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Stott — has been known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, and communicator of Scripture. For many years he served as rector of All Souls Church in London, where he carried out an effective urban pastoral ministry. A leader among evangelicals in Britain and the United States and around the world, Stott was a principal framer of the landmark Lausanne Covenant Stott's many books have sold millions of copies around the world and in dozens of languages.
His best-known work, Basic Christianity, has sold two million copies and has been translated into more than sixty languages. In , Stott founded the Langham Trust to fund scholarships for young evangelical leaders from the Majority World. Whatever your life is like right now, he wants to offer you forgiveness and reconciliation; we call this salvation. There is nothing we can do to earn this reconciliation.
God offers it to us for free; we call this grace. God asks us to put our trust in Him, and to believe that through Jesus we can be forgiven, given a clean slate, and have a whole new start; we call that forgiveness of sin. If you would like to become a Christian you can do it now by talking to God—we call that prayer. The exact words you use don't matter. You could say something like this: "God, here I am, and I could use a new beginning.
I know that I haven't been living to please you, but I want to now. The text uses language of hearing, following and answering to express a conviction that conversion comes about in response to God's initiative. This reflects the agreement between Pentecostals and Catholics that conversion is understood as entrance into a covenant involving a mysterious interplay between the divine and human.
The baptismal event itself, the culmination of the catechumens' journey, is presented in the rite as an immersion into and identification with the mystery of Christ's dying and rising cf. Rm The rite is therefore radically Christocentric. It situates the act of personal commitment to Christ in the context of the liturgical assembly and through the ministry of various members of the community.
Seen from this latter perspective, the conversion celebrated by the rite entails also an enrichment of the ecclesial reality. As a rite of initiation, RCIA consequently involves liturgical actions as well as spiritual event. While Pentecostals and Catholics both recognize that the Christian life in community is aptly expressed and enhanced in acts of worship, they differ on the relationship between the visible and invisible aspects of the rite of entry to the community. Catholics believe that the rite is a visible sign of invisible grace, a sacrament. Among Pentecostals, views on baptism vary between considering it a public affirmation of faith in Christ to speaking of it as having a substantial effect, a strengthening of faith.
In the Catholic understanding, the effects of the RCIA have a wider scope, in that baptism, confirmation and eucharist are all contained within it to complete the act of initiation. The initiation can be regarded as beginning and fostering a process of conversion in which there is remission of sin, regeneration, reception of the Spirit, and incorporation into Christ and his church, culminating in union with the crucified and risen Christ through the reception of his Body and Blood.
Catholic belief is that in the rite of initiation, the reality of being clothed with Christ is most profoundly effected and expressed. The RCIA may be prolonged over a period of a year or more and it assumes that conversion may develop gradually. This is indicated in the distinct ritual steps prescribed, in recognition that there are certain moments in the process when the conversion experience is deepened and demands a corresponding ritual expression. This implies that the conversion process may be quite diversified experientially. These stages of growth have as their end a transformation of the whole person in the areas of cognitive development, affective growth and behavioral change.
Pentecostals agree with Catholics on the necessity of this transformation but see it as an expression of discipleship following after conversion. Pentecostals and Catholics agree on the necessity of conversion as a key component of Christian Initiation, but continue to discuss the significance and relative normativity of both sacramental and non-sacramental approaches to initiation, including conversion. The Pentecostal team resonates so well with the RCIA that they would encourage its adoption by Catholics on a much wider scale. Pentecostals identify more readily with such an approach, as opposed to one which begins with the baptism of infants and catechizing of children.
Pentecostals perceive this latter approach to leave Catholic adults without the benefit of the strong teaching found in the RCIA, and think the RCIA could be an excellent resource for addressing pastoral problems related to the nominal practice of the faith and the ongoing need for evangelization. The Catholic Church, however, proposes a model of initiation which recognizes a link between baptism, faith and conversion, but understands that link differently in relation to the baptism of adults or of infants. In both cases there must be growth in faith and conversion, but baptism itself creates an adoptive relationship as a child of God.
Sacraments, including baptism, whether of an adult or of an infant, are not only subjective professions of faith but also objective realities, because they incorporate the recipient into Christ and into God's people. At baptism a child begins to share divine life and becomes part of the communion of saints, and this has meaning for the child's spiritual development. Thus Catholics would find it inconceivable to deny this grace to an infant, and through the priority of grace see a fundamental identity between infant and adult baptism. In both cases Christ is the door, even though the lives of individual Christians follow differing paths and are realized in diverse moments.
The Rite of the Baptism of Infants also advises pastors to delay baptism in those cases where there is need for evangelization of the parents, and no reasonable expectation that an infant will be brought up in the practice of the faith without such evangelization. Thus, while Catholics view the RCIA as the fullest articulation of the process of initiation, they would not allow that affirmation to discount the importance of infant baptism. For both Pentecostals and Catholics, baptism should be an ecclesial event, a faith experience for the worshipping community. In a mutually enriching exercise, teachers and catechists as well as parents must accept their mission to help children elicit acts of personal faith both in day-to-day living and at further stages of spiritual growth.
For Catholics, these opportunities include confirmation, first penance and first eucharist. Pentecostals, whether they practice the dedication or the baptism of infants and young children, likewise involve children and families in growth experiences through graded Sunday School and catechism programs, and gradual integration of children into the worship life of the community. Both Catholics and Pentecostals reject as inadequate a simply nominal adherence to the Christian life.
Thus, the discussion surrounding the emergence of the RCIA included the question of whether the Rite offers a corrective to nominal practice of Christian life, or to a merely cultural Christianity. On the one hand, Catholics would affirm the positive influence which a Catholic culture that is clearly influenced by the gospel can have, in supporting the continuing practice by Catholics of an authentic Christian life.
They distinguished that, on the other hand, from what might be described as a merely "cultural Catholicism", on the part of those who might only superficially observe the Catholic faith.
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An example of the latter includes pastoral situations in which individuals with no discernible faith, virtually no connection to the church, and no commitment to active practice, approach the church requesting sacraments merely for extrinsic reasons. While Catholics acknowledge the existence of such nominal practice both in previous centuries and the present day, they also wish to emphasize the concurrent presence of ongoing genuine conversion and vital Catholic life. In current Christian Initiation praxis they seek to avoid any divorce between faith and sacrament, committed discipleship and Catholic identity.
Likewise Pentecostals recognize the problems associated with a small but growing nominal or cultural Pentecostalism, and both sides see the need for evangelization, pastoral discernment and the call to committed discipleship in such contexts.
Steps to Become a Christian
With regard to Christian culture, Catholics and Pentecostals alike acknowledge the impact of a Gospel vision upon and transformation of pagan and secular society over the centuries, so that society itself has at times embodied a profoundly Christian worldview. In our current pluralistic society, both sides continue to strive to establish a Christian culture within the larger society and thus to be instruments in God's hands for the kingdom.
Contemporary experiences of conversion often follow the New Testament emphasis on repentance, embracing the good news, and receiving the goodness of God experienced in healing, deliverance or other forms of help. Stories or testimonies about conversion to Christ frequently involve elements of restoration to active participation in the Christian community, to the deeper experience of family and a sense of belonging, regardless of social, gender or ethnic differences cf. Gal Those who have been marginalized identify with the experience of being called and thus being known by God cf.
Eph This transition from alienation to belonging is associated with an awareness of the restoration of one's dignity. Hence, Catholics and Pentecostals tend to understand conversion and initiation, first of all, in terms of the kinds of testimonies reflected in the New Testament rather than in abstract concepts. For both groups conversion experiences are diverse, and all these experiences are something to be narrated and celebrated. Catholics and Pentecostals generally agree that conversion involves both event and process, and recognize the need for ongoing formation.
Both hold to a diversity of ways in which one is converted. Conversions may express varying characteristics, some more affectively oriented than others, some more cognitive, dramatic or volitional.
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Both recognize different levels of conversion, and conversion in stages i. Manifestations of conversions are also recognized in their diversity.
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One may give evidence of conversion through either word or service, depending upon gifts and calling. Catholics and Pentecostals also recognize diversity in the ways evangelization takes place. Catholics are evangelized for life-changing conversions in parish missions, through spiritual retreats and exercises, and through liturgical rites such as renewal of baptismal vows. At the same time, Catholics see the retrieved RCIA as an example of the church's growth in its understanding of initiation, evangelization and mission.
They see this as reflecting the pattern of Acts by including in one rite the process of conversion the catechumenate , baptism regeneration , confirmation the gift of the Holy Spirit and eucharistic communion Acts Pentecostals, likewise, take the Great Commission Mt seriously by calling people to a personal response to the Gospel, and incorporating them into the life of the community through opportunities for ongoing growth and discipleship. Thus Pentecostals and Catholics share in common a strong commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel, through various forms of witnessing and evangelism, including both missions and personal relationships.
Both Pentecostals and Catholics recognize conversion as the gift of God, although they may not always agree about what constitutes a valid experience of conversion. They join together in calling for the genuine conversion of people to Jesus Christ.
How to become a Christian?
Pentecostals and Catholics fully agree that becoming a Christian is not comprehensible apart from faith. The Letter to the Hebrews teaches that " Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" Heb In the Gospels, faith is depicted as trusting acceptance of God's revelation e. Mary in Lk ,45 , accepting the Gospel as proclaimed by Jesus Mk , belief in the person of Jesus as the source of life Jn ; ; ; ; and trust in and initiative toward the healing power of Jesus Mk ; Faith is a gifted response to God's revelation, involving an opening of the heart, an assent of the mind and actions which express our trust.
While Jesus' call to saving faith is found in the synoptic gospels e.
Jn ; The letter to the Ephesians makes clear that it is through faith, freely given by God, that we are saved: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not of works, so that no one may boast" Eph Again, Paul clearly links the necessity of faith with salvation: "'The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart' that is, the word of faith that we proclaim ; because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved" Rom Christian Initiation cannot be fully appreciated without reference to the practice of baptism within the Jewish community at the time of Jesus. Not only was a ritual bath administered to Gentile proselytes who wanted to become Jews, but also those who were already Jews could receive a 'baptism of repentance', such as that administered by John the Baptist in the Jordan river and received by Jesus at John's hands.
Scripture contrasts the baptism of John, who baptized "with water" with that of Jesus, who "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" Mt ; cf. Mk ; Lk ; Jn ; Acts ; ; The mention of the baptism of John in the sermons of Peter and Paul Acts and and in other passages of the Acts of the Apostles and suggests how important it was in the memory of the early church. The accounts of John's baptism of Jesus Mt ; Mk ; Lk ; Jn include rich insights into the identity of Jesus as Messiah, servant and Son of the Father, and also provide clues to the meaning of discipleship for those who would later be baptized as Christians.
While the four gospels articulate the nature of Jesus' call to all who would become his disciples, the first actual accounts of people becoming Christians are contained in the Acts of the Apostles, beginning with the account in Acts 2, of those who first responded to the Apostles' message on the day of Pentecost. After the descent or outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter went out and preached about Jesus, crucified and risen Acts , who had been foretold by the prophets Acts , and who now had sent the Holy Spirit to empower him and the other disciples to witness boldly to God's saving action in Christ.
Those who heard the proclamation were "cut to the heart", and said to Peter and the other apostles, "What should we do? The sequence of events is: the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the preaching about Jesus Christ, the response of faith, conversion, baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit. After noting that three thousand had accepted the message that day, Acts goes on to state that "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers".
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Their community was marked by signs and wonders, by the sharing of material goods and by regular gathering in the temple for prayer and in their homes for the breaking of bread cf. Thus the account of the conversion of these three thousand concludes with their integration into a koinonia , a community of faith personal adherence to Christ and to the truths asserted in the proclamation about Christ and in the subsequent teaching of the apostles and of celebration baptism and the breaking of the bread.
The statement that the new community was devoted to the apostles' instruction cf. Acts suggests that the proclamation on Pentecost was followed by continuing formation, which would provide the believers with a more complete understanding of the faith and of the practice of discipleship. Acts reports the conversion of Samaritans, which took place in two distinct moments with different persons ministering: "But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
The two men went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit".