John Bugay

Being a Christian and a servant of Jesus Christ has always been the most important thing in my life; the path that I followed has been one of study and prayer. The highlights of it are detailed in the story and links below:

An Answer for “Catholic Answers”

* * *

I grew up Roman Catholic. Some of my earliest memories were attending church with my mom. And I was a good Catholic, one of the few high school students to make it through all 12 years of CCD.

But a funny thing happened to me in High School. I had some friends who were “Born Again Christians.” They did some strange things, like pray between classes at their lockers, and give me tracts on the “four spiritual laws” and things like that.

Now, that didn’t add up with me. I’d been taught that Matthew 16:18 said “Thou art Peter and on this rock I’ll build my Catholic Church.” So I argued with these friends, at lunch and in study halls, but I’d also read their tracts, and I learned a few things. I learned that the Bible said something different.

By the time I was in college, I was reading the Bible. One day, reading John 17, I had an undeniable encounter with God’s love for me, and I committed my life to Christ at that moment.

At that time, I left the Roman Catholic Church in phases. First I went to a Catholic Charismatic group. Then I found some Protestant Charismatic friends. And it didn’t take too long before I was out the door.

I graduated from college in 1981, right into the middle of a recession. So I ended up getting a job with Jeff Steinberg (, a Christian singer who was a “Thalidomide Baby.” He had no arms and his legs were badly deformed. But he had a voice like Neil Diamond, and he used it to sing some of the best Christian songs you’ve ever heard.

He worked out of Memphis, Tennessee. I was his driver and sound man and personal assistant. We traveled thousands of miles every year, to churches all across the US and in a couple of foreign countries.

And I did two things. I became a part of a Reformed Baptist church, where I learned about the Reformation, about Reformation doctrines like “sola scriptura” and “justification by faith alone.”

And as we traveled, because Jeff was active in pro-life groups, I met some devout Catholic people, who encouraged me to give Catholicism another chance.

Well, I not only did that, but I went so far as to consider that I might want to become a priest. I had started going on retreats, and I loved the worshipful atmosphere. But the Lord rescued me from that; I married and eventually had six kids.

About 15 years ago, I was still a devout Catholic, and attending Evenings of Recollection through Opus Dei , a “lay apostolate,” sort of like the new Jesuits. They’re devout, they’re conservative.

Now, they say that it’s the conservatives of various denominations who ideally will get along the best. Some people will tell you that Catholics and Protestants really aren’t that far apart. But the more I looked into it, the more I found that wasn’t the case. I found that, the closer I got to Catholicism as it’s practiced “by the book,” the more uncomfortable I became.

I understood that discomfort to be the inner leading of the Holy Spirit. That brief couple of years I’d spent in a Reformed Baptist church came back to the front of my mind.

I was in confession one day, with a priest, who was telling me, “we’ve got to do our part,” and I said, “No, we’re justified by faith alone. It is totally an act of God.” And I walked out of the confessional and haven’t been back to a Catholic Church since.

13 Responses to John Bugay

  1. Pingback: About me « Reformation500

  2. herbert says:

    John, As I’ve said, I’ve no formal theological credentials. And I think some people would say that this is enough to disqualify me from participating in “apologetics.” However, I see myself not as an apologist at all. But as a sincere lay person… who’s just asking questions. Professional philosophers aren’t the only ones justified in asking questions. And as what you’ve been writing has been sinking in, I’ve been thinking of asking you a simple yes or no question. Here goes:

    Could you be “wrong about Rome”? Could the Catholic Church truly be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church she claims to be?

    yes or no.

    I am not asking this question to be patronizing, but rather to try to understand your zeal. If you choose to answer it, how you answer this question will be interesting.

    thanks, John. herbert vanderlugt


  3. johnbugay says:

    Herbert: I am not wrong about the Roman Catholic Church. I know, the implication of that is to say that you have been deceived; you have been led down a wrong path. I am quite confident in saying that. A lifetime of my own honest inquiries have not just persuaded me, but convinced me. The brief testimonials of such individuals as Frank Ramirez and David Waltz (among many others) have further served to underscore that I followed a good path in this.

    I’ll quote Sherlock Holmes (more recently picked up by Spock in the Star Trek movie. There may be other sources for this):

    “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth?”

    What is Rome’s story? Adrian Fortescue, in his work “The Early Papacy,” (written and published in 1920), discusses some of the early historical work that I point to, and rejects it thoroughly. He says,

    We believe in a Church that exists and lives all days, even to the end of the world, guided by Christ, infallible in faith and morals as long as she exists. We have exactly the same confidence in divine guidance of the Church in 1870 as in 451…

    That is, the assumption about some “organic continuity” from the time of Peter to 451 to 1870 to today exists.

    He repeatedly makes this assertion: “The criterion of faith about the papacy for us is what the Catholic Church teaches today. We shall never get forward in discussion with people on any one dogma till we agree about this: that the authority of the Church today is the criterion for all dogmas. But this does not mean that we refuse to discuss early texts about the papacy. On the contrary, we are always doing so, and we claim that these early texts confirm what the Church teaches today. The main proof, the most efficient in every way, the proof that is the real motive for every Catholic, is simply that this dogma is taught now by the Church of Christ, that Christ has given to his Church his own authority, so that we can trust the Church as we trust Christ himself. ‘Who heareth you, heareth me’ (Luke 10:16).”

    You have cited that verse to me. But it is one thing for Jesus to say such a thing to all of his disciples (“the 70”) in person. It is quite another thing for Rome to just assume this is true about itself. But that is what it does.

    We don’t know everything about the history of that early church period, but we do know enough to say that it has no resemblance to the story that Rome offers about its own authority. There is not only little comparison. There is NO comparison.

    We know enough about the history of the early middle ages to reconstruct the precise strands of the Roman Empire out of which the papacy grew.

    We have done too much exegetical work on the book of Matthew, Luke, John, and the rest of the New Testament to allow such things as that the proof-text given above has any relevance to the Roman church today.

    If Rome wants to make such assertions as Fortescue made (and he was a loyal reporter and a writer of the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” and so his assertions are very close to the official assertions), then it is not enough for Rome to assume that “what it teaches today as dogma is the real proof” for such things. It must not merely spit out a spoof-text that “kinda-sorta, in some way, looks like the story” that Rome tells. It must apply the exegetical practices that are common not only among Protestants, but Catholics and secular biblical scholars, to its own positions. Anything less than this is to put the beliefs of the Roman church into the realm of fairy tale.

    The story that the Roman Catholic Church has told over the centuries has been eliminated as impossible. The historical record bears this out. I do not know enough to build a precise reconstruction, but the reconstructions that we do have, of thousands of different strands of history — Peter’s life, Paul/Acts/Paul’s letters, the church in Rome, etc., are quite thorough.

    Just as we know from history that Benjamin Franklin was not the first president of the United States, we know that Peter received no such commission as he is said to have received.

    And all the rest of Roman Catholic dogma rests on that.


  4. Sean Gerety says:

    I can’t seem to find a “search” option on your blog. Is there one? A number of years ago you had a number of interesting posts dealing with Nestorius. I’m assuming they’re still here, but I can’t seem to find them.


  5. johnbugay says:

    Hi Sean — I’ll put up the “search” widget. Meanwhile, check out these items:

    Meanwhile, a lot of what I wrote on Nestorius may be found at PuritanBoard, and also I’ll try to search these out for you when I get a minute.


  6. Jonathan Brumley says:

    Hi John,

    I was reading your posts on CalledToCommunion and followed you here. I was glad to read your story… it’s not unlike mine, in the sense that you’ve been seeking the truth for quite a while.

    At the end of your story, I read your response to the priest who said “we’ve got to do our part”. I was wondering if you’d like to elaborate on this. My understanding of the Catholic and Reformed differences on sola gratia are pretty limited, but I have read this article (on your favorite website), which says that Catholic and Reformed theology are very close on this point:

    So, do you agree with what this says about participation in respect to sanctification? Particularly Augustine’s quote:

    “Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without him we can do nothing.”

    My understanding is that, by God’s grace (and in no other way), we are able to participate in the divine nature, through the expression of agape love. And, in a sense, we’ve “got to do our part” in love because He loved us first and has given us the grace to love Him back.

    Jesus said:

    “Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind”.

    and He called his disciples:

    “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

    We’re called to a new life of grace. We’re called to stop sinning and start loving. There is a part for us to do, for which we have been called and enabled by His grace.

    If we don’t do that which we are called to do, and which we have been given the grace to do, that is a sin, right?

    Jonathan Brumley, ybiC
    Austin, Texas


  7. John Bugay says:

    Jonathan — I just now saw your comment. One issue with “doing our part” in Roman Catholicism is that it has far less to do with actual good works such as “feeding the hungry, clothing the naked” etc. than it does “keeping the precepts of the church”, as I’ve outlined them in the “Motivations” article linked at the top of this blog post. And as noted at the top right hand column of the page, “The Reformers’ forensic understanding of justification … the idea of an immediate divine imputation [of righteousness] renders superfluous the entire Catholic system of the priestly mediation of grace by the Church.” — (Bruce McCormack, “What’s at Stake in the Current Debates over Justification”, from Husbands and Treier’s “Justification”, pg 82.)


  8. Jonathan Brumley says:

    Following the precepts of our bishop is a “good work” only if done out of humble love for God. This humility takes the form of obedience to someone whom I believe has been appointed by Christ to oversee us and to act as our elder. Our bishop has asked of us that we tithe, confess our sins, and to join the Sunday assembly. I try to do these things even when I don’t want to do them. Love is the reason for obedience. But if I didn’t have love in my heart, I would have no reason to obey the bishop – and I would almost certainly fall into dissent and disobedience.

    Regarding your second comment, I am not entirely sure that the Reformed concept of “imputed justification” renders baptism, confession, and the eucharist superfluous. Is it not true that Christ commanded each of these things? Why would he command us to do “superfluous” things?

    It seems that even the Reformed believe they should trust, love, and obey Christ, and that these acts of charity are not superfluous to faith.


  9. Pingback: John Bugay on Catholicism: Some Older Blog Posts | Reformation500

  10. Mary Therese Ceballos (Ryan) says:

    Hi John,

    I was one of those devout Catholics with whom you had talks when you worked with Jeff. I don’t know if you remember me, but I definitely remember you. We had long conversations about Faith and truth and what that means in day to day life. I recommended C.S. Lewis to you because you hadn’t read any of his work and I thought it could be helpful to you.

    I was a teenager and you were in your early 20’s. It sounds as though you did the pendulum swing from unquestioning Catholic to Born Again to Unquestioning Catholic to Born Again. :). I’ve always questioned my own faith, it’s the only way to keep growing. But my heart rests in the Church, my soul finds consolation in my Faith. I hope you can find the same rest and consolation in the spiritual home of your choosing.


    Mary Therese Ceballos (Ryan)


    • John Bugay says:

      Hi Mary Therese, it’s good to hear from you. Of course I remember you! I find myself in a position that your mom was in back then – widowed, and a single parent of a 12-year-old.

      I’m fairly well settled in my understanding of what “the Church” is. Email me – johnbugay [at] gmail.


  11. Jon Visser says:

    As someone who earned an undergrad degree in Bible from a very anti-Catholic university, this is a horribly misleading anti-Catholic blog. The citing of fringe, outlying sources demonstrates a lack of scholarly and journalistic integrity. Not only that, but taking sources out of contexts demonstrates your need to validate a world-view rather than a search for historical fact.

    If you want to be a reputable journalist, start reading sympathetic Catholic apologetic books and learn why and what Catholic believe.

    Try Faith of our Fathers (a 125 year old book) or anything by Scott Hahn for starters.


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