Born in northern Italy, Anthony Pezzotta’s ambition was of becoming a missionary priest. He entered a Roman Catholic seminary at the age of eleven to fulfill that goal.
After eleven years of study he was awarded a B.A. degree in Greek and Philosophy. Studies for a Master’s degree in Theology took him to England, Germany, Spain and finally back to Italy, where he was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood.
He was immediately commissioned as a missionary to the Philippines where he labored for thirteen years. He was soon appointed director for Catholic schools and later of seminaries. At the time of his personal encounter with Christ, he was teaching Philosophy and Theology in a major seminary, of which he was the administrator.
Tony (as he likes to be called) is now an evangelical missionary and Theology Professor at the Asian Theological Seminary and in two Bible Colleges.
WHILE STUDYING THEOLOGY in England I began to have serious doubts concerning several doctrines of my Church which I found difficult to reconcile with Scripture. These doubts continued to trouble me even after my ordination, while serving as missionary to the Philippines, but I endeavored to smother them by plunging into my duties and teaching assignments. My schedule was so heavy that I had little time for research or prayer.
After ten years of such hard work I had to return to Italy for a year of rest and recuperation. Without the pressure of heavy work my doubts about the Church doctrines revived and increased, as did my determination to find satisfactory solutions. I read incessantly and pondered the writings of our great theologians as well as the teachings of the Popes, but all my doubts persisted. I discovered the incompatibility of such traditional Church doctrines as sacramentalism, special priesthood of a selected caste, mediation of Mary and the saints, use of statues and images, papal infallibity, immaculate conception and assumption of Mary, baptismal regeneration of infants, the sacrificial nature of the Mass, compulsory celibacy of bishops and priests, saving faith merely as intellectual assent rather than trust in the person of Christ, etc. When compared with the clear teaching of Scripture, I still doubted whether the church and the Pope after all might really have authority over the Word of God.
Upon returning to the Philippines in 1972 I remembered laying aside all my books of theology, determined to focus my attention on a single Book, the Word of God, particularly the New Testament. The Bible became the source of my reading, meditation, teaching and preaching. in a-relatively short time the Bible answered all my questions and solved all my doubts, including the big doubt on the teaching authority of the Church and the so-called apostolic tradition. ‘Even if we,’ writes Paul, ‘or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than the one you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!’ (Gal. 1:8-9, NIV).
At the end of January, 1974, I was in Santa Cruz, south of Manila, where an attractive Conservative Baptist Church had just been built. I had never entered a Protestant church, so I walked quietly into the sanctuary just to look around. Almost immediately I was greeted by a friendly Christian believer. He insisted upon introducing me to the pastor, Ernesto Montealegre, a wonderful man of God.
We talked together for a couple of hours, I doing all I could to make him a Catholic, and he quietly answering all my questions and objections from the Bible, which, as a Catholic priest, I accepted to be God’s Word. I did not succeed in converting him to Catholicism, but neither did he convert me to Protestantism. Nevertheless, most of his answers from Scripture, coupled with his sincere love struck me with great force.
From that day a period of restless anxiety started: sleepless nights, agonizing indecision, and a frightening lack of courage to profess the truth of Scripture. During one of those nights, while reading the letter of Paul to Titus, my attention was caught by verse 5 in the third chapter: ‘He saved us not because of righteous things we have done but because of His mercy.’ (NIV)
I realized that while I had belief in Christ, all my trust for a possible (I wasn’t sure) eternal life was in myself, in my attainments, in my works. In fact this was my attitude: After all, I thought, I am faithful to my vows, to the laws of the church and of my order – because of all this, I hope God will give me eternal life in heaven. Realizing that for all my life I had trusted in myself rather than in Christ, I began to fear that perhaps I was not a Christian. What was I to do? If I started living and preaching according to God’s Word, soon my bishop and religious superior would order me either to stop or leave. If I took the initiative to leave the priesthood and the church, what would my mother and my relatives say? Their greatest joy and pride was to have a missionary priest in their family. What would my bishop, colleagues and students say? They loved and admired me. ‘What would people say? This was my concem.
On the night of February 20, 1974, while I was alone in my room reading the Gospel of John, the Lord answered: ‘Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in Him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.’ (John 12:42-43, NIV).
Those last words penetrated my heart like a sharp sword, but they also filled me with strength and courage. I realized I had been putting men’s approval ahead of God’s truth. I repented and felt free! That night I slept without the pain and agonizing indecision of those terrible weeks. The following morning as I awoke, the picture of that kindly Baptist pastor came to my mind. I dressed hastily and drove to his church where we talked for some time. He gave me some pamphlets which I gladly accepted. Then as we were parting I unexpectedly asked him: ‘In case I leave my church can I come to stay with you? Would you accept me?’ He smiled, saying: ‘We have a room here, and the believers will take care of you!’
It took me five long days of prayer before making a decision. I wrongly thought that now all depended on me. But when I thought I had decided, I felt I completely lacked the courage of carrying out my decision!
On Tuesday, February 26, as I awoke and prayed, I realized that the main issue was not leaving the church, but really accepting Christ Jesus alone as my Saviour and Lord of my life. So I did, by God’s grace, surrendering to Him all that I had and was. I told Him to take over the direction of my life. And He did. He gave me the strength now that I belonged to Him. I left everything behind: car, books, career …. I wrote a letter of resignation to my bishop and went to live with my new-found spiritual family in Santa Cruz.
What a change! I felt free at last: free from sin, because Jesus had paid for it: free from the slavery of the opinion of others, for at last I could live and preach according to God’s Word. How true Christ’s words became true for me – If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ (John 8:31-32).
On March 3rd at 12:00 noon I publicly confessed my evangelical faith and was baptized in the Santa Cruz River which flows behind the church. I was filled with joy, and knew freedom from doubt beyond all description. I remember one priest who visited me a few days later asking: ‘Tony, how did you dare make such a decision? You have left the CATHOLIC church: twenty centuries of culture, popes, saints, the Priesthood, all that you have learned and loved so sincerely for so long!’ And I remember giving him the answer which came from my heart: ‘I don’t think I really left anything: rather, I FOUND EVERYTHING WHEN I FOUND CHRIST!’
For further information write to:
CBAP (Conservative Baptist Association of the Philippines)
P.O. Box 1882