For four years I was an Assemblies of God monk with the Brothers And Sisters of Charity. The following is from a yet-to-be-released book called Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes, from the chapter called We Couldn’t Exhaust Our Common Jesus (Ecumenism). This was previously posted in October, 2008.
For the majority of the time I was a protestant monk living at the Little Portion, I was also the only non-Catholic, but I knew this would be the case before I moved there. There were many points of disagreement in our traditions and theologies, but on this one item we always agreed: We could not exhaust the topic of our common love for Jesus.
From the beginning, John Michael Talbot’s vision regarding the community involved the inclusion of many different people — celibate and single men and women, families, and non-Catholics. The community describes itself as being a Catholic-based, ecumenical community, and for four years, I was the primary ecumenical expression of the order.
Because of this, I was often the “go to” person when non-Catholic guests arrived. Since the community is located about ten miles from Eureka Springs, AR (a vibrant tourist destination that is the home of the Great Passion Play), and 60 miles southwest of Branson, MO, we would often have visitors who were either fans of John Michael, or curious about our community, or both. If these visitors happened to be non-Catholics, then the call usually went out, “Find Brother Jim.” Besides John Michael, I was the only one at the community who was bi-lingual; I spoke both Protestant and Catholic.
One day, two couples showed up at the community, one Baptist and the other Mennonite. I was in the library when one of the sisters came in and said, “Brother Jim, some Baptist people are here.” By this time, I had been at the community long enough to know what questions they might ask, and they did not disappoint me.
The two couples were sitting in the dinning commons when I walked in and introduced myself. After a few niceties, one of the men cut to the chase and said, “Aren’t Catholics mostly work-oriented? I mean, don’t they believe that they are saved through works?”
I said, “Have you ever asked a Catholic what they did to ‘get saved’?”
“No,” he said.
“Well, let’s ask one. We’ll ask the first person who comes into the room. How does that sound?”
They thought that was a good idea.
About one minute later, Sister Betsy walked into the dinning commons. Sister Betsy is from Cut Off, Louisiana, which is WAY down in the bayou. (This is not pertinent to the story, but she is the only person I know from there, so I wanted to include it.) I called her over and said,
“Sister Betsy, what did you do to get saved?”
“Do?” she replied. “You don’t ‘do’ anything to get saved. You believe in Jesus as your Savior.”
“Thanks,” I said, and she continued on her way.
After Sister Betsy was gone, one of the men said, “That sounds like a Baptist answer,” and we all laughed.
I said, “If you think that was a fluke, let’s try it again.”
Shortly afterwards, Sister Lanette came into the room (She was from Brooklyn, just to give her equal time). I said, “Sister Lanette, what did you do to get saved?”
She said, “I didn’t ‘do’ anything. It is faith in Jesus and His finished work on the cross that saves us.”
“Then your Master’s degree from Union Theological Seminary didn’t save you?”
“No,” she laughed, “that almost hurt me!”
“What about communion? Does taking communion save you?” I asked.
“No. Only faith in the blood of Jesus saves us,” she said.
I turned to our guests, who didn’t know what to say after that, and explained, “I’ve discovered that most non-Catholics get their information about the Catholic Church from two sources: Television, and Catholics who do not understand their own faith. If you were to study the Catholic Church’s own writings, you will discover that it teaches there is no salvation outside of Jesus.”
Before I moved to the Little Portion, John Michael suggested I read the book Catholic and Christian by Alan Schreck. In this book, Schreck says, “The Catholic Church does not teach and has never taught that a person may be ‘saved’ (reconciled to God and brought to eternal life with him) by anyone other than Jesus Christ. No one is saved by Buddha, Mohammed, or the leaders or gods of any other religions. Nor, I might add, do Catholics believe that anyone is saved by the Pope, Mary, the saints, or any other member of the church. Jesus alone is the savior of man: ‘. . . there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12)” (Alan Schreck, Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs (Ann Arbor: Mich.: Servant, 1984), p. 18).
I quote that at length so you may understand how I could disagree with the minor differences I have with the Catholic Church, while at the same time living at peace with the Catholic members of the community.
thats cool. my gran was a catholic, she was actually an anglican before she married my grandad, and they had to elope to marry because of the difference in “faith” – and she converted to catholicism about 3-5 years after they married and i know her faith was real. it taught me lots as i became a christian in a methodist church and now go to a nondenominational independant “contempory” (for lack of a better word) kind of charismatic pentecostal church (aka a bunch of us that love jesus and are modern in our worshp and expression and are mostly young, or at least young hearted…) – it taught me as i talked to people who were very anticatholic and believed all catholics were works orientated, as you have talked about. my gran had a real faith. so for me that opened my eyes and kept my brain open too!
i really enjoyed your post! well written (yay you’re writing a book) and really engaging! sounds like you had some neat conversations and encounters there!
Thanks Jim for the post. In my recent journey I’ve discovering the potential for unity with Christ followers from many traditions. I’ve had some similar conversations online with but few face to face. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall… or better yet I wish I could have secretly video taped the conversation and shared it with the whole evangelical world… but I guess you’re blog post will have to do. 🙂
I pray more people will discover that unity is possible when we discover our shared love for the same Jesus. It’s not what we think, but whom we love!