E-mail from a Southern Baptist

by Steve Ray on June 15, 2011

I received an e-mail from a Southern Baptist today and decided to take a few minutes to respond. Thought others might be edifited by it so I have posted it here without using his name. His email is contained in regular text and MY RESPONSE IS IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

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HELLO FRIEND:

I WILL ANSWER BRIEFLY SINCE I GET OVER 100 EMAILS A DAY AND SOME ARE NOT ALWAYS HONEST — TRYING TO SET ME UP FOR AN ARGUMENT — BUG HOPEFULLY NOT YOUR E-MAIL. SO, I WILL TRUST YOU THAT YOUR ADMITTED INTEREST IS GENUINE AND I WILL ANSWER VERY BRIEFLY.

Dear Mr. Ray, I listened to a CD of yours,

WHICH ONE? I HAVE ABOUT 30.

but could not determine all of what you believe or find your Doctrinal Statement on the web.  What we believe is pretty important (I know you agree).  Do you have a Doctrinal Statement besides the Nicene Creed?

APOSTOLIC, NICENE, AND ATHANASIAN CREEDS. I USED TO SAY I HAD “NO CREED BUT THE BIBLE ALONE,” BUT EVEN PROTESTANTS CANNOT ACTUALLY DO THAT. THEY HAVE TO HAVE AN “EXTRA-BIBLICAL STATEMENT” TO ADD TO THE “BIBLE ALONE” TO EXPLAIN WHAT THEY BELIEVE BECAUSE THE BIBLE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ADEQUATE. BUT FOR ME NOW — FOR THE WHOLE SHABANG — MY STATEMENT OF FAITH IS CONTAINED IN “THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.”

Having been to 12 years of Catholic School, a faithful altar boy, a good catholic, and an x-president of the local CYO, I am not altogether unfamiliar with Catholicism (at least the Catholicism of the 1950s, 60s and 70s).

IF YOU WERE EDUCATED DURING THAT TIME FRAME, I HATE TO DISAPPOINT YOU BUT YOU ARE PROBABLY VERY UNFAMILIAR WITH CATHOLICISM. THAT WAS A VERY BAD PERIOD OF THE CHURCH — JUST LIKE IT WAS VERY BAD FOR US BAPTISTS RAISED DURING THAT TIME PERIOD.

I “got saved”, as Baptist like to say, at age 24 by reading the Bible (unheard of in my Catholic Church at that time).

MY GUESS, BASED ON GOOD EXPERIENCE, IS THAT YOU DIDN’T GET SAVED BY READING THE BIBLE ALONE BUT BY ACCEPTING A NEW AND NOVEL BAPTIST-ISH TRADITION AS COACHED BY SOME WELL-MEANING FUNDAMENTALIST — BASED ON THE BIBLE ALONE TRADITION WHICH IS VERY NEW ON THE RELIGIOUS SCENE AND NOT FOUND IN HISTORIC CHRISTIANITY.

So, from the Catholic perspective, since I have not attended Mass in 35 years, am I doomed to hell for un-confessed mortal sins?  Or, is it possible that I may be saved outside of the Catholic Church?  If so, how is that possible from a Catholic perspective?

THIS IS A VERY PREGNANT QUESTION. FIRST, ONLY GOD CAN READ THE HEART AND KNOW IF ONE IS “SAVED” OR NOT. SECOND, IT DEPENDS ON HOW KNOWLEDGEABLE OR IGNORANT ONE IS OF THE TRUTH DUE TO NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN. THIRD, IT DEPENDS ON IF ONE ACTUALLY HAS MORTAL SINS WHICH ARE ONLY MORTAL IF THE THREE QUALIFICATIONS FOR A MORTAL SIN HAVE BEEN MET.

FOURTH, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACHES THAT ONE CAN BE OUTSIDE THE VISIBLE BOUNDS OF THE VISIBLE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND STILL BE SAVED, INCLUDING OTHER RELIGIONS OR NON-RELIGIONS (CCC 1260). IF YOU THINK THIS QUESTION YOU ASK IS  UNANSWERED BY THE CHURCH, IT SHOWS YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND CATHOLICISM, SINCE THAT WAS CAREFULLY EXPOUNDED AT VATICAN II WHICH WAS AN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF THE CHURCH. AND FIFTH, I BELIEVE THAT MANY CATHOLICS WITHIN THE CHURCH WILL GO TO HELL FOR NOT OBEYING THE GOSPEL, NOT JUST THOSE OUTSIDE WHO HAVE REJECTED THE CHURCH EVEN THOUGH THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING.

I am heavily involved with cold call (door to door) evangelism in my community – not from a Baptist viewpoint, but simply from a general concern for the lost.

I WAS VERY INVOLVED WITH DOOR TO DOOR EVANGELISM TOO, BUT I ALWAYS ADMITTED I HAD A BAPTIST-TYPE TRADITION.

I often talk with Catholics of all sorts.  I always tell them and others that I don’t care where they go to church, as long as they have a heavenly home when they die.  It would be nice to know what a leading Catholic author would say to me if he came to my Southern Baptist door evangelizing, and heard my story.  When you ask someone if they are going to heaven when they die – as I am sure you know – you get a whole lot of interesting information in the response.

I USED TO QUOTE 1 John 5:13 UNTIL I REALIZED IT HAD TAKEN COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT BY MY BAPTIST TRADITION. I HAVE WRITTEN EXTENSIVELY ON THAT VERSE IN MY BOOK “CROSSING THE TIBER.” DO YOU HAVE THAT BOOK?

I DARE SAY YOU WILL ALSO GET A LOT OF INTERESTING ANSWERS IF YOU ASK BAPTISTS THAT QUESTION — OR METHODISTS, OR ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, OR PENTECOSTALS, OR LUTHERANS, OR JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES.

ALL IT PROVES IS THAT TOO MANY PEOPLE IN ALL THEIR VARIOUS TRADITIONS ARE POORLY CATECHIZED AND SADLY IGNORANT OF SCRIPTURE AND THE HISTORIC TEACHING OF THE CHURCH.

BY THE WAY, BAPTISTS DON’T “KNOW” IF THEY ARE GOING TO HEAVEN FOR SURE. THAT IS WHY SCRIPTURE CALLS IT “HOPE” AND WE KNOW THAT ONLY THOSE WHO PERSEVERE TO THE END WILL BE SAVED (Matt 10:22). EVEN BAPTISTS BELIEVE THAT IF ONE FAILS TO DISPLAY THE APPROPRIATE WORKS TOWARD THE END IT PROBABLY MEANS THAT “IT NEVER TOOK.” SO, EVEN A BAPTIST IS NOT SURE UNTIL THE END AND THE NECESSARY WORKS CONTINUE TO BE DONE.

My beliefs, if you knocked on my door – I just happen to attend a Southern Baptist church right now (it is kind of like a mission field for me) – about salvation are simple.  One is justified by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior – born again if you will.

I WOULD  BE CURIOUS TO KNOW HOW YOU WOULD EXPLAIN HOW ONE BECOMES “BORN AGAIN.” WHEN SOMEONE ASKS ME THAT I RESPOND BY SAYING, “YES, I AM BORN AGAIN, BUT I AM BORN AGAIN THE BIBLE WAY.” THIS OF COURSE IS BY “WATER AND SPIRIT” — WATER BAPTISM (Jn 3:3-5)

THE GOSPEL IS SIMPLE, THE THEN AGAIN IT IS NOT SIMPLE. FUNDAMENTALISTS TEND TO TALK ABOUT SALVATION WITH CONVENIENT “SOUND BITES” AND IN A TRUNCATED MANNER WHICH YOU WILL FIND NO WHERE IN THE EARLY YEARS OF THE CHURCH.

WHEN I USED TO TELL PEOPLE THEY WERE SAVED BY ONE THING: “BELIEVING IN CHRIST” — NOT BY ANYTHING WE CAN DO — WELL, I FORGOT THAT ‘BELIEVE” IS A VERB AND IS SOMETHING I MUST DO. SO WE DO HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. WE DO HAVE TO “BELIEVE” AND “CONFESS WITH OUR MOUTH” (Rom 10:9-10) WHICH ONLY PROVES WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING, SOME WORKS — WE HAVE TO “BELIEVE,” REPENT, CONFESS, EXERCISE FAITH, PRAY THE “SINNER’S PRAYER,” SURRENDER OUR LIVES — ALL THINGS WE MUST DO — WORK. (CF. John 6:28-29).

However, if there are no works following shortly thereafter, that one was not really saved (or justified).  There must be works!  However, those works are not a part of “justification”,  but a part of the “sanctification” process.  Works are a “sure-enough” sign of justification.

WE AGREE IN PART THAT WORKS MUST ACCOMPANY INITIAL JUSTIFICATION. HOWEVER, THE REST OF WHAT YOU SAY IS INTERESTING BECAUSE SCRIPTURE SEEMS TO DISAGREE, WHICH IS WHY MARTIN LUTHER GOT HIS KNICKERS IN A KNOT). TOO MANY PARROT MAM-MADE BAPTIST TRADITION AND TRITE SOUND BITES — CERTAINLY NOT SCRIPTURE IN ITS HISTORICAL AND CONTEXTUAL CONTEXT. I USED TO DO THAT TOO. BUT THE REALITY IS — JAMES IS PRETTY CLEAR EVEN IN THE NIV:

James 2:21: WAS NOT OUR ANCESTOR ABRAHAM CONSIDERED RIGHTEOUS [JUSTIFIED] FOR WHAT HE DID [WORKS] WHEN HE OFFERED HIS SON ISAAC ON THE ALTAR?

James 2:24-26 YOU SEE THAT A PERSON IS JUSTIFIED BY WHAT HE DOES [GREEK: WORKS] AND NOT BY FAITH ALONE.
IN THE SAME WAY, WAS NOT EVEN RAHAB THE PROSTITUTE CONSIDERED RIGHTEOUS [JUSTIFIED] FOR WHAT SHE DID [WORKS] WHEN SHE GAVE LODGING TO THE SPIES AND SENT THEM OFF IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION?

I USED TO TRY TO TWIST JAMES AROUND LIKE A RUBBER NOSE TO KEEP IF FROM SAYING WHAT IT SAID. BUT THE FACT IS IT SAYS WHAT IT SAYS.

NOW WE AS CATHOLICS, AND YOU AS PROTESTANTS, DON’T BELIEVE WE GAIN INITIAL JUSTIFICATION THROUGH ANYTHING WE DO. NO ONE WILL STAND BEFORE GOD AND SAY, “YOU OWE ME.” HOWEVER, THAT DOES NOT DISMISS THAT FACT THAT ONCE INITIAL JUSTIFICATION HAS TAKEN APPLIED FREELY AND GRATUITOUSLY BY GOD, WE ARE THEN REQUIRED TO COOPERATE WITH THE GRACE OF GOD IN OUR JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION. IN THE END REVELATION DOES NOT SAY WE ARE COVERED WITH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST, BUT WITH THE RIGHTEOUS OF THE SAINTS! REV. 19:8.

FROM MY BOOK “CROSSING THE TIBER”:

How does one receive salvation, justification, new birth and eternal life?

By believing in Christ (Jn 3:16; Acts 16:31)?
By repentance (Acts 2:38; 2 Pet 3:9)? [SOMETHING WE DO]
By baptism (Jn 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21; Titus 3:5)? [SOMETHING WE DO]
By the work of the Spirit (Jn 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6)?
By declaring with our mouths (Luke 12:8; Rom 10:9)? [A WORK]
By coming to a knowledge of the Truth (1 Tim 2:4; Heb 10:26)? [OUR ACHIEVEMENT]
By works (Rom 2:6, 7; James 2:24)?
By grace (Acts 15:11; Eph 2:8)?
By perseverance (Matt 10:22; Mk 13:13; Col 1:22-23)?
By his blood (Rom 5:9; Heb 9:22)?
By His righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Pet 1:1)?
By His cross (Eph 2:16; Col 2:14)?

I know the Catholic party line about faith and works from listening to your CD.  My question above is outside of the typical party line and can most likely only be appreciated by someone with your background.  Your response might help me deal with some of the less faithful Catholics (in greater proportion than any other group) that I come across from time to time.

I WOULD LOVE TO ASSIST YOU IF TIME ALLOWS. I HOPE MY RESPONSE IS HELPFUL TO ASSIST YOU IN UNDERSTANDING CATHOLICS. I MIGHT SUGGEST YOU GET MY BOOK “CROSSING THE TIBER” AND READ THE “CATECHISM” WHICH IS A MARVELOUS GIFT TO THE CHURCH. IT IS USED BY MANY PROTESTANT PASTORS IN PREPARING THEIR SERMONS :-)

DON’T EXPECT ALL CATHOLICS TO ALWAYS UNDERSTAND AND BE ABLE TO EXPLAIN THEIR FAITH, ANY MORE THAN I EXPECT TO FIND BAPTISTS WHO CAN EVEN COME CLOSE TO EXPLAINING THEIR BELIEFS. IT IS NOT THE COMPETENCE OR INCOMPETENCE OF THE PERSON THAT MATTERS BUT THE ACTUAL TRUTH ITSELF. I RESPECT YOU FOR SEEKING FOR IT.

GOD BLESS AND STAY LOVING AND SERVING OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

STEVE RAY

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe December 31, 2009 at 1:06 AM

Great dialogue. Keep us posted on further outcomes. Other than issues of authority and salvation, having been a revert from Southern Baptist myself, I think a good thing to emphasize to any Protestant brother or sister is that the Church is the BODY not just the SOUL of Christ. Once this is grasped more deeply a person can understand why we have sacraments, saints, priests, bells, smells, etc. They’re all visible different parts of the Body of Christ that keep us connected and living in Him. Otherwise without understanding how the Church functions as a visible instrument of grace everything in Catholicism seems like extra stuff or mediators that get in the way of God. If they can see this logic is grounded in the Bible and history no Baptist would ever want to stay out of the Catholic Church. Even many Catholics don’t seem to grasp this. I know I once didn’t. Problem is even with the best catechesis sometimes people just jump through the sacramental hoops without fully understanding what they are doing.

Barbara December 31, 2009 at 12:39 PM

Dear Baptist,

There need not be a dividing wall between justification and sanctification. The Council of Trent clarified the Church’s doctrine of justification, by focusing on sanctification as part of justification. Justification makes the soul just through grace. Sin is not covered, but is cleansed away by purification of sanctifying grace. Justification consists of one act of God that includes forgiveness of sin and sanctification of the soul. Thus a justified person is truly made pleasing to God.

Tom January 20, 2010 at 1:37 AM

Steve and Baptist,
You are both credits to your faiths, and being a Catholic I am proud of the job you’re doing championing the faith. That said, I do wonder if we as philosophers and men of faith aren’t wasting our lives bickering about minutiae when we should simply enjoy our brotherhood in the Savior.
Yours in Christ,
Tom

Steve Ray January 20, 2010 at 4:58 AM

My answer: Yes and No. We need to recognize them as brothers, but love requires us to confront error at the same time.

Bill912 June 16, 2011 at 7:01 PM

“…some of the less faithful Catholics(in greater proportion than any other group)…”

How is he qualified to make such a judgment? Has God given him the ability to read the souls of others?

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