How I found the Church (the short version)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My name is Sean Herriott. In November of 2004 I became the host of Morning Air on Relevant Radio(tm), a Catholic talk network with 17 owned or operated stations, and another 14 affiliates nationwide. Before that I spent 12 years working in Christian music radio (two years in Portland, Oregon, and the past 10 years in Detroit as host of a morning show).

My wife and I adopted our daughter, Julie, from China in 2003. We also have a grown son who lives with his wife in suburban Detroit, Michigan. Stacey and I entered the Catholic Church together during Easter Vigil of 2003. This weblog began as a journal of my experiences as a protestant making the journey toward Catholicism.

A lot of folks have asked me why I’d become Catholic after 30 years as an evangelical protestant. Here’s a somewhat condensed answer, from a post to this blog from 2003:

Right now I’m working my way through “Orthodoxy,” by G.K. Chesterton. He compared his quest for truth to a man who sets out in a boat, intent on discovering a new continent. He lands on a strange new world, full of unknown dangers—only to find he’s “discovered” England. “I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before,” he said. “I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.”

I went through much the same process on my way into the Church. I began to realize that, with so many Christian denominations in such complete disagreement on so many important issues, not everyone could be right about everything. In fact, sooner or later you had to admit that one church had to be—well, right. That made the rest of them, to one degree or other—how can I say this?—wrong.

I started getting outside my own very narrow Evangelical view, and realized it was much more complicated than trying to reach a consensus on a few issues (like worship styles or the Lord’s Supper). Christian denominations differ on what is required for someone to be saved, as well as what salvation is in the first place. Evangelicals talk about the need for having a “personal relationship” with Jesus, but really never explain what that means. Much of what passes for teaching in this area is really nothing more than speculation and presumption.

Worship was an increasing area of concern for me. With so many Evangelical churches getting rid of various traditions in order to be more “seeker sensitive,” I started to ask myself how much stuff we could toss out and still have it be, in any meaningful way, church. I’ve attended churches where the pastor refused to say the name of Jesus on Sunday morning, for fear of offending non-Christians who were visiting. I’ve sung pop music in church, written sketches for Sunday morning services, and seen clips of movies like “Happy Gilmore” and “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” I’ve seen things done that were fairly effective in terms of helping people to think about their own lives and their need for God—and others that were questionable at best, and sacrilegious at worst. I’ve seen sports and TV stars used to draw a crowd, irrespective of their lifestyle or the moral ambiguities of the entertainments they represented. All of this was done in the name of evangelism and cultural relevance—but at what cost? How much of our core Christian identity can we toss out before we cease being relevant to the culture at all? The Christian church is “relevant” not to the degree it bends to embrace and mirror the culture, but to the degree from which it stands apart from the culture. If I do to a church service that plays out like a “Seinfeld” episode, there’s not much chance I’m going to changed by it—temporarily or eternally. How far do we go down that road before the salt of our faith and witness loses its savor? Not as far as we’ve already come, I think.

I’d been a worship leader for about 20 years, but had repeatedly come up against the fact that I didn’t really know what “worship” was. When an Evangelical talks about “worship,” he’s usually referring to the singing of choruses. The trouble is that that’s not how the Bible presents worship. In the Old Testament, worship always involved sacrifices, most often literally. In the New Testament, the focus shifted somewhat, but it was still about what God required of his people, and not what they happened to get out of it. The modern worship movement is about getting in touch with God, but on our own terms. It’s about the kind of experience I have, and what I think and feel as a result of that experience. Worship in scripture is clearly about God, and not about us. In the book of Revelation, which presents perhaps the clearest picture of Christian worship, it’s completely centered on Christ. The saints gathered around the throne say nothing about how the Lamb makes them feel; it’s all about adoring Christ because he entitled to our adoration. In our narcissism, we’ve turned things around to the point that we often think worship is about what we want, not what God wants. Many Protestant Churches today are engineered to create a pleasant, non-threatening entertainment; that’s a far cry from laying ourselves bare before God, and inviting him to take his rightful place in our lives and community.

This was ultimately the question that drove me into the Church. What did God want from my worship? If I wasn’t concerned about that question, what difference could anything else possibly make?

When I randomly tuned in EWTN and heard Scott Hahn and Marcus Grodi asking the same questions, I was hooked. When they pointed to the Church as having the credible answer to this dilemma, I was pretty much doomed at that point. The following few months were spent in exploring the teachings of the church. I was hoping to punch a hole in her claims so I wouldn’t have to deal with the implications. If the Catholic Church had a legitimate claim to being the Church Christ founded, and if it held the answers to my questions, I had no choice but to become Catholic.

I had spent many years upholding the basic tenets of Sola Scriptura, and having to adjust my theology as my understanding of the Bible grew and changed. I stayed within the framework of what most Christians would recognize as orthodoxy, but not everybody does. The danger with having to reinvent your own theology—which is at the heart of “Scripture Alone”—is that you have to assume your interpretation is the right one. I came to the realization that I couldn’t say with any certainty that my understanding of the Bible was the correct one, or that I had been infallibly led by the Holy Spirit up to that point in my Christian walk. I’ve done some stupid things, used scripture to justify sinful behavior, and embraced teachings that were wrong. I’m far from alone in this. It’s the province of human nature to screw up, and without some kind of trustworthy authority, we can go off the rails and not even realize it.

The problem isn’t that the Holy Spirit isn’t living up to his promise to lead and guide believers, but that many of us end up with unreasonable expectations of what he’s supposed to do. Over the years I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of private revelation, and rightly so; it’s too easy to be influence by personal agendas, desires, and a host of other things in determining when and how God is speaking to us directly. At its core, Protestant thought is built upon personal study and private revelation. It’s too easy to take my own desire for meaning, wealth, or whatever else, and turn it into my own personal theology.

As an institution, the Catholic Church is far from perfect; the current scandal and the overall state of the Church in America attests to that. With its shortcomings, though, the Catholic Church is still rooted and grounded in Christ. I believe his promise is true that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it—and that’s equally true for the actions of some of its own members.

I haven’t been invited to shut off my brain since coming into the Church; in fact, I’ve never been so challenged to understand and articulate what I believe, and why. The teaching authority of the Church gives me confidence that my understanding of the essentials of the faith can happen within a solid, trustworthy framework. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I have a question.


Jeannie said...

Hi Sean,
I enjoy your morning show. I love conversion stories including yours. I often watch the Journey Home on EWTN. I remember I was able to link to a website of conversion stories. I had saved it but now I have a new computer and the link wasn't saved. Any ideas? Also, here is a link
Areopagus Blogyou may like-the young man is a friend of my oldest sons. They are both highly principled and devoutly Catholic. Keep the Faith.

Scott Herrold said...

I really like how you put this:

"The Christian church is “relevant” not to the degree it bends to embrace and mirror the culture, but to the degree from which it stands apart from the culture."

That's a great quote.


johnny dangerous said...

Sounds VERY much like my own journey: 30-plus years as a committed evangelical, with some coursework at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and 17 years on staff with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, in-and-out of a variety of churches (ending up Presbyterian - a 'middle way') until I began to hunger for the sacramental life and started to read the Church Fathers more closely and saw Scott Hahn and others on EWTN and thought "These guys sound like evangelicals!" when in fact I was sounding more Catholic. My wife and I entered full communion with The Church in 2006. Thanks for your witness and your program.
John Desjarlais