Catechesis: “Religious or biblical instruction provided to a prospective convert to prepare him or her for salvation (baptism).”
American evangelicalism is steeped in complacency and hypocrisy because they have cheapened salvation. It’s a “come one, come all” approach offering instant, free and no commitment religion plus a guaranteed ticket to heaven when you die. What could be simpler, easier, more attractive or unbiblical?
I attended several Billy Graham crusades when I was an evangelical. I “led a person to Jesus” while serving as a counsellor in Manchester, England. Back then I didn’t know differently. I had been taught this was how it was to be done. Later I would learn this methodology has no support in the Bible or early history of Christianity.
If you were a pagan living in the first centuries of Christianity, and you decided you wanted to become a Christian, it wasn’t so simple. Salvation was technically “free” but it came with a stiff price — repentance. To evangelicals this seems contradictory but it is not.
Imagine someone wants to give you an expensive gift for free. All they ask is you accept it with the proper attitude. You must demonstrate immense gratitude for the sacrifice the giver is making in parting with this cherished, priceless possession. They are not asking for anything but a spirit of thankfulness. Now imagine, if it was a spirit of remorse or contrition that was the asking price. Is it any different?
Repentance is defined as, “A change of mind.” In a biblical context it carries the idea of turning from sin to God. The question is does this turn take place before or after salvation?
The emphasis on repentance as essential for gaining salvation is attested to throughout the gospels and Acts. It seems ridiculous to have to defend the prominence given to it in the Bible. Suppose a murderer and thief approached Jesus for eternal life. Does anyone honestly think Jesus would not demand he promise to give up his live of crime?
John the Baptist offered a “baptism of repentance” and when asked what that meant, he gave specific actions which one was to take to “prove” he had repented of his sinful ways. Jesus told the rich young ruler to give away his wealth to gain eternal life. The Apostles likewise demanded those seeking salvation to “repent and be baptized.” When and why did evangelicals loose their way?
Repentance is considered by many evangelicals as an added qualification which violates the principle of “grace” and faith alone to receive it. Furthermore, it is maintained an unregenerate carnal creature is incapable of repentance prior to salvation. It can only come after one’s sin nature has been crucified and God’s Holy Spirit now indwells them. This discussion is now descending into the blurry world of theological theorem.
Anyone who has spent time sifting through the teachings of Calvinism and Arminianism knows how confusing they are to reconcile with New Testament teaching. Both are simultaneously consistent and inconsistent with our understanding of God’s sovereignty and mercy. This antinomy is easily resolved when all elements of the supernatural are removed.
These are man made concepts invented to justify sectarianism and tribalism on one hand (Calvinism) and moral responsibility and culpability on the other (Arminianism). Fatalism and free will are contradictory and each appears incompatible especially in light of God’s love, grace and mercy.
Why would God choose one person over another person based solely on divine whim? Why would God condemn someone to eternal torture on the basis on predetermined choice? Or why would God place the eternal destiny of one person in the hands of another because of the latter’s obedience to evangelize? Why would God seemingly select more Americans than Muslims for salvation, or Europeans than Indians? Why does God elect a disproportionate amount of children born to Christian parents over those without a Christian background? Why does God seem to center his choices in Christian countries rather than Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist cultures? Why have hundreds of millions of Jews not fallen under God’s sovereign love despite the birth of a Jewish messiah?
Of course, these are all hypotheticals which point out the flagrant flaws in Christian views of salvation in today’s world wide marketplace of belief systems. It was easy to vilify other religions prior to globalization. Nothing destroys prejudice more than exposure to those things and people that once were mostly mysterious and unknown. Christianity fit in well two thousand years ago but it has outlived both its relevance and its usefulness.
Sadly, American evangelicals continue to traffic in ignorance and prejudice. Muslims, immigrants, the media and science, to name a few, continue to be viewed with abject skepticism and mistrust as possible threats to the faith. The Bible is blindly elevated to supreme status as the only reliable source of truth despite having any rational basis to this claim.
I began this article with a call to return to catechesis. If adopted, potential converts would be subjected to a rigorous pre-conversion (baptism) examination of the tenets of Christianity. They would learn the central doctrines and more importantly what is expected of a Christian. Would a person be willing to relinquish all past behavior not in conformity to biblical standards? This would include but not be limited to: drunkeness, sex outside marriage, pride, greed, materialism, pornography, sexually suggestive music, movies and television, accumulation of wealth, drugs, gluttony, slothfulness, gossip and envy. In addition, the new convert would be expected to engage in active Christian service, evangelism, daily Bible study, prayer, fasting, alms giving, practice moderation in dress, self denial, servanthood and humility.
In the early centuries of Christianity this period of “instruction” whereby the catechumen waited to be saved via baptism and gain full participation in the church could be weeks, months or even years. One of the reasons being it allowed to person to systematically eradicate their sinful practices before baptism wiped their “slate” clean. So important was baptism in the salvation process, many would be Christians waited until close to death before being absolved of all guilt thus ensuring a clean entrance into heaven.
Like repentance, baptism too has been minimized within evangelicalism. If taught at all, it is a post-conversion event having no efficacy, only symbolism as an ordinance.
Evangelicals have streamlined salvation by stripping these heretofore essential components of repentance and baptism. Evangelicalism is largely populated from within by childhood converts. Others enter the faith by simple confession without a promise of repentance. Televangelists tempt viewers with offers of prosperity or healing in exchange for funds (donations). The sick, weak, elderly, lonely and desperate are preyed upon by these shameless hucksters of salvation. Others join the faith hoping to find the answers promised only to discover their expectations are seldom met. Rarely does the gospel reach beyond these to the well informed, healthy, successful and educated adult of society. Evangelicalism is a religion of opportunism.
The true genius of evangelicalism, and all of Christianity for that matter, is the absolute uncertainty of the afterlife. At some point, the demon of terror confronts all of us contemplating death. It, however, is easily vanquished for those willing to accept the gift of salvation through belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Replacing fear with hope has fueled Christianity for centuries. Evangelicalism has grown in popularity because unlike any other subset of Christianity, their version of the gospel is cheaper, easier and commitment free. It is an offer hard to resist.
Note to Reader: This post has touched on a few issues deserving fuller discussion. Soon to follow articles will discuss in detail the key elements of salvation including baptism, repentance and good works.