The Question: My husband's brother and family are practicing Catholics. Their 8 yr. old daughter is soon to be finished with her "confirmation" classes, after which she gets to partake in her first "holy" communion. . . .
The Response: I recall the fuss my family made when I made my First Communion, and the similar fuss when I was confirmed. These events are a big deal to observant Catholics, who believe that these so-called sacraments, together with baptism complete one's “Christian initiation.” The Bible-believing Christian knows that neither so-called sacrament nor anything else man might do can change him into a Christian. One can only enter into a saved relationship with God when and if He so wills it.
Religion is fallen man's attempt to reach God through his own effort and/or merit. Scripture is clear that nothing man might do will gain him admittance into the Body of Christ.
Just as baptism, communion or confirmation won't magically change a lost soul, Catholic or otherwise, into a Christian, neither will dedication to studying the Scriptures or living one's idea of a Christian life. I do not doubt that at least some of the Franciscan or Benedictine monks who took part in the Inquisition believed that they were good Christians doing God's work. That they weren't seems clear to me, but only God knows the heart and only God can judge the eternal state of a person.
My wife was born and raised in Mexico. We married at a time in my life when I hated God and all things religious. At the time, she was, and to this date generally tends to be, a non-observant Catholic.
Christ did not enter my life until 1987, so religious discussions were mostly one-way, from her to me, and were few. No real issues then. After my regeneration, she attended Protestant worship services with me for a time. When health considerations compelled me to reduce my out-of-the house activity, she began to drift back to Catholicism. To this day, her involvement with the local Catholic church appears to be a social one—the majority of her friends hang out there and they spend 30 or so minutes at Mass before hitting a donut shop or the malls. When at home, she devotes an hour or more every day to reading in her Bible or, which saddens me greatly, reading those syrupy canned prayers that are so dear to Catholics. I often discuss God's truth as I am given to understand it with her. She listens eagerly and asks questions as she feels necessary. After a while, she will change the subject and the discussion ends. When her friends come over to chat or to take her with them, I do not object.
There must be a million aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc., in my wife's family. Every time one of them is baptized, confirmed, graduates from Kindergarten, etc., a gathering at the local Catholic church for Mass is a necessary part of the observation. Then, of course, there are weddings, funerals, quinceanieras and the like. (A quinceaniera is a coming of age ceremony for girls—marking her entry into womanhood.) In what might be considered a mixed blessing, for it is but a four-hour drive to my wife's hometown, her family understands that the state of my health is such that such frequent trips are not possible.
When I do join with my wife and members of her family in these pagan celebrations, it is well-known by all her relatives that I am not Catholic and am there only as an interested but not involved observer. The events I choose to attend, when I am able, are those involving members of the family who are particularly dear to me. They and I understand that it is the ties of love binding me to them that are responsible for my being there, and that is just fine with all of us.
I see no reason to cause hurt or emotional suffering to either my wife or members of her family simply because I do not share their pagan religious beliefs. I recall from my days as a cradle Catholic, being taught that to even send a gift or card to a Catholic (even a close relative) who marries a non-Catholic or even a Catholic not before a priest is to be punished by excommunication. Now that I no longer am restrained by the chains of Catholicism, I have no wish to emulate the ways of the Catholic Church. (Note: That old teaching appears to have been discretely shoved under the carpet since Vatican II)
Why do I permit my wife to involve herself in Catholic matters and practices? And why do I not pound her over the head with my Bible in an effort to 'bring her to Christ?' Because I understand that it is not man, but God, who calls the lost to salvation. Nothing I can do can bring about a sea-change in anyone's relationship with our God. My responsibility, and one that I take very seriously, is to share the Gospel of Salvation with her, and to do what I am able to enlighten her concerning my Christian faith.
From this am I to believe that unless a person meets some other person's standards concerning how to live a “Christian” life he cannot be saved? Were I to buy into this, it would be tantamount to denouncing Paul, and by inference the Holy Spirit who inspired him, as a liar. Who determines a soul's eternal state? Is it God? Or is it some person who considers himself to be saved?
From your words, it appears that you are convinced that a Christian must live a Christian life. By that, I assume you to mean that he does not sin. In Torah, God gave the Hebrew nation 613 laws. He made it clear to them, through His prophets, that to violate even a single one of those laws would be enough to cause the sinner's name to be stricken from the Book of Life. Other than the God-man Jesus of Nazareth, could anyone who ever lived managed to not violate a single one of those laws? Of course not.
You might argue that Christians are not under the law, but grace. That is true. However, I do not believe that you can convince me from Scripture that anyone, whether in a saved relationship with the Lord God Almighty or otherwise, does not sin. Have you never looked on something someone else had and wished it were yours? Have you never wished that you owned a car like the guy down the street? Have you never looked upon a person or picture of someone of the opposite gender and felt even a momentary twinge of desire? These are but examples of coveting
If you work outside your home, can you honestly say that you never give less than 100% of your time on the job to your work? Do you never steal a moment off the time clock to chat with a co-worker or to make a personal phone call? Have you never taken a pencil, pen or paperclip home from the workplace? These are examples of stealing.
Have you never grown impatient with someone and thought or said something unpleasant? Have you never lost your temper in a traffic jam? Would a person who claims to keep Christ's commandment to love his neighbor as himself be guilty of such a violation?
I'm sure you get the idea. No one is perfect, whether born-again believer or tree-hugging Pagan. One might be genuinely saved and part of the Body of Christ, looking forward to spending eternity in His presence, yet not live a sinless life. Our souls might be cleansed of all sin, but the old man still lives in our flesh and we sometimes let him do his thing.
Look to Paul's pastoral letters. In them you will find admonishments to individuals and congregations to correct what you might call “un-Christian behavior.” Are we to understand from these that re-generated people in those congregations who believed, for example, that one had to be a Jew before being eligible to be a Christian were not truly saved? Are we to believe that Peter, who seems to have shared that belief, was not truly saved?
Before taking it upon yourself to judge another's eternal state, based upon how he or she measures up to standards that you have developed from your understanding of Scripture, I invite you to consider this passage:
I believe it a simple matter to judge and/or condemn another for some perceived shortcoming. I do not, however, believe it possible to judge perfectly without knowing all that can be known about the person and his or her action or failure to act. There is but one Perfect Judge, and one day we shall all stand before Him. Then, He will separate the sheep from the goats without error.
I believe that we are able to judge with whom we choose to associate, what is socially acceptable behavior or what shoes to wear, but not another's relationship with our Lord. I leave that to God.
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