What “Saves” You, Catholic or Baptist Religions?

What makes a person one religion or another? Does it matter WHAT we believe or is it more important WHO we believe? In my journey out of fundamentalism, I’ve investigated many religions and the ones that seem to make the most sense could care less about doctrine and concentrate more about the state of your own soul or your “Being” before God, Essence, Divinity, or whatever name you choose to call the World Soul.

This struggle to define our religion usually begins with doctrine, as mine eventually did (see my other blog listed on the right). For me, I began my spiritual journey with a unadulterated experience with the Divine in the form of Jesus. No one preached to me, no one outlined a “plan of salvation.” No one led me in the “sinner’s prayer.” I wasn’t baptized as an infant and raised in a Christian home. No, God found me first and then I muddied the waters with religion. Shouldn’t all spirituality begin this way? Why do we construct barriers to God? To keep the unsavory out? To make it very hard to commune with the Divine? Why?

So does it really matter how we PRACTICE our religion if we are connected to the Source? I believe our biggest problem is to confuse man-made religions with spirituality. The only ones decrying this notion are those who make their living from religion, otherwise they’d see religion as a barrier to God. But seriously, does it really matter if I attended a Buddhist temple for meditation, received the Eucharist at a Catholic church, and also attended bible study at a Baptist church? What’s wrong with sampling the buffet line ofreligion religious practice if my heart is firmly with the Supreme Soul? Who does it matter to, but those who would be the gatekeepers of salvation? I never used to believe that all roads lead to God, but I too was confusing practice with being and mistaking process with the goal.

In my journey out of fundamentalist churches I found that all religious arguments stem from doctrines of atonement and justification and the instantaneous applications of each to the human soul. Jesus came to save the world, but every faith argues about the requirements of salvation and proceed to explain to us HOW we are saved by showing us that their particular brand of religion provides the only means for this goal. (We could go back further and ask the question, “Why do we need salvation at all?” and that would be a most worthy question, but I am speaking here about those who accept already the need for salvation as a basic premise in the argument, specifically salvation offered by the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth).

When I experienced Jesus for the first time, I read about him in the New Testament, decided to amend my life through my own efforts, and then experienced an epiphany of Spirit on my way to work one day. I felt the presence of Jesus and an all-consuming love and peace in my soul and I “felt” the words (no auditory vision here) in my spirit telling me that I need not work for His love; I had it already and only needed to rest in that knowledge. The love and peace was overwhelming and lasted but a few minutes, but in those moments, I knew Jesus was real and that He had found me and drew me to himself.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Joh 3:8 ESV)

I knew something momentous had happened and I didn’t care how or why. The only reason I tried to find a church after that experience was to find people who had experienced the same thing as I did and to share it. That’s IT! I could have cared less about doctrine at that time. But doctrine came flowing my way; naysayers analyzing, scrutinizing, and proceeding to muddy the experience with shoulds and oughts and biblical interpretations. I got caught up in a whirlwind of study and exhausted myself trying to figure out which came first; the Spirit, my choice, doctrine, faith, etc.

But, you know what? It doesn’t matter. You can make the bible say whatever you want it to say about salvation. If you are Baptist you can find numerous “once saved, always saved” verses. If you are Catholic you can find numerous “you will be judged by your works” verses. You can analyze and scrutinize all the verses that talk of faith and still come up with differing opinions. This only makes sense since the bible is definately NOT systematic theology, nor is it a even a coherent chronology of like-minded believers. The bible is a conglomeration of individuals’ experiences with the Divine. There is no biblical model for the church despite Catholic claims to the contrary. There is no consistent theology of atonement and salvation despite Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc. claims to the contrary. Every believer comes to Jesus in their own way. Or, I should say, God draws individuals to Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, in completely unique ways. Why else do we read,

Act 2:1-8 ESV
(1) When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.
(2) And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
(3) And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
(4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
(5) Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.
(6) And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
(7) And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
(8) And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

God calls and baptizes with the Holy Spirit in a way that each will understand. And already, in Acts, we see the apostles at odds with each other over requirements for salvation, mingling Jewish requirements with a new faith which required nothing but faith (Acts 15).

And so it degenerates from there until we have what we have today; hierarchies and numerous sects all proclaiming their own unique brand of salvation. Catholics erect the barrier of the Church dispensing grace like a cosmic Pez dispenser. Protestants erect the barrier of the bible with “correct interpretation” as their filter of choice, but only as overseen by pastors and elders who believe they have more of the Spirit than anyone else. Catholics follow James. Protestants follow Paul. Both forget Jesus’ words,

For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. (Joh 3:34 ESV)

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (Joh 4:23 ESV)

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Joh 4:24 ESV)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (Joh 6:63 ESV)


It is the Holy Spirit that saves and dispenses grace, not man-made rules or books written 2000 years ago. No one controls the Spirit, so why do they try to? Why do we accept their attempts to control our spirituality? Are we so insecure that we must have a guide? Why not accept that Jesus died to save the world? Period? Why do we care HOW this is done? If God is God there is no need for mere humans to attempt to live in a “right” or “wrong” way. How can it be possible that we can effect our own destiny when we did not choose to be born to begin with? Why would God lay the burden of salvation at our door, when we have no control over the universe? Why even accept another’s experiences as normative? Maybe we are all called to an individual path unrelated to another’s.

The next time we are tempted to control another’s religion or to define another’s faith process as invalid, maybe we should remember,

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (Joh 10:14 ESV)

For those called to Jesus, they know. For those called to another path, they know. Let us not presume to know for someone else.


“Objective Measurement” of Faith

The Barna Group has supposedly measured peoples’ faith for a long time now, but their results crack me up. The whole point of the study seems to be that while this faith-based group would like to prove that most Americans are religious, they can’t help commenting on the type of faith one exhibits, as if there is a measurement we are supposed to be living up to:

“First of all,” noted Barna, “Americans are very comfortable with religious faith. Most adults and even teenagers see themselves as people of faith. Toward that end, they have definite opinions about religion, they possess well-honed beliefs, and invest substantial amounts of their time, money and energy in religious activities. Faith and spirituality remain hot issues in people’s lives. The mass media, through news and feature stories, also play a role in keeping spiritual issues in the forefront of people’s minds”….

“Second,” he continued, “people do not have an accurate view of themselves when it comes to spirituality. American Christians are not as devoted to their faith as they like to believe. They have positive feelings about the importance of faith, but their faith is rarely the focal point of their life or a critical factor in their decision-making. The fact that few people take the time to evaluate their spiritual journey, or to develop benchmarks or indicators of their spiritual health, facilitates a distorted view of the prominence and purity of faith in their life.”

This smacks of spiritual pride. “Most people do not have an accurate view of themselves when it comes to spirituality” ????? Whose view are we supposed to have but our own? Who decides what’s “accurate”? What’s also assumed is that no one takes time to “evaluate their spiritual journey.” What? How does he know? Purity of faith? I’m sorry, but when someone starts talking “purity,” beware the faith police.

Barna’s third theme was that if people’s faith is objectively measured against a biblical standard of how faith is to be practiced, Americans are spiritually lukewarm. “Very limited effort is devoted to spiritual growth. Most Americans experience ‘accidental spiritual growth’ since there is generally no plan or process other than showing up at a church and absorbing a few ideas here and there. Even then, few people have a defined understanding of what they are hoping to become, as followers of Christ.” Barna attributed much of this to the numerous distractions common in most people’s lives.

Yeah, like living IN REALITY rather than in religious la-la land. There’s the “objective measurement” for you. The biggest oxymoron in that first sentence is using “objectively” with “biblical standard.” There ain’t no such animal. If people are “lukewarm,” I think it’s because people are realizing more and more that spirituality, not religion, has the answers they are seeking. You won’t find them at church or in a bible teacher or preacher, hence #4 below:

Finally, the bestselling author of nearly 40 books contended that the most intriguing blip on the radar screen is the growth of various converging movements of deeply spiritual people who are departing from the conventional forms and communities of faith. “The Revolutionary community – which incorporates divergent but compatible groups of people who are seeking to make their faith the driving force in their life – is reshaping American faith in ways which we are just beginning to understand.” Few researchers and journalists are tracking the behavior and beliefs of those nascent segments.

Make sure you get the plug in for your publishing history! Few are tracking it because the faith police can’t stand that people are taking control of their own spirituality rather than support institutions that are top heavy, administrator wealthy, and that do little with our money but keep it for themselves. I for one am no longer supporting a church because the pastor wants a bigger salary or because they need a new building. Support should go towards those who are hungry in this country FIRST and elsewhere next. Faith will survive on it’s own without all the church buildings thank you very much.

Those who claim authority to “study” people of faith are getting pretty full of themselves. There is no right way to have faith. There is no right way to practice spirituality. Those who say there is a “right” or “wrong” way are fooling themselves and are power hungry fundamentalists who are looking for fame and fortune. The spiritually prideful never cease to amaze me in their blindness.

Prayer to St. Joseph

st. joseph

St. Joseph, be my protector and defender. Ask God to surround me with the Holy Angels, so that I may emerge from every danger in the fullness of health and well being come January 5. Guide my life journey, so I will always walk safely together with you, in God’s friendship and with faith for the journey. Amen.


(aren’t I supposed to be on hiatus?) 🙂

Spiritually Depressed

I’m a little bummed out, spiritually, today. Actually this kind of spiritual depression started over the past week and still lingers (it comes and goes regularly). I always feel, when I am in these moods, that if I weren’t at church no one would notice I was gone, except when they want laughs and jokes or someone to fill in for them, that is.   When I’m gone for longer periods of time, either because we are gone somewhere or simply because I don’t feel like going to church, I return to comments such as, “Boy, I sure missed you in Sunday school to speak up in class” or “it’s always fun when you’re here.” Yet, I always feel as if I’m just the dog and pony show for Sunday school or choir. What, didn’t they have entertainment before I got there? I’ve been at this church for three years, had a falling out with the pastor while on “pastoral relations committee” because I told it like it was, been asked to teach Sunday school and then the offer was reneged after a couple of days (probably nixed by the pastor), churchand I feel very left out of the group most times. These people have tight friendships with each other because they’ve known each other for years. I’ve lived in this town all my life, but never went to church with any of them until recently. I have no other contact with these people except at church events (choir, Sunday school, church) and no one ever calls my house or writes (except a couple of times when I hurt my back and had back surgery). The pastor used to call and we’d chat all the time, until we had the falling out regarding church discipline. Now she doesn’t call me anymore. Other than that, I see people at work more than the folks at church. Something just doesn’t seem right.

Maybe I place too much weight on church relationships here in Illinois, but while we were in Colorado we attended a church in which we went to each others houses for dinner, took care of each others kids, went places together and all kinds of stuff. We made them our extended family and we loved it. Now, none of that happens. Maybe it only occurs when your kids are small and mothers get together to ward off insanity. I don’t know. But it’s not like that now.

As an alternative, the Catholic church offers no fellowship at all. I know no one there. At the Baptist church, if it weren’t for choir, I’d see or talk to no one but once a week for roughly 2 hours.  I feel so alienated. Shouldn’t church be something more? I’m considering chucking the church thing again.  There is no outreach to the community. Come to think of it, no church in our community has outreach. It’s a small town, with entrenched church memberships that never meets for fellowship with each other, let alone within their own walls. It’s not a church that stimulates your faith or excites you with fun programs or rousing singing. It’s not charismatic in the least, so it’s not even spiritually edifying. So why do I go? How do I shake this malaise but to stop attending? I drive 50 miles round trip every day to get to work and don’t want to do it on weekends just to go to church. So I’m stuck. What else is new?

Atonement According to Who?

In my last post about Christ as the Temple of God, I wrote about the differing theories of atonement offered by the Baptist and Catholic churches. I believe that our views of atonement are a direct result of our position in the world as a male/female/trans gendered person. I’ve said before on this site that I come at any study with the knowledge that 1) I am a feminist and 2) I am a Christian. Therefore, to see atonement as it applies to ourselves, we have to study it with different eyes and not with the standard methods employed by christian men, who have for years claimed ownership of the scriptures. For them, feminists interpreting the bible isfeminist anathema. Most evangelical and catholic men refuse to see outside their normative environments. (The exceptions are many brilliant Episcopal and Jewish scholars like Spong and Borg, who have learned to see outside thier norms). They interpret and claim that for all of us, the interpretation is the same.

Some men (and women) scholars never stop to think about the physical, emotional, and psychical context in which they read a text. Let me give you an example of why I choose to see this way. I work with a man who refuses to read any books written by women. He claims they don’t write as well as men, that they can’t get inside men’s heads and write realistically. I say bullshit. Can you imagine if a woman said, “I refuse to read any books written by a man”? This man thinks that only a male viewpoint is normative for him to read in. Think about it. When women read men’s writings she is constantly in a state of doublethink. We are women reading something NOT about us and we must push ourselves aside to make room for the male view. Not only do men ASSUME that their experiences are normative for everyone else, they can’t see it any other way!!! Thus they refuse to participate in any reading that forces them to use doublethink. When women read there is always the consciousness that says, I am a woman reading a man’s words, and feeling inside that somehow what I read doesn’t apply to me. The only book I’ve read by a man that made me completely forget I was reading a male author is Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone. Not only did he write from a woman’s point of view, he did it extremely well. The doublethink was gone. I was immersed in Lamb’s protagonist and never felt marginalized. Now that’s talent. But some christian men will never open their minds that far.

That kind of marginalization happens when I read the bible. It’s as if I’m positioned in another room looking through a window into a man’s world. The other room is my experience as a woman, the bible is the window, and the man’s world is Christianity. Both the window and the room insists it’s the only lens through which to view my life. Therefore, I must tackle it in the only way I know how, through my experience. Because of this insistance by men that their window is the right one, my attempt to read the bible is marginalizing because I am not a participant in the text. The text is set before me, whole and entire, by men who claim that it’s divine. I am therefore suspicious. I am supposed to read and force myself to become what the biblical writers say is true, even when it’s not true by real world or experiential standards. The bible is merely a text like any other. I’m sure this is where most of you will part ways with me. But, since the bible is a series of texts and not a unified whole, each book stands on it’s own and the whole does not comprise absolute history or any kind of systematic thought. They are literary books. They are poetry, apocalyptic literatures, polemics, and letters.

Therefore, as a feminist scholar I should take three steps to discuss atonement theory: 1)read the text closely with pen in hand (MARK your text!), 2) look for patterns, inconsistencies, contradictions, and similarities, and then 3) ask questions about what I’ve read and noticed and see how this applies to me. As Christians, most of us will come to the bible with already preconceived doctrines and dogmas in mind. We read to find evidence supporting that doctrine, such as the atonement. We need to ask ourselves, “Does the bible really support that view of the atonement?” Does the bible really support any view that men say is there?
First, the let’s go to the text at hand and, taking the first logical step in figuring out the atonement, decide whether or not people are inherently sinful. Without sin, we do not need atonement. But which sin? General or Original? Do we inherit the actual sin of Adam as the Paul says we do in 1 Corinthians 15:

21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

We could try to find in the Jewish Scriptures the theory of original sin, but we would be hard pressed to find it. Nowhere in the Old Testament does there even hint of anything called “Original sin.” There are general sins that people commit, but never an actual condition needed a remedy as the doctrine of original sin suggests. Jesus never mentions original sin. Paul is the first one to suggest that we inherit Adam’s sin. Think about it. If all people are inherently sinful from birth as most evangelicals claim, this calls into question the inherent sinfulness of Mary and even the question of why Jesus was not also born with the sin of Adam (some say he was, which was why he was baptized. See Matthew 3:13-17). Catholics solve Mary’s sinfulness by posing the dogma of the immaculate conception but there is no biblical precedence for this. You would then logically have to make sure Mary’s mother, and her mother, and her mother….etc. were free from sin. This seems ridiculous. If we are not inherently tainted by sin but only show a propensity toward sinfulness, it would solve the “problem” of Mary’s sinfulness. She wasn’t sinful, but an ordinary girl, “full of grace and truth.” Even so, how does the doctrine of inherent sinfulness work for the average believer? What does that mean?
crossSecond, once we settle the sin question (no one has or will in my lifetime), we have to decide the remedy for our particular doctrine of sin and what the bible says about that. Jesus admonished everyone to repent and come into the Kingdom of God. He didn’t say that everyone was in a sinful condition. He merely said to turn from our individual sins because God’s Kingdom was at hand. But Paul says that, if one is inherently sinful and completely unable to do good according to Romans 3:12

“All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one,”

then God can be the only one who is able and willing to pull the believer out of her sinfulness, fill her with the spirit, and justify her. If one is not inherently tainted, then she can see on her own the error of her ways and gradually work to improve herself. According to Calvinist doctrine, the sinner is totally unable to bring herself to Christ. God alone accomplishes it. God alone is responsible for exchanging my life with Christ’s and sanctifying me for all eternity. Paul’s argument is that God predestines, calls, justifies, and sanctifies (Romans 8-9). We do none of it (later letters contradict Paul).

Third, we must decide what and how much Jesus actually accomplished on the cross. Who did he die for? Did Jesus die to appease God’s wrath? Did Jesus die to level the playing field so that we can have access to God without the Jewish sacrificial system? Was his a spiritual death? Did Jesus die because the Pharisees wanted him dead? No one can seem to agree about what Jesus was trying to accomplish. Was he the ultimate Jew who fulfilled all the Scriptures? If so, so what did he fulfill? Was he a type of medieval Everyman so that his death was symbolic of every man’s death? Did he suffer to heal us? There are many more ways to view his death but what is the average Christian woman supposed to think about those things?

How does this male defined system of salvation work for women? The same way, you say? Well, let me ask you this: Are women relieved of the “curse” that God supposedly imposed in Genesis in the same way that men are? Why are women still treated as if they are still under the curse but men are not so treated (see 1 Timothy 2)? Women are also new creatures in Christ according to 2 Corinthians 5:17, but according to male doctrine, women must still suffer pre-Christ censures in the church (See any of Paul’s letters and letters claiming to be Paul’s). Why? Is this not proof that the bible exists only for men? The remedy of Christ’s atonement is not the same for women as it is for men. Paul never once addressed women directly except to say hello (Rom. 16:12) and goodbye and to quit fighting (Phil. 4:2-5).

Figuring out what the bible’s message is for me isn’t easy, but I tackle it. I have the right to tackle it with whatever tools I have at my disposal, just as men do. If not, then it’s a man’s book through and through.

Christ as Temple: The Differences Between Baptist/Catholic Atonement

Theories about the atonement are rife in Christian life. Atonement is the KEY doctrine for most Christians because it defines (or attempts to define) the WAY God saves us through Jesus Christ. For the Baptist, Jesus is the only way through which we come to God. Jesus is the New Jerusalem and the Temple of God through which we offer spiritual sacrifices as priests of God. We are forever priests and it cannot be revoked (1, see notes) Everyone is on the same footing in Baptist circles. For Catholics the temple is the Church and specifically the Catholic altar. Jesus is re-sacrificed every day the world over to regrace the world with salvation through his offering. (2) This is no final act and the effects are not final either. One story from the scriptures that illustrates this difference is the hour of Jesus’ crucifixion.

For those who don’t know the biblical story; when Jesus was crucified, the Jewish temple veil was torn from top to bottom, signifying that the Holy of Holies was now accessible to everyone through the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:51). The Holy of Holies was the place in the Jewish temple in which God dwelt and only the priests were allowed to come near to offer sacrifices for the people:

3 If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. 4 You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you. 5 The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6 The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. 7 The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9 but its entrails and its legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord (Leviticus 1:3-9)

The priests of Israel were to do this in perpetuity. However, when Jesus incarnated and died, new Jewish Christians, such as Paul, began seeing parallels to Jesus’ life and role as the long promised Savior who would eliminate material temple sacrifices and institute a new era of spiritual faith. For Paul, when the veil of the temple was rent in two, temple sacrifices were symbolically no more. This event, more than any other, was intended to convince Israel that the daily sacrifices of animals in the temple were no longer necessary to please God. God sacrificed his Son to please Himself. As merciless as this sounds to mothers everywhere, you must remember that this story and its effects for the believer is the VITAL, key doctrine of Christendom: Jesus’ sacrificial atonement to the Father for all humankind (Ephesians 2:14-22; Hebrews 6:18-20; 9:1-7; 10:19-22).

Mongergists call this interpretation of Jesus’ death “penal substitutionary atonement theory.” It is but one type of atonement theory. (3) This theory emphasizes the substitutionary part of the atonement. In other words, Jesus Christ, when he died, took our place on the Cross (a type of the altar of God in heaven), was sacrificed, and thereby died for all of our individual sins: past, present, and future. When Jesus died and was resurrected, every sinner turned believer in Him has died and, baptized into new life, will live forever. Therefore, animal sacrifice was no longer needed. The scapegoat is Jesus. The “animal” the Israelite priests laid their hands on to transfer the sins of the people was replaced by Jesus, who took sins away forever. The physical and spiritual veil is lifted and we can “see” with new eyes (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).

Other theologians especially of the New Emergent Church variety, call this theory of atonement into question. I’m not SURE what the atonement theory they ascribe to is, but I assume it’s like the Catholic version. For Catholics, Jesus died to make it POSSIBLE that we are forgiven by God, assuming we follow all the rules to the end without falling away into doubt and mortal sin. We are only put back on an even keel and must begin with the fresh start that Jesus provides us. Therefore, Evangelicals and Catholics couldn’t be further apart on Atonement theory. For evangelicals, salvation is personal and immediately applicable when one believes. It is permanent and cannot be revoked. For Catholics, salvation is corporate and far removed. IF you attain it, you do well, if not, well….

Then throw into the mix the doctrine of Original Sin and that’s where the fun begins. Your take on the doctrine of original sin affects your interpretation of atonement. Much like the chicken or egg first conundrum, Christians have argued over the doctrine of Original Sin since the time of Augustine. Augustine introduced the “mankind is inherently evil; born that way” view of sin, thereby guaranteeing that anything short of penal atonement isn’t going to cut it in the salvation department. Ironically enough, Augustine was Roman Catholic and the harsher the original sin theory was, the farther away Catholics got to “allowing” Jesus to become a complete remedy for mankind. It was the Celtic monk Pelagius who pooh-poohed the idea that mankind was born sinful and called the church to be the agent that would grow humankind into its fullest potential and bring her back to the essential goodness God created. The kind and gentle Pelagius was viciously attacked for this theory, of course. You cannot threaten people with excommunication for sin if the means of grace can be found in God’s mercy and creation OUTSIDE the confines of the Mother Church. For Pelagius, there is also no assurance, but we weren’t inherently sinful to begin with. For Evangelicals, nothing short of exhange of Christ’s Spirit for our spirit will effect the change from heathen flesh to salvation.

So, we see how Christian dogma is stacked on a precarious house of cards. Remove one card: “Original Sin” and the other cards fall down around it. I see Christian history and tradition like that tall, tall, house of cards; interpretation piled on interpretation until, at the Reformation, the house finally began collapsing. Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, and others before them began questioning Roman Catholic views of sin and atonement and what that meant for the Christian. Why, they asked, was it so needlessly complicated and riddled with extra-biblical practices such as indulgences? Reading the bible, which was now available to the people in printed form, was a chief catalyst in this religious revolution. Since then the waters have cleared just enough to know that all the arguing comes down to this:

1) Jesus either died for Adam’s original “stain” of sin; past, present, and future, becoming the final sacrifice for sins forever and releasing the believer from a daily system of sacrifices. (Matthew 27:51; Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45; Hebrews 10:10-12) This sacrifice of Jesus sanctifies the believer, and sets her apart in assurance of salvation for eternity. If you die accidentally after having sinned, and didn’t have time to confess, you are still assured a place in heaven. (Baptist view)


2) Jesus died merely to eliminate the Jewish sacrificial system and set up a Christian system whereby priests sacrifice Jesus daily in the Eucharist as a special offer of salvation to all who choose to come and follow Jesus. We are never assured of salvation and must ever be wary of sin, but at least salvation is offered. If you die in sin (unconfessed and unshriven) you are lost forever, even after a long and moral life (4). Jesus died to make salvation POSSIBLE not actual. (Catholic view)

The stack of dogma cards is becoming more perilous! If I HAD to choose, I prefer the Baptist version. But still, one has to wonder why it was necessary for Jesus to die when God could have forgiven us freely and even did forgive in the Old Testament? Diehard fundamentalists believe that the inherent sin of Adam would not go away unless we appeased God’s sense of justice, but what kind of justice is it that requires the death of your son? How did God forgive the Israelites when God said he “hated sacrifice?” (Hosea 6:6)

For an excellent discussion about this go to Scot McKnight’s blog. Personally, I believe these theories of atonement are needlessly complicated and are either to broad or too limited. I often ask myself the question, “If I can conceive of a completely merciful way of forgiveness, why can’t God?” I get the sneaky suspicion that no one knows what God wants based on the conflicting stories in the Bible. Dogma is just theory and interpretation of theory anyway. We are all casting about in the dark finding a way. I believe the answer is in simplicity and rooted in the law of love espoused by Christ himself.

1) So say the “eternal security” Baptists, who believe that once you are chosen, justified, and sanctified, you can never fall away from Christ.

2) Catholic Catechism, section 1367-1368 (sacrifice) and section 797-798 (Church is temple. Here the temple is the Church, meaning a separate entity than the believers together.

3) Other theories are the “financial” debit and credit system of justification, the militry image of Satan vs. God, and the legal courtroom image in which God is judge. (Christian Doctrine by Shirley C. Guthrie, Rev. Ed., pages 252-256).

Catholic Catechism, section 1033.

4th of July, Jack Chick, and Catholic Haters

When I was young, our hometown put on a 4th of July “carnival” on the town square. I say carnival in quotes because our small town’s idea of a carnival is that the churches in town sponsor booths of food, merchandise, and Booster Club donations. We have an old fashioned cake walk where all the ladies (and some of the guys) bring cakes to win off the turning raffle wheel. The town provides “rides” made up of homemade tractor pulled wagons strung together or “horses” made up of a long round telephone pole laying on its side. The pole was wrapped in carpeting, and was sitting on top of a large cart, again, pulled by a tractor. On top of the carpeted pole and positioned a foot or so apart were saddles for the kiddies to sit on. I kid you not, this was the height of fun when you’re seven years old. They purposely deflated two tires to make the cart pitch and role so we could all convince ourselves that we were on a bucking bronco. YEEEEHAWWWW! 🙂 City Slickers here we come! The rides were similar to Father Ted‘s little town carnival on the island off the coast of Ireland. You know, where they have that porch swing attached to a crane, going up and down for fun. 🙂

Since I was seven or eight the carnival has definitely gone downhill. They still boast the same homemade rides, but most of the town waits for the REAL carnival in August where there’s a beer tent and live bands. Since churches sponsor the first carnival, there are no beer tents. But there are plenty of gospel sings, tai-kwon-do demonstrations, and don’t forget the little girls from the dance studios!

I remember one carnival in particular, only because it stands out so clearly in my mind, when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I usually went uptown with a couple of friends or my sister, but once there, we easily wandered away from each other. I wandered over near the Bingo tent and saw a little cartoon booklet laying on the ground. I picked it up and it was a story about a guy who got in a car accident and was immediately sent to the throne of God, who sat there faceless (in the cartoon that is). Anyway, once the guy got up there, God proceeded to play a film of the guy’s life and showed him every incidence in which he was bad, good, or didn’t do what he should have. The trick ending came, when the guy was feeling pretty good about himself and then all of a sudden, God thunders, “Thou fool, this night thou soul shall be required of thee!” And BAM down he falls dead and goes to hell. I tell you what! That tract scared me right then and there. Oh, I wasn’t scared enough to go find a church, but I remember reading it vividly and have often thought of that since. I wondered to myself whether God’s that merciless to trick someone into feeling secure and then slamming them into hell. Jack Chick would say, “Great! That’s the point.” But Jack Chick isn’t who he claims to be. He uses false means to spread hate about Catholicism and every other brand of religion he deems unfit. He is particularly scathing about pagans and implies motives to them that I’ve never encountered. If you’ve never entered the wacky world of Jack Chick, I suggest you find out. Cornerstone magazine has an excellent expose of “Alberto Romero,” a supposed Jesuit priest hired by the Vatican to infiltrate Protestant churches. Jack Chick loves to use Romero’s exclusive “inside view” of the Catholic church to spread all kinds of vicious rumors about that religion. Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin met Chick at a convention and prints what happened here.

As with all hysterical fundamentalists and their conspiracy theories out there in cyberspace and on television, there is always a hint of truth somewhere amidst all the lies. Those who do not educate themselves properly can be sucked into this hateful propaganda (witness the 9-11 conspiracy theorists). (It works for politics too) I was also sucked into this vortex of religious spew at one time when I was a fundamentalist and thank God I learned to think somewhat critically when I went to college. It’s easy to be handed information and accept it as truth without investigating it. If I learned anything in my years as a believer and as a student, it’s this; always GO TO THE SOURCE and find out the truth for yourself before believing anything that comes out of another person’s mouth. And that includes me. 🙂

oh, my goodness, am I becoming a catholic apologist?

PS. The images from Chick’s site seem to want to disappear as soon as I link them. Sorry, please go to the links and see the booklets. I can’t seem to get an image to stay put. 😦