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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Mark Shea has an interesting dialog going on evangelical people asking Catholics “Are you a Christian?” as part of a Catholic-to-Baptist phrase book.
But the Evangelical does not mean that (usually) as a swipe against Catholics. Indeed, an Evangelical can and frequently does ask the same of any large "mainline" Church. He might even ask it of other Evangelicals. For he means (in translation) "Have you had a living encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you a disciple or just going through religious motions?" He means what a Catholic would mean by asking "Are you docile to the Holy Spirit? Are you serious about the teaching of Christ?" Heaven knows, readers on a blog like mine, who spend so much time discussing the difference between serious Catholic faith and AmChurch, know that one can be a Sim Christian. St. Ignatius of Loyola realized the same thing (about himself). So did Teresa of Avila. An Evangelical who asks "Are you a Christian?" is often as solicitous for your spiritual well-being as those great saints. But because the jargon is different, Catholics can take offense rather than hear the real question.
Most evangelicals can point to a point in their lives where they came to a saving faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savoir. In most evangelical churches, baptism and membership conditional upon such a faith in Jesus, while that level of belief isn’t stressed quite as strongly in non-evangelical churches, be they Catholic or mainliner Protestant. One bit of trouble dealing with certain evangelicals is pinning down a "born-again” experience. A common follow-up question to "Are you a Christian?" might be "How long have you been saved?" Not every believer, especially if you grow up in a baby-baptizing church, has a point where the can definitively say they came to know Jesus; many people (like Eileen) can't pinpoint a date, yet they do accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, having grown into a saving faith. If you sense a Baptist-type asking the question, a Catholic who's tight with the Lord and willing to be a bit cheeky might say "I'm Catholic. Before you try walking me through the Sinner's Prayer, I already accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior."

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