As some of you may have noticed, weekends are pretty quiet here on the blog. In an ideal world, I would post every day during the week and then take weekends off (as I’m not too sure people are surfing much on the weekends. Am I wrong?). Anyway, I want to try something. Beginning yesterday, I’m trying to start a little tradition where on Saturdays I’ll post a more personal, meditative post and Sundays I’ll do the series I’m kicking off today.
I was raised in the Bible Belt as a Southern Baptist where there is absolutely no diversity in Christian denominations: there are only Baptists and Catholics — nothing else. This was, at least, my exposure growing up in Dallas, Texas. Throughout my years as a “good ol’ boy” Southern Baptist, I was regularly taught by my Sunday School teachers that Catholics aren’t actually Christians. Let me unpack this briefly.
You see, our modernistic, post-Enlightenment ideas on will, independence, and selfhood mess us up here. Christianity, according to its theology, is not just another group out there that people can join or quit at their own whim. It is not a religion of self-ascription. In entering it, you do not do Christianity, it is done to you, by the Holy Spirit of God. Conversion to Christianity, therefore, is an experience that transcends our modern category of “choice”. “Conversion” is based on a spiritual change that God accomplishes in the individual; that individual cannot achieve this, they can only receive it by willfully responding with what the Bible calls “faith” — trusting the God has accomplished on your behalf this thing that needs to happen for you to be right by him. Those that haven’t been spiritually changed by God, and therefore don’t “trust” him in this way, by biblical definition, are not Christians, no matter what they do or claim to be. As my old youth group cliche went growing up: “Sitting in church means that you’re a Christian in the same way that sitting in a garage make you a car–it doesn’t.” When people don’t have this sort of “faith” in Jesus, they tend to try and earn their own acceptance before God by doing holy things rather than trusting that he’s already accomplished it.
This is where Catholics come in. I was taught that Catholics don’t trust Jesus in that proper biblical way that makes you a true Christian; they don’t believe Jesus saves you and makes you right before God, but rather being baptized as a baby and partaking in the sacraments do. I was also taught that they never pray to Jesus. They only pray to Mary, saints, and priests (confession being a form of prayer). Therefore if they never talk to Jesus, they can’t and don’t foster a real relationship with him. Therefore, all these things considered, Catholics are not “true” Christians and we will not see them in heaven.
This is what I was taught in all my churches. Admittedly, my parents disagreed with this and let me know that, although it was more of like “in spite of all those true bad things about Catholics, they’re still saved.” So, needless to say, this whole topic remained fairly ambiguous to me.
That is, until I was about 11 or so. My mom ordered a cross out of a catalogue not knowing it was a Catholic Lenten cross (it had candles to aid in prayer time during the forty days). It also came with a book of Catholic prayers for Lent. I started looking through it and I was blown away. I saw some of the most beautiful, sincere, and orthodox prayers I had ever read or heard. I looked up from that book and said to my mom “there is no way these people aren’t saved!”
And I was right. As the years have gone on, I have seen that Protestants (at least the Bible Belt ones) have been offered a caricature of our Catholic brothers and sisters. That picture I painted earlier of what I was taught about Catholics is absolutely wrong. They have such rich and beautiful theology that Protestants could really learn from. In fact, for part of my evening devotions, I’ve been going through the Catholic Catechism. Do I agree with everything? Heck no–I’m still thoroughly a Protestant. But the things they get right are phrased so precisely and so beautifully that we Protestants would do well to acquaint ourselves with it. Many of the things Evangelicals are only now trying to figure out and deal with, the Catholics biblically and adequately addressed hundreds of years ago.
So, on Sundays I would like to do this series called “Catholics Aren’t Crazy”. I’ll perhaps put up sections of the Catechism on particular topics that they get right but that Evangelicals tend to struggle with; I may put up some Catholic prayers that are amazing; or I may just write about some misunderstanding many of us Protestants have about Catholics.
Next week: The Catholic Catechism on Scripture
Are you Catholic or Protestant? What have been the caricatures you’ve heard of “the other side”?