The Power of the Name "Christian"
"...and it was in Antioch that the disciples
were first called Christians." - Acts of the Apostles 11:26
For the rest of today's mass readings, click here.
Ah, the name "Christian"... Depending on your current spiritual state, and your background, it seems it either comforts you, horrifies you, or both all at once (myself often being the last).
I have spent a good portion of my life defending myself as a Christian. Not that I was persecuted for being one, but rather that I was accused of not being one.
It can have so many meanings, depending on who uses the term.
I still remember how I was described to one girl's parents as, "Well, he's a Catholic, but he's Christian..." She's lucky I stayed around long enough to meet her parents after that comment!
You see, I live in the Bible-belt, were Christians are CHRISTIANS and Catholics are heathens... or at least that's what the vast majority of the evangelical sects in the 60% "church going" south seem to preach. Its not easy NOT being an evangelical protestant in the South. I have witnessed faithful Christians being told that they were not CHRISTIANs because they were 1) baptized as infants, 2) Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, or Presbyterian, 3) CATHOLIC (gasp!), or 4) had never spoken in tongues or been "slain" in the spirit. I heard a story (from a reliable source) that a girl in a Baptist school nearby was not allowed to have a turn saying grace at lunch, because she was Roman Catholic and thereby, "not Christian".
You want to see my blood boil, tell me that I'm not a Christian, because I'm a Catholic. Try it, I dare you.... not a smart idea. But, I have been told that countless times. I've heard it all, "You're not saved.", "...but, you believe in Mary? Right?" (not that she is God, you moron!), "You can't pray to God, you have to pray to the saints!"..... the list goes on and on... I've heard them all, trust me.
I wasn't always Catholic. I was raised Episcopalian/Anglican. I didn't dislike Catholics, I just thought that they had "messed it up somewhere" [what exactly it is, no Episcopalian can every agree on...]. Then one day, I had an epiphany moment and I joined the Catholic Church. Then I found out, the hard way, how many of my Episcopal brethren didn't think that Catholics were Christians as well! That was a shocker, actually.
Here is the messed up thing about it all... historically, Catholics are the FIRST Christians. And no, I'm not saying this in the "I'm Catholic, and my church is THE church"-zealous sort of way, I mean truly, historically. Here are facts that prove it historically, they are simple actually (and, for the record, I DO actually have a degree in history.... for real... I do, so I am writing this statement as a Historian).
The Catholic Church is the continuation, directly, of the first church because:
The Apostles appointed successors to themselves, who continued to do so to the present day.
Peter was considered, at least the "first among equals" by every bishop up through the Great Schism of 1054 which created the Orthodox Churches.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (head of all Orthodoxy) still acknowledges a special place of primacy for the bishop of Rome even as recently as statements made this year.
The monophysite churches, oriental churches, etc... that left during the first few centuries of Christianity were duly excommunicated and illigetimized by the whole of Christendom through the ecumenical councils of Bishops, thus rendering them to not be a continuation of the One, True Church.
No church of the protestant reformation (the early reformers- Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Knox- etc...) can claim that they continued the unbroken chain... they were actually small groups who PROTESTED (hence the name protestant) and were declared excommunicated by the councils of the same bishops who succeeded the successors of the successors of the apostles themselves.
Essentially, the Catholic church can claim to be, even to this day, the Original Christian Church, because it never left itself. .... Yet all of the others left it!
hmmmmm.... sounds funny to my protestant-trained ears.... and trust me, becoming Catholic I had to eat a lot of words of which I had previously voiced an opinion on these matters.
But, on to more important things. All Christians, are Christians. Why do we have to judge that? We judge each other in so many ways, you'd think we would at least allow ourselves to be judgment free in acknowledging someone's belief in Jesus Christ! Why do we have to pick it to death? They said they believed that Jesus Christ, the son of God, came to die for their sins and those of the whole world. What else do you need to hear????? That makes them a Christian in most basic sense of the word.
Granted, maybe there are some different interpretations of the particulars that are a little messed up between different denominations (and I will hit those in another blog one day)... but the basics... lets just focus on the basics.
I was listening to a talk the other night by a Catholic theologian, Dr. Scott Hahn. He made a great point. He said, "Why don't we start by focusing on the parts of our faith that we, as Christians, all share? Why focus on the particulars first? The things that we have in common with other denominations are much more numerous than our differences!" He had a point. A good one.
And its a point that many of those street evangelists that love to walk up and ask "Are you a Christian?" Then proceed to speak down to you when they find that you are not part of "their brand" of Christianity should learn. Meet people on common ground, not by obsessing over their differences. Show Christian charity, unity, and fellowship, not ridicule, spite, and hatred. The first will get you light years ahead, the last will only make a potential friend into an enemy.
This is why the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are more effective than we are.... they spend their time working on finding the common beliefs, the common doctrines, and then when the door is open, and the space is comfortable for sharing, they teach the differences.
Rarely will you see even the most ardent atheist being disrespectful to a Mormon or JW witness. Why? Because they treat the atheist with equal respect.
However, the street preacher yelling at everyone he doesn't recognize from his own Sunday morning worship, he will likely get things hurled at his face!
So, my plea is this: No matter what branch of Christianity you belong too, be a loving example of Christ to your fellow Christians. Even if your mission is to convert us all to join the "First Church of the Holy Mission to the Evil Catholics Rapture Preparation Center of Our Lord of Latter Day Thingamabobs, Inc".... don't tell us all we are going to hell if we don't already belong to your church. Acknowledge your brother and sister Christians. Work to promote Christ's love in the world, to all people, regardless of their own circumstances. Remember, Christ didn't meet the woman at the well because she was a shining example of a faithful wife, but because she was a perfect example of a misguided sinner.
Work side by side with your Christian brothers and sisters, regardless of which denomination they belong. But do it because they are Christians, because they too, love Christ and are called to show it in word and example. And work beside your fellow man, showing Christs love, but never condemning them for their lack of knowledge of that love. For we are all part of God's creation, and we are all deserving of respect.
"They will know we are Christians by our love." Not by our hatred.