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July 10, 2021
Fifty plus years ago, in my early teen years, as a Baptist, we would go to various strip malls (shopping malls were not around yet) and pass out literature asking the reader if they had been saved. Some clever printer made up a batch of “hand bills” that looked like money at a fast glance, but on the back of the bill, it would ask: Have YOU had been SAVED? Some said that they could have picked up the Bible for more profit. Being clever was not our goal, we were seriously concerned about everyone’s eternal soul and whether or not it would get to heaven. In my youthful vigor, I believed what I was told without question or serious thought – only those who had accepted Jesus as their Lord and personal Savior would get to heaven. This belief would automatically exclude Catholics because, despite believing in Jesus, they believed in salvation through “good works”; they also prayed to dead men and women; they worshiped Mary, and they recited endless rote “prayers”. Plus, they drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes, danced and gambled (Friday night Bingo).
There still are those evangelical religions who concentrate their efforts on saving souls by getting people to “Accept Jesus as their Lord and personal Savior”. And, still after two thousand years this challenge has not lost its value. Have we truly accepted Jesus as our Lord; as our Savior? If we say yes, then what do those two words mean, Lord and Savior? If we answer yes, then what do we understand about the “Lordship of Jesus”? What do we understand about the “personal salvation” through Jesus? Most Christian religions believe and teach that Jesus the Christ is both human and divine. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh (cf. Jn 1:1-14). Most Christian religions believe and teach that Jesus really did die on the cross and that very same Jesus rose from the dead three days later. Thus, most Christian religions believe and teach the message of the cross, the salvation of all believers won through the obedience of Jesus the Christ (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). Our salvation was never acquired through any merit of our own, but only through the love and mercy of God.
Many Christians and non-Christians alike are somewhat familiar with John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not die… However, when John’s Gospel was written (in Greek) the word πιστεύω, (pisteuó) was used. In the original context of this word,” to believe” was more than making some decision of accepting an idea about Jesus, but a giving of the self to Jesus. The original Greek word: πιστεύω, was a Part of Speech: Verb. Transliteration: pisteuó. Phonetic Spelling: (pist-yoo'-o) Definition: to believe, entrust. Usage: I believe, have faith in, trust in; pass: I am entrusted with. (Strong's Greek: 4100. πιστεύω (pisteuó) To believe in Jesus, the Son of God, we must entrust our lives to Him. We must live according to His ways. In James’ epistle he writes about the importance of faith being demonstrated through works Faith without works is dead (cf. James 2:14-16). Accepting Jesus as Lord, is about entrusting our very way of living, of being, to the will of God, to actively love our neighbor as God loves.
The role of evangelist has always been the role of the faithful, the baptized Christian. Unfortunately for the Catholic Church, evangelization became the “responsibility” of the trained, the missionary priest. The religious orders, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, etc., sent priests out into the world to educate and baptize a fallen world. There was, and even on to this day, a very good reason for limiting the role of “evangelist” to the trained priesthood. The priests were the ones who were educated in the teaching of the Church, and who were specifically commissioned to preach and teach the Word of God. The populace of centuries past, was not so well trained and could easily lead people into heretical beliefs. While the general world population is much more educated today than centuries ago, untrained “evangelizers” can still dangerously mis-lead unbelievers and neophyte Christians into heretical ideas. The teachings of Jesus are not simply what one person or another “thinks”, but a specific and unique “truth”. An idea that I suppose is hard to understand in America is that: The Church is not a democracy, controlled by the will of the majority. The Church is the Kingdom of God, which invites all to become citizens, but under the singular authority of Christ passed on through the episcopacy. (cf. Documents of the Second Vatican Council, The Church in the Modern World)
The Second Vatican Council brought about many changes in the external Church. The Council did not change ONE SINGLE DOCTRINE. While many people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, see the change of the Mass from Latin to the vernacular, that was not the only, nor (my opinion) the most significant change effected by the Council. Yes, the priesthood singles men out of the general population, to nurture the sacramental life of the Body of Christ, but they are still part of that body, not above it. All the baptized are called to live out the “priesthood” of their baptism (cf. Vatican II Documents, Decree of the Ministry and Life of the Priest, #2) I imagine that the most significant change brought about by the Second Vatican Council was the re-awakening of the role of the laity in the life of the Church.
In December of 1995, Pope Paul VI unveiled his encyclical on evangelization Evangelii Nuntiandi. In this encyclical, St. Paul VI declares that proclaiming the Gospel is not simply one of the functions of the Church, but its primary and foremost responsibility (cf. E. N. #5). Since by our baptism we form the Church under the one head, Christ, it is our first and foremost responsibility as Christians to proclaim the Good News! There becomes a problem when we have allowed ourselves, by desire or circumstance, to drift away from and lose sight of just what the Good News is. In a very narrow understanding of the Good News, I thought that believing (with all my heart and soul) that Jesus died and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of my sins, was the entirety of the Good News. Boy, let me tell you, I was wrong! Yes, the death/Resurrection of Christ, the forgiveness of sin is part of the Good News, but not the whole of it. By the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are freed to become different. We are no longer chained to the sins of our past. Every moment of every day allows for us to become different.
There is a psychological dynamic that comes with change; there is an energy created, an enthusiasm to tell others. The more deeply we involve ourselves in becoming this “new person” the more energetic we become, and the more enthused. We cannot keep the “secret” to ourselves, but are compelled to share it with those close to us. Enriching our own lives in the sacraments, the teachings and life of the Church drives us forward into the world of family and neighbor, sharing this exciting and invigorating GOOD NEWS!