From Rome to the Gospel Ministry
Not many people can say they have been to seminary. I have been to two: the first for two years to train as a Roman Catholic priest in Ireland; the second was a Reformed Seminary in London. Like most young boys growing up in Ireland in the 1980s I was brought up as a Roman Catholic.
Catholic but Lost
My family had always been Catholics. We attended Mass every Sunday and were generally ‘good people’. My parents taught me to be kind to others, and say my prayers. I made my confession and first communion. One could say I was a good Catholic! About the time of my confirmation, I thought more seriously about God and wanted to serve him as a priest. I spoke to the parish priest but he said I was too young. During my teenage years, I got involved in sinful behaviour. I am filled with sorrow now over that period of my life. I knew I was a sinner and that I needed salvation from my sin. I wanted to know God’s forgiveness – but how?
Training for the Priesthood
In 1993 after researching various religious groups I decided to join the Society of Missions to Africa (SMA) and stayed there for 2 years. While there, I learned a lot about religion and philosophy but no biblical studies. we were not encouraged to read the Bible. Theology came later! I began to read the Bible on my own (a Protestant version my parents gave me). I asked the priests many questions about religion. I even asked how I could be certain of salvation.
I realised that rosaries and prayers to the saints have no scriptural basis. Mary is addressed in Catholic prayers, (e.g. ‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee’) but the Saviour teaches us to pray to the Father directly (Luke 11:1-4). Indeed, the Bible warns us against ritual prayers (Matt. 15:8 – ‘This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.’). This described me exactly: outwardly very holy and pious, but inwardly my heart was sinful and corrupt.
Also, the Church teaches its followers to pray to the saints. There is a saint for almost every circumstance: St. Christopher for travel, St. Anthony for lost things, Martin de Porrés for healing, St. Joseph for the dying, St. Vincent de Paul for the poor, and St. Jude for lost causes. I asked the priests many questions about religion. I could not find anything in Scripture to support this teaching. I was told that these Church traditions could not be questioned.
They told me that we could never be sure until we died! I also realised that a priest had to hear people’s confession and absolve them. How could I forgive other peoples sins, when I did not even know forgiveness for my own? I realise now the Lord was lifting the veil from my eyes to show me that true faith and forgiveness for sin is in Christ alone by grace alone! I left the seminary in 1995. I had entered thinking I would find the answer to salvation, forgiveness of sin and peace with God. I thought I was finished with God but he was not finished with me!
I came to London in 1997 and began working on a psychiatric ward. I met a real Christian who shared the gospel with me. He emphasized the need to trust in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness of my sins. I was seeking Christ but little did I realise that the Father was drawing me to himself (John 6:44 – ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day.’). I never met the man again but I thank God that what happened that night was the final leg in knowing peace with God! I had been a good Catholic and had treated salvation as an accountant would balance the accounts. My credits were my good works; my debits were my sins. I hoped my good works would cancel my sins. I began to realise that I needed Christ to save me. In reading the bible I realised that the Scriptures teach that faith in Christ alone could save me.
A few months later I commenced my nursing studies. While there I met some students who were different; I could see that there was something different about them. They not only knew about God but they knew him personally! They prayed to God and spoke of him as though they knew him. I asked them many questions about their faith. They told me that I needed to trust in Jesus Christ alone to know forgiveness! I attended their church, Trinity Road Chapel, in London. There were Bibles in the pews and the pastor preached from the Bible. This was something completely new to me. I began to attend church services regularly. I knew this was real Christianity and yet I still did not know Christ! I heard many good messages, never being challenged to repent of my sins.
Then one Sunday morning I was listening to a service on the radio. The sermon was about the Good Samaritan from the gospel of Luke (10:30-37). The preacher said the Good Samaritan was a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ who comes to sinners in our sinful state. Christ cannot accept us in our sin. He graciously forgives us and then accepts us. We all have a conscience; we know that we have done wrong and yet we ignore it! The Bible says we suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). The preacher urged us to turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin. Right there and then, I knelt down in my room on my own and prayed. I prayed as I had never prayed before. I pleaded with the Lord for mercy. I repented of my works, my religion and my wickedness.
I realised that I was saved by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9 – ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.’). I opened my eyes and I cannot fully explain it but I knew that I was at peace with God. All my past sins were forgiven. My evil heart was clean and the great weight of sin lifted. I now knew God as my Father and Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I was no longer trusting in my good works but in Christ’s atoning death alone for my sins. He now was my Saviour and my Lord. He had cleansed my guilty conscience and made me holy in God’s sight. I went to church that morning and told the people what had happened. They were overjoyed! I was baptised at Trinity Road Chapel (TRC) in London in September 1998.
My family was upset that I had left the Roman Catholic faith. They thought it was another phase but soon they realised this was different. I had changed, and they admit now I was not the man I used to be! About a year later my youngest brother was converted! O, what joy filled my heart! He was converted through reading the Scriptures on his own, and my witness.
I began to read the Bible every day and the Lord taught me many things. I am especially thankful to one man from the church (TRC) who helped me study the Bible over a two-year period. We did a complete overview of the Scriptures in two years. We also did an in-depth study of the doctrines of grace (5 points of Calvinism). As we studied each week, I could see that this was what I believed though I had not heard of the doctrines before. I began to realise that God is sovereign in all things in our lives and in the events that happen in the world. These truths of Calvinism began to show me that man is utterly polluted with sin but that God chooses and saves sinners. Those he saves he preserves and brings to glory!
Christian Service and Work
One evening, about a year after my conversion, the Lord constrained me to read (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:1-5). I spoke to my pastor and elders (at TRC). They gave me opportunities to lead services on the Lord’s Day and some of the weekly prayer meetings. I completed my nursing studies and worked for a year in the National Drug Rehabilitation Centre for Alcohol and Drugs in London. Here I learned what sin could do to the human soul. Many of the patients were locked in a cycle of guilt, sin and suffering. I soon realized that psychological treatment was not dealing with their real problem, the problem of sin in their hearts (Rom. 3:10).
In 2001, I began to study at London Theological Seminary (LTS). I, who had once despised and reviled Bible-believing Christians, was now studying at a Bible college which taught the doctrines of grace as revealed in the Scriptures. How great is our God; his ways are past finding out! The most lasting memory is of the men who taught us. They were godly men who were all serving the Lord in the pastoral ministry. They brought fresh perspective and gave us real insight into the role of the pastor.
Joys and Trials
After Elizabeth and I were courting for 4 months, I suddenly fell ill. From December 2001- April 2002, my health deteriorated with a severe illness in the colon. These trials taught me that the people of God do suffer. As I went through this trial the verse ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9) took on a whole new meaning. Elizabeth and her family cared for me, as I had no family in this country. I realised that the Lord had brought us together to do a work for him. We were married on 6 September 2003.
The Pastoral Ministry
I was called as assistant pastor to Chelmsley Wood Reformed Baptist Church in October 2003; then I became the pastor in 2004. I who had once preached works righteousness was now called to preach that salvation is all of grace.
We have had a few conversions in the past 4 years. Truly, the Lord is able to save all who come to him. We have seen growth in the congregation and we treasure the unity that the Lord has blessed us with in this great work. It is not without its sorrows and trials. However, we know that God allows trials to fashion us to be more useful in his service! My great longing is to see souls saved through Jesus Christ. O that many lost sinners would turn to him for mercy! There are many challenges facing the church today, some of which are not new. The Lord has not changed: ‘I am the God who changes not’! His purposes have not changed and his methods have not changed. Preaching the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit is his ordained way of converting the lost (1 Thess. 1:4-5)
My friend, if you want to know how to be cleansed from the guilt of your sins, I encourage you to turn to Jesus Christ by faith. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). We need no other priest but Christ (Heb. 7:25-26). The Bible says ‘there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who gave his life a ransom for all’ (1 Tim. 2:5). Trust in him alone! Please do not delay another moment! Seek him with trust in him alone. May he watch over and lead you to Himself. The Scriptures teach us we are converted for God’s glory and saved to the praise of his glorious grace.To Him is all glory. Amen
For the testimonies of fifty priests who found their way, by the grace of God, out of the labyrinth of Roman Catholic theology and practice into the light of the gospel of Christ, see the Trust’s Far from Rome, Near to God.1
Testimonies of Fifty Converted Catholic Priests
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Gearoid Marley is Pastor of Chelmsley Wood Reformed Baptist Church, Birmingham, England.
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