Sleepy Christians

Catholics are sometimes charged with lack of zeal for evangelism. Our Protestant Evangelical brothers sometimes say that our reliance on the sacramental system of the Church leads us to assume that a person is ‘saved’ and leads us to neglect their need for conversion.

This is an understandable reaction from those who begin with Evangelical Protestant assumptions. For the Evangelical Protestant conversion is a once and done experience. For the Catholic conversion is a way of life. Within the Catholic perspective there may indeed be complacency, but even a marginally catechized Catholic is less likely to be complacent because Catholics are taught to avoid the sin of presumption. In other words, we don’t believe in that recently invented, non Scriptural dogma which has been artifically added to the deposit of faith, the Calvinistic belief in ‘eternal security’.

Catholics are taught about the dangers of mortal sin and the subsequent danger of hell. Catholic priests also believe in these real possibilities and warn their people not to be complacent, and seek always for constant conversion for themselves and their flock. Of course, there are liberal Catholics who veer toward a squishy universalism, and want Jesus to be more of a travelling buddy than the judge eternal, but this is not the formal teaching of the church, nor, in my experience, is it the practice of the majority of pastors or people.

The vast majority of Protestant Evangelicals, on the other hand, do have a formal doctrine that encourages sleepy Christianity. What is more likely to make a Christian complacent–the doctrine of eternal security–which ways that once you’ve ‘accepted Jesus into your heart’ you’ve got your ticket to heaven no matter what you do, or the Catholic belief in the possibility that through one moment of mortal sin your soul may be lost forever?

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  • God bless you, Father. Again, perfectly stated. Wonderfully phrased.I was in a similar discussion a couple weeks ago with a “don’t call me a Baptist” Evangelical (though that was her initial formation). We discussed this very concept of Eternal Security v. the Catholic view. Her constant reply, to which I couldn’t respond well enough myself, was “how could you live your life always in fear of never knowing if you’ve done enough?” (not faith v. works – we’d gotten past that, she agrees we don’t believe in salvation by work).So how should I respond? How do you answer the Evangelical on their natural follow-up question to this post? How do we get past the fear of hell even though we constantly strive for Him? Or is our innate knowing that “we’re all right” similar enough to the “once saved always saved” (as long as we don’t go off the deep end)?

  • Keep working toward it and trust. That’s better than resting on your laurels with a one-prayer-and-you’re-safe attitude.

  • Mark

    Bill, The problem with the once saved always saved attitude is that it pre-judges Gods judgement. It holds Him who is the judge of all to the condition that when we die, if we are a saved protestant, then when does God get to judge as it says in the NT, well according to the Evangelicals he doesn’t because you are already saved, already judged. This causality limits the powers of God to some kind of earth bound salvation contract, what rubbish, who dare limit the power of God.

  • Mark

    Bill PS What your friend is looking for is some kind of cast iron guarantee that she will not go to the other place, well we’d all like that but Christ never gave that copper bottomed assurance to anyone (except the good thief.). Her presupposition of “doing enough” is way off the mark, read the parable of the Vineyard Labourers, you cannot ‘do enough’ to get into heaven like some kind of reward, pass go, collect $200 go to heaven, that is plainly absurd and frankly heretical. I have an idea, get your friend to read The Dream of Gerontius, you’ll find it on the interweb.

  • Argy

    Spot on Fr.Bill,the most perfect Catholic will consider themselves the least likely to “have done enough”. It is this knowlege that shows he may have loved enough. If faith and trust are still to be found when this is so, then there is good hope.In any case how could anyone ever know what “enough” is, without understanding the degree of offence caused by our sin. You need to be God to determine how much is “enough”.mark,The Dream of Gerontius?? Milk needed not meat perchance???

  • Louise

    I recently heard Fr. Spitzer on Fr. Pacwa’s program discussing his book “The Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life.” He discussed directly the question of “how do you know you’re not doing enough”. When discussing testing the spirits, he said (apologies if I am misinterpreting) that the fear of not doing enough is the devil’s way of disquieting the soul. The devil inspires you to pray or to do good works, and then suggests that you are not doing enough, so you do more. This continues until you are so weary and discouraged with never being able to do enough that you quit altogether. I’ve seen it happen myself. You might find an a more precise suggestion in Fr. Spitzer’s book.

  • louise,Bless you. I can’t speak to whether or not you’ve captured Fr. Spitzer’s idea or not – but what you wrote was perfect for me. Thank you.I think for some (read, me) having done either nothing or wrong for so long, it is natural to fear that now we must make up for lost time.

  • JimC

    Father,Oh I wish Catholic priests, at least those in my experience, would preach about sin and the reality of hell. I have seldom, in my years attending Holy Mass since V II, heard anything about sin let alone mortal sin. If it weren’t for good priests on the internet such as yourself I would get no spiritual food. Most of the preaching I hear is drivel about the readings of the day that avoids anything that might call us to repentence. It is a wasteland here in Northern Kansas.

  • Bill,we have on the one hand, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” on the other, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;” and between them?”Hard is the way, and narrow is the gate that lead to salvation.”No wonder we have spiritual directors!

  • I’m not sure if you care about getting these details right, but “the Calvinistic belief in ‘eternal security'” is a bit of a misnomer. “Eternal security” is Baptist jargon, whereas a Calvinist will talk of “perseverance.” The former tends to be subjective (i.e., I can feel secure), whereas the latter tends to be an objective truism (by definition, the Elect will persevere) that may OR MAY NOT offer any subjective comfort to a given believer.I don’t think that either the Baptist view or the Calvinist view is fairly described as teaching “that once you’ve ‘accepted Jesus into your heart’ you’ve got your ticket to heaven no matter what you do.” I’ll be surprised if you, Fr. Dwight, really think this is what is actually taught. Instead, both the Baptist (despite his professed “security”) and Calvinist will warn the misbehaving person that his behavior is reason to doubt the authenticity of his conversion. Like the RC, they will teach that this person ought to repent and make his calling and election sure.My own criticism of both versions of this Prot notion is quite different from yours: I fault them for actually offering less security (you might say, less occsion for complacency) than they seem to on the surface. This is why Prot teenagers can get so tied up in knots trying to figure out if they’re really saved.

  • I know what Louise is talking about all too well. *sigh*. But my sister (who is lapsed now because of this) talks about Catholics who behave appallingly towards others because they think they have a ‘get-into-heaven-free’ card.Surely this is a kind of once saved always saved view which goes along the ‘I go to Mass and people think I’m holy, so that’s all I need to do’.I have to say most of the protestants I’ve met who really think they are headed for heaven as soon as they breath their last, don’t believe in hell anyway-or say no one goes there because Jesus is such a fluffy bunny he simply wouldn’t let that happen.And I mean ‘fluffy bunny’ she used a fluffy bunny to illustrate her point. I’m scarred for life.

  • Hi All,I’m new to this site and a Catholic convert from only 5 years ago – so please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought getting to Heaven was a two step process: salvation followed by sanctification. That is, authentic faith saves us from Hell, but continuous conversion, humility, works offered in faith, and especially frequent sacramental graces through the Eucharistic sanctify us over time. We avoid purgatory in this way. I think there’s a quote in the Epistles (I’m sorry I don’t know which one) about a man’s works being tested and that, if they fail, he will still be saved but “as a man passing through fire”. I’d appreciate any comments, especially if I’m in error.

  • Just an addendum: I should have said authentic faith and Christ’s sacrifice saves us from Hell. I did not mean to imply that we can earn this grace, only that we can accept or reject it.

  • Dear Memphis:You might have in mind two passages from the Corinthian epistles:1 Corinthians 3 is the chapter to which I think you are alluding. Verse 15 says, “he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”2 Corinthians 5:10 states that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

  • Thanks Dgus!1 Cor 3:15 is what I had in mind

  • Dave Deavel

    Mr. Gustafson,I agree that in some cases the effect of Baptistic “security” is to drive one insane and insecure, but in large-scale Evangelicalism it also can have the effect Fr. Longenecker cited. One pertinent example was a friend of mine who went out with an Evangelical who decided to seduce her at the end of the night. When she asked him how he could do this, he responded that it was wrong, but that his salvation didn’t depend on his behavior but on his faith. Uncommon? Perhaps. But that’s not the only time I’ve heard such explanations. I grew up in the seriously Reformed world and the Evangelical world–and eternal security vs. perseverance tended to get a bit fuzzy for many ordinary believers.

  • bill bannon

    But getting back to Fr.’s other issue in the posting about Catholics not evangelizing. They don’t tend to evangelize with words as our Lord did….unless in a very preaching-by-actions way that St. Francis talked of. Catholics historically drifted away from the Bible toward catechisms after the Reformation and after Trent. A number of Popes in the last two centuries urged Catholics to read the Bible but by and large the urging never had much effect with very many because the Catholic school practice was to have a catechism for religion classes…not the Bible. Since in the last 5 decades there were very many fuzzy catechisms that were not clear cut like the older ones, Catholics increasingly and only recently read the Bible to any degree. But it remains odd that Jevovah Witnesses do a lot of evangelizing of perfect strangers with words house to house and Catholics have never seen their role as doing anything like that.Even our parishes basically wait for converts to come to them and do not go out looking to convert perfect strangers.

  • Mr. Deavel:We’ll have to decide (or Fr. Dwight will have to decree) which we’re talking about–whether (a) what the respective Churches officially teach, or instead (b) what their respective members in the pew effectively believe. These may well be different, both within Protestantism and within Catholicism. What would NOT make any sense would be to compare, on the one hand, what the RCC officially teaches in its catechism with, on the other hand, what a Baptist cad allegedly says as he tries to seduce women.I wonder whether you agree with me about this: If we compare careless lay RCs who have a degraded version of their religion with careless lay Baptists who have a degraded version of their religion, we’ll find that the sloppy RC thinks he merits heaven by working his way there, while the sloppy Baptist thinks he gets to heaven by holding correct mental opinions about religion and can sin with impunity. Agreed?Now here’s one question I like to entertain: Which of these degraded positions coincides best with the religion presented in the NT?

  • Anonymous

    My (Catholic) godparents used to have a Protestant cleaner who told them quite blatantly: ‘I can take as many silver teaspoons as I like because I’m saved’!

  • That reminds me of the sort of things I heard growing up in Pennsylvania, back in the 60’s. People tended to look down on fundamentalists and pentecostals then. One day, a group of them borrowed a small space downtown and started street preaching. Got a lot of dirty looks. My mother harrumphed and pointed out each one of them and told me their full criminal history. Most of it was after conversion, by the way.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, that reminds me of pedophile priests, yadda yadda yadda.Come on.

  • Dave Deavel

    Mr. Gustafson,Agreed. I wasn’t talking about official positions, but what certain views tended to encourage. And for many Baptists or Evangelicals the official position (as far as there are “official” Baptist or Evangelical positions given many Baptists’ and Evangelicals’ congregational ecclesiology) is that one is saved by holding mental states, sometimes emotional states, about God. For the more sophisticated, less antinomian versions, this is not true. For the sake of argument, let’s say it is a “sloppy” Baptist or Evangelical understanding.For your question, which is closer to the NT view–sloppy Catholic or sloppy Evangelical/Baptist views, I’d have to say the sloppy Catholic view that one is saved by one’s works. All of Jesus’ teaching emphasizes that it is our actions that determine how we respond to God and whether we’ll inherit eternal life. So, too, do St. Paul’s writings. In Romans 2:6-11 St. Paul explicitly gives us the criteria for judgment–works. In Galatians 5 he lists what keeps one out of heaven–sins. In Jesus’ teaching it’s the same way, he always concentrates on what people do in response to his word. One great example is Matt. 25 where the sheep don’t even seem to have recognized that they were serving Christ in the first place when they fed the hungry, visited the prisoner, et al. They are just as clueless about their mental state regarding Christ as the goats were. Same thing with pastoral epistles: James 2 is the obvious where Abraham’s faith is evidenced by doing something–sacrificing Isaac (which seems pretty similar to Paul’s account of Abraham’s faith in Romans). The New Testament always talks about showing faith by works; not the other way around. And this is not to mention all the passages indicating that Baptism is necessary for salvation.

  • Mr. Deavel:Interesting. But when Paul was misunderstood and caricatured, what did people carelessly think he was preaching? See Rom. 3:8, Rom. 6:1-2.I’ll have to say I think you are wrong when you say that the NT is closer to the works-righteousness fallacy than the cheap-grace fallacy. I suggest that your answer is based on an eccentrically selective look at the NT. In fact, the NT overwhelmingly presents Christianity as a FAITH that one appropriates by BELIEVING. This is not an occult teaching extracted out of Paul’s subtle doctrinal teaching, but starts with the Gospels, including everybody’s favorite verse–John 3:16. And speaking of John’s Gospel, see also John 1:7, 12; John 3:15-18, 36; John 6:29-36; John 6:40, 47; John 7:38-39; John 8:24; John 11:25-27; John 12:46-47; John 20:31. See also, e.g., Mark 1:15, 16:16-17; Luke 8:12-13. If you would find it edifying to see the four-page collection of NT proof texts, be sure to let me know and I’ll send them forthwith.If someone asks, “What must I do to be saved?”, the evangelist would prefer to be allowed more than a sound bite, and to be given an opportuntity for a decent answer, which, if successful, will culminate in baptism (Acts 16:33-34); BUT the evangelist’s answer to that question–“What must I do to be saved?”–will begin, “Believe ….” (Acts 16:32.)If I preach like Paul preached, then my detractors will claim that I am teaching, “Go ahead and sin, since God will forgive you.”If your detractors, on the other hand, say that you are teaching, “Merit heaven by doing good works,” then I propose your message does not much resemble Paul’s.

  • Dave Deavel

    Mr. Gustafson,Yes, interesting. I agree that St. Paul is and has been misinterpreted in the direction of cheap grace. That is why I chose to highlight his clear statements about works and their role in the last judgment. The whole interpretation of Paul as a cheap grace fellow is based on the misunderstanding that when he talks about works, many people think he is talking about the moral law, when in fact he is talking about Torah. This misunderstanding clogs up his clear teaching that moral behavior is the basis of judgment because that is the only true test of what a person believes–faith working through love. (This is yet another reason why he spends so much time telling people what’s ok and what’s not ok, morally–writing that tends to get disconnected from his teaching about salvation). This misunderstanding is why people wouldn’t think I sound like Paul. But he wasn’t always read this way, if you’ve ever read patristic commentaries on Paul, he is read as both a moral and a mystical writer.But as to your contention that one would get belief out of the Gospels or the Pastoral epistles, I think that comes from focusing on the belief lines at the expense of the lines which demand obedience and action. You quote mostly from John, a Gospel that includes just as much about doing the works of the Father. But the synoptics themselves are filled with moralism. See the entire Sermon on the Mount if you will. No, I think such a perspective on what the NT teaches and what one would get from it comes from being introduced to it in the Evangelical school of thought. Once one doesn’t think through the lens of the Evangelical interpretation and tries to read the New Testament one gets a very different picture. Or at least that’s been my experience and the experience of many I’ve known.

  • Thanks Louise, Mark, Arkanabar and all the others. I’ll snag that book, Louise – as soon as I finish all my other reading.