(this series is a set of real emails but the dates and names and other telltale details (aside from mine) have been removed. and of course i rewrote some phrases that weren't in English :) i'm posting this because these words apply to more people than just my friend and i :) )
Subject: the heart of the matter :)
before anything else, you asked in one of your emails that i keep an open mind. i ask of you the same, to read this all through first :)
i agree with what you said, that if there is no one authority (like the Catholic Church) to explain about God, faith, and other important issues, then there might possibly be countless interpretations which might even contradict each other! i agree that it's possible.
but i ask you, personally, to just read the Bible first for yourself. The parts mentioned in the liturgy, the parts not mentioned. it's written in a clear manner, actually. if we just take the time to read even a little, bit by bit -- you'll see that it's not really as open to misinterpretation as i once thought it was.
you mentioned about Assemblies of God, Methodists, and other Bible-believing churches. i understand your point there. the best way to reply :) is to give a counter-example: there is a Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in UP, an Immaculate Conception Church in Marikina, a St. Paul's Church...Catholic churches may even have the same name (ex: St. Peter's) without necessarily being related. But we know they are all Catholic, no doubt.
but what about the different doctrines/practices/emphases in these Bible-believing churches? how can they say they have one source – the Bible -- and diverge? again i'll give a counter-example: different religious orders for priests, nuns and lay people, with varying focuses and life ministries. Again we all know they are Catholic.
lastly, it's a sad, tragic fact that groups like Iglesia ni Cristo and Dating Daan are grouped along with Bible-believing churches. The Philippines is mostly Catholic, so the common delineation is "Catholic" and "others". in much the same way as, possibly, an atheist would group together the monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) – we know they're significantly different.
actually someone posed a similar question to me, but he immediately realized the answer before i did: "By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:20) when in doubt, about INC or anything, look at the 'fruits': does one's faith really show in his or her life? is he or she practicing what he or she is preaching?
all of the above is just an intro :) so my email is about "the heart of the matter", because the biggest issue -- salvation -- has already been mentioned. i feel like i have to say all this first because i'll be quoting much Scripture and i actually want to quote more! again, as you have asked me, i ask you to keep an open mind, and really, sincerely, deeply, i ask you to read the Bible too. i'd understand if you would think i'm just choosing and arranging Bible verses to fit my own 'grand plan' or what i've heard from others :) so i ask you again to just read for yourself, and understand beyond what anyone else is telling you, myself included :)
beyond the traditions, the history, the politics, and everything else, what is the one major difference between the Catholic faith and the 'Bible-believing'/'Protestant'/'born-again Christian' faith? it's "salvation by faith and good works" versus "salvation by faith alone."
Jesus asks, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46). James also remarks, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble!" (James 2:19)
i remember too when as a Catholic girl i've heard bits and pieces of what biblical Christianity teaches. it's controversial, to say the least, declaring that "faith alone saves" -- we all know of criminals, mass murderers, and even just those "very annoying" people (i'm just using a common argument, please bear with me) who say they believe in God and yet their actions are far from "good". surely, it's the good people who go to heaven and the bad people who go to hell -- not vice versa!
definitely, faith should show in actions -- we cannot say we are "followers" of Jesus if we do not actually "follow" His example and His teachings :) obedience and good works are litmus tests of our faith in Him.
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock...But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand." (Matthew 7:24,26)
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:21-23)
salvation is more than that.
God is good, and we follow Him if we do good. But our own efforts are, literally, not good enough. Are we not struggling, still sinning every now and then, unintentionally or not? even as children of God we make mistakes. and we deserve to be punished. But God, like any loving parent, still chose to make a way for us: He sent Jesus.
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8)
why is it that Jesus -- God -- became flesh and dwelt among us? it's often been said that Jesus died for my sins and the sins of the world. but I never really got that until i was in my twenties! Jesus died for my sins -- He took the punishment that should have been mine! meaning...i can now live as forgiven; i can now live as free.
in Paul's letter to the Romans he knew the controversial aspects of grace (God's goodness and mercy completely undeserved). in much the same way that i was once scandalized by the implications of "salvation by faith alone". won't this be open to abuse? (to repeat James' quote earlier: "even demons believe!")
so Paul continues, still in Romans:
"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
"If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with [or rendered powerless] that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
"Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." (Romans 6:1-14)
Paul explains comprehensively, but still the shock, the scandal, the ontroversy remains. Isn't it even a little bit unfair that *merely* believing in Jesus, accepting that He died for me, would result in my forgiveness, regardless of how heinous and "unforgivable" my sins were? But i recall the stories that were hard to accept too at first -- the prodigal son (the father rejoiced that he came back), the workers in the vineyard (the last-hour workers got the same wage as the whole-day workers), the lost sheep (the shepherd leaves the 99 safe ones to look for one lost), also the thief beside Jesus on the cross (no more opportunity to do good works).
for the longest time i saw myself as righteous in always striving to do the right thing -- so i can relate to the "unfairness" of it all. i saw myself as the diligent brother of the prodigal son, the whole-day worker, one of the 99 safe sheep, the good citizen who did not do any crime and was not condemned to die on a cross.
i've heard so many people say to me, "but i'm not a criminal..." "i'm not a murderer or a rapist..." "i'm not as bad, as, say, ---..."
it's not enough. i realized that for myself, when i finally saw how sinful and unworthy i am. finally, my self-righteousness crumbled and i became sincerely grateful: the "unfairness" of God's goodness was in fact working for my favor!
the holiness of God is something that we cannot attain by ourselves. When Jesus came, He raised the old Laws (of the Israelites) even higher: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder [Exodus 20:13], and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca [an Aramaic term of contempt],' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery [Exodus 20:14].' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce [Deuteronomy 24:1].' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No', 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21].' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:17-48)
but God made a way. Jesus had to be in human form to take on the punishment of we who are humans as well. a writer said that He played fair -- because He imposed a justice system that He Himself was willing to be subject under. Sin deserves punishment. All of us, no matter how 'good', still have sinned and deserve an eternity away from God's presence. but to be fair, Jesus went and took on our sins so we don't have to.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)
"[The disciples] asked, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" (Matthew 19:25-26; Mark 10:26-27; Luke 18:26-27)
salvation is a gift.
(a) it's not earned or deserved:
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)
(b) it's offered freely: not because we earned it (see (a)), for the only thing we deserve is punishment
"The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23)
(c) we cannot have it until we accept it. (this is so obvious we often overlook it!)
"If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." (Romans 10:9, 10)
"Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved!" (Romans 10:13)
it's a paradox. we've often heard, "to see is to believe": but as people of faith we can testify that "to believe is to see".
similarly, it's mind-boggling, but i can testify to this with my own life, as people around me can see: "Christ forgave me, so i can be free to do good."
not the other way around.
"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [or as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
"Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." (Romans 3:19-31)
"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about -- but not before God. What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness [Genesis 15:6,22].' (Romans 4:1-2)
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith --- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God --- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:8-10)
we are created to do good works but we are saved because we put our faith in the only One who can actually save us. :)
i don't want to point fingers at personal lives because there's a danger of using "bad" examples -- someone who misrepresents his or her faith. having said that as a disclaimer, there were several times you mentioned about my devoutness as a Catholic (or lack thereof), including my family's faith. just as a personal request, please don't drag my family into this discussion. since i'm the only one talking here, please direct all questions, doubts, even attacks, to me and me only. it would not be fair to them, would it?
again, i'd rather not go into picking at personal lives, but i understand that it's sometimes the most effective testimony. besides, the people around me, who see me day in and day out, would have a good idea whether i practice what i preach, or whether i've really been transformed, right? so here goes.
i have never been the ideal Catholic school girl. this is probably not surprising :) of course in a grade school run by nuns the religious activities were maintained, but afterward when i attended a secular high school and later a secular university (that's UP), i barely went to mass, and i rarely confessed my sins to a priest.
hence my knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith may be called into question. but all i can say is, i know enough of Catholicism and i knew what i was leaving behind. as we're discussing this through email even with ----, and you're giving explanations, i know of those explanations as well, even before i left.
we've agreed to keep an open mind. here's the thing: i've known about the Catholic faith since birth, and recently i've learned about the biblical Christian faith. then i made a decision.
you've also mentioned about your friends, who were also converted. did they also know what they were choosing, and what they were leaving behind?
i'm saying all this to let you know about the biblical Christian faith. it's a personal journey each one has to make; i'm just letting you know what it's about.
it's interesting that you also mentioned about the "way back home". loyalty is a virtue, and respect for authority is good in itself. in your eyes i might look as the prodigal daughter or the lost sheep, and i agree that i was once like that. perhaps we disagree on whether i was already saved, or have already found my way home.
where is home anyway? i may be seen as just another subversive, a rebel, someone who got lost. but we don't shake our heads at Peter and the others when they left Judaism for Christianity. we rejoice when an atheist finally accepts Christ. of course, this is not to say that we should disregard authority and tradition and the beliefs we grew up with.
but you see, i came from the same background as you.
and now i'm learning the depths of His power and grace.
and He has transformed my life for all to see.
if i found the Spring of Living Water, will i not rush back to tell my
thirsty fellowmen? :)
P.S. please feel free to forward this to ----- and everyone else! i don't mind it being sent to everyone! :) i want to tell everyone i know, even those i don't know :)
thanks again for the opportunity to hear me out :) God bless us all :)