Apologetics, Questions, Issues
by Ed Vasicek
I am preparing to take a small role as an "expert defender"
for a cool website,
The Christian Defense.
This site exists to defend the Christian faith
(apologetics) and answer questions. For this month’s editorial, I thought I
would let you peruse two of my Internet discussions. These two happen to be
arranged in a question and answer format.
Question: I am very curious to hear from the Protestants who think that Catholics are not Christians. I would like to hear why. I am an atheist and believe that religion in general is a bunch of rhetoric designed to control people but I always like playing devil's advocate (no pun intended).
Ed’s Answer: Not only do we evangelicals think that many Catholics are not Christians, we also believe many Protestants (including many claiming to be evangelicals) are not Christians! Here is the answer to your question through an evangelical paradigm:
Of course a lot of the matter revolves around the term, "Christian." Do we mean a follower of Christ's philosophy? Do we mean a church attender? Do we mean someone who has been baptized? Do we mean someone who has gone through an initiation process? Evangelicals usually define a "Christian" as one who has been born again by a commitment of faith to Jesus Christ.
We believe that unless a person turns from his/her sins and personally accepts Jesus Christ, believing He is the Son of God, that His death on the cross fully atoned (paid the debt) for our sins and that He rose again, they are not true Christians.
We do not believe being religious makes one a Christian any more than attending a baseball game makes one an athlete. Here is the key to our understanding: we must each personally covenant with God. Each one must be personally converted. We cannot inherit salvation (being right with God), we cannot merit it. We may not always know when we crossed the threshold from rebellion against God to faith in Him, but we know the present result of a living faith. God saves us by grace (His gift of undeserved merit which He attributes to us when we repent and believe). When we come to know Christ, we receive a new inclination to serve Him, yet we retain our old sinful inclination as well. As we grow in spiritual maturity, we become more godly, though still falling short. But we do not "behave" to get to heaven; we want to please God because we have this new nature.
So we acknowledge that some Catholics and some Protestants are true Christians, and we can only go by how clear an individual's understanding is and his claim. Only God can see the heart. But we would argue that anyone who is saved is saved because they have accepted Christ, not because of religious ritual or participating in any church.
Since Catholics often understand faith to be the practice of religion, rather than personal trust, most evangelicals rightly believe that the official Catholic doctrine is false, and that those who trust in their own goodness or ability to atone for their own sins on the basis of sacraments and good works are not fully depending upon the work of Christ. This belief (that we are saved by our good works or rituals) is also unfortunately the popular belief of many Protestants, and, in some denominations, their stated belief.
The Reformation began with a return to the Biblical teaching that God saves us by His grace through faith alone (our personal dependence upon the work of Christ). Catholicism officially believes God's grace is meted out a bit at a time through sacraments, and most of the sacraments are only potent if validated by a Catholic priest, which is called "sacerdotalism."
In Catholicism, a person needs the church to save his soul; in evangelical belief, the church is made up of those already saved. We need church life to help us grow, but not to save our souls. Christ directly saves our souls, apart from any priesthood. Therefore, Protestants do not have priests, except for Episcopalians who resemble the Catholic belief system but refer to their clergy as pastors (shepherds) or ministers (servants). But pastors have no special caste but are equal to other godly Christians, the difference being a sense of calling and training.
Therefore, we believe those who are truly depending upon Christ, who have a true personal relationship with Him, are true Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant. In some cases, church attenders are hearing a true proclamation in church, and in others a false one. But we believe many Catholics are saved despite what their church teaches, and many Protestants, including many professing to be evangelicals, are lost despite what their church teaches.
Many evangelicals like myself are not worried about getting to heaven: we have the assurance that we are. Our obsession is to live a life that glorifies God.
Question: In your own opinion, "Why do you think we Christians still sin?" I mean Jesus went through a brutal death just for us. They beat Him, spit on Him, they were so mean to Him, and yet by the blood of Jesus Christ we are saved. Since He died on the cross for your sins and mine, why do you think we continue to sin when we are suppose to be Christlike...?
Ed’s Answer: Sin has never been logical. When Lucifer first sinned in Isaiah 14, he thought he could be like God, an insane thought. Once sin affects a being, he or she is no longer completely reasonable. Since we are born with a sinful nature and therefore corrupted, we are described in Ecclesiastes chapter 9 and verse 9: "The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil, and there is madness in their hearts while they live...."
When we accept Christ, God does not repair our old sinful nature; He gives us a new nature. That old nature, however, keeps putting up a fight. This is what we call the conflict between the "flesh" (old nature) and the "spirit" (new nature), of which Paul writes in Romans 6 and 7.
So, although we CAN at times be reasonable, people—even believers—are often illogical and inconsistent. We even sabotage ourselves so that we do not feel quite as guilty when we sin, which is why Romans 13:14 warns us, "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh."
Sin brings us temporary escape, pleasure, or perhaps most of all, comfort. Sometimes it becomes enslaving (addictive). As we mature in the Lord, we will sin less, but we will never become sinless on earth (1 John 1:8). As a matter of fact, we frequently sin unconsciously while we are walking with the Lord; God graciously cleanses us from those sins (1 John 1:7). We should confess our conscious sins so that we can restore our fellowship with God (1 John 1:9).
Reprinted from the June 2005 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA