Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Presbyterians who joined the Roman Catholic Church, were influenced by the church fathers. Kimberly told how that Scott studied the “church fathers” when he was still a Presbyterian minister. “Scott gained many insights from the early Church Fathers, some of which he shared in his sermons. This was rather unexpected for both of us, because we had hardly ever read the early Church Fathers when we were in seminary. In fact, in our senior year we had complained loudly to friends about possible creeping Romanism when a course was offered by an Anglican priest on the early Church Fathers. Yet here was Scott quoting them in sermons! One night Scott came out of his study and said, ‘Kimberly, I have to be honest. I don’t know how long we are going to be Presbyterians’” (Rome Sweet Rome, p. 56).
Thomas Howard is another famous Protestant convert to Rome. Howard is from a family of prominent evangelicals. He was a professor at Gordon College. His father, Philip, was editor of the Sunday School Times; his brother David Howard was head of the World Evangelical Fellowship; and his sister Elizabeth married the famous missionary Jim Elliot, who was martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. In his 1984 book Evangelical Is Not Enough, Howard called upon evangelicals to study the church fathers. The next year he converted to the Roman Catholic Church.
The church fathers were also instrumental in the conversion of Peter Kreeft to Rome from the Dutch Reformed denomination. Kreeft, a very influential Catholic apologist, studied the church fathers as a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes: “My adventurous half rejoiced when I discovered in the early Church such Catholic elements as the centrality of the Eucharist, the Real Presence, prayers to saints, devotion to Mary, an insistence on visible unity, and apostolic succession. Furthermore, THE CHURCH FATHERS JUST ‘SMELLED’ MORE CATHOLIC THAN PROTESTANT, especially St. Augustine, my personal favorite and a hero to most Protestants too. It seemed very obvious that if Augustine or Jerome or Ignatius of Antioch or Anthony of the Desert, or Justin Martyr, or Clement of Alexandria, or Athanasius were alive today they would be Catholics, not Protestants” (“Hauled Aboard the Ark,” http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/hauled-aboard.htm). Kreeft is absolutely right. Many of the “church fathers” do smell more Catholic than Protestant!
Surprised by Truth, edited by Patrick Madrid, and The Road to Rome, edited by Dwight Longenecker, and Journeys Home, edited by Marcus Grodi contain many examples of this phenomenon. One of the testimonies is by Sharon Mann, who says, “I started reading the early Church Fathers and realized that whatever they believed, they surely were not Protestant. Catholic themes peppered the landscape of Church history. I couldn’t deny it...” (Journeys Home, 1997, p. 88). Indeed, Catholic themes do pepper the landscape of the “church fathers,” and this should be a warning to stay away from them. Mann should have compared the writings of the church fathers to the infallible truth in the Bible and rejected them as heretics. Instead, she allowed the “church fathers” to stir up her curiosity about Roman Catholicism and she ended up at a mass. There she had a powerful emotional experience when the crowd knelt to idolatrously “adore” the blessed host as it passed by in its “monstrance.” She began weeping and her throat tightened and she couldn’t swallow. She said: “That weekend left a very powerful imprint on my heart, and I found myself running out of good arguments to stay Protestant. My heart was longing to be Catholic and be restored to the unity with all Christendom” (Journeys Home, p. 89). When she speaks of the Lord passing by, she is referring to the Catholic doctrine that the wafer or host of the mass becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus when it is blessed by the priest and thereafter it is worshipped as Jesus Himself.
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