Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Makes a Real Christian?

This post is not meant to point fingers at Protestants - in fact I learned my best Christology from a Protestant (although in all fairness we should remind ourselves that the best in Protestant scholarship is only recently discovering points of Christology which the Church has been teaching for centuries). But any way you look at it, you have to admit that mainstream evangelicalism has skewed the image of Christ beyond recognition. At some point the law of non contradiction has to kick in and say if they are Christian - Roman Catholics aren't.

I'm talking about the people who view Jesus as a Heavenly teddy bear. He is the one in Heaven who understands all your fears and cares intimately for all your emotions and is totally about forgiveness, love and mercy. These are the ones whose songs almost always refer to Him as a possession of theirs "my Jesus" or sing otherwise ridiculous lyrics like "Shine Jesus Shine". The way this movement of sentimentalism thinks and talks about Christ is it any wonder secularists refer to Him as an imaginary friend for grown ups? Their Jesus IS an imaginary friend. He bears no resemblance to the suffering Servant/conquering King/ Lord of Creation we read about in the Scriptures.

Their gospel bears no more resemblance to the gospel handed to us by the apostles than does their image of Christ to the historical One. They teach a gospel of faith alone - explicitly condemned in the book of James. They reject the sacraments instituted by Christ Himself. (They call this rejection "understanding the sacraments differently" - the Gnostics also had a phrase for it). They entertain the erroneous tendencies of nearly every early heresy - most notably Nestorianism, Montanism and various forms of neo-Platonic Gnosticism and eventually even Catharism.

I had a teacher in school remark about Roman Catholics once (I grew up in the Protestant South). One student said "I thought Roman Catholics were just like Christians" she looked at him strangely and scoffed "No. Roman Catholicism is as different from Christianity as Islam is". She associated Protestantism (the Christianity she knew) with true "Christianity". And she was right about one thing - there are huge irreconcilable differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. In fact, it seems to me that one could go as far as to say if one is true Christianity the other isn't. If Protestantism is true, Methodists and Baptists represent two (or rather hundreds of) different ways to be Christian and Roman Catholicism represents one way of getting the whole thing terribly wrong. If Catholicism is true, Methodists and Baptists are two (or again, rather hundreds of different) heretical factions that have retained some elements of truth but have rejected much of true Christianity.

What is a Christian? One who follows Christ right? What difference does it make if group A follows Him in a radically different way than group B? I think it is clear, Jesus' primary mission was salvation and to offer this to a fallen world. So it seems both groups got the fundamental part right. So did the Gnostics. Are they Christian? If so, what honor is the title anymore if it can be so loosely designated as to even apply to blatant heretics?

It seems Eastern Orthodox have a more difficult time viewing Protestants as Christian than Catholics do. Without the sacraments what meaning does the title have?

But the Church has spoken, the Protestants do have a valid sacrament - Baptism. They are baptized into the Church but in an imperfect communion. Some Protestants (like Anglicans) look a whole lot more like the Church in form than others (like Baptists or non-denominationalists). My point in a recent discussion with an Anglican, Phil Snider is that full reconciliation of Christianity can come about in only one way - all Christians returning to full communion with Rome. (It is important to remember that they all were once in full communion and thereby must return as the Holy Spirit has been especially active in calling fallen away brethren like myself to return over the past few decades).

Perhaps the General is sounding His trumpet for battle or perhaps as time moves on history is continuously proving what the Catholics warned would happen at Martin Luther's first inkling of dissent. At any rate, I hope more separated Christians turn from their errors and embrace the fullness of the Christian faith.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you a "Christian?"

I have only been on your site a few times, each time I read your writings I feel like you are so judgemental and harsh! Perhaps your attempts to "prove" should be communicated with a more "gentle" approach.

What is your testimony??? What is your conversion story??? Have the beliefs you have now always been a part of you? Do you use this site as a ministry or just a place to get YOUR point across?

Yes, this is your site, please remember it is wide open for all to see and read. Do you find your site brings GLORY TO GOD? Would He be pleased with your writings??

I would like to draw your attention to another blog I read. I pray for this young family daily.
This family has been faced with what many say is the hardest struggle in life- loss of a child!

Again, I am NOT fully aware of your testimony story, but I read about your RELIGIOUS beliefs every now and again. I am curious, would you feel the same when faced with a major trial? Perhaps YOUR FAITH has pulled you through already and that is what has brought you to where you are.

Thank you for sharing thus far. I am sorry in advance if I have created any STIR, not my intentions at all, just being honest.

The site I would like to share is www.conorbootheandgirls.blogspot.com

joseph said...

Tim,

Perhaps you should have used the last paragraph as an intro and a conclusion. The first half of your post reminded me alot of what I heard and read from Russian Orthodox Christians in their utter intolerance of Protestants.

Just my thoughts. It was a little harsh.

Thos said...

Anonymous,

The best part of blogging is that we can challenge each other's views and hold each other accountable (one of the worst parts is the relative anonymity of the process). Proof is proof, and some people are ill suited at "gentle" -- and often readers plainly miss gentle. I recommend challenging the substance of Tim's post where it is lacking in veracity. I've often encountered those seeking "testimony" and "conversion story" to prove another's faith. We all have a story, but not necessarily a conversion story. I was raised in the church and have been with Jesus since a babe. I couldn't tell you my conversion story. Is it your opinion, then, that I'm not a Christian?

Tim,

Hey, straightforward and harsh are often not far apart. From my perspective (and you know I'm on the other side of the aisle as you), this was straightforward.

I thought it was an interesting post. The question is a valid one, since there is a prevalent view within devout Protestantism (often called evangelicalism) that Catholics, at least all but a very few that don't fully understand the Roman Catholic Church, are not saved (and they would include an educated Catholic as yourself as not saved, ergo not Christian). It seems like a reciprocal view from devout Catholics of Protestants who fully understand what it is we stand for would be fair.

I was thinking about the word "Christian" the other day. Where it's like the word "Kantian", it shouldn't have to mean more than 'one who (or a view which) follows the teachings of Christ'. That's a comfortably loose definition for discussions such as this one. Baptists who try to apply Christ's philosophy (the Perfection of all Truth), say, the Sermon on the Mount, to their lives, should be able to say they're "Christian" just as much as the Presbyterian or the Catholic who tries to live that way.

But of course, we far more commonly use the word in reference to those who are of the Body of Christ, those who are "saved." And (I note with irony), since the various "Christian" groups have widely varying definitions of what being "saved" means, we should have widely varying views about who is "Christian". And if THAT is the case, it would be a shame were we dishonest about this. If I *really* believe that you are not saved, so not a Christian, I would be a horrible friend and Christian to let you think I consider you to be my brother. The open approach would be to say "I love you because Christ loves you, and I don't believe you're a Christian" (this is not my view, Tim, as you know).

All that to say, I'm on board with the substance of your post, insofar as that's what you're getting at. Why can't we be open with each other for better discourse?

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Sounds like I struck a nerve somewhere.

Anonymous - you asked am I a Christian. By my own definition, "one who follows Christ" you could make a very good case for the negative. My life and actions are a pretty dismal distortion of the true obedience the gospel calls us to.

So I have no need or intention of defending myself against your implications. I am continually told that I'm too harsh in what I say and I'm not diplomatic - the fact is I just don't know how to be more diplomatic than I am. I mean it's something I have to work at.

Now as for being judgmental I am certainly judgmental as I consistently bring up in the confessional booth... But this isn't the confessional booth so I don't know how you would have known that. I criticized the doctrines of others (like Calvin and Luther) and I will continue to do so. I never once spoke about the condition of their soul.

John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded for being "judgmental" telling Herod that it was unlawful to marry his brother's wife. Now I'm by no means comparing myself to John the Baptist but bringing out a point that is important - 'judge not that you be not judged' doesn't mean 'don't recognize or talk about doctrinal errors'. Look at the greatest saints of the Church - Polycarp on meeting Marcion called him the "first born of Satan" to his face for his doctrinal errors. St. Nicolaus punched a heretic in the face and I needn't speak of how Athanasius intended to 'judge' those who dissented from the Catholic Church.

So I'm being quite generous in comparison to those fellows. My tactics are .. well a bit tactless.

"What is your testimony??? What is your conversion story???"

My conversion story (from Protestant to Catholic) is on the side bar though I've been told its among the worst things Ive written and I believe it.

"Have the beliefs you have now always been a part of you?"

My beliefs have evolved over the years as I learned and grew and many changed dramatically over the last 2 years as I conformed my personal opinions to the best of my ability (and still am) to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

"Do you use this site as a ministry or just a place to get YOUR point across?"

Are those two necessarily mutually exclusive? Did you reply to my post as ministry or to get your point across? Isn't the entire reason for saying or writing anything to express "your point"? Of course everything I write here is reflective of what I think or believe on a certain subject. I don't see any way of getting around that. I can't very well start writing posts that I don't agree with.

To be honest I started this blog to hash out my own thoughts on the Catholic doctrine and to defend the Church against repeated baseless claims being hurled at it by Protestants.

So thanks for the comments - I probably needed it.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Thos - you bring up another good point of discussion. When we say "Christian" is it necessarily synonymous with "saved"? I prefaced all of this in my discussion with Phil that I was not intending to discuss who was in Heaven or Hell.

I was talking about Mormons and said I even expect and hope to see many of them in Heaven. But can we call them Christian? If we can call them Christian, then how about Jehovah's Witnesses? How about Muslims since they believe in Christ... Where is the line drawn?

And just because someone is a "Christian" does that make them go to heaven? And just because someone is in Heaven, does that mean they were a Christian on earth?

Thats really what I'm trying to get at. There is a lot of variance in terminology - especially between Protestants & Catholics/Orthodox. We tend to call anyone validly baptized a Christian. Protestants (in my experience) tend to use the phrases "Christian" and "saved" interchangeably. It can get a bit confusing.

joseph said...

Tim,

Your response to anonymous was sufficient enough for me to remove my rating of "harsh". Now it's provocative and informational, with a twist.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tim, I appreciate your answers. I must admit I was a little apprehensive in checking back for fear you may have totally chewed me up and spit me out. I am so grateful for the "gentle" approach in your answers.

To the rest of you guys who commented, you fellas are quick! Do you just sit around and wait to comment on the next comment. Seriously, this was all answered in just a couple of hours. That IS fast. I can't get answers that fast from my hubby, ever!!! I am so excited to share with my hubby that men hang out on blogs all day too!!! Just kidding!

Again, thanks!!! Perhaps someday I will be brave enough to post my name.

Abundant Blessings!!!

Tim A. Troutman said...

Anonymous - blogs have stolen enough money in company time to feed the continent of Africa.

I'm usually not this active during the day on blogs (and I shouldn't be) but just got really locked into this discussion.

Thanks for your input.

Kokayi said...

Wow. I had no idea such rigorous debate occurred in blog sites. Forgive me for being a newcomer to the scene. Thank you for being so serious.

Question: Concerning the Gnostics and those who take a "mystical" approach to the Master's teachings, what is your analysis of their perspective in relationship to Catholicism?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Koyaki, thanks for chiming in and welcome to the addicting blogosphere.

Gnosticism is so broad that it can be hard to make sweeping statements that apply universally.

Gnostics didn't claim moral relativism or private interpretation of Scriptures but rather in many cases claimed the same thing that the Catholic Church did - there is ONE right way to read the Scriptures and they alone know it. In Gnosticism it was the secret wisdom and in Catholicism it was the apostolic tradition.

But they both knew the correct way because of the same reason - the apostles passed on the correct way of reading to them. Marcion was a bit of anomaly (and despite all the similarities, he's not usually lumped in with the Gnostics anyhow) in that he thought even most of the disciples (except Paul) had gone astray.

So at such an early stage in the Christian Church, I think Gnosticism has to be dealt with decisively. They too believed in Christ but believed in a radically different God than orthodox Christianity did. The best discussion of this that I know of is in Pelikan's Emergence of Catholic Tradition Volume I.

The Gnostics believed that the God of the OT and the creation of matter was part of the evil which Jesus came to defeat. Jesus, sent from the true God (higher than the 'demiurge' or God of the OT) came to teach us the secret knowledge of how to be freed from the material prison known as the body. This system is wholly incompatible with orthodox Catholicism.

The Catholic Church taught a continuity of the OT with the NT. The Jewish fathers of the Church would have conceived of no other concept even Paul. And historically, only that makes sense. As modern scholarship proves repeatedly that the historic Jesus must be placed in a thoroughly Jewish context, so too any decent scholarship must place the early Jewish fathers in the same.

I know you didn't ask for all that but I thought I'd ramble. I probably didn't even answer your question.

Gretchen said...

Yes, a provocative post. I, too, have a hard time tempering my blog at times. What came to mind for me when you were talking about the differences between Protestants and Catholics was the differences in outlook that the 12 disciples had. Tax collector, fishermen, zealot, etc. They were all so different. But their love for Jesus bound them together, and the Savior said we would know his followers by the love they have toward one another. This is one thing that attracted me to the Catholic Church--I saw so much hate from non-Catholic Christians directed toward it that it set me wondering why Catholics don't hate Protestants in the same way. Anyway, I appreciate your forthrightness.

Amy said...

Tim, I have to disagree with your definition of "Christian" :)

Christos is the Greek word for messiah, and messiah is Hebrew for "anointed." Saul and David were both "messiahs" because they were anointed by Samuel, and the Holy Spirit descended on them (or "came mightily upon them").

Jesus was anointed at His baptism, and all of the gospel accounts indicate the presence of all three persons of the Trinity: Jesus is there (obviously! :)), God the Father speaks, and the dove represents the Holy Spirit.

When we're baptized, we become "anointed ones" also, and that's when we can call ourselves Christians (anointed ones). All baptisms using the Trinitarian formula are valid baptisms. Mormon baptisms aren't valid because they don't believe in the Trinity, and don't baptize using the formula Jesus gave us (Mt 28:19)

Anonymous said...

Tim:
Your "judgemental and harsh" postings
can't hold a match to the things said and done towards us on some of the non-Catholic blogs I have stopped reading.
Are we supposed to think statements like "Catholics have never possessed the gospel" are gentle? When we are told directly that we are not brothers in Christ because we don't accept their peculiar view of penal substitutionary atonement? Should we say that we are being treated gently?

When a Catholic tells it like it is, they are "harsh and judgemental," when a non-Catholic Christian bashes the Catholic Church, they are just "preaching the gospel." The double standard that exists in the blabbosphere regarding Catholic/Protestant relations is unfortunate.

Vic Romero said...

" . . . they will know they are Christians by their charity for one another . . ."

Phil Snider said...

I think even the question is an unwise one to ask in the context of the Protestant-Catholic divide. It really doesn't serve much explanitory value and it is too easy to dismiss the contributions of other followers of Christ, whose emphases and understanding of Jesus is different from our own.

The simple fact is that the image of Jesus as friend is also an image that is Scriptural. Certainly, his behavior to the Apostles is one of teacher, but also of friend. I think it unwise and possibly dangerous to deny this aspect completely. It belongs in your list of attributes of God.

That said, like any other image, it can be trivialized and sentementalised quite easy. We could multiply examples of evangelical tastelessness and kitsch quite easily, although I would be compelled to call to mind similar examples in Roman Catholic circles. The subjects are different, but trivialization is all too common.

What is the source of this sentamentalism in evangelical sources is, of course, the stress on the personal experience of faith. That, I would argue is important because it is one way in which we can live in the incarnation of Jesus, by seeing him as part of our everyday life. That is no different from the Catholic insistence on intercession, except only in mode an expression. I agree some of this is tasteless in both circles, but the impulse isn't necessarily a bad one.

Second, what I think you are right that the multiplicity of Christian groups does raise real questions of authority. I've been arguing that for a long time as well. Yet, I don't think the answer is as simple as merely converting to Roman Catholicism because, from my stance, they are only one of the groups claiming to be the only true Church. If we are talking unity, I don't think this is a question of one right answer, but, of going back, and de-bugging where we all have screwed up and where we have denominationally screwed up and where we have individually screwed up. The solution, I think, is much more complicated than mere conversion to one version of the one, true, faith. I don't think any denomination has a lock on it because historically that has been proven to be untrue.

I hope that makes sense .

Peace,
Phil

TheDen said...

Hey Tim,

Wow! Is your post harsh? Maybe. Truthful? Mostly.

While I like songs like "Shine Jesus Shine" and "Shout to the Lord" (which I assume is the song you were referencing)and don't personally think there's anything wrong with them from a doctrinal point of view, I also understand that the songs don't paint a complete picture of Christ and His passion.

While we may not see the "fruits" of a person's Christianity, we also cannot see the relationship they have with Christ in their hearts.

IMHO, I don't think we need to spend our time contemplating who is a Christian. Writing about it in a blog in contemplation is one thing but to actively look at a person and try to determine if they are Christian is another. In my opinion, we're not called to do that. We are called to bring Christ to all people. We are called to deliver the Truth (no matter how harsh). We are called to tell the "Heavenly Teddy Bear Christians" about the sufferings and passion of Christ. We are called to reveal to the polemic Protestant how their views are wrong. We are called to tell the Catholic and non-Catholic sinner that they are sinning and that there is a better way through Jesus Christ and above all we are called to deliver the message of Christ to a secular world that is actively trying to suppress the message.

And we do it all lovingly for the greater glory of God.

Am I a Christian? I am when I'm following His will. I'm not when I'm following my own. If we see a person (and I mean all persons--Christian and non-Christian) not following Christ's plan then it's our duty to tell them so.

So, in summary, you ask the question, "what makes a real Christian?" I guess my answer is, "One who delivers Christ to others."

Tim A. Troutman said...

Theden - I agree.

Phil - I don't think the Roman Church is 'one of many' Churches claiming to be the one true holy Catholic and apostolic Church.

Besides the Eastern & Western Churches that actually do extend back to the apostles and both make this claim, there are only fringe groups making such a claim. Mormons make it.

Presbyterians don't though, neither do Baptists etc... They redefined the word "Church" so as to effectively avoid the question.

I don't think the Anglicans do either. And how could they? There is an objectively verifiable point in history at which their tradition began.

And as for Catholics being guilty of the sentimentalism that I was talking about in the post - if anything the average Catholic may be worse than the average Protestant. Sentimentalism is rampant in the Catholic Church as it is in Protestant communities.

But with the ever popular non-denominational sects and 'emerging church' movement, mainstream Protestantism is beginning to embrace this dangerous error as true doctrine essential to their faith. Almost everyone at my work would fall into this category and they all go to different mega "churches" throughout the city.

Mainstream evangelicalism is worshiping the golden calf (the Jesus in their imagination).

Anonymous said...

TheDen,

I agree with you too. Thank you for your comment, I have read it over several times. Sweet are your feet, kind one. Post like yours give me HOPE. PRAISE THE LORD!!! Yes, this is anonymous #1.
Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth!