tomgroeneman's picture

Please take a moment to introduce yourself to the group. You may include Church background or education. I would like for us to be able to engage in fellowship as well as study but I realize the limitations of this forum. Nevertheless, the better we know each other, the better we will accomplish our goals for the study.

tomgroeneman's picture


Being on the streets and indigent and involved with drugs and alcohol at the age of 21, I found myself attending services at the local rescue mission. In order to be fed and housed for the night it was required that we listen to a message presented by whichever Church was visiting that evening. Usually, at the end of the service, the minister would give an altar call for anyone who wanted to respond. I found myself going to the front for prayer many times. Each time, someone would ask me if I had accepted Jesus into my heart. I ended up praying the sinner's prayer many times and was told that it was my decision to believe the gospel message and pray the sinner's prayer that made me a born again Christian. Decision based evangelism is one approach that may work in certain circumstances and when a person is emotionally worked up by the preacher and highly susceptible to suggestion depending on their circumstances in life then they accept Jesus and are told that everything will be great from that moment on and they are guaranteed a place in heaven. This is what I regard now as easy believism or what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. When the emotional high wore off and I was faced with negotiating life I found I could not manage however sincere or committed I might have been. Some would say I was not a real Christian to begin with if I fell back into a lifestyle of sin and I did many times. I was an active member of several Churches (Baptist, Pentecostal, Evangelical) over the years and in different locations but each time I got away from the fellowship and stopped reading the Bible and regular prayer I fell back into the swine herd. For all my decisions and genuine desire to be a true Christian I felt the impending doom of knowing that if I were to die in my sins my place in heaven was indeed not a guarantee. This struggle went on for many years. More recently (7 years ago) I was ordained in my Church and took the role of Associate Pastor. This strengthened my personal life because I was responsible for others and their walk with God. But I had the same nagging feeling I always had before and I saw many of my congregants struggling in the same way I had. Sincere people who wanted to please God but were fighting with domestic issues and drug addiction and alcoholism. How could I tell these gentle, vulnerable and meaningful people that all they had to do was make a decision and pray the sinner's prayer and everything would be okay and they would go to heaven? When the reality was I knew in my heart that it is a hard road to be a true Christian and my salvation and theirs depended to some extent on how well they lived the gospel and not just a mere matter of believing it. The New Testament says we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Also, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10) so if you no longer fear God and His judgment and assume you will attain heaven because you made a "decision", that actually makes you an idiot in my mind and not wise. A salesman promotes his product and uses certain methods to convince people they need what he has. I could no longer in good conscience present people with this kind of easy believism I have been describing. This crisis, along with some other doctrinal considerations, drove me to reevaluate some of these beliefs that I had been taught. Now, I have found myself secure in my Catholic faith, the faith I was raised in. Through the visible and tangible elements of the sacraments-the water of baptism, the oil of confirmation, the physical reality of the priest in confession, and the bread and wine of the Eucharist-these are something I can depend on for the grace of God necessary to sustain me in my walk of faith. This is my experience of what Catholics call sacramental theology. The sacraments provide me with the power to live for God in a dangerous and hostile world. If God so chooses to show me His mercy by allowing me the privilege of entering heaven when I die, then I will be eternally grateful but I will not presume it is my right to enter heaven just because I made a decision. Yes I have asked for His salvation and completely trust that I will receive it based on the promise of His word but in between the time I have made that decision and the time of my death there is a period of testing, trial and tribulation in which I must prove myself worthy of His name and salvation. So I sincerely believe I must cooperate with His grace and live the gospel not just believe it. I must be found worthy to enter heaven and if I do make it, it is not because I take it for granted that I will in this life. I must both trust God and do my part, not one without the other. Salvation involves my free will choice along with God's saving power. This is what experience has taught me and a balanced reading of the whole Bible.

Many people ask today: with so many Churches, all claiming to be Christian, which one is the true Church? This is the question I asked myself many years ago when I first committed my life to Christ. As a result, I was a member of several different Protestant Churches over time and grew spiritually but something was missing. I heard a lot of anti-Catholic propaganda from many people and bought into some of it but I could not completely deny the Catholic faith of my upbringing. When I read passages about the unity of the Body of Christ and the bond of love we have, I could not understand why the Church was so divided. Then more recently, I began to study Church history and look at John chapter 6 and Matthew chapter 16 seriously and in depth. When the reformers broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, they did so mainly over perceived doctrinal differences that have yet to be resolved. However, that did not change the fact that they were rejecting the authority invested by God in the Pope and the Magisterium. The reason some people rail against the authority of the Church is because they do not choose to submit to that authority. They may hide behind sophisticated arguments about the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the doctrine of infallibility, the gift of salvation and various other subjects but ultimately it boils down to the question of whether or not one is willing to submit to God’s plan and order for mankind. Apostolic Succession is taught in the Scriptures, the Early Church Fathers, history, tradition and is the fundamental claim of the Church today regarding her spiritual authority to bind and loose, discipline, teach and preach the gospel, ordain her ministers, establish local Churches and arbitrate disputes. It would be hypocritical of me to speak of love between brethren and at the same time deny the doctrinal foundation of my brother’s belief. That is why I do not debate these topics but rather assert my conviction despite what others may think of my motives and position. The Bible says in Ephesians chapter 4 that we are to speak the truth in love. Truth has a tendency to divide and offend people so if we can acknowledge that the truths we speak are difficult to embrace but nevertheless spoken in love we have done our duty. All my comments in this thread were not intended to make non-Catholics feel any less loved than any other Christians and were made solely as a fellow participant in these forums and not in any official capacity.

As a seeker in my early twenties I often thought of the Scriptures I had heard in Church growing up and wanted to come to a more full understanding of my faith. I prayed about it and some months later I had my first major conversion experience. All I know is that Jesus was a real person in history and the main means besides the Sacraments whereby I can know Christ and come into a relationship with Him is through the presentation of His life and message in the Bible. So I sought to study the Scriptures for myself and not merely depend on what I heard other people say about Jesus and God. It has been a lifelong journey and the older and wiser I get the more I realize that I am totally dependent on God to reveal Himself to me and teach me His ways. I have made some progress in that regard but the negative thinking and scars of past sin have repeatedly obstructed the free flow of the Holy Spirit and all His gifts. I remain just as hungry and desperate to have meaningful contact with the person and presence of Christ as I did when I was in my twenties. I have bought a lot of books and taken many courses and heard many sermons so my head gets full sometimes of factual knowledge about the Bible but to have real encounters with the living Christ have become so much more rewarding. Your post about how Jesus is the kind of person who makes breakfast for His disciples is a clear example of what happens when we study the Scriptures and meditate on their significance. These insights sustain me through the desert seasons in my life and I am always very grateful when God's Holy Spirit teaches and speaks to me through the pages of the Bible. God is infinite so we will be spending eternity getting to know Him.

Tom Groeneman