“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I still don’t know who said that, but the older I get, the more I realize it’s rare in life that we see the first step until after the fact. For this journey of ours to the Catholic faith, it came from trying to figure out if John and Chris were really Christians or not.
Both Nolan and I had grown up believing that Catholics needed to be “saved” because they followed a religion based on works. We thought they believed that if they just did enough good works, Heaven was in the bag for them. One time I asked my mom if Catholics were Christians and her response was, “Well, some of them are.” (Most Catholics I’ve mentioned that to have laughed and agreed! Devout Catholics never presume upon their entrance into Heaven. Faithfulness until death is required.)
Our concern for John and Chris was that here were these obviously devout people who love God and are careful to follow what they believe to be true, yet they could be totally deceived. (Y’know, it’s funny, but it was a long time before I ever considered the question of whether or not I was deceived as this incident I’m relating happened before my “rocking chair” experience.)
Over the course of a couple of weeks or so, I had a conversation with John and Chris by e-mail about what they believed. My hope in writing this was that I would be able to reprint those e-mails here, but I cannot find them, so I’ll do my best to explain how the conversation went.
I first asked Chris what she and John believed about salvation–what it is and how it is attained. The answer back surprised me in that, although it wasn’t my exact belief, it was reasonable and based in Scripture. Then they asked a few questions of their own about what we believed. The one that struck me was this, “What do you believe happens to the sins you commit after you accept Christ as your Savior but before you die?” I responded that all sin is covered under the blood of Christ. We still confess to God when we have sinned and tell Him we are sorry, but there isn’t any punishment for the sins because they’re already forgiven. However, even as I typing back my answer, my brain was quickly making connections and conclusions with which I wasn’t comfortable and made my answer seen very full of holes.
If all our sins are covered by the blood of Christ, then why worry about sinning? Well, sure, St. Paul says in Romans 6:1-2 that we are not to continue to sin so that grace may abound. He makes a very clear point about not sinning. However, if one takes the view that once you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior that you are bound for Heaven no matter what, then it logically follows that you could commit any sin you wish and still go to Heaven. So why strain? Because it’s good for you? We should do so out of love for Jesus Himself, but humans are damaged by Original Sin and we will, if given the chance, do the least possible to get the most benefit. If I don’t need to avoid sin in order to enter Heaven, then why avoid what is often pleasurable and the easier way to go?
It quickly became obvious to me that this was an untenable answer. How can we say we shouldn’t sin, but if you do, don’t worry–it’s all covered by the blood of Jesus whether you’re sorry for it or not? As a parent I know that kind of parenting produces spoiled-rotten kids, so why would God use that kind of parenting with us?
Although there were several e-mails back and forth with Chris, I had my question answered about their salvation and believed that they were really Christians. That was enough for me at the time because I was still in the midst of my study of conservative churches. It never occurred to me to consider the Catholic Church. I still considered it a little “out there” like some other churches I knew of that were nice enough and mostly on track, but just a little strange. It never entered my mind that it could be what I was looking for.