and fear’ but in fact binding those chains ever more tightly around the people in dictatorships which crushed and oppressed the people and gave power to the clique who gained control of the Communist Party.

    At the time I had just been reading a book, called ‘The New Class’ by a Yugoslav writer called Milovan Djilas, who helped to bring the Communists to power in Yugoslavia after the war and for a time was second in command to Tito. Then he fell from favour and became a dissident protesting at the corruption of power in the Stalinist Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. The basic idea of his book was that in power the Communists transformed themselves from being a revolutionary movement working for the rights of the people into a selfish bureaucracy concentrating power and wealth in their own hands and passing on their privileges to their children. In fact they became the new ruling class. He pointed out that there is something flawed in human character, which means that we cannot attain our ideals, and end up corrupting ourselves and everything we touch because of human selfishness.

    As I read this leaflet and thought about the book by Djilas, it began to dawn on me that the problem of humanity really is what is inside of us, a basic selfishness and tendency to corruption, which is defined by the old fashioned and very unpopular word ‘sin.’ I also realised that this was what the Christians I had met had told me and that they claimed they had found the solution to this problem in the person of Jesus Christ. For the next two months a huge battle was going on inside me. I knew in my heart that I could not get away from Jesus, and yet I did not want to become a Christian.

    The battle came to a head on New Year’s Eve 1969. I spent the last evening of the Sixties at a very decadent and drunken party and woke up the next day with a hangover and a bad conscience and an amazing feeling that I needed to make peace with God. The story of the Prodigal Son, which I remembered from my childhood, came back to me, and I saw myself eating the pig food of my generation and wasting away inside. I felt that God was saying to me, “Now you have to make a choice – to carry on down the road you are going which will lead to destruction or to turn to me and find the way to life.” I prayed there and then asking God to forgive me for all the wrong things I had done and to change my life.

    Almost immediately I felt peace and I knew that I had experienced what Christians call being born again. I went up to Retford and told Alec, one of the boys at the school what had happened. He told me that they had been praying for me for the past six months at his church. I went along to the church and heard the Pastor speak about how when Jesus died on the cross he took the punishment for our sins and rose again to make it possible for us to come to know God and receive eternal life. New Year’s Day 1970, the first day of the new decade, had brought me to a new life.

    I decided to see whether prayer worked and so I prayed that I would meet the girl who had given me the leaflet at the demonstration in Grosvenor Square. A couple of weeks later, I went to a meeting in central London and she was there giving her story about how the Lord had brought her out of the Communist Party and told her to go and give out leaflets at demonstrations like the one I had been on. I went and told her how I had received one of her leaflets and now become a Christian and she was delighted.

    Her name was Nikki and we started going out together to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park and other places in central London to give out leaflets and talk to people about Jesus. We discovered that this was not our only common interest, in fact we realised that we loved each other! So we got married and enjoyed 27 years together until Nikki became ill with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, and died in 1998.

    I went along to Bible studies with Nikki and found out that there were people in London too who took this message seriously. Both of us came to the same conclusion about the Bible – that it is not just a dusty old book, but it contains amazing insights into our time. These insights pushed us to a very disturbing, but very exciting conclusion – that the prophecies of the end times are being fulfilled today and that the time of trouble called the Great Tribulation is on its way which also means that Jesus is coming back. As the world looks to fortune tellers, astrologers, New Age gurus and Nostradamus for their ideas about what is to come, the true source of information vital to our survival in this age and the next is for the most part being ignored. This book is dedicated to those who wish to swim against the tide and look into the source of real enlightenment as to what is going to happen in this world and the next – the Bible!

    • Hi Tony

      I was very moved and inspired by your life story. I’ve been to your website and had a good tuck in to your articles. Thanks for that.

      About Rod Mechanic; I did meet him – oh so many years ago, 30 or so, when I lived in Cape Town. I was born in Cape Town and went to university there. I was living in the UK in 2007 but came back to South Africa, which I love. In live in Port Elizabeth.

      About Art Katz: unlike you, I never had the good fortune of meeting him. I’ve listened and read much of his work. As you know his refuge centre for Jews in Minnesota is now in “mothballs.” This does not mean that his belief that Jews everywhere will not be persecuted again, and on a much more devastating scale than the Shoa. This sounds madness, but, as Art Katz pointed out, the Jews of Germany thought the same in the 1930s. About your doubts that Israel will be “uprooted (a defeated Israeli army parading through Cairo) and then regathered,” such a catastrophe does sound preposterous to those who believe in Israel’s ethnic future.

      Art Katz, however, points out that when one pays close attention to the detail, it becomes clear that some of the devastation prophecies are still future. For example, Ezekiel 36 is favourite passage used to prove the final restoration of Israel, whose beginnings – it is claimed – began in 1948. But note: verse 33. “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: IN THE DAY THAT I CLEANSE YOU FROM ALL YOUR INIQUITIES, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded.”

      So, only after Israel has been cleansed (that is, totally) of its iniquities – you know very well that Tel Aviv, for example, is the third “hottest” city on the planet, and Jerusalem is not far behind – will the “waste places be rebuilded.” The “waste places” will be rebuilt. Sounds vey much like “rubble” places. Art Katz was indeed a “rubblerouser.” Well there you go; the positive side: the rubble will be raised. “Tell the rabble to be quiet, we anticipate a riot;” from a famous rock opera – as you probably know.

      Isaiah 36

      24. For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.

      26. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. 27. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them. 28. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29. And I will save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the grain, and will multiply it, and lay no famine upon you. 30. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye may receive no more the reproach of famine among the nations.

      31. Then shall ye remember your evil ways, and your doings that were not good; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. 32. Nor for your sake do I (this), saith the Lord Jehovah, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. 33. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: IN THE DAY THAT I CLEANSE YOU FROM ALL YOUR INIQUITIES, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded. 34. And the land that was DESOLATE shall be tilled, whereas it was a desolation in the sight of all that passed by. 35. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.

  2. Pingback: Hans Herzl (3): Catholicism, liberal Judaism and death « OneDaringJew
  3. Hi if you are interested in Herbew Roots please see the below it may be of interest

    Rico Cortes | Cape Town, SA | May 21, 2011

    Rico Cortes of Wisdom In Torah Ministries will be coming to the Cape to teach on discovering Y’shua [Jesus] throughout the Torah, as well as understanding Torah and our Hebrew Roots … we [the Wild Branch] have been grafted into the Natural Olive!

    PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF VENUE!!
    Voortrekker Hall, Kenridge Primary School

    For more information, please contact:
    Allen D’Agnel 082 450 7609 or email allendagnel@vodamail.co.za

    Shalom and blessings!

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