“When you were ‘born again,— were you washed clean of your sins by the blood of Jesus Christ?”
I had just asked the question of Roger, my mechanic and a devout Baptist. An hour earlier I had arrived at his shop to pick up my freshly fixed car. We were now deep into a polite, but intense, conversation about things Catholic and Protestant.
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “I was saved by Jesus' blood!”
“So, you believe that Jesus was re-crucified at the moment of your salvation and at the moment of every person's salvation?”
He hadn't expected that question. Yes, I had led him on, but for good reason.
The conversation star ted when Roger learned I was the editor of a magazine devoted to defending and explaining the Catholic faith. I knew he was an evangelical Protestant of some sor t or another, based on the desk calendar on the shop counter filled with Bible verses, right below a Left Behind poster on the wall.
“I attend a Baptist church,” he told me, “and my pastor is a former Catholic.” He said it matter-of-factly, without any animosity. It became evident very quickly that Roger was honestly curious, with plenty of good questions about what Catholics believe and practice.
“In fact,” he added, “there are several people at my church who are former Catholics.”
“Well, I grew up in a small Bible chapel that was very close in beliefs and structure to most Baptist groups,” I offered. “We were Plymouth Brethren and we didn't have much affection for the Catholic Church.”
“Really?” he was genuinely surprised. “I've never met someone who has gone the other way — from Christian to Catholic.”
Needless to say, that statement led to an explanation of the word Catholic, a quick overview of Church history and several points of clarification about central Catholic beliefs. Not surprisingly, Roger had questions about the Mass and the Eucharist.
And so I asked the question: “When you were ‘born again,’ were you washed clean of your sins by the blood of Jesus Christ?”
I knew that Roger would answer in the affirmative. The fundamentalist and evangelical idea that a Christian, once he has accepted Jesus as his “personal Lord and Savior,” is washed in the blood of Jesus is a popular one. It is based on Revelation 7:14, where St. John sees the saints of the tribulation: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Of course, Roger didn't believe that Christ was being crucified again. So what did he think the language meant?
“It means that what Jesus did on the cross 2,000 years ago has the power to save me today,” he explained. “His work of salvation is just as real today as it was then.”
He was right — and although he didn't know it, he had partially explained what Catholics believe about the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ. “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist,” the catechism teaches, “she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present: The sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present” (No. 1364).
Roger did a great job fixing my car that day. I hope I helped fix his understanding of Catholic teaching about the Eucharist and the ongoing, incredible gift of Jesus Christ's true body, blood, soul and divinity.
Carl E. Olson is editor of Envoy magazine and author of Will Catholics be ‘Left Behind'?