Tuesday, May 17, 2011

on being a Christian, or words that end in "-ian"

I was talking to this chap the other day, and toward the end of the conversation I said, “Well, you’re a Christian and…”. I didn’t get to finish my sentence because he quickly interrupted me with, “No, I’m Catholic, not Christian”.

I had to leave and didn’t have much time for any theological debates, so I sort of clicked my tongue in exasperation and went, “Yes I know, but you are a Christian right?? I mean, you follow Jesus Christ right??”

It’s not that I was really annoyed or anything, but I just don’t understand this. I mean, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sort of thing. Sometimes it’s the Catholics who say they’re not Christian, and sometimes it’s the non-Catholic Christians who say that Catholics aren’t really Christians.

I just don’t understand why there are these distinctions being made. Broadly speaking, I regard all people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and who follow His teachings, as Christians. Like – Jesus Christ right? Christian right? (like... um... Victorian... Utopian... Martian...?).

I found the following dictionary definitions of what a “Christian” is, all of which I agree with:

As an adjective:
1. Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
2. Relating to or derived from Jesus or Jesus's teachings.
3. Manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus; Christlike.
4. Relating to or characteristic of Christianity or its adherents.
5. Showing a loving concern for others; humane.

As a noun:
1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

Now I’m certainly not going to get all deep and academic and analyse the history of the church and the Nicene creed and the pope’s “infallibility” and all that sort of thing – I’m just wondering, why is there this division among lay Christians? Ok yes, I know – where there are people, division just seems to happen.

But it bothers me a bit to have a Catholic person imply that I’m not quite a Christian because I’m a Methodist, or to hear a Protestant person pooh-pooh a Catholic’s faith as not being “real Christianity”. I’ve been in little inter-denominational meetings where the subtle air of condescension, and the little judgmental, patronising jabs were just not funny.

I was actually in the middle of asking that chap to pray for me when he corrected me about his faith, which seemed to imply that somehow he wouldn’t be praying to whom I thought he would, or praying the kind of prayers I expected, and he’d better let me know. Which to me was just ridiculous, because there on his wall was a cross, a symbol of our common faith.

Isn’t the main thing what the dictionary says? “One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus”. I know this definition is just from some basic English dictionary, and not some profound ancient Greek text, but hey – if we truly can live out that definition, isn’t that worth celebrating? Most of us can only profess the belief, yet struggle to truly follow it. Honestly, pedantics and other man-made rules and definitions – many whose origins are lost in the vague sands of time – just don’t help.

To me it’s simple – the life and teachings of Jesus are laid out in the New Testament for anyone to read. Surely we Christians should be united, strengthening and praying for one another, instinctively loving and caring about each other and rejoicing in our common faith. Jesus said, “… if two of you on earth agree (harmonise together, make a symphony together) about whatever [anything and everything] they may ask, it will come to pass and be done for them by My Father in heaven. For wherever two or three are gathered (drawn together as My followers) in (into) My name, there I AM in the midst of them” (Matt 18:19-20).

Any kingdom that is divided against itself is being brought to desolation and laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will last or continue to stand (Matt 12:25). Thankfully, the Church – and I mean the entire body of all Christians of every denomination – has shown great resilience and lasting power, but let’s not be divided as individuals.

“Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]” (James 5:15-17).

As a Christian, I don't think it's about names, or flavours or brands. What I think it all boils down to is this: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22:35-40).

The rosary in the picture above was given to me as a very young child; I keep it reverently till this day.

1 comment:

Fdoeppen said...

I used to fall pray to that same mistake :( Growing up as a Catholic I was critised by other "Christ following" religions, because Catholics believe in Saints. Not too long ago a relation of mine was making fun of the sign of the cross the Catholics do. The mockery and judgment of others denominations create a barrier and distance.
Isn't it sad?
Don't we all believe in the same teachings? Isn't your Jesus the same as mine?
I had to grow up to understant that.


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