Before you “go off” on this blog author, realize that the above question is enclosed in quotation marks. That is the title of a blog post discovered by Googling the question to see if it was a matter of discussion and what folks might be saying.
The blog post, as well as most of the comments revolved around doctrinal differences between Catholic teaching and Protestantism. One comment seemed to focus on the deeper and more significant issue:
“The key to whether anyone (Catholic/Protestant/Other) is a ‘brother or sister’ in Christ, is whether or not he/she is truly IN Christ, not a particular point of doctrine. Ultimately, only God knows that, no matter what ‘fruit’ looks like.
If it is necessary to determine if a Catholic (or anyone) is really IN Christ, or just an adherent to a religious ‘system’ It can be done without a great deal of difficulty. It has been my experience that 9 of 10 (at least) former Catholics (or former anything) who have left whatever was ‘former’ have done so because they read Scripture for themselves. When that is done, any doctrines that are contrary to scripture will become apparent because the Holy Spirit of God indwells every true believer and will teach him/her what is true and reveal what is not.
Any person indwellt by the Holy Spirit cannot read Scripture and not be ‘taught by God’! Something WILL happen, eventually – maybe not right away, but over time truth will get through to the heart of any true believer.
In today’s Christian climate, it is difficult to immediately claim Catholics OR Protestants as brothers/sisters IN Christ just because they say they are ‘Christians’. Much of what passes for Protestant evangelism is just as apostate as false Catholic doctrine!
So what I CAN do is, in a spirit of love, is present Scripture that would/should cause Catholics to examine Catholic doctrine (or anyone with a false gospel) and let God do the rest. The Catholic (or anyone who claims Christ) who seems totally unaffected by the plain words/truth of scripture just might NOT be my brother/sister in Christ, in which case, if I continue discussions, I will make a bee-line for the Gospel of Christ as preached by Paul, and at the same time pray that God will open a heart to receive it.”
When all is said and done, ‘doctrine’ does not determine whether professing Christians are ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’. The determinant is actually being IN Christ. We can intellectually debate various doctrines all day long, and false doctrines ought to be exposed. We humans can certainly apply the light of scripture to various doctrines, but the ‘change agent’ in the heart of anyone trusting ‘false’ doctrine is the Holy Spirit of God engaging that heart.
Definitely. I don’t know that many Catholics, though I’ve known quite a few former Catholics. I agree with you that being in Christ is the litmus test. Jesus also said that “By this will all men know that you are My disciples: if you have love one for another.” (I might not have gotten every word perfect there, but you know the verse.) So there’s a second test. If we don’t love the brethren, that’s a really bad sign.
Obviously doctrine is important. Paul, in particular, talked about it a lot. But the ultimate test is the position of a man in Christ, which can be seen (among other things) in his love for the brothers and sisters. I think you can please God while holding on to some pretty dumb doctrine, however I don’t think we can please Him outside of Christ, nor can we please Him without the love of Christ living in us.
“But the ultimate test is the position of a man in Christ, which can be seen (among other things) in his love for the brothers and sisters.”
Cindy, Thanks for engaging!
It sounds like you might be thinking of the passage
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; … “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35)
“I don’t think we can please Him outside of Christ, nor can we please Him without the love of Christ living in us.”
Very true! Here’s a follow-on question.
Can a person wear a ‘Christian’ label, behave lovingly to others around him/her, and not really be a Christian, having believed wrong doctrine about Christ?
Person “A” accepted Jesus in order to have a ‘better’ life.
Person “B” accepted Jesus after having confronted the fact of their sinfulness and eternally lost condition apart from Christ, and trusted in Jesus’ death as payment for that sin.
Both, after accepting Christ (for very different reasons) profess to be Christians, demonstrate brotherly love and do good works. Are they both genuine believers (IN Christ)?
If one is a Christian and the other is not, because one believed in the true gospel message and the other believed a false gospel message, are they kindred IN Christ?
I think that’s the point of the original post. It’s bigger than whatever label we wear.
A Christian is a person that has Christ as his/her only Saviour and Lord. Catholics believe that to be baptized in their church is salvation, and they divide their fidelity between “God” and the pope. So, they are not our brothers.
It’s kind of hard to tell, isn’t it? If you’re in a traditional church where people don’t really know one another, you seldom get close enough to another person to evaluate whether they have love for the saints. Truly sacrificial things are almost never required from us on behalf of the brethren in such a situation. Once you begin to get close to people, it’s more apparent, but even then, a lot of the time it’s beyond us to make any kind of a judgment.
I would say that the person who “accepted Christ to have a better life” would eventually find that empty. God is always wooing such people to a deeper and truer understanding of who He is (I know this from personal experience, btw. He is incredibly patient.) Is that person, pointed toward being “in Christ” to be considered a Christian brother? That’s a hard question. God, who sees in eternity what we see in time, sees them as His posession. Maybe it’s safest for us to look at them in the same way, though we don’t see into eternity, nor into their hearts. You never go wrong by loving someone.
As for “setting them straight,” we can’t do that no matter what. Getting set straight, however much you yourself may desire to be straight, is fully dependent on the Holy Spirit, who knows when we’re ready and able to receive a true revelation of what it means to be in Christ.
Sure, God will use us in this process, but only as we say and pray the things He gives us, and as long as we do that in a true spirit of love toward this brother (or pre-brother, or even tare, as the case may be).
It’s not up to us to decide or to judge. God, as a loving Father should, lets His little children “help” with things He could do much more easily by Himself. We can do what He gives us to do.
Certainly, we can and must judge overt sin and rebellion in the body, but for these more subtle matters, maybe it’s best to assume the best and remain sensitive to the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead.
If anyone’s salvation is based on having been baptised or another ‘rite/ceremony/act (work) without having been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and brought to belief and trust in Christ, that person has not been ‘born of God’, but only been born of flesh, and by the above scripture not a child of God, and therefore not a ‘brother/sister’ of those who have experienced genuine new birth in Christ.
This has been a purely hypothetical question. A practical question might be: Should we embrace someone who wears a ‘Christian’ label, yet preaches a false gospel, even after being presented with scripture that exposes what is false, as ‘spiritual kin’?
It’s true that if a person’s salvation isn’t based on the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and on a true heart belief that the blood of Christ has cleansed them of all sin, they are not in Christ. We don’t always know this, of course, unless they say so, therefore it can be hard to tell.
On the other hand, if they are preaching a false gospel, we must not receive them as a brother. But they do have to be preaching a false gospel–not just using words in a different way than we do. Sometimes I’m at a loss to figure out what two theologians are arguing about because it sounds to me like they’re saying the same thing. I’m sure I’m not as smart as they are, but most other people aren’t as smart as they are, either. I think the false gospel thing is negated if people don’t have a clue as to what’s being said.
People receive what they think they’re hearing, not necessarily what the speaker intends them to receive. Unless it’s false preaching that’s going to give a false message to a person of average intelligence, it’s just an argument amongst intellectuals. Full of sound and fury; signifying nothing. 😉
“they are preaching a false gospel, we must not receive them as a brother.”
Bingo! We don’t have to be mean, but we are not brothers. If they’re preaching a false gospel, chances are good they are believing it.
So, what about that person we know and have a relationship with, who is NOT ‘preaching’ a false gospel, but is believing in a false gospel. Lay aside the ‘brother/sister’ thing for a minute, what is our responsibility toward that person?
This is a matter of listening to the Spirit. There are so many situations in which a brother could be wrong–even fatally wrong–and God will want to deal with each of these in the most effective way.
I have a (pre) sister who has been wounded and mistreated so badly–I wouldn’t dream of wading into those wounds and ham-handedly telling her all the things she’s wrong about. She believes herself to be a Christian. I’m not so sure, but I can see God at work powerfully in her life. A little at a time, as the HS leads me, is absolutely all I dare to do. God knows how to woo her, and I can wait for Him.
However, there is a time and a place for bluntly telling a person that he’s wrong. Jesus did this a lot. Usually He was speaking to a group–with individuals, He was typically more gentle. As I said, the bottom line is listening to the HS’s guidance. That’s the way Jesus did it, and that’s the way we need to do it, too.
Just to clarify–reading over my last paragraph–there were certainly times when Jesus was forceful with individuals (especially Peter!) 😉 Typically, though, it seems to me that He was a little more gentle (though always truthful) when He was talking to the average person.
Agsolutely right Cindy, we need to listen to the Spirit as He teaches us to both spot error (biblical error that is) and all the Spirit to teach us how to interact with different people.
OK, now I have to ask, what/how/when did an ‘average’ fisherman become unaverage? I didn’t quite grasp that part. Wer you talking about Peter having been with Jesus for some time and learned more than say, the woman at the well? that’s what it sounded like.
Oh no, I only meant that time when Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan.” That wasn’t very gentle! :O I don’t see Jesus saying something like that to the woman at the well. She probably would have run away. But Peter was Jesus’ good friend, and also a frequent sufferer of “foot-in-mouth disease.”
So yes, I suppose I see Peter as kind of “un-average” in that he had a close friendship with Jesus, and Jesus knew He could speak to him that way without Peter misunderstanding.
That’s what I thought you were talking about. Jesus ‘knew’ men’s hearts and never made a mistake communicating. We can’t/don’t. Somehow God gets through our less than perfect communication skills.