Life, As I Find It
In my last few posts I mentioned that love for the Bible, for the church, for prayer and chicken casseroles were a few things I learned as a Baptist, each playing an important part in my life as a Catholic. Well, not so much the chicken casseroles. As Catholic, I think it’s been more about donuts and pizza.
The last thing I have to mention in this crazy series is the Baptist emphasis on evangelism. In the list of things a Baptist had to do, leading other people to Jesus – witnessing, sharing the Gospel — was huge. It was so huge, in fact, that every church service presented an opportunity to do it. If the Catholic Mass was centered around the Eucharist, the Baptist worship service was centered around preaching the Word so people would ask Jesus into their hearts (or rededicate their lives to the Lord).
As a member of our Baptist church, I was expected to witness to anyone and everyone about Jesus every chance I had. And I often did. You can ask some of my friends about it. I preached, passed out “Chick Tracts” at school, went through the “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet with anyone who’d listen, and even went door-to-door with members of the Pastoral staff using a well-tuned program called “Evangelism Explosion” to tell people about Jesus. I’m astonished to think of it now. The sheer audacity would be completely unacceptable these days.
It’s a puzzler, now, that the Catholic Church has been called to the New Evangelization – and no one seems to know what to do.
I have a couple of theories about that. For one thing, my Baptist Church had a great set-up evangelistically. If I witnessed to someone about Jesus, I could always invite him to a church service. Since the service itself was geared to evangelism, the person I invited was given a chance there to become a Christian. And the offer to “ask Jesus into your heart” is so simple. Anyone can do that. Technically speaking, according to some Protestant teaching, a person can do it and never even go back to church.
Catholics don’t have that advantage. Invite someone to a Catholic Mass and that poor person would be so confused by the liturgy that there’d be no chance to “bring them to Jesus.” They’d be out the door faster than most of the Catholics, if they use their elbows to get through the quickly-exiting crowd. The Catholic Mass is not evangelistically-friendly.
I’m not advocating that it should be, by the way. I’m not sure, historically, when Church went from a meeting of believers to being an evangelistic tool, and I’m not sure it should be. But it has in the Protestant realm – which gives Protestants an edge. That’s another conversation for another time.
Let’s admit the obvious: Catholicism isn’t as conducive to evangelism as Protestantism. A Protestant church – certainly my Baptist church – is focused on getting people to ask Jesus into their hearts, and all that stuff about discipleship and commitment could come later, if at all. When a person is “saved by Grace alone,” all those “works” aren’t really important, so why muddle things up be mentioning them? The important thing was to close the sale and worry about the fine-print some other time.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, puts all of the fine-print in front of people before they’re allowed to become Catholic. It’s like going through the detailed contract for a house before you ever let someone into the house. So, guess what? In this consumer-based, turn-it-around-quick society, the Catholic Church is going to lose a lot of people to other churches. As usual, the Catholic Church and its teaching is at odds with all the best marketing sensibilities. Come to think of it, so was Jesus. He repeatedly asked people to count the cost and pick up their crosses. That was a bad move evangelistically.
No wonder the average Catholic hears a phrase like “New Evangelization” and looks like they’d just read the terms and conditions for a Microsoft product. Bewilderment – panic – lethargy – what’s a Catholic to do? As a Baptist, a phrase like “New Evangelization” would have meant someone had published a new tract.
Now that I’m a Catholic, I am still passionate about evangelism. I’m simply not sure how to do it, except to make the effort to talk about my journey or correct the many misconceptions people have about the Church. That’s a form of evangelizing I’m excited about. And, for that, I can thank my Baptist church.
Art for this post on How Being a Baptist Prepared Me to Be a Good Catholic (Part IV of IV): Sakramentskirken Copenhagen lectern, photographed by lb Rasmussen, 10 October 2008, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.