A Pentecostal and a Catholic Discuss the Essence of Christianity

In which I talk with a Catholic about the nature of Christianity.

I’ve been meaning to mention for a while now that I’ve started a blog conversation with Sean Gallagher (a Catholic who runs a blog title Note Bene) about the reason Petencostal missionaries seem to target Catholics.

Here’s the rundown so far: it all began when I read Sean’s August 24th post about Pentecostal proselytism. I made a comment on that posting explaining my point of view.

As a Pentecostal missionary (albeit to Stanford and not Latin America), I’d like to comment.

Some people who attend Catholic churches are followers of Jesus, and some are not. My strong impression is that here in the Americas the majority are not.

By way of disclaimer, I would like to add my belief that the same problem exists in most denominations (including mine): too many people are involved because of momentum and not because of faith. I do think the problem is particularly acute in the RCC.

That being said, I never deliberately seek to proselytize people who are faithful adherents of another Christian tradition. In general, if a student tells me they are a Christian I believe them, and I try to help them grow in their faith. If I am of significant help to them, they often wind up switching their adherence.

However, when I meet someone without a vibrant faith (such as the infamous Easter and Christmas only crowd), I try to help them either reawaken a faith grown cold or discover true faith for the first time. Whenever that happens, they almost always switch their adherence. This is what I believe is happening in South America.

The switch has two roots, I think: one is an emotional intuition that what’s working for us might work for them since we were so helpful to them, the other is that we express significantly different doctrinal positions from the RCC that if believed make a switch virtually inevitable.

He thought that what I said was pretty interesting, and brought it to the attention of his readers. Shortly thereafter, he posted a series of questions for me answer


I answered his questions via email, but for your convenience, here they are:

I’ll answer your questions as best I can, just remember that I’m not a spokesperson for my denomination (much less for all of Pentecostalism)… I come from the strand of Pentecostalism that values other traditions without compromising the integrity of my own (much like the founders of the Society for Pentecostal Studies).

First, what is a follower of Jesus? I should state for the record that I am using this term synonymously with Christian. The authors of the New Testament seem to have been incapable of conceiving of a Christian who was not actively seeking to emulate Jesus. Jesus’ call was (and is) to “come, follow me.” In fact the very label Christian refers to the concept of ‘little Christs.’ Having said that, I would define a follower of Jesus as someone who has embraced the teachings and example of Jesus as the foundation of their lives and has brought their lives under the influence of the God (become citizens of the Kingdom). The classic word for this action is repent: to turn from a self-directed life to a God-directed life.

Second, defining a faithful adherent is always tricky. I mean both faithful (consistent participant in a local community of Christian faith) and faith-full (conforms to the definition above). Allow me to demonstrate by way of counterexample what I’m getting at:

* Suppose that I’m in conversation with a student and they discover that I’m an ambassador for Christ. They make some sort of comment along the following lines, “Yeah, I was raised in church, but I just don’t find it meaningful. I stopped going when I was a teenager.” In my mind, they flunk both tests–they need to be introduced to the King and enrolled in a local community of like-minded believers.

* Suppose that I meet a student who says, “Yeah, I love going to church–that’s where all the cute girls go!” (and upon investigation I discover that they really are that shallow). They pass the consistency test but fail the follower of Jesus test.

* Suppose that I meet a student who says, “Yeah–I really admire Jesus. But I hate the church–they’ve really let me down. I’ll never set foot in a church again!” Perhaps they pass test #2 (further investigation is needed), but they fail test #1.

I would consider all these people in desperate need of God’s grace expressed through human love in the context of a community earnestly following Jesus. Please note that I never mentioned a specific denominational background for any of them–it’s irrelevant to these examples.

Third, how would I as a Pentecostal help a Catholic grow in their faith? That’s an excellent question! Basically I do it the same way I help anyone to grow in their faith: love them unconditionally, pray for them consistently, encourage them in righteousness, and rebuke them in sin. Teach them the lessons of Scripture (I should note that my interpretation of Scripture differs from the Catholic understanding at points. I obviously teach what I believe to be true). Give reasonable answers to honest questions. In addition, here are a few other actions I’d take with someone from a churched background:

* I’ve noticed that many college-aged people engage in liturgy by rote and fail to understand its significance (confirmation notwithstanding). I’d try to help them see it with fresh eyes: as a heartfelt expression of worship and devotion to God. I’d probably also give them a copy of something like Peter Kreeft’s One Catholic to Another.

* I’ve also noticed that many students raised in church (of whatever tradition) have a very juvenile understanding of faith–their religious education stalled at a junior high level and they’ve never probed their faith at an age-appropriate level. Incidentally, I think that’s one of the reasons so many college students bail on the church. They’re trying to incorporate irreconcilable worldviews in their minds: one a 7th-grade understanding of the good news and the other a college-level understanding of secular philosophy. Guess which one wins? To that end, I’d try to help students reframe their questions and seek answers in a more sophisticated manner.

* Another high priority on my list is to help students experience the immediate supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (including the charismata). The Bible portrays charismatic Christianity as the normative model for followers of Jesus. We are to exhibit not only the fruit of the Spirit but also the gifts of the Spirit.

Fourth, I think I’ve addressed this question in my response to questions one and two. A vibrant faith is a combination of belief and trust that makes a difference in one’s day-to-day opinions, feelings, and behavior.

I hope I’ve answered your questions meaningfully. I’m sure you’ll have some comments in response.

So far he’s posted his reponse to my answer to his first question: What Defines a Follower of Jesus? I’ll try to respond as soon as I can (although my in-laws are visiting and that will make computer time harder to come by).

4 thoughts on “A Pentecostal and a Catholic Discuss the Essence of Christianity”

  1. [quote comment=“”]i am just wondering could you tell me the diffrent between pentalcostal and catholic faiths[/quote]

  2. They are both expressions of Christianity.

    Within that, Catholics believe that God has vested unique authority to the Pope and the Church which he leads. Pentecostals, like all Protestants, reject that claim.

    In addition, Pentecostals believe strongly that God works miracles today.

  3. have you ever heard of,or seen people without the anointing of god speak in tounges

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