Revisiting Jefferson Bethke And Our Concept of “Religion”

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I must say this is the absolute last thing I planned to post today again, or ever for that matter. But I think it is time, now that the earthquake is over and the volcanic ashes settled over his use of the word “religion,” which seemed to be the main point of contention for most of my liturgical brothers and sisters in Christ, to hear with more clarity what he was attempting to say here.

At the outset, I will say that there are points of theology I probably disagree on with Bethke. I am not a Calvinist. I would believe in and defend the Roman Catholic position on doctrine anytime, not just “because I am Catholic” but more to the point I am Catholic because I fully believe in and follow, as best I know how, the authority of the Word of God through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which of course is not “every tradition” but the ones which have their basis in the early Church and Church Fathers, and have thus stood firm through the Councils and over the many centuries of the Faith.

Having said that, the official and clear Catholic position is that there are Christians, meaning potential “saints” who are headed for heaven, in all Christian denominations who teach the basic creeds of historical Christianity (such as the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds).  Our Catechism of the Catholic Church could not be clearer on this point.

CCC# 818:

“However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”

I do not believe the point can be any clearer than that. This is our brother in Christ.  He is 22 years young. He has turned from the world and, as the old song goes, has “decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.”  No parent in their right mind would be ashamed of having this man date their daughter or be their son for that matter. And, as strongly as I believe in the concept that Christianity flows from Catholicism, and I do accept this, I also would daresay that I would rather have a hot-blooded evangelical Christian in my family than a near-dead Catholic Christian who puts in for Mass twice a year.

We can argue the theology of “his church versus ours” all day. But the first and foremost issue is bringing souls to Christ. And that can happen through the Sacraments or beyond them. See CCC reference below:

CCC# 1257:

The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.). 

It however won’t happen by calling people such as he or Tim Tebow or others who are at least attempting to share the Lord who they love so very much such things as “idiots” or “heretics” when they are neither.

As I shared to him in a personal note, when I was in my Protestant years I never bought into the anti-Catholicism I saw around me. What I was shocked to find after my return to the Church was that many of those who had indeed had their lives totally changed through a committed relationship (yes, I said it!) with Jesus Christ now had no problem ripping to shreds those who found Him outside of Catholic circles. And I have seen more examples of this in regard to both Bethke and Tebow than at any time since my return to Rome.  Maybe we should just revive burning at the stake or something else equally Christ-like…

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Rubbish, folks.  And that is the nicer word for it.

Real “religion” always respects the other, even when we disagree on points, even important ones. Anything else simply kills dialogue (another word some who read this no doubt just cringe when even seeing it in print, no doubt). But dialogue we must.

Here is a very positive example of Jefferson Bethke and a Roman Catholic priest in that very dialogue on the secular CBS This Morning…with deep and obvious respect on both sides clearly shown.  We can all learn from it.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505266_162-57363805/priest-gives-video-star-holler-from-the-collar/?tag=morningFlexGridLeft;flexGridModule

So may I now challenge you to once again watch the video, and then read what our brother in Jesus Jeff Bethke says about it in the link below?  You might be surprised at what you missed the first time around.  In fact, read his thoughts first, and then watch the video again.  As we always teach and say we believe, context is everything.

My Thoughts After Writing ‘Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus’–http://jeffbethke.com

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12 Replies to “Revisiting Jefferson Bethke And Our Concept of “Religion””

  1. …It truly is all about Jesus and the Gospel and saving souls, but there is no better way to heaven than through the institution Christ gave us and built upon Peter and his successors, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We are just going to have to agree to disagree here. Blessing to you brother.

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    1. Hi Russ–Good to hear from you and thank you for your thoughtful words! I want you to know that I read your entire comment, and that I have always respected and do respect your thoughts which you shared in it. I did abbreviate it for both space and content. You and I have a long history and you have many times prayed for and encouraged me which has meant the world to me and still does. Having said that, the last thing I would wish to do is bring more division over this young man and his video. That was and is not the purpose of this post.

      I certainly agree with you that the same words can be taken in many very different ways, but from my own contacts with Mr. Bethke, both here and elsewhere, I do not have the sense at all that he is looking for some type of “easy believism.” He comes from a past of drugs, sexual promiscuity, and, as one of the news stories stated, a “party boy” background. He now reads the Bible daily, goes to church regularly, submits to his own ecclesial community and authority, and admits freely that, if he had it to do over, he probably would not have chosen the word “religion” when making that video, not realizing the ramifications it might have among the more historical and traditional Christian groups. He also apologized, either on the blog or one of the news programs, for that impression. I frankly get that totally. If I had been in his shoes I do not think that point would have crossed my mind either. I would note that he posted this openly on his blog and I therefore am not sure what more he should say other than that. He is farther along in the Faith than I was at age 22, that I am sure of.

      It sounds like you perhaps reached out to him at a crucial time when he was extremely overwhelmed, and I might suggest you attempt to contact him again sometime now that, as I said in the post, the “volcanic ash” has settled. I would be likely to think he will be as gracious to you as he has been to me. I do think, in fairness, if you or I received an unexpected 18,000,000 “hits” to a video which I thought might possibly reach a few thousand, and perhaps a handful of responses, and then we were suddenly being unexpectedly asked to be interviewed on national television by major news networks and the like, neither of us probably would have the time or energy to respond to all who contacted us either.

      I admittedly sometimes do not respond to emails or phone calls to my own family, as I can barely keep up with life during certain periods of time at least. I can only hope that they realize I am not intentionally ignoring them. But they know I work 2 jobs, study, and have health issues. Still some of them get angry or hurt when I miss a family event. And those are people I know personally and love deeply. So I would not take his lack of response to your second contact with him as a personal vendetta in any way.

      I agree, and clearly stated at the outset of my post, that I am indeed a Roman Catholic because I believe in the Church and her fullness, and that I am likely at a different place theologically with Bethke on a number of issues. But I will not put down the efforts of someone who is at least aiming in the same direction as me. When Jesus was asked by his disciples if they should silence those who were preaching in His name but not under His authority, He surprisingly said “He who is not against me is for me” and told them to let them be! A shocking answer, to say the least, coming from the very one who was in process of establishing the Church on earth.

      I think sometimes we as Catholic Christians make it our main goal to bring people into the Church, or as the priest during my RCIA time called it “to bag a Catholic,” and then we may miss the fact that the Church alone does not save us. The personal aspect of our commitment to Christ is first and foremost, and it is in fact the very foundation for our Catholicism. And that is Catholic teaching as well.

      We have every right to teach the truths of the Faith as we understand them as Roman Catholic believers. But we also must recognize that others from a wide variety of traditions are bringing people into the Kingdom too, and sometimes doing so far more effectively than we. For every person who may have used his video as an excuse not to repent, I wonder how many in our own circles use the Sacraments in that same way? Quite a few, I am betting. Pope Benedict XVI spoke one time about the “sinful Church” dealing with this very issue. The Sacraments do their job, and are the ideal vehicle for God’s grace. I agree with that. But they only produce their fruit if we are well-disposed to them. In other words, if we are not committed to our Lord and serving Him, it does little good and actual harm to receive Holy Communion, just for one example. And there will be many baptized “Christians” who end up in hell, and not a few non-baptized in heaven. The Sacraments only work fully within us if we have a foundational commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior. The one exception pointed out to me awhile back would be an unconscious person who is baptized just before death. But even then it could be argued that they would not have been given that opportunity unless the seeds of Truth had first been sown in their hearts somewhere along their lifetime already. We do not know how God’s grace is working, we just obey and let that be in His hands in such cases.

      The ultimate goal then is to find Christ, and as we then grow in our understanding of Him, some of us may eventually come to believe that Catholicism is the fullness expression of Christianity. However not everyone who loves our Lord comes to that same conclusion during this earthly life, and keep in mind that for you and me it did not happen for over 30 years apiece in our cases! We must leave room for God’s grace to work differently in each case.

      So the bottom line to me is this–being pro-Catholic does not have to mean being anti-Protestant. And on that point we apparently will have to agree to disagree as you stated.

      Blessings to you always as well, and thank you so much for sharing.

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  2. Beautiful, Richard. Thank you for this!

    Jefferson, thank you for commenting, brother! It’s wonderful to see you here! Your love for Christ is very, very evident!! I saw your video and knew that you were not using the word “religion” in a “dictionary definition” way.

    For myself, as a Catholic, in order to try to avoid misunderstandings with people, I like to say that Christianity is a religion (meaning, a set of beliefs about God, humanity, creation, etc.) with *a relationship at its center*– a relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Richard, about people throwing around the “heretic” label: I’ve been an atheist, a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Catholic “again” (for the first time, in a way– really, truly understanding the Catholic Christian faith). One of the things which grieves me most, as a Catholic Christian, is that both Protestants and Catholics can be all too willing to quickly pronounce the other as “not following the Bible” or “just doing whatever you want” or “following man instead of the Bible.” The accusations can go on and on, between brothers and sisters in Christ who, all too often, do not seem to be truly *listening* to each other!

    This is one of the reasons that I left Facebook months ago… I just couldn’t take the vitriol of some of the Catholic-Protestant “discussions” that I saw and in which I sometimes participated. I would try to be a voice of moderation, not compromising my Catholic faith, but reminding everyone that Catholics and Protestants are brothers and sisters in Christ, and that discussion and dialogue between us must be *charitable*, or otherwise, it is not *profitable*. Often, I simply felt unheard… or it was indirectly implied that I might not be standing up for my own Catholic Christian faith sufficiently– because I simply acknowledged Protestants as fellow Christians, quoting the very same words from the Catholic Catechism which you quoted!

    Both Catholics and Protestants must resist the temptation to easily indulge in caricatures of each other. Sometimes, those caricatures are due to honest misunderstandings on one or more person’s parts. At other times though, I fear that some people may simply want to *hold onto* caricatures, rather than truly trying to understand what the person on the other side of the conversation believes and practices. As Christians, we must strongly resist the former tendency in ourselves.

    Moreover, even if we’re convinced that we *have* correctly understood the beliefs of those who differ with us, when those people profess faith in the Trinitarian God and in Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross, we should be very, very hesitant to simply declare those people “non-Christians.” (I admit that I was not always so hesitant about that, several years ago… and looking back now, I deeply regret it. Mea culpa. Lord, have mercy.)

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  3. FROM MY FB FRIEND JOHN HYDE–

    I agree that Jeff’s use of religion was a modern concept and as such I would not be so quick as to dismiss him.I found that if Jesus were walking this earth today and heard this kind of rhetoric Jesus himself would have had some long discussion with his disciples to clarify any confusion.That said, Jesus himself was at odds often enough with the leaders of his day to probably find his distaste for hypocrisy quite well liked.Jesus might have even admired him for it.

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    1. THANKS JOHN HYDE–you will notice the first comment listed here is from our brother Jeff with a link to a very respectful dialogue between him and a Roman Catholic priest from the CBS Morning Show, as well as another link to his own blog where he shares that he is now submitting every video and blog he shares as well to his own church elderrship. He is more “Catholic” than many if not most Roman Catholics in that regard, in the sense that he listens to those in authority over him and is not a “one person show” of Jesus and me, so to speak. I deeply respect that in this young and brilliant man.

      The point is we can of course disagree theologically to a certain extent, while still loving the same Jesus our Lord and God, but what has been so frequently occurring were ugly attacks and assumptions of his motives and onward from there to various insults and name-calling. Catholics can be as “anti-Protestant” as Protestants who are “anti-Catholic.” Both are wrong. We both can and should learn from each other.

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  4. I happened to see this on a news special, that the guy who filmed the video above attends a religious service every week and made the video to get people to converse, basically to spur debate. I would say that he succeeded.

    I do try to see other Christians as brothers but also with a goal in mind, so that someday they will be brought into the fullness of the faith, by encouraging their conversion to Catholicism. The people I have most a problem with are those who are ex-Catholics and who spew anti-Catholic rhetoric which is so hateful. This I will not tolerate and I will defend my Faith against these attacks when they occur.

    God Bless.

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    1. Thanks Teresa for sharing, as always. You may notice that the very first comment here is from our friend Jefferson Bethke, the young man who did the video!

      And the link to CBS in my post is likely similar to the one you saw of him on television–I listed another at the bottom of the post to ABC and I think that is the one you saw . He strikes me as extremely humble and good-hearted, and far from bigoted in any case.

      Sadly I think it has been other believers of various stripes who have attacked him more so than the other way around. I have to always wonder why we as Christians feel the need to do so. You and I happen to agree on Catholicism, but we also know that there are very good and strong Christians with other perspectives and we will never win one another by unkindness or assuming the worst of them, or they of us. I would agree he truly has succeeded in getting the conversation started.

      I also agree with you about hate rhetoric, and I do not tolerate that either, whether about Catholics or our evangelical brothers and sisters either, for that matter.

      God bless you too!

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  5. Rich. Beyond thankful and humbled by you brother. As you can imagine the last few weeks have been some of the hardest of my life. Nothing hurt worse than people who believe and worship the same Jesus as me act as if I’m outside of the family. I’m certainly not beyond critique (in fact I welcome it as a 22 year old! Still learning and growing and I just want to get closer to Jesus above it all). I’m thankful to brothers and older men in the faith like you who remind me and show me it’s all about Jesus. It’s all about souls. It’s all about the Gospel. Thankful for the Spirit of unity that just drips in this post. Huge encouragement and stirs my affections towards Jesus even more!

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    1. Brother Jefferson!!!

      Thank you for taking some time to share your heart today on my blog. You have been on my heart and mind a lot in the last 2 days and I was not sure why, but I just felt I needed to share, and especially after reading your blog post on the topic.

      I too am very humbled that you read my simple words this afternoon. I want you to know I will be in prayer often for you going forward. I truly ask yours in return too.

      Please comment anytime, and check out my own story of my return to the Faith when you are able–link is below. God bless you and know you are very, very much respected and held up in my heart. Much peace and respect in our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Your brother Richard

      http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/conversion-stories/catholic-reverts/item/60-catholic-revert-richard-evans

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