Today on Facebook, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a convert to Roman Catholicism from the Anglican congregation, posted a nicely written article regarding Billy Graham and what we Catholics should be able to learn from him.
This is my response, not disagreeing so much with Fr. Dwight, but rather offering (hopefully) further clarification:
As a former 25 year, dedicated Evangelical, I think I might have some insights to share regarding Fr. Longenecker’s five points.
1. This is a very foundational point – men and women are cut off from God and need to repent of their selfish and sinful ways in order to experience union with Christ and the promise of eternal life. Every single Evangelical service you go to will stress this point and offer the “altar call” to “get right with God.”
2. THIS, in my opinion, is the CRUX OF THE PROBLEM – parents of children being baptized have some strange idea, almost like the heretical teaching of “once saved – always saved” that when their baby is baptized….well, that takes care of that and we can move on with the important things in our lives like owning the best of everything and having the most impressive job on the block. NO!!! Your “job” (or duty) is to raise that child to follow Christ. This is not done in a vacuum.
One of the most ignored truths of the Bible is that we are a covenant people. A parent can make the decision to enter the covenant community for their child (i.e. baptism) but they must then teach the child that he/she is responsible to keep those baptismal vows. I teach CCD class (6th grade) and I teach my students the importance of those vows and how those vows are binding upon them and how they will receive either blessing or curse, depending upon whether or not they are faithful to those covenant vows.
Catholics in this country have lost sight of this. Like my grandparents (Italian Catholics) they wanted to assimilate instead of change the country. The Catholic faith has been treated in an almost superstitious manner – i.e., your baptism is a kind of talisman against hell.
In addition, Evangelicals are not afraid to warn their people that sin will send them directly to hell. When was the last time you ever, as a Catholic, heard a sermon telling people that fornicators, drug users, alcoholics, liars, abortionists, etc. have a place in the lake of fire waiting for them. I tell you, once I returned to the vows of my baptism, this kind of preaching made me scared to death to sin.
3. The HERESY of “eternal security” appeals to the innate laziness of mankind, who wish to have everything without paying anything. No wonder the appeal to those who don’t wish to do things like fasting during Lent or making other sacrifices to grow in to Christlikeness. St. Paul said that we are athletes competing for a prize. What athlete ever wins the prize by sitting on his couch watching reruns of Archie Bunker when he should be praying the Evening Office? How will she come in first when having a new Lexus is more important than spending that money on feeding a homeless person?
Evangelicalism is easy believism and therefore appeals to our selfish and lazy instincts. And if you do not see that the Roman Catholic Church is infested with this attitude, you are blind. Rome has wandered off the rails – no fasting for Lent, altar girls, no communion rails, communion in the hand – in short, everything that appeals to the laziness in us. And it is no different than Evangelicalism in that matter, so why bother staying in the Catholic Church if it is not distinctly different? When I was looking to convert back in 1999, I went to my first Mass. I went away feeling that while it was not the horror show that Jack Chick comics had portrayed to me, there wasn’t really a whole lot of difference that stood out to me between what I had just seen and what I was thinking of leaving.
This is why I turned to the East and am Byzantine Catholic, but even they have become infested with this lazy thinking.
We are called to become athletes for Christ, contenders for the crowns of glory, not disinterested spectators!!
4. This point kind of ties in with number three – that we need to make a serious distinction between truth and error. Do you know that the old Baltimore Catechism makes it a grave sin to attend the religious services of the heterodox or heretical “churches?” Most people go without thinking two seconds about what they are saying by their attendance. It is time that the message be proclaimed quite clearly – Evangelicalism is NOT the Church which Christ founded upon the Apostles. For 25 years, and this is MY OWN FAULT, I didn’t even know that there were Early Fathers of the Church. I had never read them, so in the bliss of my ignorance, I honestly thought (as do many Evangelicals) that the worship I was offering every Sunday was what was practiced in the Early Church. What a complete SHOCK it was to me to find out different! That was the beginning of the end for me in Evangelicalism. Today’s Catholics are scared to death that they will offend someone by saying, “I do believe you love Christ, but the church you attend is not the Church He founded.”
5. This point is spot on. But why do people believe in this? Because Western theology has lost sight of the historic understanding of man and God. Western (Roman) theology is based in the Roman culture’s high degree of interest in and adherence to THE LAW. This is not what the East teaches at all. We teach “THEOSIS,” that is, being changed into “gods” (St. Athanasius – “God became man so that man might become god”). You do not change in your ontology by being declared legally “not guilty.” That is the crux of Evangelicalism, the idea of “imputed righteousness.” Well, if that is so, then why doesn’t God simply just say “My Son died for all mankind, therefore I declare you to be all not guilty.” Roman legal theology has created the field in which this plant grew and matured, and now they are reaping the results of it.
The need is to teach your people that they are expected to grow into Christlikeness. This teaching is called “divinization” in the West, but it is seldom if ever spoken of (When is the last time you challenged your people, Fr. Dwight, to become like Christ in fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, i.e., in self-sacrificial love which will change their very being??) In the Orthodox Church (we Byzantine Catholics are Orthodox in Communion with Rome) this is the constant challenge set before us. The monks of Mt. Athos are the apex of striving towards theosis in lives of asceticism, but we are ALL CALLED TO ASCESIS.
What has Rome done, on the other hand? No fasting from meat on Fridays anymore. No fasting during Lent (“giving up” something is most distinctly NOT fasting!!!) Relaxation of all the rules and demands for obedience. There is nothing to challenge people anymore. It is just like Protestantism!!!
In closing, let me say this: in my CCD class last week, I talked about the history of Lent and how at one time, the Roman observance was just like the Eastern Orthodox observance: no meat, eggs, or dairy for the entire 40 days of Lent. I read from the texbook where it said “The Church has simplified and made easier the Lenten observance” Then I asked my children “Do you think that it is a good thing that these rules have been made simpler?”
To a child, they are said “No!” And they said it with some gusto. When I asked them why they thought that way, they replied, “Because it shows that Lent doesn’t really mean anything if you don’t do anything.”
Wise children! And in some ways, much wiser than some of our bishops, who seem to be out to please the crowds rather than to please Christ.