Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Monday, January 08, 2007

"Religion" vs. "Relationship"?

The link in the title is to the original incarnation of this post, at Three Nails. I'd encourage you to read the comments there, as well.

Growing up in the Pentecostal Church, I was sold a line that said "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a Relationship." This was basically an excuse to not have much to do with traditional things, because we thought that traditions were evil and distracted us from God. I've seen that this is common thinking among many evangelical protestants. Somehow, "religion" is associated with dead, useless faith.

I must say, I no longer agree. In fact, I disagree with that opinion quite strongly. When I see that opinion expressed, it frustrates me. Recently, I converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Sure, it's got its problems (all churches and denominations do), but contrary to what I was taught growing up, its problem is not "religion". In fact, I believe that the religion is its strongest asset.

Religion is the embodiment and the organisation of our faith. It is the associated practices and customs that are demanded of our faith.

There is an adage, along these lines, that is touted to express the difference between "Christianity" and "religion", and that is, "Religion is man's search for God. Christianity is God's search for man." The second half of this sentence is true, but the first is inspecific and inaccurate. All the other religions in the world could rightly be said to be man's search for God (except Judaism, in which God revealed Himself to them--out of which, Christianity springs, when God further and fully revealed Himself to us!). But "religion" is not antithetical to Christianity. It is our response to God for His revelation to us. It is, in fact, how we live that relationship out!

This is in fact evidenced by Judaism. It is the religion that God founded, through Moses. It was not primarily the Hebrews' search for God, but God's miraculous intervention in their lives. His Covenant that He made with them, that He would be their God and they would be His people, was the relationship. The 10 Commandments that He gave them, as well as the rest of the Law, was the religion, which He expected them to live out in response to that Covenental Relationship!

I was reading a blog the other day [edit, this post was originally from July 2005],, where the claim was made that "we know that the Old Testiment was what was before. A Religious system designed to Separate God from Man" (cf. also this post, as well as the comments for each). I could not believe that the author had made such an incredibly ridiculous statement! The Covenant that God made with Israel, that He would be their God, and they would be His people, was separating them from God?! I seriously have to wonder whether this author has in fact read the Old Testament!

Yes, Jesus came to bring a New and Better Covenant! That's the theme of the book of Hebrews. But that New Covenant is not a different kind of covenant, in that the purpose has been changed. It is the fulfilment of the Old Covenant--a covenant which proclaimed and promised the New Covenant. Jesus Himself said, "Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them" (Matthew 5:17). Jesus came to complete the Law--to give us the missing piece of the puzzle. St. Paul tells us that the Law was an instructor, to teach us that by ourselves we could never complete the requirement. So God promised to make it possible--by replacing our hearts of stone, and giving us hearts of flesh, alive in His Spirit.

Jesus doesn't take away the requirements of the Law--He gives us the Grace and strength to live it!

Christianity is indeed a religion--but the religion conveys grace to us from God that all other religions fail to do. Why? Because our religion brings us into a relationship with God--the Creator and Saviour of the Universe!

Why would you want to deny that?

(Category: Soteriology: Salvation)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

It's all about You

Time and again, when discussing my Catholic faith with Protestants, the claim is made that Catholics don't truly believe that Christ alone saves them. They claim a variety of things, based on half-truths to be sure, but that still misrepresent or distort what Catholics really believe on this point. These claims range from "Catholics believe their works will save them" to "Catholics believe in more than one mediator, contradicting 1 Timothy 2:5", to "Catholics believe everyone can be saved, even without Jesus." Ultimately, this boils down to the simple claim that "Catholics do not believe in Christ Alone for salvation, and therefore teach a false Gospel, and are anti-Christ" (a statement which my oft-times debate opponent, Jacob Allee has more than once levelled against me).

If these claims were, in fact, true, such anti-Catholic Protestants would have much to Protest, as Catholicism truly would be an anti-Christian religion (this, of course, is not the typical mentality of most Protestants who, like Billy Graham, recognise the Catholic Church's role in spreading the message of the Cross of Christ throughout the world). Catholicism does indeed proclaim Christ and His saving work on the Cross, as central to our faith. The entire Catholic religion and tradition is built around this very thing. At the front of every Church is a Crucifix, focusing our thoughts on that saving work. Every Sunday, even every day, the Church calls her faithful to gather and to hear that Gospel message, and participate profoundly in that sacrifice of salvation, through the Eucharist, in which we not only recall Christ, but actually receive Him!

In this post, I do not wish to respond in detail to the various accusations that such anti-Catholic Protestants claim we put in the place of Christ and His Salvation. Rather, I simply desire to proclaim with the Church the Gospel Message:

Jesus Christ, God the Son, became a Man, so that through His obedience, suffering, and death, He could redeem Mankind from their sin, and through His Resurrection to life, could give us new life in Him, and raise us up to Glory.

This is the good news, that those who respond to Christ in faith and love, will be forgiven, made new, and become the Children of God! And all of this, is only possible through the amazing and eternal Love of God the Father, who pours out His Grace on us through the Cross of Christ!

This is the Gospel, and anyone who claims that Catholics do not proclaim it, does not know what he or she is talking about! It is this that makes all true Christian churches, Christian. Our differences come after this, and to be sure, they are important. But it is this, the Gospel, that the world needs to hear!

But please, don't take my word on the fact that Christ is the absolute centre and focus of the Catholic faith. I appeal to the words of one much wiser and holier than I am.

What, without Jesus, can the world give you? Life without Him is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you.

He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world. The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace.

It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and great wisdom to know how to keep Him. Be humble and peaceful, and Jesus will be with you. Be devout and calm, and He will remain with you. You may quickly drive Him away and lose His grace, if you turn back to the outside world. And, if you drive Him away and lose Him, to whom will you go and whom will you then seek as a friend? You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love. (The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis, Book 2, Chapter 8--"Intimate Friendship With Jesus")
Brother Thomas wrote his Imitation in 1418, almost exactly 100 years before the Protestant Reformation ever came to be! And this reverence and relationship with Jesus has always been a part of the Catholic faith. It is not somehow original to Evangelical Protestantism, or some recovered doctrine obscured by years of Tradition. Everything about the Catholic Church serves to point us to and take us to Christ. Truly, it is all about You, Jesus.

People often ask me if I have a "personal relationship" with Jesus. But really, what is that? I can have a "personal relationship" with my boss, or my co-workers. It doesn't mean much. It doesn't even mean I have to like them much.

Give me the "Intimate Friendship with Jesus"! That's what I'm after!
God bless

(Category: Theology Proper: The Son--Jesus Christ
The Church:Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)