I like to call myself a “catholic Evangelical” — that’s catholic with a small “c”.
I was born into a Roman Catholic family, and baptized when I was a few days old, and then grew up with all that Catholic stuff: mass every Sunday, First Communion at 7 years old, Confirmation at 14 years old. From around 8 years until after my confirmation I was an altar server in my parish church.
When I say “Roman Catholic Family” I really mean it: I have an uncle who is a priest, an aunt who was a nun (she has unfortunately already passed away), as kids we played “mass” with accurate enough vestments, both of my parents taught Catholic R.E. in the public schools, etc.
However, somehow, despite knowing a lot about the Bible and the Catholic faith it did not really touch my heart, and by the time I was a teenager I only went along with it all to avoid unpleasantness with my parents.
Then, when I was sixteen, I encountered some evangelical young people in downtown Vienna who invited me to a Bible study. I was intrigued by the way they talked about God and Jesus, as if they were a living reality in their lives rather than some abstract concepts one heard about on Sunday in church.
After hanging out with them for a while I realized that I wanted that living faith and relationship with God, I gave my life to Christ, and I started going to an evangelical church.
A few months later I had the opportunity to go to England and work in a Christian book wholesale operation for a few months, and then came back and started immersing myself in Vienna’s “evangelical scene”. At the time, the evangelical scene in Vienna was characterized by a more or less pronounced anti-Catholicism; understandable when one considers that the Roman Catholic church considered Evangelical churches cults, on a par with Jehova’s Witnesses orMormons, and warned their people against us — so we warned people against them.
Later I started working for an American mission providing theological training for pastors in Communist Eastern Europe, met my wife and married her, and eventually moved to the US because of my work with the mission.
When our daughter arrived I began to seriously think about how to pass on the faith to the next generation. I realized how much Bible I had absorbed growing up Catholic, both through the readings in church and through RE classes in school; how much observing the liturgical church year while growing up had made certain aspects of the faith an integral part of me; how much, in fact, I had to be thankful for in my Catholic upbringing. Around this time also I was introduced to Messianic Judaism and the Jewish feasts, and I realized that one of their main purposes was to serve as object lessons in order to pass the faith on to the next generation.
In 1989 we came back to Europe and in the next few years I re-established some friendships. One of my old friends had come to Christ around the same time as I and had also been in the same evanglical church. He had come in contact with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and had actually returned to the Roman Catholic Church, studied theology, and was about to be ordained a deacon. Through him I met other Catholics who struck me as very similar to the Evangelical Christians I was used to by that time: they, too, talked about God and Jesus as a living reality in their lives, they carried Bibles, and in their prayer meetings actually sang many of the same songs we sang. It became clear to me that God was doing something new in the Roman Catholic church, something we Evangelicals certainly had not been expecting Him to do.
In the course of the next few years, through contacts with such “awakened” or “renewed” Catholics, through a lot of reading, through a course on the early church fathers and many other experiences, I arrived at the point where I am now:
I am still clearly Evangelical in that I believe that Scripture rather than the tradition of the church or some special “magisterium” is the standard of our faith, that salvation is a free, unmerited gift which does not require church rituals or prayers to anyone other than Christ who is ultimately the only mediator between man and God, and that being a Christian requires “conversion”, a conscious decision to follow Christ.
However, unlike most Evangelicals I have met I do not believe that the true church disappeared after the apostolic period and was dormant until either Martin Luther (or, if you ask some Christians, even some later reformer or founder of a church movement) resurrected it; I believe that the church as the Body of Christ has always been around since the day of Pentecost, and that it encompasses more people than most of us imagine.
That is why I call myself a “catholic Evangelical”. The term “catholic” is derived via Late Latin catholicus, from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning “universal”) which comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου (katholou), meaning “on the whole”, “according to the whole” or “in general”, and is a combination of the Greek words κατά meaning “about” and ὅλος meaning “whole”. This word is used in the Nicene Creed as one of the four marks of the church, and there it basically means that the church, the Body of Christ, comprises all believers in Christ, everywhere and at any time.
I know that the term has become a denominational label, usually referring to the Roman Catholic church or some of the Eastern churches that are in communion with the pope in Rome (i.e. Greek Catholic, Maronite Catholic, etc), but also to such groups as the Old Catholics or the Polish National Catholic Church. You will notice that as a denomination label, “Catholic” is written with a capital initial; which is why I tend to call myself a “small c catholic” Evangelical.
I think that in this day and age, when Christendom is on the wane and most people bearing the name Christian are so in name only, that those who truly believe in Jesus and the salvation He offers through His death on the cross and His resurrection, must stand together despite all the many real differences between us.