Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why Rome? (Or, What in the world has happened to Keith and Joni???)

Over the past couple of years, I have received several private messages via Facebook.  The common theme has been:  "I just saw on your personal info that your religion is listed as 'Catholic.'  How is that possible?"

Well, for anyone who has followed our lives over the past 11 years or so, this isn't a big shock.  For those who have recently reconnected with us via Facebook, it's a heart-stopper.  If this is your first time hearing it, I apologize, and recommend you go directly to your nearest ER--do not pass "Go," do not collect $200.  :o)

When I first began my blog, I shared our journey through several posts.  (And more here!) As the questions have multiplied, though, I thought I should give an updated post on the subject, as well as bringing everyone up-to-date on our lives.  So, here goes!

Keith and I were married in June, 1989, just one month after graduating from Central Bible College, an Assemblies of God college.  We lived in the Detroit area for the first two years we were married.  We were involved in ministry in Detroit, as well as being part of a team that worked to start a church in Highland Park (pastored by Tim Dilena and Roosevelt Hunter).  From there, we moved to the Kansas City, MO, area to youth pastor.  After that, we were in Swartz Creek, MI, as youth/young adult pastors in a home missions church.

We moved back to the Detroit area, and our first son was born during that time.  Keith worked at Detroit Teen Challenge as their evangelism coordinator.  We lived in Detroit for about 1 1/2 years (Grand River/Burt Rd., just a few blocks from 6 Mile Rd.).  Following our time there, we moved to Sault Ste. Marie, MI, where Keith pastored New Life Chapel A/G.  Our youngest son was born in "the Soo".

Earlier in our marriage, Keith had read a book called, "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?"  The premise of the book is that the early Church had a true Christian lifestyle and would have a better understanding of the faith, since they lived closer in time to the apostles of Jesus.  Keith thought it was a good book, but life and ministry took over, and on we went.  He revisited this book while we lived in Sault Ste. Marie.  This began a journey into reading the actual writings of the Church Fathers.

At the same time, he was planning to teach our church about the errors of the Catholic Church.  He purchased a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  He wanted to read their doctrine from their point of view--not the point of view of a Protestant.  He had many disagreements with what he was reading.  However, he also saw the beauty of the presentation of their beliefs.

As this all progressed, he was also very involved with the local Ministerial Alliance.  The men in this group became close, and worked together to spread the Gospel in our community.  One big project they undertook was the distribution of the "Jesus" movie.  It was sent to every household in our area, with the opportunity for people to return "interest" cards and be contacted by local pastors.  Keith headed this up, as well as being involved in the hospital chaplaincy, the local jail chaplaincy, and working as the "go to" pastor when a local funeral home needed someone to perform a funeral.  He was also the chaplain for our county hospice program.

He became friends with the pastors.  They were such a great support for each other.  However, it also triggered something inside Keith:  They were all Christian pastors, saying they were preaching the truth of the Gospel, and yet, there were also some major doctrinal differences.  How did he know that what he was teaching our people was "the Truth"?  Where was his authority to teach these things?  Every one of those men would say their authority was based on Scripture alone.  Yet they had those incredibly large differences.  Who was right?  And who had the authority to say who was right?

The more he read the Church Fathers, the more he realized that some of the things he was teaching were not in line with what they taught and believed.  And after all, who had the better view of things:  Keith Johnson in the 20th century, or those who were taught by the apostles and their disciples?

He spoke to our sectional and district leadership.  He spent a week at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.  He was on a quest for the truth.  What he found was disturbing to him.  There were large gaps in the history we had been taught.  Gaps which had been filled in by the Church Fathers and the other early Church writers and apologists.  Something just didn't fit with him.

Without belaboring the point, he eventually told me what was happening.  Frankly, I was very upset.  He was calling into question many of the foundational things I had been taught all my life.  He was forcing me to know why I believed all I believed.  That was one of the hardest years of our marriage.  We had always been "one" in our journey.  Now, we were very divided.

At the end of that year, he received the paperwork to renew his ordination with the A/G.  In order to do this, he needed to sign a paper that said he believed and taught everything the Assemblies of God believed and taught.  He really wanted to be able to just sign it, and go on with life.  In his deepest heart of hearts, though, he knew that would be dishonest.  Finally, he said, "Joni, I can't sign that.  It would be a lie.  This is my decision to make.  My integrity is on the line.  We will make the decision of where to go from here together.  But this decision is mine.  I just can't sign it."  I knew he was right.  I had seen his study, struggle, prayer...I knew this was one of the hardest decisions of his life.  But I knew he was right.

He resigned the church.  We said our tearful goodbyes, and headed back to the Detroit area.

He had been corresponding with Fr. Ken Bieber, who pastored a small Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC) in the suburbs of Detroit.  Keith and Fr. Ken had exchanged enough e-mails to fill three floppy disks!  Keith asked him all kinds of questions about early Church teachings, etc.  After we moved, we attended Fr. Ken's church for a couple of months.  The Holy Spirit spoke to both of us:  this is where you need to be.

Keith was eventually ordained a priest, and our bishop's council asked us to move to Ohio.  Fr. Ken had moved down the year before, and was pastoring two churches.  Keith was to assist at one of those churches.  He was made the pastor a few months later.  Long story short:  the church was a mess, and ended up closing.  We moved to Wadsworth, with the plan to possibly start over and begin a mission church here.

The CEC as a whole was also going through some major issues, and a huge split occurred.  We had neither the heart nor the desire to keep waging the battles.  Our bishop urged us to take some time away from ministry, and pray for the Spirit's guidance.  Since the closest CEC church was 45 minutes away, he also counseled us to attend other churches for a time.  We visited several.  We knew our time in the CEC was done.  God had released us.  We needed to find a new home.

We finally decided we would check out the Roman Catholic church nearby.  At first visit, we were impressed.  We both felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in such an incredible we hadn't felt His presence in a very long time.  After 2-3 months of talking to the pastor of the church, Fr. Joe, and attending a Mass here and there, we decided to check it out in a deeper way.  The Catholic Church has a program called R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults).  Fr. Joe suggested we attend some of the classes, and continue to pray.  The next 8 months were educational, difficult, and a time for a lot of prayer by our entire family.

On April 7, 2007, we were received into the Catholic Church--all four of us.

Now, this may still seem like a mystery to you.  How did we get from Point A to Point B?  The process I have (tried) to briefly describe took place over about a 18-year time span, but especially the last 11 years.  There were no hasty decisions.  There were no moves made without hours and hours of prayer.  We did not just "pick up and move" at any time.  These were years of anguish, study, prayer, and lots and lots of listening.

I have published many posts on the beauty of the Catholic Church.  I don't claim to know everything.  I do know that my faith has deepened in unimaginable ways in the past 6 years.  I do know that Keith and I are very united in being in the Catholic Church.  I do know that he has found the place for his authority:  the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

I do not despise my heritage.  I cherish it.  I cannot say enough about the great love I (was taught) for the Bible and having a very personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am so blessed to have been taught to share my faith, and to rely on the Holy Spirit.  I revel in the joy of knowing that Jesus Christ died, rose again, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for me.  The A/G and CEC both focused on allowing the Holy Spirit to use each of us in the gifts He has for us. 

And now, our family brings that into the Catholic Church.  May God use us as He deems best for His glory and His honor.

More to come...

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