-Great Champions of the Catholic Faith, fierce combatants against the heresy of Arianism, the Cappodocian Fathers: St Basil and St Gregory of Nazianzus, along with Basil’s brother St Gregory of Nyssa and St John Chrysostom, fought against Arianism. For greater detail, please click on the image.
-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)
“My family left the Catholic Church when I was in first grade. I had only one year of Catholic education. Being the oldest of seven, none of my younger siblings had any at all — and not one of them has anything to do with the Church today. My parents joined the Bible Students, a small non-denominational group, descendants of Pastor Charles Taze Russell. They are not the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as is commonly reported. The JWs really came from one of Pastor Russell’s board members, Judge Rutherford. That is a story for another day.
Sundays meant long drives to “Meeting.” Except for one faction of the movement, known as Bereans, we didn’t call it “church”; instead, we met as ecclesias. Bible Students like to use Greek, since that’s what Pastor Russell did. The groups were small (their peak was just before World War I), and they often met in homes, Masonic temples, or the local YMCA. Very few congregations owned a building.
Most Meetings were spent studying Russell’s Studies in the Scriptures, his topical Bible studies. Some “liberal” Bible Student groups, such as the Bereans, actually studied the Bible. I was blessed to be involved with all three flavors of the Bible Students at different times. I do not regret the strong love of Scripture they gave me.
Growing up in a group that is considered a cult by other Christians does tend to make you pay more attention to what is being taught. I can remember being told that I was going to hell by many a Christian as I tracted neighborhoods or worked a booth at the county fair. On the other hand, being part of a small group that is, to some extent, persecuted also gives you a sense of being special in the Lord’s eyes. I think that is a very important part of many of the smaller denominations within Christianity.
Bible Student theology is very neat and tidy. Here is the elevator version: God has a plan. As Paul tells Timothy, God wants all men to come to Christ; therefore, logically, most will. The plan is based solely on Scripture. Russell goes out of his way in the first of the six volumes of his Studies to say that he won’t look to Church Fathers or any other documents, since those are only human opinions. Jesus was a man — only a man; we did not believe in the Trinity — because He was the “ransom price” for Adam. Since Adam was a perfect man, Jesus, to be the ransom, also had to be a perfect man. Christ’s Kingdom is a literal thousand-year kingdom, where all will be raised from the dead and know God. At the end of the thousand years, all would choose either life or destruction. There is no eternal torment or any other of what we called “pagan and medieval” notions, since death and hell are tossed into the “second death.”
I grew up going to the seminars, conventions and other ways the small ecclesias would work to build up the Body of Christ. I was blessed with being around people who were very bright and knew history, the Bible, and how to think for themselves. I loved going to these Meetings and developed close Christian friendships.
In the Bible Student movement, nobody in leadership is paid. Everyone who serves the ecclesia needs an outside job. To pay the bills, I was and am a science teacher. One of the other elder/pastors I worked with was the math chair at the local high school. Another was in charge of internal sales for industry.
There are different types of Bible Students. The Dawn group was the group that formed after Judge Rutherford kicked everyone out of the Watchtower. They set up their own printing press and started The Dawn magazine. The Divine Plan faction was formed in the 1960s and 70s as a reaction to the practices of the Dawn Meetings, who had stopped using some of the volumes of the Scripture Studies. Another group, known as Free, or Berean, Bible Students, developed in the 1930s and 40s. I eventually became a deacon and then an elder in a Berean congregation. The Bereans were considered to be “out of the truth” by many in the other groups. Bereans only study the Bible, and many Bereans today have no knowledge of the Studies in the Scriptures.
When my parents entered the Bible Student world, they met with a Divine Plan group first, then with some people from that group who started a home church. As a teenager, I got to know brethren in the Dawn faction; in fact, I married a girl from there. In short, within our own denomination, we experienced the fractures of Protestantism in spades.
What does it mean to be an elder in the Bible Student movement? It means being a pastor who does the preaching, teaching, counseling, marrying, burying, and other duties of a typical Evangelical pastor — plus working full time on the outside. That is why they usually have several elders. At the time I was active in the denomination, my congregation of 100–120 had five elder/pastors.
So, how did I become Catholic? A lot of things happened all at once. I joke that things really went “wrong” for me when I led a series of sermons and studies on having Communion more than once a year at our church (Berean Bible Students would use the word “church”). It is Bible Student practice to have communion only on the 14th of the Hebrew month Nisan, the actual night of Jesus’ Last Supper. This was our “tradition.” (Yes, even non-denominational churches have traditions; they just don’t admit it.)
I could tell from Scripture that the early Church had Communion more often than our once-a-year practice, although apparently some in the early Church had an annual practice.
Then I made another mistake: I started to study Church history. It turns out that Church history, in Protestant churches and cultures, leaves out a lot of information and is quite comfortable sharing historical information that isn’t really history. One very helpful book to disabuse me of this error was Rodney Stark’s Bearing False Witness. Stark was a Protestant historian fed up with the false narrative about the Catholic Church passed off as history.
As I learned, I shared. Communion started to happen a bit more often in our church. But when your theology says it is only a symbol, Communion does not have much importance or urgency. I can remember sharing from the platform during sermons that I envied the Catholics’ ability to have Christ daily in such a literal way. Nobody agreed with that. I was the one out of step, because I had come to realize that it wasn’t just a symbol. Jesus meant what He said, and His listeners took it the same way, as is clear from John 6.
By the year 2010, I had been looking over Catholic doctrines for several years. The congregation probably wasn’t sure where I was coming from at times. Why was I looking outside our own denomination? Well, I teach science in a very challenging environment, one with extreme poverty and social and behavioral issues. I could see the disconnect between what Jesus said we should do and what I was doing.”