The Cost of Discipleship: Bethany & Scott Moelker


SCOTT MOELKER is a Catholic elementary school teacher who lives in Toronto, Ontario with his wife and two daughters. He is interested in theology, he enjoys board games, and he occasionally blogs. His blog is at iesusetecclesia.wordpress.com

I was born into a family of faithful Canadian Christians, with my parents and much of my extended family belonging to the Christian Reformed Church. Baptized as an infant and instructed in the Christian Faith from a very young age, I cannot remember a time when Jesus was not my Lord, although I did not always serve Him well. Growing up, I was blessed to live abroad in England for two years, attending secular, Catholic, and Protestant schools. By the time I had graduated from high school, while I was a professing member of the Christian Reformed Church, I had spent significant time in a Methodist Church and also in a Christian Missionary Alliance Church. This wide range of experience gave me a broader perspective of Christianity.

While in school in England, I had been bullied physically and verbally for being a Christian. This served to make me stubbornly committed to my faith and also caused me to develop a thorough understanding and intellectual defense of my faith. I took 1 Peter 3:15 (NRSV) to heart: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you” — although I ought to have been gentle and respectful as well (see 1 Peter 3:16). I normally argued to prove someone wrong, not out of love. I also had the same battle that every teenage boy must go through with lust. Nevertheless, I became very independent, constantly researching and reading about the Christian Faith.

Most of my time in high school took place in the government-funded Catholic system in Ontario. This was my first exposure to Catholicism. I spent my time correcting teachers who were “cafeteria Catholics” and paying little attention to teachers who were faithful Catholics. At first, I saw the failings of Catholics as symptomatic of their false faith and failings of Protestants as aberrations. Then I spent my last year of school in a Protestant school and came to realize that teens in both systems were checking out of faith, and I couldn’t see spiritual laxity as a unique feature of Catholicism. I learned a valuable lesson about understanding others and the tendency we all have to magnify the faults of “outsiders.”

Maturing in Faith

After high school, I attended Redeemer University College, starting in 2008. There, I quickly became aware that, while my intellectual faith was absolute, my emotional faith was lackluster. I served God and professed a love for Him, but I often felt that He was a rather hard master and that faith was a joyless endeavor, only rewarded in the afterlife. I had developed vices of lust and pride, but God worked in me through a Baptist church that I and many of my friends attended while away at school. The contemporary music and their practice of individual communion appealed to me (a general period when people could come forward as they wished for communion). Attending this church helped me to become a joyful, spiritually vibrant person who loved God, and it enabled me to begin dealing with some of my vices. This was also where I met my wife, Bethany.

While there, I finally became acutely aware of my non-conformist attitude. I had not really thought about the fact that my theological views did not correlate with a particular Christian group in my life. I didn’t agree with the Calvinism of my childhood, but I didn’t agree with Baptist theology, either. Calvin’s views seemed to undermine the narrative of Scripture and the character of God in an attempt to protect God’s sovereignty; it didn’t fit in with “For God so loved the world” (see John 3:16). On the other hand, I supported infant baptism; I loved creeds, and I felt the church institution ought to be more comprehensive than the local church, none of which were Baptist hallmarks.

I wasn’t even sure I agreed with my current corner of Protestantism. I would have called myself an evangelical, but by this I meant primarily an allegiance to “historic Christianity.” I was working on a double major in theology and history at the university, and this fed into deeper questions about my own faith. “Where is sola Scriptura in the Bible?” I asked a professor of mine on a whim. He admitted that he did not know. Still, I had nowhere else to go; I certainly did not agree with the Mormon missionaries or Jehovah’s Witnesses who would come knocking at the door.

Seeking Out Catholics

Small Catholic or quasi-Catholic practices had infiltrated my personal life, possibly from my days in Catholic schools. I oc- casionally made the Sign of the Cross before praying. I began to teach myself Latin in my second year of university, praying John Calvin’s motto as a rote prayer every morning: Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere. (My heart I offer, Lord, promptly and sincerely.) I nearly ended up at a Catholic youth outing, declining with genuine disappointment due to a prior engagement.

Underneath these active changes, an intellectual realignment had taken place. I expressed horror when a United Reformed friend told me he felt that all Catholics were damned to hell. How could that be, when they professed faith in Jesus Christ — the sole requirement for salvation in Protestantism? I also argued for the Sacrament of Confession, though mostly on practical grounds. In one theology class, I argued that the medieval Catholic Church had legitimate reasons to restrict Bible translation. I corrected a Pentecostal classmate who thought that Catholics worshipped the dead. Though I was not actively thinking about it, my interest in history deepened my understanding of Catholicism.

For one of my final classes, I chose to write a paper about interdenominational conversion stories. I wondered why I had trouble finding good Catholic to Protestant stories, while the reverse were a dime a dozen. “Catholic to Protestant stories all seem to involve Catholics who go through a ‘spiritual, not religious’ or ‘atheist’ phase and then get rescued by an evangelical,” I complained. “I can’t find a good conversion story involving a well-catechized Catholic.” My professor opined that new Protestants were just so happy to find the truth that they didn’t have to write a book about it, but this seemed a rather weak explanation to me. I nearly bought a Scott Hahn book at this time; little did I realize that I would be reading his story and many others only two years later.

I was studying to become a teacher and in my final year ended up with a spare elective slot that needed to be filled with an education class. I noticed that a class on teaching the Catholic faith was available and promptly enrolled. As a non-Catholic, I could not teach in a Catholic school, but I was free to “waste my time on a useless class” (as some of my friends told me). I had a very good time in that class, with wonderful classmates and a great professor named Lina. I even went to Mass once with a Protestant friend, whom I had convinced to join me in the class, along with our significant others. Conversion was not on my mind. I told curious friends that my choice was for “personal edification.”

At the end of the class, Lina gave everyone a rosary. I thought mine rather fetching, with its black beads and silvery chain links, but I didn’t (yet!) have a use for it. I ended up keeping it in my pocket as a physical reminder to be a man of prayer. I soon got used to carrying it everywhere with me.

We Teach Best What We Need to Learn Most

After graduation, Bethany and I were hired to work overseas in a small Christian school. This school operated on a shoestring budget. The couple who had started it had good hearts and wanted to provide English curriculum to students who would go on to study abroad. Despite the pure intentions of the couple running the school, they had chosen to use a cheap, popular American homeschooling curriculum that was downright horrible.

I was irritated, though somewhat bemused, to see that the program’s textbook on the history of education taught that “from ad 500 to 1500 were the Dark Ages, when there was no light of knowledge or understanding” and that the light of faith actually went out during that time. The book then described Martin Luther as a busy builder of schools who started an economic renaissance in Germany that lifted it over the next two hundred years into a period of economic prosperity — as well as rediscovering the true faith while spending time “withdrawn from society.”

I didn’t give those textbooks much more thought until a number of months into teaching. One of our students asked my wife about the cartoons in her books. These cartoons tried to show an idealized world for the child to imitate. In these cartoons, black and white people generally went to separate schools. The student was upset and said she thought that was mean. Bethany agreed and told me. I was horrified.

I took as many textbooks home as I could and read through the Social Studies collection. As I read, I became outraged. Among other, greater problems unrelated to this story was a special hatred for Catholics. Catholics were often simply written out of history. Sometimes, prominent Catholics, like St. Francis Xavier or Christopher Columbus, were adopted and simply presented as though they were Protestant Christians. Other times, Catholics were introduced as villains. The section on Spanish activity in the New World basically repeated old, wartime anti-Spanish propaganda. They described Catholicism as an empty, ritualistic religion started in the eighth century, a religion that does not strengthen the economy like Protestantism does.

The true faith was presented as a federation of independent Bible believers who understood God’s will by simply changing the pronouns in the Bible to insert oneself into the passage being read. This was not how I had been taught to understand the Bible, and I knew from my theology classes that we needed history to defend the canon and understand certain problematic Bible passages.

These books prompted a crisis of faith. I could not accept their version of history or faith and wanted to show exactly how it was wrong. On what basis did I judge that program’s particular version of sola Scriptura to be wrong? I had to explain and justify my use of history and my use of Scripture to myself.

At the same time, my sympathy for how badly Catholics were maligned by this curriculum caused me to become keenly aware that I was using many Catholic things in my teaching practice. I had a prayer box in my classroom. I talked about fasting for Lent and got the school to celebrate Holy Week. One of my students told me that I spent too much time on history and the Church in Bible class. In a chapel message on prayer, I taught my students the Sign of the Cross and used pictures that included a statue of Mary and a young man clasping a rosary. I even showed them my rosary, telling them that I kept it to remind me to pray but did not use it.

Then, for two Sundays in a row at the end of the school year, while I was in church singing, I felt very close to God. I felt very strongly that I ought to become Catholic. I was unsure why I was feeling this way, but I had always been of the opinion that, since Jesus is the truth, we need not fear anything. So I signed up for an account on the Catholic Answers forums and pulled out a massive package of printouts that Lina had given me while I was in teacher’s college.

The first thing I read was a set of quotes about the Eucharist. I was floored. Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, the Council of Nicaea, Augustine … the list of quotes read like a Who’s Who of the early Church and unequivocally taught with one voice that, when we receive Communion, we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. By way of example, Ignatius was taught by the Apostles, and his use of all four Gospels forms part of the Christian argument for the New Testament canon. Yet he wrote: “They [heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6).

After I recovered from my shock, I began to question. “Well,” I thought, “it’s quite possible these quotes were taken out of context.” I downloaded the public domain copy of Philip Schaff’s translations of the Church Fathers. They were not out of context.

“Well,” I thought, “it’s still possible that this has no real Scriptural support.” Poking around on Catholic Answers led me to examine John 6, and I could not escape the clear message that Jesus gave there. “Score one for the Catholics,” I thought — and the truly scary part was it had not even been a contest.

Coming Out Catholic

I began to systematically investigate everything I had against the Catholic Church. I could see a series of developments in my personal faith that I knew could not lead to Protestant answers, but I prayed for God Himself to move me. On Catholic Answers, an individual contacted me out of the blue, offering to buy me any Scott Hahn books that I wanted. I asked for Hail, Holy Queen and Rome Sweet Home, and he graciously sent them to me without question, an answer to prayer. I was amazed by how cogent Hail, Holy Queen was. I had asked for it because I thought the Catholic approach to Mary was perhaps their most indefensible position. Yet here were sensible, scriptural answers!

Bethany and I went through several Ascension Press studies:

Pillar I: The Creed, Epic: An Adventure Through Church History,and Oremus: A Guide to Catholic Prayer. They were beautiful and, as far as we could tell, true. At this point, we were certain that we would become Catholic, although we could not go to a Catholic church due to the status of Catholicism in the country where we were working. We also had to consider the potential impact on our young students, many of whom were new Christians. So we agreed that we would delay our final decision until we returned to Canada.

But neither of us could separate conviction from lifestyle. We started with our private life. As a young Protestant couple, we were using a contraceptive pill. Now, based mostly on my wife’s convictions after reading Rome Sweet Home, we gave up using it and prayed God would not bless us with children too quickly. She almost immediately began to feel better both physically and spiritually.

Next came disclosing our growing certainty to some good friends. My first experience was very good. An elder at our church was starting a Bible study on the Church. I wanted to join because I wanted another Protestant perspective, but I thought it only fair to disclose my intentions to him before joining. I did not want to derail his group with my presence and questions. He was welcoming, and at the end of the study, I still felt Catholics were absolutely right. This dear brother, rather than trying to dissuade me, started lending me Catholic movies such as Keys to the Kingdom and The Scarlet and the Black.

My wife and I were members of a small group of young people that met to watch and discuss episodes of Wayne Grudem’s 20 Christian Basics. We enjoyed the food and discussions. Telling them that we were becoming Catholic, however, did not go smoothly. The coming-out experience included the whole range of reactions. One individual looked as though she would cry. Another looked horrified. Others were curious. We started having very spirited discussions, which made some group members uncomfortable. So for the peace of the group, we decided to stop attending.

Our position really became difficult when it came time to tell our families. When we told my father-in-law on Skype, he got up and walked out. Bethany was in tears. (He has since apologized; we caught him off guard and unprepared.) The same day, we broke it to my family. They took it pretty well, but my sister was very disappointed. Her first response was: “You’re going to go to Catholic churches to evangelize them, right?” and her second, “Well, we’ll see how long that lasts.”

More complications emerged. I needed to find a teaching job back home in Canada. I did not feel called to work in non-religious schools. As an “unconfirmed Catholic,” I was not eligible to work in a Catholic school. As an “informal Catholic,” however, many Protestant schools would not hire me. I wanted to work in an ecumenical Christian environment. At length, I was offered a position at a small Classical Christian school that had started up only the year before.

Protestant Problems

After returning to Canada, we settled in Toronto. Teacher training for my school began in late August 2015, where I was faced with an immediate problem. It turned out that this Classical Christian school was better described as a Protestant school. Despite the fact that I had said, “My wife and I are thinking of becoming Catholics and will be attending a Catholic church” and had given them a written list of books I’d read in the past year, including Hail, Holy Queen, Rome Sweet Home, Evangelical is not Enough, The Protestant’s Dilemma, and Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, my interviewer now said he felt “misled.” My interviewer had believed that I was just trying different churches rather than seriously becoming Catholic. When they discovered I was serious, I was asked many questions about whether I prayed to the Pope and how my relationship with Mary was. I was told that many members of their church did not like Catholics and my interviewer would never have hired me if he had known I was a “confirmed Catholic.” They did, however, agree to honor my contract.

I was asked to meet regularly with a Protestant pastor, wear nothing Catholic, describe my commitment to Catholicism as tenuously as was honest, and avoid all mention of the Church with the kids I was teaching. My parents felt that once the school knew that I loved the Lord, they would no longer care where I went to church. They loyally encouraged me to make the best of it. In January, however, I met with the principal, who confirmed that though I had taught well and he trusted me, they were not willing to have a Catholic teacher in the school. I would need a new job, and they would need a new teacher. When he prayed for new hires during staff devotions in the spring, he prayed against making a hiring mistake using martial imagery, so that they would not have “an enemy in their midst.” This pointed prayer was not directed at me but still hurt.

Every school event seemed fraught with danger. Before I had been warned, one of my coworkers asked where I attended church, and on hearing that I went to a Catholic church and was converting because I had investigated Catholic theology, she was very upset. She told me that she knew many women damaged by Catholicism and that one of them had all sorts of stories about priests coming over and getting drunk on her father’s wine.

It was a difficult start, and had God not provided the strength, we might not have made it.

The Fullness of Truth

In the midst of these difficulties, the great joy of the year was the long, slow joy of realizing that we were becoming Catholic. Bethany had a great consolation those first months of feeling that, when we were at Mass, all was right in the world. I had the consolation of my wife’s unflinching support and accompaniment. Readings from the beautiful Liturgy of the Hours became a treasured part of our daily routine. I prayed the Rosary every day while walking to work, picturing all the angels and saints as walking with me. I expected the Protestant pastor I was asked to meet with to try to change my mind, but he did not. I began to look forward to meeting with him. Midway through the school year, I told some of my other coworkers about my situation, and they seemed shocked that I was being dismissed for my Catholic faith.

Only a stone’s throw away from our house was an excellent Catholic church, Holy Family. Our parish had many priests because it was attached to a seminary, and the first homily we heard there referenced the priest’s background as an evangelical Protestant. We met with Father Michael and related our odd story to him. He gave us some Catholic materials and checked to see that we had a Bible, that we knew we could not receive Communion, and that we were not using birth control. Then he signed us up for RCIA class, which he taught. Later, we met another young Catholic couple because one of the couples had attended my university. Their friendship was a great help.

I had to begin searching for work again. I had many of the same problems as before: I was not formally Catholic, however firm my intentions might be. Despite this, a wonderful Catholic school in Dawson Creek, British Columbia offered me a position. This took a great weight off our shoulders, knowing that God had provided well for our future in the Catholic Church.

The most nerve-wracking part of preparing for reception into the Church was certainly First Confession. It was one thing to know that Jesus wanted me to confess my sins. It was quite another thing to actually prepare a list of my sins and confess them in the presence of another human being. Fortunately, Jesus gave me the strength to go through with it. After I completed my penance, my sponsor said, “Now you’re clean.” Amazingly, I did feel thoroughly clean, and I wanted to stay like that forever. I felt like I was floating on a cloud.

At the Easter Vigil itself, I was blessed to have my immediate family and my sister’s fiancé attend to support us. They came and took us out to dinner to celebrate before the Easter Vigil. It was a long Mass, and our traditional church used a good deal of Latin, which was hard for them to understand, but the great number of Scripture readings made an impression on my mother. As for Bethany and me, it was the most beautiful Easter celebration we’d ever seen, full of solemn majesty. With three other members of our RCIA class, we were received into full communion with the Church and partook of Jesus’ Body and Blood for the first time.

Since then, we have been blessed with the birth of our daughter, Jessica. She was baptized only a few months after we were received into the Church. We had the great joy of having both our families attend the baptism. Then, it was time to say goodbye to Toronto and our parish and move across the country to begin our new life.

Although life will contain many more adventures and trials, we are thankful. The Lord has called us to the fullness of truth in His Church. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NRSV).”

Love,
Matthew

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