My Roman Road (by SES Alumnus, Mark Ellis)



There are several Catholic converts from Southern Evangelical Seminary that did not, for one reason or another, have their stories included in Evangelical Exodus. Some were for personal reasons, but most were simply unavailable at the time, or had not yet begun or completed their journeys across the Tiber. Some of these converts have reached out to me since the book’s publication, and I have asked any interested to contribute to this blog in the same spirit as that of the book. I hope you enjoy the continuing stories of this Evangelical Exodus.

My Roman Road

mkellisSES Alumnus Mark Ellis

Many things have happened to me that I never thought would happen. For one, I never thought I would get a Master’s Degree in mathematics. I also said things like: “I’ll never go to seminary,” and “I’ll never get married.” One lesson I’ve learned in life is to be careful in using the words “never” and “always.” In logic and mathematics there are times when “never” and “always” appear. For instance, in logic you cannot form the Aristotelian Square of Opposition without the concepts of “never” and “always.” In mathematics, a polynomial equation with real coefficients will always have complex roots appear in conjugate pairs.Well, as many of my friends know, I have a Master’s Degree in mathematics, and have been to seminary, and I am very happily married. I have done all of those things and many other things that I thought would never happen.

There are also some things that I thought I’d always do (or ways I’d always think) that I no longer do (or think). Some of these changes are outside of my control; some due to a change in preferences or thinking.   Getting married for the first time at age 49 was a big change. Having a little, baby boy when I’m 51 years old is another huge change.   It’s funny how the unexpected can sometimes bring such joy.

However, coming into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church after being a life-long protestant is one of the wildest things I never saw coming until about seven or eight months ago.  Yes, you read that correctly. I’m Catholic.

I’ll pause now as you sound the alarm to all friends and family members.  After you’re done crying or laughing, please continue reading. I’ll briefly give my explanations for doing this and briefly touch on some common objections to Catholicism later.

My Protestant Upbringing

My father was a protestant pastor – and a very good one.  I love the church where he preached.  He was, and still is, a great preacher.   I learned much from him. His preaching was used by the Holy Spirit to bring me to my knees and give my life to God. The most important thing I learned from my parents is to pray and read the Bible on a daily basis. Unfortunately I did not always read my Bible and pray as I should. Anytime I stopped doing one or the other I always found heartache, depression, and confusion. Sincere prayer got me through my darkest hours.   I was foolish to wait until I was in my thirties to start reading my Bible from cover to cover. Throughout life I read my Bible, but it was more in the manner of following along as I took part in a Sunday morning church service or during a Bible study. I used the Bible as more of a reference book to follow along with what others were saying or writing.  One day I just decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. Some sections were boring at first, but many things were made clearer as I persevered all the way through. I have read it from cover to cover quite a few times using different translations.

Christian Education

I went to a Christian-based college. I experienced some Christian growth, but I think there was more spiritual frustration than anything. I did not lose faith in God. In my thirties I attended an evangelical seminary to study Christian apologetics.

Having read through the Bible several times I knew that many of the objections and misunderstandings of Christianity were due to people not knowing as much about Christianity as they claimed. I know I don’t know everything about Christianity, but I know the Bible well enough to know when a few preachers take verses out of context. I may not be able to answer every objection to a person’s liking, but every objection I’ve ever heard to Christianity involves a great deal of misunderstanding of the faith.

Sadly, many of those misunderstandings were learned from listening to someone in a pulpit or from reading Christian literature.

Defending the Faith

Christian apologetics is the discipline of defending Christianity. It comes from the Greek word apologia meaning “to defend” – as if in court. It does not mean we’re apologizing for being Christian. I became interested in apologetics after having my faith attacked by an atheist in graduate school. I did not know what apologetics was at the time. Other Christians avoided this guy because it seemed like he was very aggressive in expressing his views against Christianity. I did not cower whenever he came my way and sure enough he started his faulty arguments every time. Everything that came out of his mouth was either based on complete lies or illogical arguments.   I countered every one of his arguments with sound logic and accurate explanations. I never heard of the discipline of apologetics before. I thought I was doing something new. My dad enlightened me about the subject and introduced me to some good authors.

While working on a PhD in pure mathematics at West Virginia University I began taking classes in apologetics from a seminary in Charlotte, NC. In a matter of weeks I was defending theism against a New Age pantheistic cult that appeared on campus. One day I had a conversation with a guy in this cult. As I was defending theism, he started freaking out. I guess the truth really hit a chord in his brain. He gathered his buddies together. They huddled up, looked menacingly at me, and disappeared from campus. I looked everywhere for them. They were gone.

In the following years I read hundreds of books and articles dealing with Christianity and other religions (New Age, Islam, atheism, humanism, a handful of cults, etc.). I read books written at the popular level and I read scholarly books with Latin and Greek words intermingled with the English words.

Anti-Catholic Rants

Long story short, I found that some writings by Christians do not always match up with what the Scriptures say or what has been taught by Christianity throughout the years. But, they’re popular with the masses. They sound nice. They’re good looking. They have a nice message that sounds Christian that says something like, “If you’re a Christian, things will go your way. You’ll be happy. You’ll get what you want.” I also started to discover that what one group of Christians says about another group is not always true either. Christians have a nasty habit of misrepresenting the details of other groups’ beliefs. Non-Christians love to exploit this fact and use this to attempt to show Christianity is false. Well, that’s about as foolish as saying since different doctors think differently about treating the same disease, then all doctors are studying and believe in a false doctrine; i.e. medical arts. It’s stupid, but it happens. We’re all human after all.

Unfortunately, while in seminary, I began to hear and read things that made me believe that Catholics were not Christians and were following a dangerous set of ideas about God. I became very anti-Catholic. I remember calling a minister friend of mine and telling him about all of the scary things I was taught or read about Catholicism. I remember pounding my fist on his desk and exclaiming with an authoritative voice things about sola fide and sola scriptura. I was quoting this verse and that verse. I was referencing this author and that author; this theologian and that theologian.

I was taught and believed:

  • Catholics worship Mary and other dead people.
  • Catholics think that one is “saved” only by their good works.
  • Catholics think everyone gets a second chance at Heaven or Hell while in Purgatory and we here on earth can influence that decision by giving money to the church.
  • Catholics never read the Bible.
  • Catholics think the Pope’s words have more authority than Scripture.
  • Catholics are not Christians.
  • And other ideas (that I now believe are all false).

Getting on the Right Track

Thankfully, this seminary also taught us to cite original sources. In order to truly critique or reference an author, we needed to go to “the horse’s mouth” and accurately and honestly represent the words and ideas of who or what we are referencing. While in seminary I read many, many books and articles. Several of these that were, to my surprise, written by Catholic authors. Yet, I could not dismiss what they were writing because it made so much sense and went along with what I read in the Bible.

A few years ago, I happened to be listening to a radio show one night and the hosts did an excellent job at explaining and defending Christianity. To my surprise, they were Catholics! So, I began to listen to Catholic Answers Live, a nightly Catholic apologetics radio show, on a regular basis. At times I forgot I was listening to Catholic apologists. Depending on the topic of discussion, many of their explanations sounded like what I was taught at seminary or had heard my whole life. “Hmm, maybe they’re Christian after all,” I thought. Sure, I still had some difficulties with the Catholic faith, but I could no longer honestly think that Catholics were non-Christians.

By continued reading, studying, and praying I eventually had to have a paradigm shift and several things that happened in Protestant church services gave it a big kick forward.