Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just "religious" enough

When I pastored a small church in a small town, we did some door-to-door evangelism. I had crafted a questionnaire, and an early version of How Can I Know God?

We knocked, very politely asked for some time, asked our questions, asked if we could leave the booklet and come back to talk about it. The results surprised me. Almost everyone said "Yes" at each point.

Except one sort of person. What sort? Roman Catholics.

Now you must understand: these were not churchgoing people. They had very little involvement with the RCC. But they had been "baptized Catholic" as babies, and they were by-golly Catholics. Not in any way that affected their lives, but Catholics.

Just Catholic enough to be unwilling to listen to the Gospel.

It was sad, tragic. They'd been inoculated with religion, and were Gospel-proof. I use "religion" here not in the sense of a system of belief that serves and worships God, but in the sense of a manmade set of rules and notions by which it is imagined that God will be won over. These poor souls thought their tradition had settled the most important question hanging over their soul for them, so they didn't actually need to think about it.

I've seen the same with Jews. As I argue in the post to which this is a companion-piece, no Jew practices Mosaic religion. Can't be done. Some few do their earnest best to approximate, but the vast majority have worldviews and lives utterly unrelated to the whole teaching of the whole Old Testament, built almost wholly on human tradition. A great many are outright atheists. But they're still Jewish!

Just Jewish enough to be unwilling to listen to the Gospel.

In both cases, the irony is bitter. What has long struck me about the sorts of Jews I write about at Pyro is their blithe willingness to dismiss Jewish Christians not being "really Jewish." Here's the specific irony I have in mind:
  • The average self-identifying Jew regards the 39 books of the Old Testament as a human book, full of errors, in no way binding on their conscience nor dominant in forming their worldview.
  • The average Messianic Jew affirms the 39 books of the Old Testament as being precisely what those books claim to be: the wholly-true, binding, God-breathed verbal revelation of God.
So, the unbeliever brands the believer as an unbeliever. The Bible-rejecter smugly dismisses the Bible-accepter.

What's wrong with this picture?

Religion kills. What a tragedy, to be just religious enough to be lost forever.

"You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me;  and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life" (John 5:39-40 NAS)

12 comments:

SolaMommy said...

It's amazing and sad how nominal RC's cling to their baptism for salvation, even when they reject almost every other teaching of the RCC. My BFF is like that. I have shared the gospel with her countless times over the years and she continues to reject it b/c it's not what she grew up with. She is also determined to raise her future kids in the RCC even though it means very little to her. How true that religion kills.

Stan McCullars said...

I, too, have had that experience except for the part of pastoring a small church.

trogdor said...

How many other similarities between RCC and Judaism are there? The separation between priests and mundanes, the perpetually ineffective sacrifices, ritual drowning out faith, circumcision/paedobaptism, inaccessibility of God...

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "So, the unbeliever brands the believer as an unbeliever. The Bible-rejecter smugly dismisses the Bible-accepter.

What's wrong with this picture?

Religion kills. What a tragedy, to be just religious enough to be lost forever."


Wow. You unpacked your whole thesis masterfully, and culminated it into the above.

I never thought of it as you have described, and now that you have described it, it makes perfect and amazing sense.

Man! That was powerful. Danke, danke, danke.

Chris Poe said...

There are legions who are "just Baptist enough" or fill in the blank with just about any other denomination, sect, etc.

This problem is particularly pernicious in areas like the Bible Belt where religious identification is generally high. Some will be receptive to the message, while others are rushing headlong toward destruction, trusting in some work they performed or was performed on their behalf, not realizing their true condition.

(I had posted a much longer comment, but got an error when trying to submit, so apparently it was lost.)

Gary said...

I think the problem (for nominal RCs) is that they are given entrance into the covenant community, the church, and they think that means "salvation." I'm pretty sure the RCC doesn't consider that salvation, though.

One can see similar problems with people who think that praying the sinner's prayer confers salvation without repentance. Or who put their faith in any other sort of conversion experience instead of a living faith in the one they are converting to.

Sir Aaron said...

I always thought it was ironic that Jews put more faith in the Talmud than they do the actual Scriptures.

Trogdor: I've heard another pastor make the comparison between RCC and Judiasm before. It is quite similar.

Solamommy: how can you have a best friend who is not a Christian?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Gary: "I think the problem (for nominal RCs) is that they are given entrance into the covenant community, the church, and they think that means "salvation." I'm pretty sure the RCC doesn't consider that salvation, though."

Have you ever heard of the RCC doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus?

Stefan said...

Maybe (just maybe) the similarity is partly based on the idea that Judaism is our religion (or for Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox, "Christianity" is our religion), and who are you as a Christian (in the former case) or a Protestant (in the latter case) to tell us what we should believe about our own religion?

I know that's the case for Jewish people when dealing with Christians (like myself, once), and I would suspect that it may be a latent idea (though maybe not so fully formed among lay folks) among Catholics and Orthodox as well.

John said...

I agree with the comment by Chris about people being just "Baptist" enough. I have many friends and family members who are "christian" because they went to church at one point in their lives or got baptized as a baby. They are so hard to witness to because they think that they are all set to go to heaven because they are good people. They think I'm in a cult or something because I believe that there should be fruit in a Christian's life.

Rita Martinez said...

The thing is it's easier to think "well i got baptized and if I do enough good works or receive my last rites i'll go somewhere nice and be with my family, cause no one is is going to hell..no god would do such a thing..." Which is what those kind of roman catholics usually think, that kind of thinking calms the conscience.
I've never shared the gospel with a Jew, but I have with many roman catholics and you really just have to shake their "foundation". Although here people are way more open to the gospel, practicing roman catholics and non-practicing roman catholics alike, I'd say the least open to the gospel here are atheist.

SolaMommy said...

Sir Aaron, b/c we became best friends in high school before I became a Christian. I wasn't going to ditch her! But I don't go out drinking with her or anything like that...when we're together we talk about our families and lives and I have always been very up front with her about my faith. We're not as close as we used to be, and in reality my husband is my BFF...but I still consider Liz to be my best girlfriend. It is tremendously hard to find women my age in solid churches (and there are none in my church) and I have found that I get dragged down much easier by "Christian" friends who are too friendly with the world than I do by flat-out unbelievers.