Monday, January 11, 2016

What is a "peronal relationship with Jesus Christ," and what role does it play in one's salvation?

Let's start with the Old Testament Patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, Esther, Ruth, David, and the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos, for starters. Does any Christian doubt the likelihood of their salvation? Yet did they have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ"?

Jesus famously declared: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father but through me." (Jn 14:6) If this is true, and the Old Testament saints are in heaven, they are there only by virtue of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, even if they could not have personally known anything about Jesus, who would only come centuries later.

What this suggests is that salvation through Christ is based on the objective fact of Christ's substitutionary atonement and the incorporation of the faithful into His mystical body by the means provided by God during particular dispensations of salvation history. For the Old Testament saints, this meant the animal sacrifices prescribed by God through the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets, whose rituals looked forward to the promised Redeemer. For those of us who have lived since the publication of the New Testament, this means the re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ in the Lord's Supper, which looks back to the Passion of Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice in human history.

Michael Voris seems to have something of this sort in mind in his provocative new "Vortex" feature entitled "Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ" (Church Militant, January 7, 2016). He may seem unnecessarily harsh in his denunciation of the prevalent Protestant-like talk about the need for a "personal relationship with Jesus" among many contemporary Catholics. But if you listen closely, I think the real message may be something else.

Yes, it's true that a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" doesn't seem to have played much of a role in the redemption of the Old Testament saints. Nor does it seem essential (or even possible!) in the salvation of a child who dies in infancy, or those who are severely mentally retarded.

But on the other hand, perhaps Voris' point is that a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is very much the key to one's salvation, but that it has been misunderstood by those who take it to mean something purely subjective and experiential. What could possibly involve a more personal relationship with Jesus Christ than any of the seven sacraments? By being baptized into his Body? By becoming a partaker of the divine nature by way of Holy Communion? By being absolved by Him of one's sins through the sacrament of Confession? But the point is that all of these are objective performances, things one does. That is, they are more than mere experienced feelings of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

On this reading, perhaps even Abraham and the other Old Testament saints very much had "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ," even if it wasn't expressed in ways familiar to contemporary evangelicals and evangelical Catholics. After all, Jesus said to His fellow Jews: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." (Jn 8:56) I doubt this means that Abraham understood that God would become incarnate as a historical man named Jesus. Yet by faith he certainly is said to have trusted in the redemptive promises of God; and one of those promises, if yet seen only inchoately in Abraham's day, was the promise of a Messiah, which came gradually into focus as the fullness of time -- the time of Jesus' birth -- drew nearer.

So did this entail having certain feelings and emotional experiences on the part of Abraham. That he felt things profoundly during certain junctures in his lifetime, I have not doubt. But the point, I think, would be that his salvation rested on something objective: keeping the terms of the Covenant God imposed upon him. This is where his faith effectively came to expression; just as ours comes to effective expression in our keeping the terms of the New Covenant imposed on us -- that is, in our fulfillment of the precepts of the Church.


Anonymous said...

Catholic personal faith

"Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature."

Protestant personal faith

"For a Christian, believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his 'beloved Son'..."

"...Faith, that is, believing, is in the New Testament a 'two-tone' reality, a response to God’s self-revelation in Christ that is both intellectual and relational. Mere credence—assent, that is, to 'the faith'—is not faith, nor is commitment to a God or a Christ who is merely a product of human imagination. Christian faith is shaped, and its nature is determined, entirely by its object, just as the impression on a seal is shaped entirely by a die-stamp that is pressed down on the hot wax."

"The essential content of the Faith, then, includes first of all the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, which covers the whole many-sided reality of the divine plan and work of salvation. Secondly, the Faith includes the sound doctrines of the truth that properly accord with that glorious Gospel. It includes thirdly the Way of living that conforms to those doctrines."

A whole lot of commonality there.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Neo-Catholics imitate, they never initiate.

About the only construction now occurring in America involves the building of huge warehouses to store the - What Would Jesus Do ? - line of products the evangelicals launched lo these many years ago (only to be aped by Catholics who were concerned about the growing Geegaw Gap twixt them and those they desired to be like).

And then, we moved on to the point where now The Knights of Columbus, in imitation of the evangelicals who stared it, pitches their - Keep Christ in Christmas - car decals after Mass and if you ask them (as ABS has), how about creating a - Keep Christ and The Mass in Christmas -decal, they look at you as though somebody had just brained them with a large frozen Cod Loin.

O, and don't even think abut suggesting to a local Knight that he consider creating an Advent Decal for a car because the K of C has been pitching their Christmas Decals since the beginning of Advent.

And so, all of the Personal relationship with Christ rhetoric (began with Pope Saint John Paul II - yeah, ABS searched that out LONG ago) who prolly was just trying to appeal to as many men as possible, but isn't it Shirley Waddel (convert?) who has been a huge player in this movement?

Why Catholics think imitating protestants will make them more popular or increase the authenticity of their Catholicism is sad and pathetic evidence of the nearly complete triumph of the revolution which has nearly destroyed the substance of Catholicism and replaced it with a Shadow Church ripe for new money-making movements - Hey, everybody, be sure to mark your calendars for the first two weeks of March for Dr Hahn will be here to teach us the Last Supper was a seder and then Mr Shea will be here in August to speak to us about Dual Covenants

We profess belief in The Communion of Saints and, other than Pope Saint John Paul (in a few rare instances) what Saint has ever spoken about his personal relationship with Jesus?

In a revolutionary epoch when we have severed (ruptured really) our connection with the past, these gewgaws are bound to appear but we are supposed to be men with intellects, not revolutionary ravens attracted to shiny objects, so just let them lie there undisturbed at live the life of a Traditional Catholic man and let former protestants fend for themselves selling their latest gimmicks as the key to whatever it is they claim their newly discovered key will unlock.

Tiffany Sixpack-Schlabotnik said...

I don't know what a "peronal relationship with Jesus Christ" is, but I bet Francis knows.

Joe Schlabotnik said...

Having a personal relationship with Jesus would be really cool. I bet the guy can really bowl. And if he can do the loaves and fishes thing with a beer pitcher . . . BONUS!!!!

Anonymous said...

Try any of these for a different perspective:

Ralph Martin's "The Catholic Church at the End of an Age"
Groeschel's "I Am With You Always"
Bouyer's "Spirit and Forms of Protestantism"
C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity"

There are kooks a plenty, but as understood in historical Protestantism, a personal relationship with Jesus is actually a very Catholic thing. Far more so than a lot of the gibberish from postconciliar Popes. It's just a shame that Francis has so spooked the horses they are running in every direction. Years ago Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie gave a similar talk condemning a "personal relationship with Jesus," even as many LDS were leaving the cult's fold and discovering the truth in Protestant orthodoxy as separated brethren. Voris sounds a lot like that Mormon apostle, desperately clinging to organizational fidelity no matter what. He is wrong. He has done a lot of good, but the cognitive dissonance invoked by Francis is turning him unnecessarily bitter. I guess having a bad father might do that.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Hello, my friend.

I understand what you're saying and I agree. And I'm not sure how well Voris expressed himself, because I fear the negativity comes across too strongly. However, the point of my post is that I think he's on to something. And that 'something' is that the essence of a proper "relationship with Jesus Christ" doesn't lie in my ability to conjure up certain feelings toward Jesus, but rather in my fulfilling the terms of His conditions for that relationship.

It's a subtle distinction, but an important one, I believe. Another one of my evangelical Catholic converts has reverted to her evangelical communion because her index of her "relationship with Jesus" is whatever she happens to be feeling, which she feels to be more personable and comfortable among fellow evangelicals amidst the stirring sermons and music of her evangelical community.

By contrast, take baptism. Why should Jesus make baptism a condition of our salvation. It's seems totally extraneous to my "relationship with Jesus." Yet He insists that this external rite be performed and undergone in order to seal the authenticity of my relationship with Him.

There's much more I need to say by way of developing this idea, but I've got to run. Blessings, PB

Anonymous said...

Yes. Faith is not a feeling. It rests on objective facts. The primary one of which is Jesus' sacrifice -- as made available in the Mass. Wholeheartedly agree. On the other had, "being Catholic," being baptized, and punching the church card... everyone knows that saying "I'm Catholic" means pretty much zip in our generation: it's a license to go to confession and do as you please. Part allegiance may save, but that's the sin of presumption. I'd tell Trads to go read John RW Stott's "Basic Christianity," compare it to Joseph Ratzinger's "Introduction to Christianity,' and then try to get all self-righteous. It would be an enlightening and humbling experience!

Meanwhile I am the first to say, can we please please stick to Catholic doctrine?! Even in its abuses, it is safer ground!

George said...

I'm a former low-church Anglican. I spent some time at an ecumenical community in Europe some years ago, and I remember this guy who must have been a relatively new evangelical convert or something. He was studying Greek so he could read the NT. He was very pleased about the prospect of becoming fluent in the very language the Apostles used to write the NT.

During evening prayer once, I caught sight of his face and couldn't stop watching him. As his eyes closed, he spread out this broad (and I thought, stupid-looking) smile across his wide face. He seemed to be inducing some sort of "raptured" expression while his eyes were closed in prayer.

This reminds me a bit of some people who "pray in tongues," and the various gestures and facial expression one sometimes see in them.

Is this really necessary? What's the point? Does this tell us that they have a closer "personal relationship to Jesus" than we do? Or is it mean to suggest their own piety? Or induce a state of subjective ecstatic "union with Christ"?

On another occasion, I remember this guy who was head of the cafeteria service at my institution. He was also a member of my church. When he would go forward to receive communion, he would thrust out his hands in the "Orans" posture, with hands uplifted, palms upward.

Again, I find this as annoying as I find it baffling. What's the point of this? What does it do for the subject? What's it meant to communicate to others? What possible role would something of this sort, which one sometimes also sees in Catholic circles, have in the Catholic tradition?

It just seems stupid to me, and totally non-Catholic.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

The point about a soul having a personal relationship with Jesus is a protestant boast for it means that one has no need of an intermediary such as Pope, Bishop, or Priest.

Leave it to the modern anthropocentric shadow church to baptise this protestant bit of doctrine

Tiffany Sixpack-Schlabotnik said...

"peronal" PERONal PERON Argentina Francis !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jeez, you paleo-traditionalists are a bunch of BLOCKHEADS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No wonder the neos get all the girls.