Read this story by Jeff Brumley in the Florida Times Union 11/18/09 about a Catholic and a Baptist who became good friends and actually prayed and studied the Bible together for years - and helped each man understand and appreciate each other's faith.
Not only that, but the two men shared a desire to minister to prisoners, and they served together in a prison ministry which was started in 1989 shortly after the men became friends.
Some interesting quotes from the article:
"One was a devout Catholic, loyal to his bishop and pope. The other's an Independent Baptist, bent on winning souls for Jesus and viewing Scripture and Christ as humanity's sole spiritual authority."
"But rather than trying to convert each other, during their weekly meetings they stuck to the outline of a Kairos prayer card that covered personal needs, sharing moments of closeness with Christ and insights from personal devotionals."
The story explains how each man's faith helped complete the other: the Baptist learning to be more concerned about social needs, while the Catholic seeing the importance of proselytizing.
The Catholic man, Ray Walker, died recently, and his friend, Ken Cooper, the Independent Baptist, delivered Walker's eulogy - inside St. Patrick's Catholic church where Walker worshipped.
Its great to see such a positive story in Jacksonville, of how two Christians with theological differences didn't let these be a barrier to their relationship - in fact to the contrary, each of their faiths complemented and completed the other's - and helped also to make more complete their respective Christian ministries.
The article contained a sidebar about how Walker's daughter says her dad's relationship with Cooper helped him be more accepting of her non-Catholic husband whom she married in 1986. "It made my dad look outside the Catholic religion and at other Christians without prejudice," his daughter said. "It helped him realize there were good men in every faith."
We need to see more of this in Jacksonville. Many preachers, on both sides, preach that they must convert the other Christian into their faith with no tolerance for doctrinal differences. As I posted on this blog just a few months ago, an example of this intolerant viewpoint was preached from Jacksonville's largest church, FBC Jacksonville. Dr. Jim Smyrl, preacher at FBC Jax, last December called the Catholic church a cult in his blog on the church website, then followed that up with a sermon in which he called for members of FBC Jax to confront their Catholic friends that they are "living a lie" and that they need to convert to the Baptists' beliefs and practices. Smyrl even went so far as to refer to a Catholic priest as a "cult leader" in one of his articles appearing on the church website last November.
Isn't it wonderful that Cooper wasn't listening to a Jim Smryl in the 1980's when he met his friend Ray Walker?
In the article, Brumley quotes the Rev. Robert J. McDermott, former pastor at Walker's Catholic parish: "Nowadays, people are a little closed-minded. They believe there's no salvation outside of their own religions, and Ray and Ken show that's not true."
Yes, I think McDermott is right on the money, and Smyrl is out in left field.
Cooper said: "There were doctrinal differences that would have separated us forever. God gave us the grace to overcome them."
Kudos to Jeff Brumley for sharing this positive story with the people of Jacksonville.