His Truth Will Set You Free

Listen to what Jesus says; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

“Catholics Come Home” – another ill-advised ad campaign

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The Catholic Church has joined the Methodists in their belief that you can bring people to God with Madison Avenue advertising techniques, with an ad campaign called “Catholics Come Home.” (to see my post about the Methodist ad campaign – click here). According to an LA Times article that was recently reprinted in my local newspaper: “Using a strategy straight from the secular playbook… the (church) is preparing to air several thousand prime-time TV commercials.” You can preview the commercials here: http://www.catholicscomehome.org/

The article opened with: “Catholic church leaders using TV ads in attempt to lure back lapsed followers.” The target audiences are those who call themselves “Catholic” yet do not attend church, and those who call themselves former Catholics.

According to the article, some of the reasons people are no longer attending the Catholic Church include:

  • Many Catholics don’t have “a sense of belonging,”
  • Many believe they can be “good members of their faith without attending Mass regularly,”
  • Many do not believe missing Mass is a sin, (Missing mass is a sin? Really?)
  • Others are too busy with family or work; “as analysts point out, (people) are more interested in material happiness than spiritual fulfillment.”
  • “About 1 in 4 former Catholics cited the church’s priest-abuse scandal as a factor.”
  • “People oftentimes lose sight of what is most important in their lives,” says a Sacramento Bishop.

I wonder how TV ads are going to address these issues. You typically cannot resolve circumstances like these with advertising, though maybe they can try to “guilt” people into going back to church by reminding them that missing mass is a sin.

My sincere concern is that the Catholic Church has been deluded into believing that advertising will fix the root cause of their attendance problems. How will advertising get people more interested in spiritual fulfillment rather than material happiness? How will advertising heal wounds caused by the priest-abuse scandal? How will advertising give people a clear vision of what should be most important in their lives (this sounds like a job for the pulpit, not the TV)?

***************************************

If advertising is not the fix, what is, and what is the root cause of the “lapsed followers?” I’ve watched some of the commercials, and they say nothing about what has contributed to runaway members. Based on what’s in the newspaper article, along with some of my own personal experiences, here are some guesses for why people leave the Catholic Church:

  • Lost trust: How can you trust a system that harbors abusive priests?
  • Lack of knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ: Knowledge of the truth will help grow a hunger for spiritual fulfillment, rather than material happiness.
  • Lack of knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ: With a true understanding of the magnitude of the love of Jesus Christ, comes a hunger and thirst for more. This is what brings people to church, and keeps them coming back.
  • Lack of knowledge of what truly should be the most important thing in our lives, which is: a one-on-one, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I wonder; does the Catholic Church promote such a relationship between each member and Jesus?

Maybe I’m simple-minded, but the solution seems straightforward to me: instead of investing in TV commercials, the Catholic Church needs to get back to it’s roots, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church seems like a branch that has broken off from the vine. As Jesus said,

“No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:4-5)

I’m hesitant to be harsh, but it seems to me that the Catholic Church has replaced the reality of Jesus Christ with traditions, man-made Catechisms, man-made rules, and man-made advertising. My recommendation would be to drop the TV commercials and preach the truth of the gospel.

Instead of advertising, the Catholic Church needs to introduce people to the Holy Spirit of God. Instead of relying on Madison Avenue to spread the word, how about relying on word of mouth, carried forward by the Holy Spirit himself? It was good enough for Jesus. Remember how 3000 people joined the fledgling church in a single day (Acts 2:41)? Such is the power of the Holy Spirit.

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 John 3:23-24 NIV)

Evangelism via TV commercials, or as D.L. Moody once said, “There is no better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit.” I’ll put my faith in the Holy Spirit.

A final message for wounded Catholics:

Though I pray for the Catholic Church, my limited imagination is not able to truly believe that it can change. Yet I know that with God, all things are possible. Maybe one way for the church to change is for the people to change. Maybe if enough “wounded” Catholics follow their heart by leaving the Catholic Church and then finding true fulfillment and purpose in another church, maybe this will open the eyes of the Catholic Church. If you are a wounded Catholic, my prayer is for you. Please do not give up. My hope is for you, that you find another church that lives by the true gospel of Jesus Christ, the life-giving gospel; that you come to know Jesus and His Holy Spirit, and grow into an intimate relationship with them, so intimate that you are never apart. And that you come to feel more alive than ever before, by the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Author: C.J. Penn

Reflections on a double life... I'm just a wanna-be writer. What's it like trying to do serious writing while also being consumed with a full-time engineering job? Between the two, I sometimes don't get much sleep. But I love writing - it gets me out of bed when it's way too dark, just so I can do some work on my book before heading off to work. I'm also passionate about the truth of God and Jesus, a truth that is not always visible in the outward view of the Christian religion. It's this passion that has pulled me out of bed to write for over 6 years now, still working on the same book, a book about truth. Will it ever be finished? God knows.

4 thoughts on ““Catholics Come Home” – another ill-advised ad campaign

  1. I heard a Catholic radio ad yesterday inviting people to explore the Catholic faith. It said something like, “God is calling you, and he may be calling you to be Catholic. Some say that God has special grace for those called to be Catholic.”

    Two points here. One is that the first sentence, if true, means that God DOES call people to be other than Catholic. If the Catholic church is the one, true church, how can this be, since God doesn’t contradict himself?

    Second, if God gives people ‘special grace’ to be Catholic, doesn’t this imply a sort of ‘being better than’ if you’re Catholic, which is in contradiction to the verse in Colossians 3 that says, “. . . where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”

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  2. That verse from Colossians nails it. Thanks Larry.

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  3. Hmm.

    Respectfully, I’m not sure that does “nail” it.

    The radio ad is probably cheesy as radio ads tend to be, and sufficiently time-constrained that one can’t be as precise with one’s words as one would like to be. (I’m trying to give the ad copyist the benefit of the doubt, here.)

    If an (informed, orthodox) Catholic were to elaborate on that first sentence (“God is calling you, and he may be calling you to be Catholic. Some say that God has special grace for those called to be Catholic.”) he would probably state the following:

    1. God is calling every human being first into the spiritual vitality (or “regeneration”) which permits us to walk with Him, and then to the increased grace and holiness (or “sanctification”) which permits us an ever-closer walk with Him;

    2. The Catholic church is the church founded by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago which preserves to the present day the fullness of Christian teaching;

    3. If a person is already Catholic, but not yet a living saint, then God is calling him to become a living saint;

    4. If a person is not Catholic, but could plausibly become one in the near future, then God is calling him to become a living saint, and to become a Catholic in order that his sanctification might be assisted by the re-charges of supernatural grace-power which come from consuming Jesus’ body and blood;

    5. If a person is not Christian, but could plausibly become one in the near future, and there is a faithful Catholic church near him, then God is calling him to become a living saint, and to become a Catholic in order that he might be (a.) a Christian, and thus “in Christ,” and (b.) a Catholic, in order that his sanctification might be assisted by the re-charges of supernatural grace-power which come from consuming Jesus’ body and blood;

    6. If a person is not Christian, and is burdened by as yet unresolved anti-Catholic prejudices or misunderstandings — or the nearest Catholic parish is led by some liberalized wussified priest whose own lack of faith would bring scandal to any new Christian, or something like that — then God is calling him to become a living saint, and may send him to some other nearby Christian fellowship in order to attain at least a healthy Christianity, if not necessarily all the sacraments. For God is a good Father, and if His local representative is serving snakes and stones instead of good bread, he’s going to send His children to the neighbor’s house for some decent food, even if it isn’t quite everything He wants for them.

    All of the above is in support of item 1; namely, that God desires for every human being *first* to receive the spiritual vitality (or “regeneration”) which permits us to walk with Him, and *then* to the increased grace and holiness (or “sanctification”) which permits us an ever-closer walk with Him.

    He hopes that this will involve each human being entering into full communion with the Church He set up for the purpose, but the purpose itself is of paramount importance, and thus He is willing to work outside His own norms if needed. Love stoops to conquer.

    As for the second point in Larry’s post: True enough, there is no slave or free, no Jew or Greek, et cetera.

    But there is such a thing as:

    1. Obedient vs. disobedient; and,

    2. There is such a thing as informed or uninformed; and,

    3. There is such a thing as fully-equipped or partly-equipped.

    Paul’s verse in Colossians certainly cannot be construed so as to deny any of that.

    (If anyone’s hackles just raised up in response to my using the word “disobedient,” please stay with me a moment; I’ll get to that…!)

    The Catholic view is that the Holy Spirit exercises great grace for the “separated brethren” outside the visible bounds of the Catholic church in order to give them the hope of salvation IF they don’t know they ought to be in the Church Jesus set up 2,000 years ago.

    In other words, no-one is held at fault for anything he didn’t know he was supposed to do to begin with!

    So “disobedient” would not apply to someone like I was five years ago, when I had scarcely ever met a Catholic, and knew nothing about Catholic Christianity other than that it was (so I had heard) a vaguely culturally-European Christian denomination with some odd and inexplicable traditions. (I didn’t begrudge them that because I’d grown up among some old-time Baptists who believed, in obvious contradiction to Scripture, that drinking alcohol even moderately was sinful. I figured that if the Baptists, who’d only existed for 500 years, had already accumulated some inexplicable traditions, then I could hardly fault Catholics, who’d been around longer, for having some odd traditions of their own.)

    Anyway, I was certainly not “disobedient” for being outside the Catholic church: It would have no more occurred to me to become a Catholic than to move to Ethiopia and become an Ethopian Coptic Christian.

    But once a man becomes convinced that the Catholic case is at least plausible — as he will be if he reads and understands the significance of the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, 1st Clement, the Didache, “Against the Heretics” by Irenaeus, the writings of Justin Martyr, and the other early Christians — then he becomes morally/intellectually obligated to prayerfully investigate the Catholic teachings with a neutral mind until he decides whether the Catholic church really is what she claims.

    And if he decides the Catholic church really is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, in which the offices of the apostles persist, WELL! …at THAT point, if he doesn’t come into the Catholic church, then he’s disregarding what he knows to be truth. And THAT is disobedience to He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That’s when the “obedient vs. disobedient” distinction becomes important…but not before then.

    So much for obedient vs. disobedient (a distinction, I say again, which is irrelevant in the life of anyone who doesn’t yet know for certain that the Catholic Church is the one Jesus founded).

    As for “informed vs. uninformed”: The reality is that the better we know our faith, the better we are able to live it. But it’s hard to know your faith when competing voices bewilder you with a bunch of crappy ignorant teaching, or even several contradictory teachings of which only one can be correct, but you have no way to know which one!

    So the Magisterium (that is, the “Holy-Spirit-guided teaching authority”) of the Catholic church exists with a special empowering of the Spirit to give correct teachings to Christians, so that they (a.) can get them, and be informed about their faith; and (b.) know that they’re correct for sure, and not be wondering if their source might turn out to be wrong after all.

    I realize Protestants contest that. But my point is that IF it’s true, then obviously it would be a major assistance to living one’s faith!

    The third distinction I listed was “fully-equipped vs. partly-equipped.” The Catholic church holds that Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to provide us with a special spiritual “supercharge” or assistance called “actual grace” (“actual” meaning *active* or *act-oriented*, “in order to lead us to, and help us do, good grace-filled deeds”). The Catholic church holds that there are several NORMAL avenues through which this grace and power flows to believers. They are: Prayer, the Scriptures, cooperation with the Holy Spirit’s promptings; plus, Baptism, Confirmation, Communion/Eucharist, and Absolution of Sins (“Confession” or “Reconciliation”). (There are some others, too, but they don’t regularly apply to everyone; e.g., Ordination as a clergyman, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage.)

    Now the Catholic church holds that any Christian church is going to have Prayer, so the believer receives grace from the Holy Spirit that way. And, they’ll have the Scriptures, even if the interpretation is sometimes a little anachronistic or debatable. So that’s another avenue of grace. And 99% of the time they practice Baptism (even if they understate its significance sometimes), so there’s some grace there, too. And, if a believer complies with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, then the grace of sanctification flows in, and that’s powerful!

    So that’s all great. But it misses out on the consuming of the “Bread of Life” and the drinking of the Cup of the New Covenant: Jesus’ body and blood. This is an avenue of grace so important that Jesus, in John 6, said that those who abstain from it “have no life in them!” So that’s a big thing to miss out on.

    Also, the Church teaches that — while everyone can confess their sins “straight to God” and have it be effective if their contrition and repentance are 100% perfect and if they don’t know that priestly absolution is an important part of the reconciliation process — nevertheless, there is great Holy Spirit sanctification power in this rite of the Church. Jesus gave the apostles authority: “Whose sins you forgive, are forgiven; whose sins you retain, are retained.” This authority, passed down through the laying of hands and through delegation to the present day, still exists, from Jesus, who is the ultimate forgiver and the source of all eternal atonement. That too, is powerful, and it’s a big thing to miss out on. (Especially since, according to John, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”)

    So, when I make the distinction between “fully-equipped” and “partly-equipped,” I am only saying this: God gives us many ways to receive special empowerment from him. I know of no evangelical Christian who would disregard Scripture reading and Prayer, or who would say Baptism doesn’t matter and can be discarded (!). We get powerful grace from these! …but that’s only part of our arsenal. It’s worth coming into the Catholic church — provided you’re convinced she is what she says she is — in order to get The Full Monty, so to speak…every avenue of grace Jesus offers; every gift He desires to give.

    So, given all that…

    The radio ad — however cheesy, however much its brief words have been truncated down to the bleeding edge of becoming inaccurate — is trying to communicate a worthy point.

    Even if it did a bad job of communicating it.

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  4. hmmm… I disagree with you.

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