Shortly after moving to the Bolivar area, I found myself in a predicament. For most of my adult Christian life, I had rather carelessly assumed that the best choice for church attendance was to select the closest Bible believing assembly to my place of residence. Usually there were two or three candidates, and I then made my selection based on a couple of Sunday morning visits, noting things like how well the sermon was preached, how their doctrines squared with "my own" beliefs, and how friendly the folks were. But this time things were different. I was in the process of completing a five year study of Church history and Christian doctrinal development, with a particular focus on the Apostolic Fathers of Christianity. Intellectually I was beginning to return to the orthodox foundations of my youth - and began attending Holy Trinity, which was practically in my backyard - yet emotionally I had not yet made that final commitment. Abandoning evangelical Protestantism, which I had so thoroughly embraced for 40 years, wasn't an easy choice, and knowing that "a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" I cried out in prayer one afternoon for the Lord to show me genuine Christianity, as I walked to the mailbox. And then I saw the flyer for a new church being formed in Tuscarawas County.
"THIS PIECE OF MAIL COULD CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER", screamed the words on the colorful mailing. Then I saw the name..."TC AUTHENTIC CHURCH"! I simply had to visit. Not so much because I was convinced about the tiny congregation, but oh, what a name for a denomination. Was this an answer to prayer? And if so, how would it all play out in my life? I had to see for myself, so first I visited their website, Facebook page, and conference literature (Authentic Churches of America).
Looking over their brochures, I saw they was a very charismatic group, whose beliefs seemed to be Biblically based, so I knew I’d feel comfortable, and would enjoy the service. I must say, I was not disappointed. The music was thoroughly contemporary, a great blend of Rock, Pop and Modern Ballads. Each was sensitive to the spirit of Christ, with fairly moving lyrics played by a pretty good band. The message was good, basic, "old time revival" in its nature – with a decidedly Pentecostal twist – and the congregation of mostly younger families responded enthusiastically. Lots of “Amens” and “Preach it, Brothers" filled the room. By the end of the meeting I – like most others – felt spiritually blessed and refreshed, having been in a church which was fun, contemporary and relevant to its membership.
But was it really “Authentic”?
I shared this sentiment with a couple that I had a three hour lunch with afterwards. These were folks I’d known years ago who like me used to be Catholic (although nominally) and were “born again” in a Baptist church. As we talked, they shared that they had pretty much drifted from one church to another over the past 30 years. This was their “11th or 12th” church, and they were hoping it would be “the one”.
We discussed our faith walk, and I shared my own experiences in searching for the “Authentic Church”. It turns out, they knew more Church history than most believers. So when I asked what they thought was really the “Authentic Church”, and they said “well – the one described in the Bible”, we began to consider that first century church in the book of Acts. We found very little there which actually resembled anything like the churches we see today in America. Why would it? Those were formative years for this profoundly Jewish sect, known simply as “The Way”. The world has changed, and so has Christ's church, in many ways. So we moved on, to look at the Apostolic Fathers; those men who had received their instruction, office and authority directly from the apostles and their successors. Names like Iranaeus, Clement, Ignatius, Justin and Tertullian, who described the Church as it existed in the first and second century. We saw something very familiar to us – something decidedly “catholic”, and I was reminded of a quote from the noted Anglican theologian G.K.Chesterson, “To study history is to cease to be Protestant”.
Now - under the “bias” of these early Fathers - we took another look at the New Testament, and what we saw amazed us. For one thing, the term “Church” seemed to be describing a specific concrete organization; not simply a body of loosely organized, like-minded people, as we had been taught. Furthermore, this organization had rules, doctrines, and a hierarchy. It was based upon the tradition of the apostles, since the cannon of scripture was not yet complete. We saw apostolic authority, the preeminence of Peter as bishop of Rome, Church councils, and the strictest condemnation of heretical views. I can’t speak for my friends, but it all looked like the Roman Catholic Church to me. Once we had considered the apostolic fathers, we now saw scriptural support for the sacraments, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and even apostolic succession! Imagine that. It may not have been contemporary, or necessarily “exciting” (RE: Acts 20:9), but it had a degree of Authenticity that could not be denied. At least not to my mind and ears.
Now I’m no proselytizer, nor do I particularly care how someone approaches God in sincerity and faith. But this couple was clearly struggling in their search for the “Authentic Church”. I merely laid out the possibility that such a church indeed existed, and we all used to be a part of it. These are the folks that came to mind when Father T. challenged us to invite someone to Holy Trinity. I think I'll give them a call.
I'd almost forgotten that event from three years ago, but sure enough my mailbox prayer had been answered, and my visit to "TC Authentic Church" that Sunday did indeed change my life in ways only God could have orchestrated. "The rest is history" as they say, and I now enjoy worshiping our Lord in His Authentic Church, every Sunday.
Shameless plug alert! Adult Faith Formation Classes begin September 14th, right after the 9:00 Mass. Come and learn why this wonderful Roman Catholic Church can justifiably call herself "authentic".