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Do Catholics and Evangelicals Worship the Same Jesus?

October 24, 2017

In March I was visiting with a Catholic client to prepare taxes. The conversation veered to spiritual matters, and I explained why I decided to leave the Roman Catholic religion in December of 1991. I shared with him how I studied the Book of Colossians, and how this led to a spiritual crisis. He was receptive to further discussion, and we spoke for about an hour.

My friend made a comment that led me to the topic for this newsletter. He said “all Christian denominations have added their own traditions and interpretations to the simple, core doctrines of Christianity.” He claimed that Catholicism and evangelicalism both hold to these core convictions. “For example, don’t we both believe that Jesus is the Savior?” But my study of Colossians caused me to question everything I believed as a Catholic. My understanding of the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of Jesus would be completely altered. Numbers in parentheses are references in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Who Jesus Is? My Different Jesus

I. The Body and Soul of Jesus

As a Catholic, I was taught that the bread and wine become Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity.

“For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.” (1324)

“By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and the whole substance of the wine into the substance of the blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” (1376)

[I now believe that the bread and wine are a symbolic memorial and are not the literal body and blood of the Savior.] 

II. The Authority of Jesus 

As a Catholic, I was taught that the Pope is the head of the Church.

“The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, ‘is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.’ ‘For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.'” (882)

“For by this Church, by reason of its pre-eminence, the whole Church, that is the faithful everywhere, must necessarily be in accord.” (834) 

[I now believe Jesus is pre-eminent and is the head of the church, and  that the Pope usurps Christ’s authority] 

III. The Priestly Office of Jesus 

As a Catholic, I was taught to seek the intercession of Mary, the Pope, the Priest, the Saints, and the Church.

“Taken up to heaven she [Mary] did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation…Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix.” (969)

The intercession of the saints. ‘Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…[T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…'” (956) 

[I now believe and trust in only one Mediator, Jesus.]

 

Where Jesus is? His Different Location 

I. Jesus on the Altar 

As a Catholic, I was taught that I could worship Jesus at the local Church, where He is a sacrificial offering at the Mass. Jesus would become bread and wine and enter my stomach. He remained with me until fully digested.

“The Eucharist presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharist species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.” (1377)

Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord.” (1378) 

II. A Wafer to be Worshiped 

As a Catholic, I also worshiped him in a glass enclosure known as a monstrance.

“‘The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.'” (1378)

[I now believe that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in heaven.]

 

When Did Jesus? My Different Time Frame 

I. When Did Jesus Baptize Me? 

As a Catholic, I was taught that I was “born again” when I received the sacrament of baptism as an infant.

“Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: ‘Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water and in the word.'” (1213)

“Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.” (1250) 

[I now believe that I was “born again” when I received Christ by faith at age 34.]

II. When Will Jesus Grant Me Eternal Life?

As a Catholic, I was taught that I would achieve eternal life through life-long adherence to the sacramental system of Catholicism.

“Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.” (1213)

“Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.” (1446) 

[I now believe that I have already received eternal life.] 

III. When is Jesus Sacrificed?

 As a Catholic, I was taught that Jesus was sacrificed on the altar at every Mass.

 “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different; ‘In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.'” (1367)

[I now believe that the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is sufficient for my salvation.]

 

How Did Jesus? My Different Righteousness

 I. Infusions or Imputation?

 As a Catholic, I believed I was receiving infusions of Christ’s righteousness by participating in the Catholic sacramental system. The sacraments would cleanse me and enable me to do good works. If I died pure and in a state of grace, I would go to heaven. If I died with some righteousness, I would enter purgatory.

“The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life.” (1813)

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (1030)

[I now believe that I have already been credited with all the righteousness of Jesus through faith.]

 II. Inherent or Alien?

As a Catholic, I was taught that I must be inherently righteous in order to merit heaven.

“‘Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” (1989)

[I now believe that I have been credited with an alien righteousness, the perfect righteousness of Jesus.]

 

Why Did Jesus? My Impossible Task

 I. Can I Merit?

 As a Catholic, I was taught that I must merit entrance to heaven. I could accomplish this through the intercession of the Church, the infallible nature and authority of the Pope, the mediation of Mary at the hour of my death, the intercession of the saints, making confessions to the priest, and through good works performed by the power of the sacraments, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass.

“Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” (2010)

[I now believe that it is impossible to merit heaven. Perfection is required. My only hope of heaven is Jesus and his righteousness. I am not worthy. It is all of grace.]

 II. Can I be Pure?

As a Catholic, I was taught that there were two kinds of sin, mortal and venial. Mortal sins bankrupted me of my righteousness and could only be forgiven in the sacrament of penance. I had to make satisfaction for my sin (usually by reciting a few “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers”) through penance in order to restore my relationship with God. Venial sins could be remitted by participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Through these sacraments I could be restored to a “state of grace.”

“Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.” (1415)

“Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.” (1861)

[I now believe that it is impossible to be in a pure temporal “state of grace,” and that grace is not like some commodity. I am a sinner, saved by grace. I am a saint.]

 

What Did Jesus Do? My Different Hope

 I. Is it Finished?

 As a Catholic, I was taught that if I sincerely did my best then I could enter purgatory when I died, and eventually get to heaven.

“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (847)

[I now believe that Jesus accomplished my salvation. My sins are forever covered by the shed blood and my hope is in Jesus’ perfect obedience and righteousness.]

 II. Assurance or Presumption?

 As a Catholic, I was taught that I could never be certain of my salvation. There was always the possibility of the commission of a mortal sin. To be assured is to commit the sin of presumption.

“The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption.” (2091)

“There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit.” (2092)

[I now believe  that Jesus accomplished my salvation. My faith is “the assurance of things hope for, the certainty of things not seen.”]

 

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So, do my Catholic friend and I both believe that Jesus is the Savior? Shouldn’t this depend on our definition of “Jesus” and “Savior?” I am pretty sure we disagree on “Who Jesus is.” I am pretty sure we disagree on “Where Jesus is found.” I am pretty sure we disagree on “When Jesus saves us.” I am pretty sure we disagree on “How Jesus saves us.” I am pretty sure we disagree on “Why Jesus Had to Live and Die.” And I am pretty sure we disagree on “What Jesus Accomplished.”

We may have the same vocabulary, but we don’t have the same dictionary.

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