Thursday, March 06, 2003

Catholic Evangelicals?- I might start a food fight with this one. In a recent article, Cal Thomas posited this definition of evangelical
...one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and who has repented of sin and accepted Jesus as his or her savior. The evangelical believes he has the privilege and obligation to share the "good news" that Jesus came to save sinners with others so they might go to heaven rather than hell.
Carl Olson over at Envoy has this rejoinder
It's not a bad definition, but it seems a bit broad and self-serving. After all, a good many Catholics and Orthodox could accept that definition (as long as being baptized is understood as an acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior). But there are many "evangelical Christians" who certainly wouldn't accept Catholics as such. In addition, this definition fits Fundamentalists, but there are some serious differences between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism — even though some of those differences can be difficult to define with clarity.
One of the problems is that of the assumptions of the two camps. Catholics, Orthodox and most mainline Protestants practice child baptism and then "confirm" the youths' faith once they get old enough to make a decision. However, that faith is assumed in many churches. Some churches do take a strong effort to see to it that the youth truly does know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In many others the confirmation process assembly-lines all the kids of the standard age through the process, and a personal faith isn't much of an issue; my Methodist church growing up was one of them. For evangelicals (which for the moment I'll include Fundamentalists in), baptism comes at the time one is ready to declare themselves a follower of Jesus; elementary-school aged children are eligible only if they can independently express a personal faith in Jesus as Lord. From that perspective, infant baptism isn't enough to give someone Evangelical creds. Thus, Evangelicals will answer the question whether a Catholic or mainliner is a believer is to ask them (and sometimes the questions get awkwardly phrased) if they have a personal faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Some mainliners, like Eileen, evolved into that faith and can't pinpoint a day where they accepted Jesus, but have such a faith. Just because you go to a church doesn't make you a believer. Baptism, as far as I understand it, is something believers do, not something that makes you a believer. Asking that tacky question "have you personally accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior" makes for awkward times, but quite a few Catholics meet that standard.
A while back I attempted such a definition in response to e-mails from Catholics upset that I had the nerve to criticize the Left Behind books. I wrote: I define Fundamentalists as conservative Protestants who believe Catholics are not Christian, while Evangelicals are conservative Protestants who, while having reservations about certain points of doctrine, do believe Catholics are Christian. If those definitions seem too simple or glib, please consider my logic. There is a growing and ever-increasing conflict within conservative American Protestantism, and it has to do with three things: the Catholic Church, Catholicism, and Catholics. The dividing line is simple: Is the Catholic Church Christian? Is Catholicism Christian? Are Catholics Christian? Fundamentalists say no; Evangelicals say yes.
I think the key difference between the two camps is the greater stress on doctrine and separatism within fundamentalists. Evangelicals are more willing to agree to disagree on doctrinal points beyond basics of salvation. Is the Catholic Church Christian? Rephrased-"Is the Catholic Church far enough away from Biblical doctrine to be considered non-Christian?" A fundamentalist, with tighter definitions and a doctrine of separatism, would say no, while an Evangelical would tend to hedge their bets. Evangelicals would tend to look on a parish-by-parish, priest-by-priest basis, seeing whether the Gospel is actually preached and a personal relationship with God focused on. On the whole, I'd say yes, but that is one my blog brethren can disagree on. Is Catholicism Christian? Rephrased-"Is Catholicism far enough away from Biblical doctrine to be considered non-Christian?" Again, the fundamentalist would tend to say no based on a tighter theology, why the Evangelical would say it's a flawed form of Christianity. I'd argue that we can access God on our own and don't need a priest as a mediator, that the lack of eternal security of the believer makes them works oriented and that the emphasis of saints and Mary get in the way of worshiping God. That being said, quite a few people make their way to Christ in that setting; the things that I say get in the way of finding Jesus might help others find the way. Are Catholics Christian?-Both camps would say "Not as a group." Hold your fire, I could ask "Are Baptists Christians?" and say the same thing. If a Catholic or a Baptist knows Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, they are. In evangelical circles, "Christian" takes on the definition of "one who knows Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior," so that nominal believers don't get granted the unmodified title. It leads to awkward phrasing, like "He was a Catholic before he became a Christian." However, once we understand where each is coming from, the dialog might go smoother.

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