"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Jesus And The Revival Tent–The Big Top Circus Of Personal Salvation

The Catholic Church has always been an advocate for reason.  Augustine and Aquinas were among many of the theologians who taught that faith without reason is like a cow without a bull.  Fertile, but unfulfilled.

Reason, said Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, and Polycarp, was the foundation of belief without which one would flounder in endless seas of desperation.  The mystery of the Trinity could and should be understood.  Man, God both distinct, indistinct, mediated, alone….none of these seemingly contradictory notions are beyond human reason.  One might wonder at the enfolding, here and there, impossibly uncharted nature of God, but approximation is the essence of faith.  A glimpse, a ‘darshan’, a scintilla of understanding is enough, as long as one pays for the journey.

St. Augustine of Hippo - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online

Protestant evangelicals, on the other hand, have no truck with such spiritual stamina.  It is enough to believe that Jesus is one’s personal savior in order to be saved.  He is here now, only to be recognized, embraced, and loved in order for salvation.

Bobby Ray Billings was a member of the Southern Baptist Assembly, Mississippi Charter, Lowndes County affiliate, and he had been saved.  He remembered the day – the third Sunday of November, a wickedly cold day, frost on the last of the zinnias, rime on the acacias, and ice on the Catawalpa Bridge.  He had known something big was in the offing since the moment he had awakened.  

The morning sunlight was hardly visible through the freezing fog over the Tombigbee.  The shadows of the oak limbs were slight and indistinct; but there was a tenor to the day, a special quality of….here he searched for words….goodness.  It was Sunday, the fifth Sunday of the exegetical calendar, the day of hope and forgiveness. 

He berated himself for having slept for so long, having lain in bed when preparations for the coming of the spirit were waiting; but on arising, it all came back and clear.  This was the day.  This was his day.  Of course he knew that one could not plan epiphany or salvation.  Jesus alone determined which and when sinners would be saved; but he had intimations, sensations of revelation. 

He hurried to dress in his Sunday best – polished shoes, buttoned up vest, and a carefully-knotted tie – and he stepped out into the cold, dreary, but gloriously bright, spiritual day. Jesus was coming to the Third Baptist Church of Columbus, and he would meet him there.

“Nonsense”, said Pope Paul II. Evangelical sects were at best false prophets and at worst circus side shows. There was no way that Jesus Christ could be anyone’s personal savior.  His power and glory were universal, accessible to all under strict conditions.  One might hope for personal salvation, but the love of Jesus and the keys to the eternal kingdom of heaven had no particularity.  The unique sophistication of the Church was due to its intellectual demands and its disdain for spiritual brevity.

Image result for Images Pope Paul II. Size: 133 x 204. Source: www.mygodpictures.com

It is no wonder that so many poor, spiritually hungry souls of America took the bait of evangelical preachers and were shaken to their roots upon hearing the word ‘Salvation’! 

Megachurches are filled to overflowing, tele-evangelical television channels are oversubscribed, and the simple churches of Columbus, Mississippi packed to the rafters.

Father Aloysius Brophy of St. Anne’s Catholic Church had been reprimanded by his archbishop for losing parishioners to the storefront churches.   Why hadn’t he done anything to stem the tide of souls? Where was his enterprise, his faith, and his spiritual energy?

It was easy to see why the Catholic Church was in decline. Why would anyone belong to a church which demanded such doctrinal purity, obedience to an autocratic prince, and an understanding of the Church’s victory over second century heresies?

Pastor Armand Philipps, rector of the Bobby Ray’s church, had his calling at age seven on the streets of Baltimore.  He had been whipped, abused, and left to the care of the state when he found Jesus in a battered purchase in the B&O railyards where he and his mates were preparing to derail the 442 to Newark.  Jesus had lit up the tracks, appeared to him in glorious raiment, and anointed him there on the spot; and forever afterwards he was His servant.

Salvation went to his head just as it had to Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Jerry Falwell.   There was nothing that would stand in the way of his mission, and nothing would stop the fruits of His glory bestowed on him, a repentant sinner.

Image result for images crying swaggart

Armand had  become pastor of the First Columbus Baptist church at 25, and people from as far as Meridien came to hear him preach. He was part Old Testament, bearded, ferocious, crazed prophet, part New Testament loving and compassionate Christian, and part social reformer, fulminating against buggery, adultery, fornication, and swamp  tomfoolery.  He expanded the church tenfold, increased attendance by twentyfold, and was called to Washington by the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention.

He had left Father Brophy on the curb with his catechisms, communion, and palm Sundays and with dwindling congregants and resources. The Christian tide had, thank God, turned and Protestant Biblical righteousness was being restored.

The Vatican had gotten wind of this turn of events.  Its Nuncio in Washington had been advised to take notice.  While Mississippi was insignificant within a global context and in already held by the thralls of evangelism, the precipitous, calamitous losses of Catholics to  the other side was worrying, indicative, and troublesome. 

As the Church saw more and more Catholic losses, it convened a Vatican Council in absentia – a misnomer, but an important congregation nonetheless.  Its purpose was to define an aggressive strategy to reposition the Church as the primus inter pares of Christian denominations on the grounds of history – it, through its papal line and adherence to First Church doctrine, was the true church.  It hired Baker, Bernstein, Allard, & Fled, a prominent political marketing consultancy group in Washington to head the promotional effort.  

‘Come Back To The Real Christ’ was the tagline.  ‘The Church Awaits’; but those who had already found Jesus as their personal savior were not interested; and those in spiritual need wanted evangelism’s storefront quick fix.  The Catholic Church was in a bind.

Image result for Images Jesus walking on Water. Size: 214 x 204. Source: www.lookandlearn.com

The Vatican’s American office quickly changed agencies and redesigned and reconfigured its image into a muscular, Crusades-oriented one.  ‘Victory’, ‘Godhead’, and ‘Valor’ featured.  Enough Jesus-loves-all happy talk. it was time to revive and conquer.

As might be expected, the campaign made little dent in the evangelical flux.  Catholic churches folded and those which remained, entertained only the aged and infirm. 

America is nothing if not a work in progress, so there is little doubt that traditional, conservative Catholicism will return. Middle America will soon have had enough transgender, black-is-beautiful, say gay, baby unfriendly ‘inclusivity’ and quick, unsatisfying spiritual fixes and will come back to the fold.  Paul, Aquinas, Augustine, the Apostles, and walking on water will once again be on the menu du jour.

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