Many of our local evangelical non-Catholic churches are filled with former Catholics. When you ask the pastors of these parishes what they think about the Catholic faith they will tell you that Christianity is about a relationship and not a ritual. In their worldview Catholic worship is at a minimum a stumbling block to a relationship with Jesus. Many of their members will recount stories about how they were bored at Mass and were never told that it was possible to have a relationship with Jesus. By becoming an evangelical they had a conversion experience that led them closer to Jesus. I had a very similar experience when I left the Lutheran church of my youth and became a member of the local Baptist church. I did not know how to answer the question “when were you saved?”, so they assumed my Lutheran parish did not teach anything about having a relationship with Jesus. I was taught by my well meaning Baptist friends that Lutherans were for the most part trying to work their way into heaven, and if I wanted to be saved, I would have to say a “sinner’s prayer”. It did not help that the Lutherans I asked told me that as long as you are a pretty good person you would go to heaven. Their answers were not representative of the Lutheran creed which is that we are saved by “faith alone”. (This is a simplistic understanding of the Lutheran doctrine on “law and Gospel”. We don’t have time to discuss it in depth here.) It would take me 3 additional years of intensive study to arrive home in the Catholic Church in 2005.
Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages is an antidote to the subjectivism that has infiltrated modern society and the Christian Church. The word “creed” comes from the Latin, credo, which means “I believe.” He opens the book by reminding us that what we profess to be true makes us who we are. Our beliefs have a radical, lasting, and profound effect on our life. My wife and I were not permitted to have alcohol or to dance at our wedding because of the creed of our baptist church. Our belief in “once saved, always saved” caused us to be lax about sin – especially what we understand as venial sin. We had sincerely prayed a sinner’s prayer, therefore advancing in the spiritual life here on earth did not take on the gravity it does in the Catholic Church. We live our lives according to the creed that we profess.
After an overview of the development of creeds in the Old Testament through the early Fathers, Dr. Hahn focuses on the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and how pregnant with meaning and mystery the smallest statements are within them. No one in my baptist church could explain why we were opposed to the Nicene Creed or why we did not use it other than that we were anti-ritual. Yet, our baptist church had its own creed as a statement of beliefs that every member had to agree to adhere to. Lex orandi, lex credendi and lex credendi, lex orandi. Our Protestant creed shaped our manner of worship. “No one needs to profess faith in obvious facts. Confessional statements are solemn because they express an interior act of faith in something supremely important-something essential, yet unknowable apart from divine Revelation. We confess our faith in ‘things that are unseen’ and ‘eternal’ (2 Cor. 4:18).” (page 25)
The irony of being opposed to ritual is that the sinner’s prayer is itself ritual and confessional. It follows a biblical command to profess Christ as Lord with our lips (Romans 10:9). Scott Hahn notes that making such a confession turns us into a witness – and early witnesses become early martyrs. In the same way evangelists today are called to confess the fullness of the Christian faith. “The Apostles could not airdrop Bibles into the cities they evangelized. What they did was preach the Gospel. They presented the story of salvation in a summary way, with narrative and doctrinal elements. St. Peter’s primordial sermon, on the day of the first Christian Pentecost, accomplishes this. He speaks of Jesus’ death, Resurrection, Ascension into glory, and sending of the Spirit (Acts 2:22-23).” (page 36) That is what our evangelists do every day with St. Paul Street Evangelization. We learn a person’s story and share the great story, the creed, according to where that person is on their walk with God. We take them on an Emmaus walk and give them a “great reason” (according to our training) to become Catholic. And people do become Catholic or return to the practice of their Catholic faith. The creed gives a summary of objective truth, and that spoken word sets hearts ablaze for God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
If we are not experiencing revival, conversion, or a Pentecost in our own parishes and neighborhoods we have to ask if we are really evangelizing – if we are carrying the Gospel into the city streets, into the places of darkness that need to be illuminated by the Gospel. The Apostles cured the sick, set free captives, healed the broken, and even raised the dead. Why do we think that the Holy Spirit wants to do any less today, through you and I? God delights in using us to unfold His plan in the world. We simply need to ask and act.
In your own preparation to evangelize, I recommend Dr. Hahn’s work. He takes what many think is unfashionable, antiquated, irrelevant, erroneous, and backwards and brings it alive again. As one of my college professors said “it is a sin to bore people with the Gospel”. Hahn’s book reminds us why our faith is such an adventure and the incredible reality behind the words that we speak each day at Mass. After all, if we get the creed wrong, we get it all wrong – we endanger our salvation and our ability to bring Christ to the world.
Order Creed using our link and amazon will send a portion of your payment to SPSE to help us fund our evangelization activities. Also consider purchasing a copy of our new book Catholic Street Evangelization published by Ignatius Press.
Adam Janke is the Program Director for St. Paul Street Evangelization.