Dr. Sherman Kuek grew up as a strict Protestant Christian, studied in an ecumenical-oriented seminary, and served as a minister and theologian in the Evangelical Protestant circle. His faith journey eventually took him to the conviction that the fullness of the Christian faith was to be found in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Upon being received into full communion with the Catholic Church, he served as Pastoral Associate at a local Catholic parish for almost two years. As a Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Melaka-Johor now, he serves the Bishop as Director of the Diocesan Pastoral Institute.
Most people know that I've recently been received into the Catholic Church.
I was most recently interviewed by a Catholic journalist on my reception into the Catholic Church together with several other concerns. I will post up my answers to the interview in a series of several short posts.
1. What attracted you to the Catholic Church? What may have prompted you to make this move?
In the course of my scholarly labours as a theological student and researcher, I gradually developed a conviction (especially through my study of the Church Fathers) that the Catholic Church is the Church most fully and rightly ordered through time. When I was sent to the Vatican for a meeting in January 2005, three months prior to the passing on of the Holy Father John Paul II, that conviction was further impressed and ratified in my conscience.
Of course, another aspect of the Catholic Church that attracted me was the liturgy as the source and summit of the Christian life. I had prior to that been increasingly journeying towards a more liturgical and sacramental understanding of Christian spirituality.
At some point, I found it extremely painful and difficult to remain a Protestant whilst still trying to be “catholic” (without having to be Catholic). It is hard to be sacramental in an environment that does not promote the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Christian journey.
Of course, subsequently, the issue of the validity of the Holy Orders of other forms of ecclesial Christianity (and by extension, the sacraments) also became a disturbing struggle for me.
2. How have the responses been from people who know you?
My friends and acquaintances have exhibited various types of responses and in varying degrees. Those who have never been open to the Catholic Christians as fellow brethren consequently held that I had lost my Christian faith (I had apostatised). After all, to certain segments of Protestantism, the Catholic Church is the “Harlot of Babylon”.
Those who were open to the Catholic Church as being Christian held that I had “changed my denomination”, so it was no big deal to them. But when I refrained from participating in the Holy Communion whilst being in their company, that invoked some response too.
Of course, in the self-understanding of the Catholic Church, we are no denomination! With humility but unwavering conviction, we hold ourselves to be the Church most rightly and fully ordered through time, this being a fact we hardly need to defend because it just is.
2. Why the Catholic Church? Wouldn't Orthodoxy have been a possible alternative?
Undoubtedly, the Orthodox Church is a possible alternative to my Protestant faith rather than the Catholic Church. I do not deny that this was one of the alternatives that presented itself before me, given that I do have a fascination with Eastern theology.
However, I had three reasons for choosing to become Catholic:
i) my thorough belief in the doctrine of original sin as taught by St Augustine, which is absent in Eastern theology;
ii) my thorough belief in the primacy of the Petrine ministry exercised by the Catholic Church; and
iii) my deep agreement with the catholicity / universality of the Catholic Church as opposed to the ethnic-specific configuration of the Orthodox Churches with which I could not identify.
3. There are so many denominational churches today in Malaysia (and more are forming). Would you comment on this growing trend to “form a new church”? While we strive towards ecumenical closeness, there is a lot more ground to cover with this mushrooming.
The Protestant communities consist of some 40,000 denominations worldwide and continue to grow in that direction. One major development in these Reformation-based communities in the recent decades is the swift emergence of independent congregations which do not place themselves under the leadership of any denominational structure. They often see the historical denominations as a thing of the past, whereas the Holy Spirit is developing a “new wineskin” now in the form of independent ecclesial communities.
It is true that the growth of these newer forms of Christian communities poses a greater challenge to the ecumenical priority of the Catholic Church. But to begin with, the current ethos of Protestantism itself already makes the ecumenical priority difficult enough.
To cite a case in point, the Catholic Church reached a consensus in 1999 with the Lutheran World Federation on the doctrine of Justification by Faith. To be sure, this consensus represented an agreement on the part of the Catholic Church. But how binding was it upon all the Lutheran denominations around the globe? There was not an embrace of that consensus in unison as far as concerns the Lutheran denominations, let alone on the part of other denominations which are offshoots of Lutheran Protestantism.
What I am saying is, this is not a new problem; it is an intensification of an old problem.
4. Does this intensifying difficulty in the ecumenical efforts of the Church worry you?
What is more worrying to me is how a number of Catholics are taking on certain characteristics of these new forms of Protestant communities, wanting to mimic the way they worship and the way they regulate their ecclesial life. It is starkly a problem of deficient understanding pertaining to their own Catholic identity.
The liturgical life of the church is the nucleus of our Christian life, and we must be unmistakably clear about that. Nothing should erode the central feature of the liturgy and the Eucharist as the source and summit of our life and mission as a people of God. It is when we have forgotten this gift of God to us that we begin to seek other seemingly fascinating replacements to bring “excitement” and “meaning” back into our ecclesial life all in the name of relevance. It is deeply saddening and a grave cause for concern.
One important requisite of our ecumenical effort is that of standing firm in our Catholic identity. Any attempt to erode our Catholic identity for the sake of unity would merely lead to a false union. An authentic union is possible only when there is a true agreement of our code, creed, and cult. One thing we must never pander to is upholding unity at the expense of truth.
Further to that, I believe that true ecumenism finds its richness only when various partners enter into a conversation being able to freely embody their unique identities without having to suppress or erode them, and still being able to call one another “friends”.
Source: Sherman On The Mount