Conversion – Event or Process?

August 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Conversion, Faith

KevinAs a child, I bounced around several Christian denominations, but made a conscious decision to live for Christ during my pre-teen years. In fact, I did this a few times, as there were countless opportunities to do so. In my travels, there were frequent altar calls and other invitations to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. In all sincerity, I made that choice in my heart.

Through the years, the invitations to accept Christ continued, since sermons were often focused on reaching the unchurched or nominal Christians. At one point a friend of mine went through a “rededication” ceremony. He had been a rebellious teenager, so when I inquired about this, he said it was exactly what it sounded like: he rededicated his life to Jesus, after repenting from his sins.

Around this time, my dad (who happened to be a Presbyterian minister), read a Catholic magazine called New Covenant. Through a seemingly random confluence of circumstances, this led to me enrolling at Franciscan University of Steubenville at age 16. This served to add a dimension to my thinking about the decision for Christ, since baptism was presented as a singularly important event.

Through my experiences at Franciscan (read that story here), I eventually experienced that event, being baptized at age 25 and entering the Catholic Church.

Conversion events are important. In a sense, they represent a new beginning.

I was born into a faithful Christian family, and in some sense my own conversion was inevitable. Dad was a Presbyterian minister, Mom was an enthusiastic minister’s wife who led bible studies and encouraged anyone facing troubles. Together, they were missionaries in Nigeria, loving parents, and to this day are terrific people. In what would prove to be a deeply ironic decision, they decided not to baptize me as an infant, so I could make the decision about faith for myself.

I decided to become Catholic. Within a year, they did too.

Since that time, I have pondered my first conversion event (the original decision for Christ) and process, which involves a new beginning every day, and lasts a lifetime. Let’s face it, although we may desire to live a Christian life upon an affirmative decision to accept Jesus as our savior, the decision itself does not necessarily confer a spontaneous ability to do so.

Every journey has a beginning, and it’s often the most difficult part. But how can we continue our journey, grow in our faith and come “further up and further in,” in the immortal words of C.S. Lewis? This applies not only to recent converts, but to all of us who have a need for continuous conversion, a desire to embrace our Christian faith more deeply through all of life’s circumstances.

We know it doesn’t always come easily. We have all heard stories, or know examples, of Christians whose growth in faith halted shortly after accepting Christ. Although these individuals might initially desire the gift of faith, their lives might be structurally opposed in some ways to Christianity. This is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the seed sprouting quickly but then withering in the scorching sun.

Converts, including those to Catholicism, bring their own set of challenges. Much like immigrants to a new country, it takes time to learn the language, become culturally aware, and grow sensitive to the nuances of the faith. The richness, depth, beauty, and history of Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, are vast, and we have varying abilities to assimilate into this new way of life and allow ourselves to be transformed.

In my personal experience, I’ve come to a greater appreciation for the events and the process. In a sense, conversion is a series of faithful, determined, and loving decisions to follow Jesus Christ with our entire lives. The foggy prayer first thing in the morning to offer our day to God. Biting one’s tongue rather than issuing a sharp reply to a colleague or family member. Being understanding rather than judgmental about a friend’s difficult situation. They’re all mini-events. And they’re all part of the process.

No matter who we are, growth in faith demands ongoing conversion, and that process is full of events. Each event, as good and sincere as it may be, is another beginning, a continuation of our growth in holiness. Authentic, ongoing conversion consists of both events and process – giving the gift of ourselves, our days and our lives, just as Jesus modeled for us.

So make that decision for Christ today, whether it’s an altar call, a sinner’s prayer, or going to confession. Our Lord will lead the process, directing all our paths to Him.

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17 Responses to “Conversion – Event or Process?”
  1. Jan says:

    It’s both. Conversion isn’t conversion unless you make an unconditional decision to commit to Jesus Christ. On the other hand, that doesn’t take away all your problems. It may even give you more problems, but you are not alone in your problems. There is much to work through both before and after that pivotal commitment to Christ. People fail; people struggle; people sin even after conversion, but you keep going and keep rededicating that decision you once made. So it’s both an event and a process.

  2. Ender's Shadow says:

    This issue is a complex one, not least because whilst the word ‘convert’ / conversion is used in the King James Translation, most more recent translations, such as NIV largely avoid it, though the NASB does use it.

    The problem, as with so many Christian doctrines, is that a simplistic application of logic results in falling into deception in either direction. One line of logic says: ‘If I’ve said the prayer, I’m definitely God’s, so it now doesn’t matter what how I live my life.’ This is only a step beyond the Catholic logic which argues that Baptism regenerates you, and gives you a ticket to heaven as long as you don’t commit any mortal sins which aren’t confessed to a priest.

    The opposite mistake is to see getting to heaven as being as a result of living a good life; this is the danger of seeing ‘conversion’ as a ‘process’.

    References to being ‘born again’ also muddy the waters unless deal with carefully; however the ultimate reality is that it is the work of the Spirit to ‘convict’ and ‘convince’, as well as bring ‘new birth’. The fact is therefore that the inner reality of ‘knowing Jesus’ – the standard which He sets on several occasions in the gospels – is what matters. At its best an altar call may result in the work of the Holy Spirit being publicly recognised; at its worst it may, as with infant baptism, create a false sense of assurance of salvation. As someone who’s marginally involved in the life of someone who after a spectacular conversion whose reality I had no doubt about, and has now gone off with his wife’s sister, I find the discussion difficult!

    • Kevin says:

      You raise some interesting issues. I agree that the extremes can cause confusion – and happily, the Church helps us avoid these errors, whether it be a strictly works-based salvation or the “once saved, always saved” attitude. My point, as Jan said, is that it’s really both – a process, and one filled with events, where we are called continually to make the decision to live for Christ. Going off with a wife’s sister is a sad example of failure in this regard. You have my prayers.

  3. Chris Ramsey says:

    I came across this piece through New Advent, and it reminded me of something my youngest son (a 20-year old college student) experienced recently. He was working a booth at a county fair in western NY and someone asked him “Are you saved?” He wasn’t sure how to respond, but he texted me the same question and I was inadvertently (is there any such thing?!) drawn into the discussion. I texted back “every day”. To make a long story short, a few text messages later I mentioned the word “process” and also referred to “a decision that has to be made every day.” Like I say, this event was recent and your piece brought it back to me in a flood. I am also reminded of the reference in the CCC to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as “The Sacrament of Conversion” – what an incredibly powerful notion, don’t you agree? I will have you in my mind and heart the next time I make an “altar call” at Mass!

    • John Fisher says:

      It is the Sacrament of Penance or “Confession”. We confess to Christ. We are not reconciled. To conciliate implies being equals or having rights. We are not equals with Christ and we have no rights.

      • Chris Ramsey says:

        All due respect John, but I didn’t pull the term “reconciliation” out of thin air. It figures prominently in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). In Part Two, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 4, Subsection I (“What is This Sacrament Called”), there are five names given: the sacrament of 1) conversion, 2) penance, 3) confession, 4) forgiveness, and 5) reconciliation. You may have grown up in a time and place in which the term “Sacrament of Penance” or “Confession” was most commonly used. When I received the sacrament in Houston TX in the 1960’s it was referred to as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Later (much later) in life, when I actually purchased a copy of the CCC and began to read it and study it, something inside me rang like a bell when I read the phrase “Sacrament of Conversion”. This conversion is precisely that “fearless inventory and conformity of life to his view, and submission to wishes in what to think, what to do, what not to do” that you mention below.

  4. Well said Kevin… I am planning to post this in my blog, I hope you don’t mind. Don’t worry I will create a link to your article loool. God bless.

  5. Kevin, Thanks so much for your post.

    My response to your question is that conversion is an event within a process, similar to the hero’s journey.

    The process is not one of making choices, among philosophies or religions for example. Nor is it one of making judgments, among denominations for example. The process is one of making decisions, as you so rightly point out. And the decision has to do with whom one wants to follow. In your case and mine, that person is Jesus Christ.

    The problem with decision-making I have found is that most of us are not taught how to do it and this is why it takes some of us longer than others and why some mistake choice-making or judgment-making for decision-making.

    On a series of blog posts entitled “How to Find Faith at the Movies” [ http://catholicstand.com/how-to-find-faith-at-the-movies-using-the-decision-makers-path/ ], I try to describe the ways in which the process of deciding about issues of faith works via the hero’s journey, but with some unexpected twists and turns.

    In my upcoming post “Seizing Your Sword,” I will be trying to describe the event within the decision-making process that informs one’s ultimate decision.

    This post of yours could not be more timely. I like to think of this as an example of kairos [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos ].

    God be with you.

  6. Gary Geraci says:

    From rock-n-roll and partying to the life of a devout Christian Catholic; yes, I must have built some destructive neural pathways along the process. The devil still likes to travel on them every now and then but I’ve set up road blocks; Christian works, frequent confession, fasting, almsgiving, and prayer! I’ve been quoting, referencing, and copying Kevin Lowry’s writings for more than a year now; reading his book “Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck” was the motivating factor for starting an Intranet community for my employer, the United States Department of Agriculture called “Faith at Work.” As of Friday, we are a community of 148 members! Thanks Kevin!

  7. Douglas Kraeger says:

    I say conversion is many events and a process as long as we (truly) love the (whole) truth so that we may be saved (2thessalonians 2:10)If we do not truly love the (whole)truth, we will be distracted by the world, the flesh, the devil, old habits, complacency (presumption),etc. I would like to see posters in every church (of every denomination) something like “All good parents are seen to truly love the whole truth by their work to know everything that God wants everyone to know and believe, whatever that is. They have truly accepted the love of the (whole)truth so that they may be saved. please see 2Thessalonians 2:10”. If some pastors started this, could it make a difference?

  8. John Fisher says:

    Conversio mori is a life long process. Christ is the saviour of mankind and of all individual humans. This also implies the rejection of all other voices and those that claim our loyalty such as country, and false bogus fakes like Mohamed. Yet not all will be saved. Faith isn’t an opinion. It isn’t “Oh I accept Jeeeeessssuuus”. It is not. That is just an opinion like I think red is my favourite colour and I think it will rain today. There is a difference between a baptised person and unbaptised. The first has “divine” life. The ability to perceive and receive God’s FREE help. The unbaptised lack this ability. “Not all those who cry Lord Lord will be saved”, because thinking or deciding yes I agree Christ is who he says he is and he can be trusted, comes before but is not always followed by a fearless inventory and conformity of life to his view, and submission to wishes in what to think, what to do, what not to do. We say Lord because in a sense he is our master we are his slaves and we without thinking do what he asks. Love is not a feeling but doing what the other wants knowing it is better than anything we could do.

    • Chris Ramsey says:

      The connection between “Lord” and “slave” (or “servant”) is certainly logical, but no longer the controlling paradigm. It was Jesus who said “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15)

      Of course, he’s speaking to his apostles during the Last Supper. They were up to their eyeballs in the conversion process which is the subject of the original posting by Kevin, but I can’t imagine they did anything he asked without thinking. That’s what slaves would do, true enough, but Jesus TOLD them they were no longer slaves but friends. Friends TRUST. We do what God asks NOT without thinking (how could we do that, accept as fearful slaves or servants), but in complete trust. More and more I find myself thinking (thinking) “I don’t understand this, but I will accept it and obey because I trust in you.” Thanks be to God!

  9. gary says:

    Lutherans DO believe that a person can make a Decision for Christ

    Lutherans believe that one CAN make a decision for Christ…but it is AFTER God has saved him!

    We believe that God gives the free gift of salvation without any assistance or even any cooperation of the sinner. In this way salvation really and truly is FREE! God lays the gift of faith and salvation into your “lap” and you believe and repent. We do not believe that there is any decision making in any of these actions. We view the believing and repenting as reflexive REACTIONS. When a doctor strikes your knee with a reflex hammer, your conscious brain is not required to make a decision for your knee to reflexively jerk forward.

    Now that the new Christian has the free gift of salvation, he does have a free will in spiritual matters, where before salvation he did not. The believer can choose to reject Christ, turn from him, and live a life of willful ongoing sin two seconds after his salvation or forty years later…and when he dies he will most likely wake up in hell.

    Lutherans do NOT believe in eternal security. Our salvation in not dependent on how many good deeds we do, but a willful rejection of Christ (eg. converting to Islam or becoming an agnostic or atheist) or choosing to live in ongoing, willful sin, can cause the Holy Spirit to leave a believer as happened with King Saul in the OT. If the Holy Spirit leaves the one time believer, he is no longer saved, if he dies without repenting and returning to Christ, he will go to hell.

    Human beings DO have the opportunity to make a decision for or against Christ AFTER they are saved…they do NOT have the ability to make a decision FOR Christ before they are saved.

    So Lutherans and Baptists/evangelicals actually end up at the same place: a person CAN make a decision for Christ, we just disagree when the decision can occur. It is this point of disagreement that precludes Baptists and many evangelicals from accepting infant baptism. You require a decision before salvation. You are absolutely correct, infants cannot make decisions…but infants can REFLEXIVELY believe and repent, in the same manner an adult reflexively believes and repents, at the moment that God quickens his spiritually dead soul. This quickening and reflexive believing and repenting will ONLY happen to the Elect. This is why Lutherans do not run everyone in the neighborhood through the baptismal waters.

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  10. catholic in faith says:

    WOW! Ive just learned about EWTN and hearing all those testimonies of those faithful and intelligent converts have just shed light on my faith. It strengthens my faith more and more each day and made me very appreciative of the Holy Eucharist. As a catholic since birth I just have shown little importance on those sacraments most especially the Holy Eucharist. Everything started to change since my teenage years that I have came to realize how blessed CATHOLICS for being able to receive CHRIST everyday.Having that experience and opportunity given to us everyday is more than enough to be thankful to GOD by not just sending his ONLY BEGOTTEN SON to save us but as well as by leaving us the sacrament forever. Since realizing this, I CELEBRATE and NOT ATTEND mass out of obligation but because I hunger for the word of GOD and for receiving Jesus Christ flesh and blood. For the forgiveness sins.

  11. catholic in faith says:

    CHRONICLES 21:24-25
    “No; I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt OFFERINGS THAT COST ME NOTHING.” So David paid Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the site.

    -Im speaking on my behalf; even KING DAVID would want to do things that would cost him something. Repenting and having FAITH ALONE without works would just vanish in the air.

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