If you look at the question posed in the title of this post, you might be wondering if I am hinting that conversion is not as important as it is made out to be. No, but I am merely trying to uncover why this emphasis on that first conversion to Christ seems to be the “end all and be all” for many Evangelical Christians. Their focus is heavily weighted on that first encounter with the grace of God tugging on our heartstrings to realize our need for God and be “Born again.”
For the Evangelical, becoming “born again” often happens like this: when someone hears a sermon about the need to be “born again,” they are told by the preacher that “If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and believe he died for your sins, you’ll be born again!” It is then that the person makes “a decision for Christ” and is led in “the sinners prayer” by the minister. Then once you have prayed that prayer, the minister tells you that you have been “saved or born again.” As a Catholic, have you ever been asked if you have been “born again?” Well, if you have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then your answer should be a very strong “YES!”
All Christians agree that to be saved, you have to be “born again.” Jesus answered this question directly when he said; “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (John 3:3)” The Church’s teaching, along with the biblical teaching, is that baptism is the initial event that saves an individual. St. Peter makes it clear, “…during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…(1 Peter 3:20-21).” In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).” It is through baptism that we are born again and receive the Holy Spirit. After baptism, the individual must then cooperate with the grace given to him throughout his life. It is not a one time shot, but it is an on-going process of conversion throughout one’s life.
But for many Evangelicals, that initial “born again” experience is all one needs to gain heaven in the after-life. And because of that, they don’t have a very developed theology about the spiritual life or the interior life or even the moral life, and they put a heavy emphasis in their spirituality on “conversion-ism.” So, the way that you show people that you are a good Christian is by winning people over by proselytizing them. In other words, focusing primarily on bringing people to a born again experience and saving the persons soul. In fact, there are some churches that make it a high-pressure “religious duty” to win over souls.
For the Christian who believes in a “once saved always saved” theology, there is less emphasis on a daily conversion. And let’s face it, if you believe that a person is saved with one act of professed faith, then what sins that person may commit after his conversion doesn’t seem as important. O sure, you would want to try and live a moral life, but if you don’t, it doesn’t effect your salvation. So no matter if you commit sins such as stealing, rape and murder, or whether you ask for forgiveness or not, doesn’t matter because you will still attain salvation. Unfortunately, this type of theology leads many astray. That type of thinking leads many to stray from a moral life in Christ because they have already received their “get out of jail free card” so to speak.
So as a Catholic, how would you answer an Evangelical Christian who asks the question “Have you received Christ?” Well, you would answer with the words of scripture. Point to Galatians chapter 3, verse 27, where St Paul tells us; “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” You have become a member of Christ by virtue of your baptism. That is the teaching of Sacred Scripture. Furthermore, in Romans chapter 6 St. Paul says, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” And of couse in the Gospel of John chapter 15, verse 4, Jesus says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” And how do we abide in Jesus? Well, the answer can be found in the Gospel of John chapter 6, verse 55-56, where Jesus says, “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” He gives us the Eucharist, the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Until next time, God bless.