Saturday, March 24, 2012

What I Learned From the Catholics & Baptists

This post is one in a series of posts about what I have learned from the different denominations and religions that have come into my life.  There may be more than one post per denomination.

The first post was  "I'm a Christian Mutt".  
The second post was "What I Learned from the Wesleyans/Methodists"
The third post was "What I Learned from both the UCC and the Methodists"
The fourth post was "What I Learned from the Presbyterians"

A couple of years ago, I heard a sermon in which the pastor related that he was 9 when he first understood that he was a sinner.  He seemed to imply that this was a very young age to realize this but I thought, "isn't that a little old?"  I at least knew that when I was 6 or 7, if not before.  You see, I grew up part Catholic, and had my first communion in second grade when I was 7.  In order to have one's first communion, though, one must also go to confession.  What happens at confession?  Why, you confess your sins, of course.  Not only that, but two things recited every week were the Lord's Prayer and the Nicene Creed.  In the Lord's Prayer we prayed "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" and in the Nicene Creed we spoke of how "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried" and "We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins."  So from a very young age, I knew that Jesus died for my sins.  I don't remember ever not believing it.

I am not sure why it sometimes is put forth as if it is some big revelation to realize that we sin.  I think it should be rather obvious to anyone from the age of, say, 2 that we do things that are wrong.  In fact, my two year old knows he is not supposed to just take marshmallows, and so he takes the bag and goes and hides with it in order to eat them.

Sin was also a big topic when I attended a Baptist church for a while when I lived in Albuquerque.  While I actually don't recall anything specific about it, I do have a general sense that it was often preached how awful we all are and how we don't deserve God's love and grace.  There was almost this sense of piling on the guilt about how bad we were.  And, in this particular tradition, the only time "confession" was ever mentioned was for those "first-timers", the people who had not yet "asked Jesus into their hearts" and needed to say a "sinner's prayer" so that they could say they were sorry for their sin.

What about everyone else?

Looking back, I think that although the similarity between these two was acknowledging and talking about sin, the main difference between them was that the Catholic church provided an ongoing way to deal with sin.  You could go to confession every week if you wanted to!  And, actually, in many other protestant churches that I have been to, the congregation recites together a "confession of sin".

When people are given those moments to continually confess, either to a priest, or as part of a group, not just confess one time, I think it can actually help them from dwelling on their sin.  I know, that seems a little counter-intuitive, doesn't it?  It would seem that all one would have to do is confess one time and forget it all.  But the thing is, we do still sin, even if we have a moment in which we say "I'm sorry for everything I've done wrong".

In not providing teaching or opportunities for continual confession, it's possible that churches like that can inadvertently make their congregants more of a slave to sin.

What are your thoughts?  Is regular confession a good thing?  Are you more of a one-time confession type of person?  For either position, what makes you think as you do?

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. --Romans 6:6-11

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