Pope Benedict XVI, like you didn't know that

"Oh, Thank God! I Thought You Said 'A Protestant!'"*

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States has provoked an examination of the relationship between Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians, who share a similar social agenda. Southern Baptist scholar, author and commentator Al Mohler points respectfully to the continuing, seemingly insoluble doctrinal differences between the two faith traditions, and Christianity Today emphasizes the common ground, in two representative stories.

Pentecostals such as myself are part of the evangelical fold, of course, but many of us have had more extensive interaction with Catholic believers than the typical evangelical because of the Charismatic movement’s origins in Catholic as well as Protestant churches. Granted, you’ll find Pentecostal churches that are virulently anti-Catholic, but I believe they’re becoming more rare as Pentecostals are exposed to the breadth of their faith through television and major conferences.

My own faith as been greatly influenced by experiences with Charismatic Catholics. A Charismatic Catholic in Belfast, Northern Ireland, taught me about speaking in tongues and helped me overcome my snobby aversion to this gift, and my mother’s association with a group of Charismatic Catholic nuns made her -- and later me -- open to the Pentecostal experience even though we were in churches that taught against the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The most stunning and memorable encounter I ever had with the presence of the Holy Spirit took place at a small conference in Amarillo led by the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, a community of Charismatic nuns. I walked into the gymnasium where the conference was being held, and the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit was so thick my knees buckled and I could barely walk. That day I saw dozens of children receive what Pentecostals call the baptism of the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in tongues. My own ability to speak in tongues was renewed that day when the Mother Superior briefly prayed with me and commanded me to speak.

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I couldn’t deny the role these Catholics have played in my Christian faith, nor would I dare question their salvation despite our very real doctrinal disagreements. Just as with Pentecostals or any evangelical group, you will find genuine followers of Jesus Christ and you will find phonies. The Apostle John used only two tests for determining whether an individual was a fellow believer: He acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in the flesh -- with the necessary response that we must make him Lord of our lives, not just an accessory -- and that we walk in love toward our brothers and sisters in the faith. You know, quite a few of the doctrinal purists fail that second test. And if that’s a good enough litmus test for John, it’s good enough for me. --Julie Lyons

*Editor's note: The headline's actually the punchline to a very old joke, which you can read here.

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