If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Faith-Destroying Theology

In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16)

I never cease to be amazed at how great a dearth, how great a drought of Bible knowledge there is to be heard on the radio.

Let me give you a recent example. I’m driving home on the 16 going east, trying not to be too bored. I switched on my radio, found the FM band and scanned for something worth listening to.  The dial stopped a time or two on some news station, then a country station, and then a purportedly Christian station where a woman was teaching about prayer. She was saying something about God’s readiness to forgive sins. She quoted 1 John 1:9 to emphasize her point.  I knew the verse from memory: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

So far, so good. I settled into my bucket seat, checked my side and rearview mirrors, and waited for her to continue. And then she said something that got me talking back to the radio. “You need to ask the Holy Spirit to help you feel forgiven.”

“Excuse me?” I said to the radio. “What did you just say?”

As if she could hear me, she repeated her statement, “Yes, you need to ask the Holy Spirit to help you feel forgiven.”

I was no longer bored. Getting angrier with each thumpity-thump of the tires on the asphalt, I shouted at the radio: “Ask the Holy Spirit to help you feel forgiven? What does feeling forgiven have to do with being forgiven?” I punched the off switch before she had a chance to utter another syllable of her dangerous faith-destroying and wholly fallacious theology. Christian faith is foreign to her appeal to ‘feelings.’ We’re not forgiven because we feel forgiven.  We’re forgiven because God promises complete forgiveness to every penitent, every time.


Does she not realize the logical consequence of her theology? If we need to feel forgiven before we believe we are forgiven then do we need to feel redeemed by Christ’s blood before we are redeemed by His blood? Do we need to feel God loves us before God actually does love us?

To live life according to our feelings and not according to faith in God’s promises set down in Scripture and taught by the Church is a veritable guaranteed recipe for the shipwreck of our faith. Not only will our walk with Christ be subject to day to day variables that affect our emotions – like the weather, our general health, or how well we slept the night before, but much worse, our confidence in God’s promises will evaporate with the first serious test to our faith, like the death of someone close to us, a divorce, a serious injury or illness.

We walk by faith in a faithful God, and not by sight – or feelings (2 Corinthians 5:7). Christian faith is the foundation, the substance , the assurance (hypostasis, Greek) of things hoped for and the incontrovertible evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Or felt.

Note also what the Church teaches about faith and feelings: Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. . . . (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2005)

And again: Our Lord tied the forgiveness of sins to faith (my emphasis) and Baptism: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved" . . . . (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 977).

Note how the Church focuses on faith, not feelings.

Perhaps, and I am only guessing here, perhaps the reason some people –  including radio teachers of ‘theology’ – focus so much attention of feelings instead of faith is because  while faith depends first and foremost on the grace of God, maturing faith is a function of frequent and humble participation in the Sacraments, and a broad familiarity with the Scriptures. “Faith,” St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). But developing that kind of comfort level with Scriptures takes time. And effort. And perseverance. Lazing back into the comfortable bosom of feelings doesn’t require any of that hard stuff.

Jesus cautioned, “The way is wide and easy that leads to destruction. And there are many on that road. On the other hand, the way is narrow and difficult that leads to eternal life. Not so many choose that road” (my paraphrase of Matthew 7:13-14. See also verse 15).

We ought to all be attentive to the road we are on.


Anonymous said...

This is so good. Thank you! I have memories of "going forward at the altar call" to "ask Jesus into my heart" in the Evangelical church of my childhood, before I was ten. Everyone in the children's stories I read at church had this indescribable "feeling" of joy when they were "saved", but even though I was seeking with all my little heart, no kneeling at the rail and praying resulted in such feelings. I was unbaptized, because I would have to give clear evidence that I was "saved" before I would be permitted to be baptized. I finally quit going to that church after Vacation Bible School one summer, when an overburdened (and possibly hormonal) teacher screamed at me and I fled in tears. I decided I could get along just fine without church; all I needed was to read the Bible by myself. Besides, (I thought) I was probably closer to being "saved" than was the teacher who had screamed at me! It wasn't until high school that I finally realized the answer lay in Christian baptism, obedience, and the desire to be like Christ; not in feelings. Of course, the fullness of my epiphany was not realized until forty years later, when I entered the Catholic Church. I thank Our Lord for His grace and mercy, and for the gift of faith. I'm so glad that salvation does not depend on feelings! --- Rosemary

Richard Maffeo said...

What a poignant testimony, Rosemary. And thanks only to God that He rescued you!