What Catholics Can Learn From Others
Whatever label you use to identify yourself spiritually, we hope that your relationship with Jesus defines you first and foremost.
That was our focus last week in this two-part series called “Building Bridges.” Last week we talked about “What We Can Learn from Catholics” and today we’re taking a look at “What Catholics Can Learn from Others.” To kick things off, I’d like us to hear from a couple of people to get their insights on Catholicism and building bridges. Let’s watch this video together.
It’s important that you know our goal in this series is to build bridges and not create more barriers. We come together in the unity of Jesus Christ and the humility of Christ. We’re not in the “church-bashing business.” We want to see people unite together in Christ. So last week we showed appreciation for our roots and heritage in the “one, holy, catholic (meaning universal), apostolic church.” We are grateful for the preservation of Scripture and for the preservation of the historic teachings of the faith. We’re also grateful for the Catholics’ emphasis upon the awe and reverence for God and for their value of the communion of saints. We can learn from these values of the Catholic Church.
So today we’re going to go a little bit deeper in looking at some next steps in moving forward in our common faith in Jesus Christ. This is where we need to have great sensitivity and respect, because we’re treading on personal beliefs as we look at areas where we want to challenge all of us—Catholic, Protestant, or whatever label you may go by—to grow in a deeper, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I came across a story about a man named Ole who quit farming and moved into town. He discovered he was the only Lutheran in his new town of all Catholics. That was okay, but the neighbors had a problem with his barbecuing beef every Friday. They were not allowed to eat red meat on Fridays, but the tempting aroma was getting the best of them. So they got together and confronted Ole. “Ole,” they said, “since you are the only Lutheran in this whole town and there’s not a Lutheran church for many miles, we think you should join our church and become a Catholic.” Ole thought about it for a minute and decided they were right. Ole talked to the priest, and they arranged it. The big day came, and the priest had Ole kneel. He put his hand on Ole’s head and said, “Ole, you were born a Lutheran, you were raised a Lutheran, and now,” he said as he sprinkled some water over Ole’s head, “you are a Catholic!” Both Ole and the neighbors were happy. But the following Friday evening, the aroma of grilled beef still wafted from Ole’s yard. The neighbors went to talk to him about this, and as they approached the fence they heard Ole saying something strangely familiar to the steak: “You were born a beef, you were raised a beef, and now” he said as he sprinkled salt over the meat, “You are a fish!”
So what are some ways we can learn from one another—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—that go a little deeper than Ole’s conversion from being a Lutheran to a Catholic?
1. Take time to read and study the Bible
Whether you are a Catholic or not, it appears that many Christians rely more on what a priest or religious leader says about the Bible rather than getting into Bible study on their own to discover God’s Word for personal life application. I’ve talked to some religious leaders who actually have a fear that if someone studies the Bible on his or her own, that person can get it wrong! Well, guess what?? Religious leaders can get it wrong, too! Yes, we need to teach people how to study the Bible, and, yes, it’s important that we study the Bible as part of the consensus fidellium--that is, the consensus of the faithful throughout history. Cults do get started out of someone that comes up with some hair-brained idea of what some obscure passage means, and people are all too willing to jump on the bandwagon. But that fear shouldn’t keep us (religious leaders) from keeping you from reading and studying the Bible!
But this is a caution for all of us, isn’t it? The Bible itself says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Psalmist says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9). He goes on to write, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11).
This first point is to challenge all of us to make sure that we are personally reading and studying the Bible on a daily basis. I love how Psalm 1 describes the blessed man who delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. The Hebrew word translated as “meditates” is the same root word that that describes a lion devouring its prey. That’s what we should be doing with the Word of God—devouring it into the very fiber of our being.
A Catholic scholar once wrote, “[We] Catholics have finally realized, as one priest said, that the Bible is also a sacrament, the first that is truly do-it-yourself, and not the private property of the Church.” (Thomas Geoghegan, “Confessions of a ‘Practicing’ Catholic,” The New Republic [Sept. 30, 1985]).
So let’s just make this personal. Let’s take this out of the abstract and put it where it really counts: Question #1: How are you doing in STUDYING the Bible? The more you get into the Word, the more the Word gets into you. Evaluate yourself in this area, and if you’re one of those people who sets a Bible on a coffee table just to collect dust, maybe this is an area for personal growth.
2. Discover the priesthood of all believers
This simply refers to the fact that in the biblical view every single Christian is a minister or a priest. When Jesus spoke His words to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), He wasn’t saying that to just the clergy but to all of His followers of all time. There are some in the church gifted as leaders, and Paul says they should lead. There are some gifted in administration, and they should administrate. There are many gifts in the Body of Christ, but we are all called to be ministers—which is a word that simply means servants. What started out as some people being called to preach led to only the “paid professionals” doing the ministry. And then only the “paid professionals” were able to say the words of institution over the Eucharist or communion. And then only the “paid professionals” could do the baptizing. But that’s not the way it started in the New Testament. That’s why at E91 we even have youth serving communion and helping out in children’s ministry.
You see, we’re all in this thing called Christianity together. This why Peter says to all Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).
Over the past twenty plus years, I’ve spoken with a number of Catholics and even priests who stress this point. But just as I mentioned with studying the Bible, this really comes down to the very practical level of asking the question: Question #2: What is your area of MINISTRY? That’s why we offer “Spiritual DNA” seminars—to help people learn more about their spiritual gifts and how God has wired them to serve others. The Bible says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
So we’re all in this together. So what is your role? Can you identify your gifts? If not, then I hope you’ll come to this next series, because we’re going to be focusing in on spiritual gifts and each one finding our role in the Body of Christ.
3. Emphasize grace more than guilt
As I’ve talked with many Catholics, this is one area that seems to come up perhaps more than any others. A lot of people live in guilt where we think that God is some mean ogre in the sky who’s just waiting for us to mess up so He can punish us. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
We want to be known as a grace community where it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve messed up [back to 3. Emphasize grace…] or how badly you’ve messed up, God’s love reaches out to you through Jesus Christ and you can be forgiven and made new. This is the Gospel—which means the Good News. But in order for us to receive the Good News, we need to understand the bad news. The bad news is that we’re all broken, messed up, lost, and spiritually bankrupt because of our sin. That word “sin” in the NT means “to miss the mark,” and we’ve all missed the mark. And the consequence for missing the mark is death—spiritual death for all of eternity. We are hopeless without Jesus Christ. So that’s the bad news. But the Good News is that in spite of our sin, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die the death we should have died, so that we can live the life He calls us to live! It sounds so simple that even a child can do this, and they can! We can acknowledge our brokenness and lostness to God, and ask Jesus to come into our lives, and His grace covers over us and transforms us!
To be honest, it sounds too good to be true! That’s why it’s grace. We can’t earn it, and we definitely don’t deserve it. But isn’t it wonderful to realize that God loves us anyway? “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
So let’s do a quick heart-check in this area as well: Catholic or non-Catholic—Question #3: Do you live by GRACE more than guilt? Do you find yourself trying to earn your way into heaven? Do you think if you just do a little bit more that somehow God is going to love you just a little bit more? Well, you know what? God loves you fully right now—regardless of who you are or what you’ve done. The issue now is to give your life completely to Him and then to live out that grace through the power of His Spirit. What does that mean? That means you recognize that you’re not in control of your life anymore—God is. That means you’re willing to stop trying to live life on your own and you give your life over to Jesus Christ—heart, soul, mind and strength.
I was talking a while back with a man who said he reached a point in his life where nothing was going right—his marriage was falling apart, his job was stressful and didn’t bring him any fulfillment, and he was empty and lonely inside. At that point in your life, do you realize that it doesn’t matter anymore whether you’re Catholic or Protestant? What matters is that your heart hurts, your life is at a dead end, and you don’t know what to do next. It’s at that point that you find yourself saying, “God, I don’t know about this whole Catholic/Non-Catholic deal, but what I do know is that I’ve made a mess of my life, and I want to give it all over to you.” Are you ready to do that? That’s what you can do right now. It’s not about your religion; it’s about your relationship with Jesus Christ. Are you ready for that relationship? Are you ready to invite Jesus Christ into your life to be your Lord and Savior? If you have already done that, are you ready to take next steps in deepening and strengthening your relationship with Jesus Christ?