Don't Pray for Catholics

Pray for the lost within your own church.

Public prayer is powerful. In many respects, it brings a community together around a specific need or a moment of gratitude. But it also can make a statement about the type of church you go to.

For example, at my current church, the pastor will often pray for specific groups of people like those who just lost a loved one or those who lost their job. It's a great way of including those who might be too nervous or too ashamed to share their needs publicly.

The church in which I grew up is another story. It was a typical evangelical church and so, true to form, prayer for non-Christians was a regular part of the service. So far, so good. Until we started praying for our Catholic brothers and sisters to come to know Jesus.

Even at a young age, maybe 8-years-old, I remember thinking: "I thought they were Christians too?"

Come to find out, most Catholics really don't know Jesus. Catholicism is kind of like being a Phillies fan: you're born into it. Your parents are Phillies fans, your friends are Phillies fans, everyone you know is a Phillies fan because that's a part of what it means to grow up in South Jersey.

Catholicism isn't any different. Just like you don't have to attend every game or care at all about baseball to be a Phillies fan, you don't have to go to church or believe in God to be a Catholic. It's a part of your culture that you can vehemently defend without actually participating in it.

I believed that for so many years, and it makes me sick to think about it.

Nominal Christians--that's what we called Catholics. The lip-service believers, the lukewarm saints, name your biblical cliche, that's what we called them. They couldn't possibly be true Christians. Because they weren't like us.

We didn't say most Catholics were nominal because they didn't observe their own religion; we said it because they didn't observe ours. We didn't know how many sacraments there were, but we knew that they didn't go to church very often and they couldn't quote their Bibles like we could. Therefore, they were nominal--they didn't live up to our standards of faith.

Some Protestants and particularly evangelicals aren't shy about admitting it (looking at you, John MacArthur), but the implied belief of many is that Catholics don't know Jesus because they can't. Nominalism is just a smokescreen for thinking that Catholicism is heresy. It's a works-based false religion that spurns the grace of God by virtue of human merit. They think they can earn their place in heaven, and that makes them oblivious sinners who still need Jesus.

As if much of evangelicalism isn't a works-based religion. Catholics couldn't possibly know Jesus, why? Because they don't go to church or read their Bibles. They don't know Jesus because they aren't doing the right works.

But those works don't save us, we say. They're merely the fruit of our salvation. Yet we refuse to see the sacraments the same way. 

Catholics don't believe that their works save them any more than we believe our works save us. The difference between Catholic and Protestant theology in a nutshell is we reverse the order of justification and sanctification. We believe that when we're saved, we're immediately and completely justified before God. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like him after we've become one with him.

Roman Catholic theology, on the other hand, argues that when we're saved, we're given the grace to please God. Thus, he enables our works to sanctify us as we progress towards our eventual justification. In both cases, only the grace of God saves us while works are an effect of that grace to accomplish our sanctification.

It's an easy mistake to make. And I don't doubt that many Catholics misunderstand their own faith and the role of works in their salvation. But I also doubt they're alone in that.

Too many evangelicals place such a high priority on their regular church attendance and daily Bible readings that I wonder if they realize those things don't make them Christians. There may very well be many "nominal" Catholics, but no more so than evangelicals.

Every denomination has members in name only who faithlessly go through the motions. Sadly, we're all tempted to think that our own couldn't possibly be included because this allows us to put our faith in those motions. Unfortunately, we're all too happy to imagine our brothers and sisters in hell if it ensures our place in heaven.

Prayers for the salvation of fellow Christians are hollow expressions of weak faith. All they prove is how little we actually believe that our salvation is in Jesus Christ and not in ourselves.

They also blind us to the needs within our own churches. There are people sitting next to you who need Jesus and you don't even know it. You're too busy feeling better than a Catholic. As important as that may be to you--as important as it used to be for me--other people are just a tad more so.

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Photo credit: Roger Smith via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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