Must the Reformation Wars Continue? (Part Seven)

Yesterday I asked an important question at the end of my post: “How do we evangelize church members, both Catholic and Protestant?”

Sherry Weddell, the cofounder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, with Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., is a Christ-centered disciple maker who works to equip Catholic parishes to form lay Catholics for mission in the world. Sherry has been responsible for forming over 85,000 lay, religious and ordained Catholics in 105 dioceses in the art of evangelizing postmoderns, in gaining a better understanding of their spiritual gifts and vocational discernment and in understanding the theology and mission of the laity.

Sherry Weddell notes what every Catholic must honestly face in 2014:

1. Only 30% of American Catholics who were reared in the church are still practicing the Catholic faith in any meaningful way.

2. Fully 10% of all adults in America are now ex-Catholics. (I would guess many have left religion completely but many are evangelicals and charismatics!)

3. The number of marriages celebrated in the Church decreased dramatically, by nearly 60%, between 1972 and 2010.

4. Only 60% of Catholics actually believe in a personal God.

She argues that if the Catholic Church is to reverse these trends, and I pray with her that it will, then Catholics in the pews must make a “conscious choice to know and follow Jesus before they can draw others to him.” Weddell says you cannot draw people to Jesus if you do not know Jesus. To which I ask, “What serious evangelical Christian would disagree with that statement?” Drawing on fifteen years of personal experience Sherry Weddell helps Catholics to identify things such as:

1. Five thresholds of postmodern conversion.

2. How to open a conversation about faith and belief.

3. How to ask thought-provoking questions and establish an atmosphere of trust.

4. When to tell the Great Story of Jesus.

5. How to help someone respond to God’s call to intentional discipleship.

822643p13567EDNMainT1286_300By asking these types of questions Sherry Weddell has written what I believe to be one of the finest Catholic books on mission and evangelism of our time: Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012.) The truth is that I require evangelical students to read this book because it is filled with material that every Christian disciple-maker can utilize.

If I accomplish nothing more in this series of blogs than to introduce you to this amazing book then I will feel I accomplished something worthwhile. Why? We must stop assuming that people inside a church, baptized or otherwise, are real Christians. And we must stop boasting that, “Our converts are real and your converts are not.” The truth is that most modern Western converts, evangelical and otherwise, fall away over time. Few real disciples are being made even by the best evangelical churches. “Let the church, or Christian, without sin cast the first stone” comes to mind here. (I recognize I have taken contextual liberty but you can clearly get my point.)

Weddell writes:

The majority of Catholics in the United States are sacramentalized but not evangelized. They do not know that an explicit, personal attachment to Christ–personal discipleship–is normative Catholicism as taught by the apostles and reiterated time and time again by popes, councils, and saints of the church (46).

In 2012 a Synod for the New Evangelization was held in Rome. In preparation for this synod a set of guidelines (Lineamenta) was issued for discussion. These were not technical theological abstractions but rather they were talking points for engaging the post-modern West with the gospel. Certain words occur again and again in the Lineamenta: e.g., disciple, transmit, proclaim, encounter, change, missionary, experience, Jesus, live, and Gospel. This was one of the most promising and hopeful gatherings in modern Catholic history. Even a number of respected evangelicals addressed the synod including my good friend Dr. Timothy George. Sherry Weddell notes that the crucial emphasis of this synod can be seen in the word transmit. The faith must become a “whole-person, whole-life concept that goes far beyond instruction in facts and doctrines” (52).

The Lineamenta notes:

What is not believed or lived cannot be transmitted. . . . The Gospel can only be transmitted on the basis of “being” with Jesus and living with Jesus the experience of the Father, in the Spirit; and, in a corresponding way, of “feeling” compelled to proclaim and share what is lived as a good and something positive and beautiful (53).

If there is no living relationship with Christ then we cannot “transmit” the faith to anyone else. This is the problem in the Catholic Church but it is also a problem in many churches, even many evangelical churches. The person of Jesus, and the holy trinity, must be at the center of our life if we would give away a living faith.

Weddell_SherrySherry Weddell rightly says that normative Catholicism must stress three spiritual journeys but it has done a poor job of keeping these three closely connected in the lives of the baptized. First, there must be  “a personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship” (54). Second, there needs to be an ecclesial journey into the Church through the reception of the sacraments of initiation. Third, there must be a journey of active practice as evidenced by receiving the sacraments, attending Mass and participating in the mission and life of the community. Evangelicals would do well to consider all three of these journeys even though they would define some of the particulars in different ways; e.g. the nature of the sacraments and how they function in the life of a Christian being one example that immediately comes to mind. The problem, concludes Weddell, is that many Catholics “think one needn’t ask about the first journey if the second and third journeys are in place” (54).

Ference_Damian-J1-e1381447351756-300x271In this last sentence she nails it. Then she hammers the nail in even deeper with a strong quotation from Father Damian J. Ference, a member of the formation faculty at Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio:

All too often those of us in positions of Church leadership presume that all the folks in the pews on Sundays, all the children in our grade schools, high schools and PSR programs, all the kids in our youth groups, all the men in our Men’s Clubs and all the women in our Women’s Guilds, and all the members of our RICA team are already disciples. Many are not. (The same can be said of staffs and faculties of Catholic institutions.) Our people may be very active in the programs of our parishes, such participation does not qualify for discipleship (“Why Vocation Programs Don’t Work,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, February 2011, 55 in Weddell).

If less than half of America’s Catholics do not believe that they have a “personal relationship” with God and nearly 30% don’t believe in a personal God at all what has happened? Again, this is not just a Catholic problem. It is a mission and discipleship issue. This, in the end, is my personal burden. If we concentrate on continuing the “Reformation Wars” then I sincerely believe that we miss the missional moment at hand for Catholics and other Christian churches as well. In so doing we will continue to debate and misunderstand one another and thereby fail to stress what really matters for all churches – making healthy, active, vibrant disciples who possess living faith and share that faith with others because they personally know and love Jesus Christ!

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