Nominal Christians in Fiction and Real Life

Particularly for authors who are Christians of one sort or another, or authors who write for the Christian fiction markets, it is important to distinguish between Christians and nominal Christians.

In the United States, a person can follow any religion he likes, or no religion. And he can call himself a Christian whether or not that is particularly true. So there are a lot of people walking around with the ‘Christian’ tag on them who do not meet the normative definition of ‘Christian.’

Some Christians say that real Christians are ones that have had a ‘born again’ experience that they remember, or that have gone forward at a ‘altar call’ in Evangelical churches that have that practice. Other Christians say that being an active Christian can start at the sacrament of baptism, even an infant baptism, and can continue as a child is raised in a Christian home where prayer and church attendance are the norm.

A nominal Christian is a Christian ‘in name only.’ Why does he take the name of Christian? For some people, claiming Christianity as a religion is just another way of saying ‘my family is not Jewish.’ If they have parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who were raised as Christians, they feel they are Christian enough— they are just not ‘fanatics’ about it.

Other people honestly think that if they believe in God and sometimes ask this God for stuff, like help in an emergency or a winning lottery ticket, that makes them Christian, unless their family was Jewish or they have taken up Buddhist meditation.

It does not help that in addition to the faithful Christians— Protestant and Catholic— who believe something that a Christian from 200 years ago would recognize as Christian, there are also very progressive Christians who make headlines. For example, some progressive Christians have blessed abortion centers and said that committing abortions is what Jesus would do. That reinforces a perception that in Christianity, anything goes and you can believe any old thing and it can be part of Christianity.

Nominal Christianity is not the same thing as progressive Christianity. Progressive Christians, as far off from the New Testament as their faith can be, are living a faith that they believe is the modern version of Christianity. Nominal Christians aren’t actively practicing any faith at all. They don’t usually know enough about Christianity to know there is something missing in their faith life.

In fiction, nominal Christians play a role in Christian fiction often by being an obstacle or a challenge to active Christians. In the ‘Left Behind’ series, the main characters included nominal Christians who became real Christians after the shock of the ‘rapture’ event.

In secular fiction, nominal Christians are often seen as sensible and non-fanatic Christians by those writers who know little. Though I’ve never read a book in which a man who doesn’t own a Koran, has never fasted for Ramadan, and who has never been to a mosque or said even one of the five daily Muslim prayers is named as a ‘non-fanatic Muslim.’ Muslims are expected to have some hints of their faith in their lives, both in fiction and in real life. Christians should have that as well. If they don’t, but still say they are Christians, we may suspect that perhaps they are nominal Christians.

Authors who know better should never present nominal Christians as ‘better’ Christians, any more than the no-mosque, no-prayer guy is a ‘better’ Muslim. Religions, both in the real world and our fictional worlds, have content. Nominal Christians, or nominal Muslims, or nominal Buddhists lack that content and so should not be representative of those faiths.

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Purgatory: Mud-Room of Heaven

Non-Catholic Christians often misunderstand purgatory as a second chance at heaven for damned souls. Nothing could be more untrue! Damned souls go someplace warmer. Purgatory is only for folks who have ‘died in friendship with God,’ which is a Catholic phrase that means ‘born again.’

Purgatory is like a mud-room. The mud-room is at the entryway to a midwestern home. It’s the place where you take off muddy boots and manure covered barn jackets, and put on something cleaner. Using the mud-room makes you ready to walk through the home’s kitchen and living room without getting yelled at for tracking in mud. Purgatory is like that, since it is the place where a soul can get ready for the bliss and holiness of heaven.

Many souls are just not ready to meet God, but they are trusting souls who have tried to follow God in the best way they knew how. They may not have known much, like the good thief on the cross. Or they may have been too proud or arrogant or simply lacked insight, so they may have committed serious sins without being aware of them as something they need to repent of, and confess to God (and the priest) about.

My current devotional reading is a devotional book about the ‘holy souls’ in purgatory. It gives another reason for purgatory— to get souls less attached to worldly things. Imagine an older woman who dies, but is constantly fretting over what her daughter-in-law is doing with her house and possessions. She needs to set her mind on heavenly things and not the horrible wallpaper her daughter-in-law chose for the front bedroom!

Some Christian souls, like martyrs, are deemed to be ready for heaven straight off. Jesus said to the good thief that he would be in Paradise that day. So, either Jesus considered purgatory a part of heaven (the mud-room?) or else the thief was given the grace to go direct to heaven or perhaps spend only 20 seconds in purgatory to get ‘ready.’

C. S. Lewis is considered by many an authoritative model of the modern Protestant Christian, but he admits to a belief that ‘something like’ purgatory is needed to make us fit for heaven.

There are Bible verses held to speak of purgatory. An article by apologist Dave Armstrong lists some of these verses. I would suggest that you read the article to understand more about the Bible and purgatory.

25 Descriptive and Clear Bible Passages about Purgatory: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/25-descriptive-and-clear-bible-passages-about-purgatory

The important thing about purgatory is that it is not a substitute for accepting Jesus Christ as your savior now, or living a Christian life now, or avoiding sin now. Purgatory is for the ‘holy souls,’ not for people who want to ‘have fun’ now and worry about their souls later. When ‘later’ comes, in the form of death, there is no more mercy available for the damned soul. No damned souls are in purgatory, any more than they are in heaven.

As a Catholic convert who was not brought up on belief in purgatory, and who once knew a lot of (often silly) arguments against it, I find myself a little behind on knowing the concept. I recommend two devotional books by Susan Tassone and published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, for other Catholic converts wishing to gain greater knowledge of purgatory and the Holy Souls. [Where do the ‘holy souls’ get their ‘holy?’ Jesus, of course!]

Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/809593.Thirty_Day_Devotions_for_the_Holy_Souls

Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23490846-day-by-day-for-the-holy-souls-in-purgatory

3 Aspects of the Christian Rosary #prayer #rosary

IM001380While most of us grew up thinking of the rosary as an exclusively Catholic thing, the fact is that the devotion predates the Protestant movement and the resulting division between Christians. Christian use of the rosary is not just found among Catholics, but survived among some Anglicans and Lutherans, and has also been revived, often under names such as Christian rosary or Lutheran rosary, in some Christian communities.

Since the rosary is in common Christian use, it is well to think seriously about it. What is the rosary, anyway? There are three aspects of the rosary we might need to study to achieve full understanding.

The Beads

A rosary is a physical set of beads used to count prayers. Many cultures have something similar to a rosary. In Eastern religions, a string of 108 beads is used to count repetitions of a mantra, or religious phrase. In the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, a prayer rope is used to count repetitions of the Jesus prayer.  Muslims are said to use beads to count the many names/attributes of Allah.

A forerunner of rosary beads in the Western church was Paternoster beads, which were used to count repetitions of the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer. These were used by Christians who could not read, or could not afford a Liturgy of the Hours prayer book, which is a devotion based on the Psalms. Repeating the Our Father, and later, the rosary prayers, was a substitute.

The Verbal Prayers

The rosary is also a set of verbal prayers to be recited. They were prayers regularly taught to young Christians at the time the rosary was created. Besides the Our Father and the Hail Mary, they include the Glory Be to the Father, the In the Name of the Father, and the Apostles Creed.

I knew all these prayers, except the Hail Mary, from when I was a Protestant. We sang the Glory Be in our Presbyterian church every Sunday. The Hail Mary prayer can be a stumbling block, but the older version of the Hail Mary is made up of two Bible verses, and the longer version just asks Mary to pray for us. To God. The same way we ask our friends to pray for us. It’s not a form of worshipping Mary, which would be a serious sin. For those who worry, the short form Hail Mary or the Jesus prayer can be used in place of the full Hail Mary.

The Life of Christ Meditations

There is a third factor to the rosary. It is a series of 15 events and topics from the life of Christ that we are to think about while reciting the verbal prayers. Much later, Pope John Paul II added 5 more events, called the Luminous Mysteries. Protestants may use these extra Mysteries or not, as they choose. All are Bible stories known to Protestants, anyway.

The meditations add depth to the rosary devotion and keep us from just mindless and thoughtlessly uttering the verbal prayers. They are the heart of the devotion. There are many Catholic leaflets, books and videos that help us keep these meditations in mind when praying the rosary. I don’t know that there is much of this nature made for various sorts of Protestants, but if you can’t find anything, adapt something Catholic!

The Lutheran Rosary

Martin Luther and the Lutheran Hail Mary

 

“We’re Not Christian, We’re Catholic!”

One of my pet peeves, now that I’m Catholic, is the fact that many Evangelical Christians sometimes use the word ‘Christian’ to mean the totality of people who are ‘saved’ enough to go to heaven, and at other times use ‘Christian’ to mean ‘Evangelical Christian’ or even ‘Evangelical Christian like the ones in our church.’ Since I was brought up in an Evangelical-ish Presbyterian congregation and only converted as a mature adult, I resent being sometimes ‘outside’ the Christian fold in the speech of such people.

Sadly, this thinking has gone beyond messing up Evangelical Christians. I have heard of a Catholic husband who corrected his wife, saying ‘We’re not Christian, we’re Catholic!’ Obviously he had imbibed the idea of ‘Christian’ as ‘Evangelical Christian,’ and may have felt that he was sticking up for the Catholic faith against a faith-compromising wife.

OK, here the fact: ‘Christian’ is a term that applies to all followers of Jesus, no matter their denomination. Or non-denomination. Even in groups that both Catholics and Evangelical/Ptotestants think of as ‘cults,’ like Mormons (LDS), Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are folks who are following Jesus. They may have a lot of flawed doctrines (beliefs) in their heads, but if they are looking to Jesus to save them from their sins, they are part of our ‘tribe.’

Some Evangelicals, aware of this, like to use the term ‘Bible Christians’ to differentiate between themselves and between Christians like Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that they consider ‘beyond the pale.’ But from a Catholic perspective, I would resent that. Who is it that preserved the New Testament manuscripts and copied them— not to mention deciding which Christian books were a part of the Bible like Revelation and Romans, and which books, though good, did not make the cut, like the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas? Protestants and Evangelicals didn’t come along until centuries later. So— when Joel Osteen urges listeners who have prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ to get themselves in a ‘good Bible-based church,’ I consider my own Precious Blood Catholic Church to be one.

In my lifetime, popular culture has gone from thinking of Christians as virtuous but dull, to characterizing Christians, particularly those who stand up for unpopular teachings, as ‘haters,’ homophobes, and misogynists. We writers who are Christians need to stand up for Christianity as a whole— not just those bits of Christianity we know from our own denomination or church congregation.

Now, I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with a writer who happens to be Methodist or Lutheran or Pentecostal or Catholic using their own specific faith in their fiction, rather than a generic homogenized ‘Christianity.’ Back when I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I would have loved to read a Christian sci-fi or fantasy novel that mentioned the ‘means of grace’ or quoted from Luther’s catechism. And I now have favorite Catholic authors that are explicitly Catholic in their works.

But we need to face up to the fact that Christianity is divided and this is not necessarily good. Perhaps the best thing an author could do is to try to show Christians acting in unity in spite of divisions, and being kind to Christians from other denominations that the writer believes are very wrong. (For example, I have Amish and a Lutheran family on my fictional starship Destine, which is otherwise pretty full of Catholics. And in another work in progress, I have a group of young Mormon missionaries who volunteer to act as messengers for the Pope, who is in exile in Upper Michigan during the zombie apocalypse. The awkward bit comes when the Pope gives them his papal blessing and one of the Mormon missionaries responds by giving the Pope his own priestly blessing.)

What about non-Christian authors? Well, if you are non-Christian and still want to be respectful to Christianity, rather than mocking it, in my opinion you are being fair-minded and kind. I hope you will recognize that all persons in the many denominations and divisions of Christianity have a claim to be called ‘Christian’ even if some Christians think of ‘Christian’ as mostly ‘Christians-like-me.’ And that Christians can be kind and helpful to one another without ceasing to believe that their own denomination is the most correct. (After all, these days it is common for Christians to seek out another, more correct denomination if they feel their own is in error in an important way— that’s what I did— twice.)

 

Christian Churches that teach Birth Control Mentality

I’m not talking, in the title of this post, about the post-Christian churches like the PCUSA Presbyterians or ELCA Lutherans— both church bodies that are pro-abortion— or the Episcopal church that asked a woman to leave the congregation when she left her job at an abortion clinic because of ethical concerns about abortion.

I am talking about Bible-believing and therefore prolife churches. I have read accounts of women who announced they were pregnant with a third or fourth child, and they got nothing but grief from the people in their church because of it. They were asked if they knew what causes pregnancy, or people pretended they could not count the children in their ‘large’ family. Husbands got the offer to be driven to the clinic for a vasectomy. And this was with much-wanted pregnancies! Is it really anyone’s business if a Christian married couple wants three or four or even five or six children? And what should a woman do when she’s already pregnant with a child that her church members are convinced she shouldn’t want? Get an abortion? Or just complain about the unwantedness of her child?

Birth control mentality is morally wrong because it teaches that human beings— female ones, anyway— are in charge of their own fertility. If they want a child (and have no more than one) they have a ‘right’ to have a child, even if it takes in vitro fertalization and the sacrifice of the lives of ‘extra’ embryos to get what they want. And when a pregnancy is not desired, it is proclaimed that all ‘responsible’ people will be using artificial methods of contraception. Some of which, like IUD or the birth-control pill, cause the death of very young embryonic children.

In reality, no ‘birth control’ is 100% effective. And so it is demanded that abortion must be available as a backup. Prolife Christians want people to choose life, not abortion, but if they are living in the birth control mentality themselves, they are helping people to choose abortions.

I have read of an internationally known prolife activist— a priest— who said that when a country legalized contraceptives (which used to be illegal or restricted), legalizing abortion was not far behind. Because contraceptives are part of the birth control mentality, and that mentality demands abortion when contraception proves unreliable.

Lest you think I am just picking on the Evangelical/Protestant community here, there are I am sure also Catholic parishes where everyone is presumed to be using contraceptives, and the Church’s teaching on being open to life is mocked. No homilies are ever preached in which abortion is called a moral evil, and ‘Catholic’ politicians who vote pro-abortion are lauded as good Catholics.

To be truly prolife, we have to acknowledge that fertility, and children, are gifts from God. We will never have 100% control over when babies come. When an ‘unplanned’ pregnancy occurs, we must consider whether it is not a blessing from God that we didn’t know we wanted. It is a matter of trusting God. And when we are tempted to criticize a Christian sister for having ‘too many’ children, we must think twice and thrice before adding our critical words to what may be a difficult time for our sister.

Christian, Catholic authors need Bible Knowledge

If you are a Christian and/or Catholic writer or blogger, whether you like it or not, your readers are going to be taking you for a knowledgable authority on Christianity and the Bible. And so it is your job to become more knowledgable— at least a little.

In earlier generations Protestant/Evangelical Christians often taught that good Christians were ones that read the Bible every single day. Good Catholics were seen as those who attended daily Mass every day, if possible, and would hear the assigned Bible readings for that day. But today people think they have so much less time for such activity, and in addition many listen to preachers like Joel Osteen who tend to be very ‘lite’ on actual Bible teaching.

Many Christians do read the Bible— but they find much of the Bible difficult. Some end up reading the same few Bible passages over and over, and others read, but without much comprehension. What can take your Bible reading to the next level is reading the Bible using a good Bible commentary.

I learned about Bible commentaries when I was in high school or just starting college. I was a Presbyterian at the time, but planning on becoming Lutheran. At that time, a Bible commentary series, the Tyndale commentary series, was available for sale in Christian bookstores and my college bookstore. Volumes were available for the New Testament and the Protestant books of the Old Testament. I wanted a full set of those commentaries! I know I got Romans, and Revelations. But I lost those volumes over the years.

Now that I’m Catholic, I want commentaries written by Catholics— but I like the format of the Protestant commentaries I read when younger. Luckily, there are commentaries for that: the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. So far I only have the one on the Gospel of Matthew.

These commentaries are nice because after every Bible passage it gives parts of the Catholic catechism that clear up points in the reading, and it also tells related passages from other books of the Bible, and if the Bible passage in question is part of the Church’s Mass readings, it tells the Church feast or occasion that the passage is used for.

There are also sections on ‘Reflection and Application—‘ which help prevent your Bible study from being a mere intellectual exercise. Very helpful. The only bad part of this series is that it is new, and only the New Testament books have been covered. Is an Old Testament series in the works? I don’t know, but I’m hoping one is forthcoming.

Both the Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture and the Tyndale Old Testament and New Testament commentaries were written by Bible scholars who teach at seminaries and colleges, or who at least have a comparable level of knowledge. They have deep knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew texts. This is the kind of commentary we need to build our knowledge.

I have a few other commentaries in my collection that don’t measure up to that standard. Some are slim volumes by J. Vernon McGee, an old-time radio Bible preacher. Now, I used to listen to McGee on the radio, but he was not a Bible scholar. And when  you hear what he says about various Bible passages, you can wonder if what he was saying was based on knowledge, or just on a human opinion. For example, McGee believed that the Apostles did the wrong thing when they chose Matthias by lot to replace Judas Iscariot. McGee thought that St. Paul was the man God had chosen to replace Judas, but I don’t know if there is a single Bible passage that would confirm that.

Now, if I were stranded on a desert island with only my Bible and a complete set of McGee commentaries, I would read them, but I would not take McGee’s words as necessarily correct or wise. For that matter, even the best Bible scholars can have unwise or incorrect opinions. But I have more confidence in these two scholarly commentary series, and would prefer to use them since they are available.

Bible knowledge and your writing life: First thing to remember is that you don’t have to use everything you know. Even the most pious of Evangelical publishers does not like to publish books with long church-sermon-scenes and Bible-study-scenes. Such scenes slow down the action and make the work more dull for readers. You want to be planting seeds of faith, not dumping Bible and faith knowledge by the truckload.

  • My reading plan: I am currently reading the Gospel of Matthew with the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series. After I finish, I’m planning to do an Old Testament book, probably Psalms, using the Tyndale series. (I have a lot of OT commentaries from that series since I found a bunch for sale on Ebay.) After I do that, I’m hoping to afford the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Catholic series.

Was Mohammed a false prophet?

Some people on the outside of Christianity think that ‘faith’ is about ‘blind faith.’ Some also believe that there is no such thing as a theistic religion that is true, and that only the non-theistic religions like atheism, agnosticism and secularism could be true, and that is why the non-theists have blind faith in their non-theistic religion.
Update/Note: I have been informed by WordPress that an ‘authority’ in the country of Pakistan has claimed that this blog post is ‘blasphemous’ and ‘hate speech’ and must be taken down. But this ‘authority’ has failed to even comment on this post to defend his point-of-view!
But in the real world, different religions make different truth claims, and contradictory claims cannot both be true. Aztecs believed that large numbers of human sacrifices pleased the gods. People in the Judeo-Christian faiths believe that God expressly rejects human sacrifice. Christianity rises or falls on whether Jesus Christ was, in fact, the Son of God (in a unique way) and whether He rose from the dead and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And Islam is based on the belief that Mohammed was a prophet in the Hebrew tradition, like Moses or Jesus.
A prophet in Judaism & Christianity is someone who has been given a message from God. The test of a prophet is whether he claims words as a prophecy which are not true. God does not give false information to prophets. So, then, what about Mohammed?
First I must say this: by asking questions about Mohammed I am not being mean to Muslims. Muslims are human beings that God loves. If their religion is false, shouldn’t someone tell them? I’ve had people claim my religion is false just because those people have blind faith that atheism is true and that ‘ha, ha, there is no God’ is a logical argument. And if Islam happens to be true, it will stand up to any questioning.
Mohammed claimed that all the words of the Koran were given to him by the angel Jibril (Gabriel.) Since God and His angels know the truth, the words of the Koran would not contain false information or mistakes— if Mohammed were, in fact, a prophet.
The worst sin of all, according to Islam, is shirk, or ascribing a partner to God. According to one modern-day Muslim writer, shirk is worse than murder, rape, child molesting and genocide. And although the Koran does say that Jews and Christians are not infidels like the pagans are, both religions, according to the Koran, are guilty of shirk.
Let’s take the Jews first. In Koran 9:30, it says ‘The Jews said ‘Ezra is the son of God.’ That is utterly false. That is not what Judaism teaches! If Mohammed were getting messages from the angel Gabriel, he would not say this false thing.
What about Christianity? Koran 5:116 says: “When God says ‘Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to people, “Take me and my mother as two gods alongside God?” this shows clearly that Mohammed misunderstood the Christian concept of the trinity. It never included Mary! There are New Testament passages that clearly speak of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, though the term ‘trinity’ was not used in the Bible.
Now, it does not disprove Mohammed as a true prophet that his message rejected the doctrine of the trinity. What disproves Mohammed as a prophet is that he was mistaken about what the Christians believed, and he incorporated this mistake into words he claimed came from God through the angel Gabriel. God would know what the Christians of Mohammed’s day were teaching!
There are many other places in the Koran which clearly show that the Koran was based on Mohammed’s personal and highly limited knowledge of what Jews and Christians believe. It claims that Abraham offered to sacrifice his illegitimate son Ishmael, and not his ‘child of promise’ son Isaac. It presumes that Mary the mother of Jesus and Miriam the sister of Moses were the same woman.
Of course, if a Muslim were to come across this evidence that Mohammed was a false prophet, he probably couldn’t do anything about it. In many Muslim countries, there are apostasy laws. These state that if anyone is a Muslim, he must not leave Islam, and can be executed or imprisoned if he tries. On the other hand, these laws welcome Christians and Jews and others to become Muslims— so long as they never try to leave Islam.
Even in Western nations, there is a perspective that Muslims who leave their faith must die. Americans Ergun and Emir Caner, two brothers who became Evangelical Christians, were estranged from their Muslim father by their conversion, and disowned. So Muslims who question the truth of their faith are in an impossible position, and we must pray that God will help them.
Are you a Muslim who questions? Ask God to guide you to the truth. Read the book below by the Caner brothers, both former Muslims, if you can obtain it. Do internet searches on former Muslims and web sites that tell the story of former Muslims— they will tell you the things that those other Muslims questioned. Don’t endanger yourself or your job by sharing your doubts with Muslims who may not sympathize. If you have questions about Christianity specifically, read a good information source like Dave Armstrong’s blog. Feel free to ask any questions you have here in a comment— if I don’t know the answer, I will try to find out. And at least I will pray for you.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32
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I am not an expert in Islam or a scholar. Any information in this article came from books I read about Islam. In addition, I have looked up Koran verses in my own copy of the Koran. I find the books listed below useful for those searching out information about the possibility that Mohammed was not a true prophet.