CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Um, You Will NOT Get Me To Convert If You Keep Doing This

Jun 16, 2018

OK, another rather bizarre title. I seem to have plenty of them! But let me explain, and hopefully all will become clear. And let me say right at the beginning that this is an article I really never wanted to write. It really should not have come to this. But since some things keep recurring, I have finally felt it is time to pen this piece – if for no other reason, it might have a cathartic value for me!

Here is the scoop: there are always folks out there who want to convert you to something – to a cause, or to a political party, or to a belief system, etc. And of course there are secular humanists and the like who want to convert others to their cause, just as there are Christians who want to convert non-Christians to Christianity.

And by that I certainly mean not just to Christianity, but to Christ himself. It is about a personal relationship, not just mental assent or adhering to various rituals and performing certain actions. The real goal is to get people connected in a living relationship with their Creator through Christ, based on what he did on our behalf at Calvary.

Then there are differing sorts of Christians who want to convert one another. Since there are significant theological and ecclesiastical differences between the big three – Catholics, the Orthodox, and Protestants – that can be fair enough. Each one is convinced of the superiority of their own tribe, and want others to be a part of it. And that is OK.

I of course happen to be an evangelical Protestant, but I have plenty of friends and close relations with those in the other two major camps. And having read, studied, taught and lectured in theology and related areas for nearly 50 years now, I do know something about all three.

So if I mainly adhere to just one of the three, it is not due to ignorance or a lack of understanding about the other two. It is due to where I find things best lining up with the biblical data, and where God wants me to be. If others take a different view, that is their choice. And I can live with that.

Needless to say, I regularly have my non-Protestant friends trying to convert me to their side. Again, fair enough. But I believe I have had some good theological reasons for declining thus far. I have written this up here, eg.: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/06/17/defence-protestantism-response-catholic-friends/

And those who know even a little about me know that it has long been my policy to NOT allow sectarian fighting to take place either on CultureWatch or on my social media pages. I have said this perhaps a hundred times now, both here and there. I suggest people go elsewhere for those battles, and there are zillions of other places where those battles take place.

And a good part of the reason I have this policy is threefold: one, these issues have been debated to death millions of times now over many hundreds of years; two, the actual debates are quite complex and nuanced, and short little comments – especially on the social media – hardly do them justice; and three, I find that far more heat than light usually accompanies these debates.

They so very quickly degenerate into ugly slanging matches complete with nasty personal attacks, cheap shots, and a complete breakdown of reason and logic. Some people just cannot debate an issue without getting all upset and emotionally freaked out. Um, simply emoting a lot is not how we do proper debate.

So I ask folks to take it elsewhere. But the really annoying thing is how many folks absolutely refuse to abide by my simple and polite requests. They are argumentative, belligerent, pugilistic and warlike, to use but a few adjectives. They are like a dog with a bone who refuses to let go of it.

No matter how many times I politely ask them to cease and desist, they just keep on going and going, showing me no respect or Christian grace at all. They can be among the most unloving and nasty people I know. And folks in all the camps can carry on like this.

“They will know we are Christians by our love” is how one popular Christian song goes. That SHOULD be the case, but sadly it often is not. Some folks who want me to convert to their preferred Christian faith tradition pretty much guarantee that I never will, simply because of their obvious LACK of love.

When they refuse to respect my wishes, cut me some slack, and do as I ask in simple Christian charity, they really do tell me everything I need to know about them. So let me get to the heart of the matter here. And since it will again get all sorts of people bent out of shape, let me preface my remarks first.

Since I have discovered over the years that most people only hear what they want to hear, and only read what they want to read, let me say something twice: now, and a bit later on.

-I am NOT saying all Catholics are like this.
-I am NOT saying there are no Protestants who are like this.
-I am not saying there is no place for proper and respectful debate on these sectarian matters.

Having said that, let me share with you my beef. While I have theological differences with my Catholic friends, if there is one thing that may well prevent me from ever converting to Catholicism it is this: the way in which far too many Catholics (but not all of course) have treated me, especially in relation to what I have just said above.

Over many years I have too often found that SOME Catholics are just so stinking stubborn, belligerent and unloving. No matter how many times I plead with them to cease and desist and take their arguing elsewhere, they simply refuse, and just keep carrying on, as if I have not said 3 or 4 times in a row that they take time out and give it a rest.

Guess what? If you want me to become a Catholic like you are, that is NOT how you will get me to convert! Comprendo? All you are doing is turning me off forever. Some of the most unloving, ungracious and unfriendly folks I know have been SOME Catholics.

OK, it is time to repeat what I already said:

-I am NOT saying all Catholics are like this.
-I am NOT saying there are no Protestants who are like this.
-I am not saying there is no place for proper and respectful debate on these sectarian matters.

Here is what might be a helpful hint: for all those Catholics who are my friends, who are gracious, who are loving and who do respect me and my wishes (and that would be the majority of you), here is something you can do: try to have a word with these cantankerous, hard-nosed and ever-arguing fellow Catholics, and try to beat some sense into them!

If they think I will rush into their camp based on how they have treated me and others, they are dreaming. They turn me off more than any questionable theological argument they may offer, that’s for sure! They pretty much ensure that I will stay cemented just where I am thanks.

Sadly I have had to let a number of these folks go, especially on the social media. Just last night I had to let two more Catholic friends go. It pained me to do so, but they really left me with no choice, after they ignored my repeated pleas to just give it a rest. They proved by their actions that their particular brand of Christianity is NOT something I find at all appealing.

That is why I have written this article. And to be sure, I have let some Protestants go for the very same reasons. So again, I am NOT painting all Catholics with the same brush here. But over the years I have just had far too many ornery and feisty Catholics fail to show me even a modicum of Christian love and grace.

And again, I know that many Catholics could say the same about some Protestants. So for the third and final time, I do NOT judge all Catholics by the few. But they sure are giving the Catholic faith a bad name, and they are NOT making things very inviting for me to cross the Tiber.

I recently wrote a piece on controversy, which I wish everyone would have a look at. In it I made three main points: some controversy is good; often some of it can be bad and destructive; and I have a lot to learn about how to carry on in these areas. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/06/14/on-controversy/

So I apologise to all of you when I have not been loving and gracious. I apologise for when I have doggedly fought some issue when I should have let it go. And I apologise when I may have just chickened out when I should have engaged. I have much to learn here, and I need real wisdom.

I need prayer and God’s grace to get better in this regard. I think we all do. So if this little rant makes any sense, or speaks to some of you, ask God how you might proceed. If you think I am out to lunch and you want to come here to pick yet another fight with me, well, you are the very ones I have been talking about, and I am not interested in more of your pugilism!

The line attributed to Augustine may be relevant here: “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, diversity, in all things charity.” There is more to it than that of course, but it may be a good start. And let me also repeat what I said in my recent article on controversy, in the form of a quote by Iain Murray:

The Christian life is more than a matter of knowledge and correct thinking. Spiritual life does not reside only in the intellect. A person can hold the right beliefs and not be a Christian at all. Where there is the new birth there is not only light to the mind, but love in the heart and grace in the spirit. Orthodox belief is not the only mark of true Christianity…. When disputes and differences arise they are not likely to be solved only by argument. Supernatural aid is needed.

A million amens to that. Let me finish by mentioning one related matter. I recently spoke about these issues on the social media, and how frustrating it is to have some of these folks always arguing with me and refusing to respect my wishes. One fellow said this: “Bill, why not just pray for more grace?” I replied as follows:

That goes without saying, and so of course I do. But let’s bring in the whole counsel of God here. That includes things Jesus said about NOT casting our pearls before swine, NOT giving crumbs to the dogs, etc. And it includes things he did as well, such as NOT going after the rich young ruler, but being willing to let him go. But since you brought it up, I always can appreciate others praying for me here!

What I said to him I say to you: please keep me in your prayers thanks. I sure need them. God bless you all.

[1934 words]

19 Responses to Um, You Will NOT Get Me To Convert If You Keep Doing This

  • BTW, I let a Catholic friend read this article first before posting it, asking her what she thought of it. She gave it the thumbs up. As someone whose judgment and wisdom I trust, I posted it!

  • I am a bit mystified as to where all this Catholic inspired persecution has gone on Bill …I am not a big social media chatterer…but read you blog assiduously and haven’t noticed it there… if it has taken place as part of confidential interaction then it is a bit hard to judge…one would need to read the exchanges to make a judgement … remember not everyone has had the long and intense training in theology as you have and so no doubt say ill informed and ignorant things which must irritate you… …but then if they have avoided or been deprived of the opportunities you have had to be so knowledgeable about your Christian Faith, then it calls for some tolerance of their ignorance… after all we are all making these judgments everyday … we are surrounded by people who have not had it as good as us…have not for example had the education in the Catholic Faith I had by faithful, committed, self sacrificing Religious Sisters. I am forever telling myself that Bill.,

  • Thanks Denise. I can assure you there is plenty of it out there! I have faced it for years. Often folks have to be unfriended on the social media, so of course one cannot see what has been deleted! And I am not saying that everyone should have a dozen degrees in theology. But if folks are NOT very knowledgeable in such things, then a basic requirement is some humility. Often however, sadly, those who argue the most know the least! They are proud in their ignorance. Not a good combination.

  • Hi Bill
    I am not sure if the differences between Catholic and Protestant are ‘essentials’ or ‘non-essentials’.
    Do your ex-Catholic friends think you are unsaved?
    I would just say to them that you trust in the Bible alone with no added extras (traditions).

  • Thanks Kyle. There certainly are some very real and very significant theological differences between the two, along with broad general areas of agreement as well. There are plenty of Catholics who think Protestants are not saved, or part of the true church, and there are plenty of Protestants who think Catholics are not saved. I tend to run with the “mere Christianity” view of C. S. Lewis to some extent. But a million more things could be said on all this – perhaps in another article or thirty!

  • Thanks Bill. Your point is clear. You are respectful. Yet you are so so frustrated. Not all Catholics are hard nosed and dug in heels not all believe 100% in what the church tells them, I was once a catholic bought up on both mother and father sides of the family with at least 5 generations of Catholics on each side. I’m a Pentecostal Christian and attend a non-denomination Pentecostal church. There are always some who are stuck in dogma in any denomination yet we are called to represent Jesus. Sadly the arguments come down to wanting to be right. Not about who’s right it’s about what God word and the Holy Spirit says in truth. You can be scriptural right about anything if you twist it enough, yet praying and hearing what the Holy Spirit says is the only truth, He never lies, the Holy Spirit speaks on behalf on what God says 100%. I respect my family’s choice but I disagree on a lot of the catholic belief is. I have to remember not to get into arguments I know I cannot win due to mind set. Believe me when I drank I would get into “discussions” with my uncle (Catholic) for 2 hrs or more and it would get pretty heated and bogged down cos we both stuck to our own right to be right. Yet I was wrong 1: in try to persuade my uncle when I certainly wasn’t filled with God’s wisdom or the Holy Spirit because I was drunk and 2: sometimes it is better just to state your case and leave it at that was is the point of a heated argument. Doesn’t give God any respect and too non believers must make them more determined to too believe in God as would be the same with trying to change the mindset of a catholic, or any other church that says only it is the only way to God none other. Jesus said He was the only way, not as a catholic, Protestant, evangelical, JW, etc just belief and faith in Jesus Christ and God’s Word.

  • Thanks Carmel. Of course any sort of “mere Christianity” I may aspire to does NOT mean I think dogma and doctrine are unimportant. I have many dozens of articles here making that case. And some groups are heretical and cultic (JW’s eg.) and MUST be resisted to maintain biblical truth. So as always, it is a balancing act, and there is a place for sound theology.

  • Well Bill,
    Perhaps my comment has from time to time had an un-Chrisian edge. (As I see many commenters tend to do.) If so Bill please can you forgive me?
    I find myself often getting emotional about different subjects as one would expect most every Christian to do, particulary at some of the things this world throws up.
    And it seems to me that every Christian needs to be on the same page when these (serious) issues arise and to my knowledge you and my Catholic Christian beliefs re these things have never conflicted?
    However when the moderistic, new age, positive progressive anti-Christ law makers proclaim publicly their errors (sometimes even my own).
    I find it a duty to speak out (often to my detriment).
    Hopefully with as much Christian love as I can muster.
    Often resulting in being call offensive names because of the effort.
    Anyhow! As stated please forgive any offence either from me or my compatriots.
    Terry Mcdonnell WA

  • Many thanks Terry. Bless you.

  • As a life long Catholic I have never heard what Bill has heard “There are plenty of Catholics who think Protestants are not saved” …The belief I hold as a result of the good teaching I received was that those who practised diligently what they believed to be the truth.. regardless of whether it was or not…would be saved..even a pygmy in darkest Africa with little..even no opportunity.. to know Christ …. but I have heard a prominent Protestant Pastor say “There is now salvation outside Christianity”

  • Thanks Denise. Maybe you move in somewhat more narrow circles than me! But the idea that you were taught about “those who practised diligently what they believed to be the truth.. regardless of whether it was or not …would be saved” is a patently false and utterly dangerous. While I again do not want to go to war on sectarian issues, I can say how terrible that idea is. Hitler of course ‘practised diligently what he believed to be the truth,’ as do abortionists, etc. Buddhists practise diligently what they believe to be the truth, even though they do not even need to believe in God. How in the world could anyone claiming to be a Christian say they are all saved? Surely it is the height of reckless relativism to say it does not matter if something is true or not, just as long as people diligently practice their beliefs! Homosexual activists do that, but what they believe is false, and they are NOT saved. Atheists do that, and their beliefs are false, and they are NOT saved. Jihadists do that, and their beliefs are false, and they are NOT saved. Sorry, but whoever gave you that advice should be ashamed of themselves. Such relativism is why we are in such an awful mess today, including with the culture of death, which is steeped in such relativism. Those who taught that errant nonsense need to read some great Catholic apologists like Peter Kreeft who make crystal clear the utter centrality of absolute truth.

  • I am so sorry you had to go through that, Bill, but this is why Paul tells us:-

    Rom 12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

    (KJV)

    As Paul shows here, God knows we are going to get frustrated with each other because we have Biblical evidence that He gets frustrated with us as well.

    The Devil must laugh when he is able to cause divisions between people. We don’t have the term “divide and conquer” for no reason and the fact is
    there is not one scripture that says you have to get everything right in your doctrine to be saved. If that was the case, absolutely no one would be saved. This is why Paul said:-

    1Co_8:2 And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.

    and:-

    1Co_13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall fully know even as I also am fully known.
    (MKJV)

    If I may mention my pet peeve is when seeing Catholics and Protestants argue about trans-substantiation. There simply is no scripture or anywhere that Jesus says that what you believe is happening when you take the bread and the wine is of any significance. The important thing is that you just do it because it is the act of doing it that is demonstrating your faith. All else being equal, what you think is happening when you take the Lord’s supper, is pretty much completely irrelevant. It’s not the understanding that matters it’s the action and remembrance that counts. This is just simply a completely stupid thing to argue about.

    In Job we see that the thing God chastises the men for is not being compassionate to job, accusing him falsely and for being ignorant, even the righteous Job was criticized because he did not get things right. The fact that they were all ignorant was, in fact, a given and all it took was for Job to pray for the others for them to be forgiven for their unjust criticism.

    There are many important things but I am absolutely convinced that the most important thing of all is to believe what God has told us, both in the Old and New Testaments.

    Anyway I thank God for what you are doing, Bill. May God bless and be with you and help you keep up the good work.

  • Forget about all these tags, theologies, doctrines, denominations etc – just devour the word of God and live by that – its that simple.

  • Thanks Iain. While I understand where you are coming from, and while you are in a sense right, you are also in a sense wrong! Actually it is NOT that simple. If it were, we would not have zillions of different believers believing zillions of different things. And we would not have very real and very damnable heresies and cults which led people to a lost eternity. So theology in fact does matter, and it matters greatly.

    In a fallen world our understanding is impacted, even as believers. And while we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, we are still also commanded to ‘study to show ourselves approved,’ etc. Thus the New Testament especially speaks repeatedly about the vital importance of doctrine, of right belief, of theology. But I have made that case often elsewhere. See here for example, where I offer 20 reasons why all Christians must know a bit about theology:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/26/in-defence-of-theology/

  • Bill,
    I thought this article deserved a place in your blog. It gives another reason for our not so religious leaders in parliaments to reconsider their opposition to religion. Mind you they probably don’t want us to live longer, the elderly are a drain on the states resources, unless you consider their virtues.
    “Those who attend Church are likely to live longer than those who do not, a study has found, in results which may be linked to healthy lifestyle choices made by regular churchgoers.
    British newspaper The Times reports:
    “The fruit of the righteous,” it says in the book of Proverbs, “is a tree of life.”
    That is not too far from the empirical truth, according to a study that suggests religiously observant people tend to live up to six years longer than atheists or agnostics.
    Academics argue that the faithful not only smoke less, drink less and generally behave more sensibly, but also find it easier to maintain a healthy social network, especially in old age.
    The findings, based on analysis of just over 1,600 American local newspaper obituaries, is the latest piece of evidence that religion may bring its consolations in this world as well as the next.”
    Read more at The Times
    Breitbart LondonFaithMedicineChristianityChurchLife expectancy

  • Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
    We should be seeking the Kingdom of God and living it on earth.
    If we focused on the Kingdom of God the importance of our tribes would fall away.
    It is summed up well in Phil 2:1-5 KJV
    1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
    2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
    3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
    4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
    5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

  • Thanks again Bill. I get what you are saying. I really get alot from your blogs. Keep up the good work you do for The Kingdom.

  • Can I get an amen? 🙂
    Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply