*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 3rd of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A mailbag question is coming today from Griselda in Bat Cave, North Carolina (actually, this listener asked me not to use their real name and that I could make up one)- in it, they retold the story of a recent get-together with family when their mother-in-law objected to the Catholics in our family calling themselves “Christian.” Their question boiled down to “are Catholics Christian”?
And, dear listener, this is not necessarily the kind of question I am comfortable with. But as I wondered why it made me uncomfortable, it led me to think about the question and ultimately answer it on today’s show. My thoughts:
- If this show was the Theoretical Physics Almanac or the History of Condiments Podcast, you might send me interesting questions you wonder about. But not necessarily for existential reasons. I fully understand the peculiar role as a historian of the church and as a Christian. I know that this question and many like it are asking for facts or an interpretation and something more.
- Having said this, my first inclination is not to answer but to ask you why it is crucial for you to know (acknowledging that it may be necessary) and then secondly, “what do you think”? Just because I have the opportunity to answer a question via this medium doesn’t mean I should, if that makes sense. Not everything needs to be answered in a sound bite; this question might be best explored with a trusted friend or pastor.
Now, let me drop a little history for you because that’s my domain. The earliest Christians defined themselves by their confession of faith (not only that, but it was central). As the church grew, it began to put together creeds meant to be universal. We see the earliest creeds in the text of the New Testament itself; we’ve seen on this show the Apostles, Nicene, etc.… These councils (that created the Creeds) asked: who is Jesus, and what does it mean that he was the God-man for “us and our salvation”?
The Catholic/Christian conversation in America today will likely be a question between being Protestant or Catholic. As the term “Protestant” has been abandoned by many, it is now likely to be “generic Christian” or perhaps “evangelical.” This comes from the scads of confessions from the 16th century. The first was the Lutheran Augsburg Confession and the Catholic Church cementing its Early Modern official doctrine with the Decrees of the Council of Trent. In the 16th or 17th century, you might assume that this could serve as the basis for meaningful conversations between a Protestant and a Catholic. But even then, perhaps not. Be carefully imputing the doctrine of an official church body to everyone worshiping in that church or claiming membership within.
While the events of the 16th century are obviously of importance, that history has to be seen in the light of the earlier history of the church and the questions being asked in different eras. Ultimately the church has, through its councils and creeds, sought to answer the question institutionally that perhaps we might ask individually:
Who is Jesus?
What Did He Do?
What Does This Mean?
In the meantime, maybe we could do less gatekeeping and be gracious when it comes to those who seek to be in the Household of Faith. And personally, as I deal with the diversity in the church’s history, I find Romans 14 all the more helpful.
Thanks for the question- send them to me via DM on Twitter or at Danv@1517.org
The Last Word for today comes from Romans 14
3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt. The one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything, must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who is a Lutheran pastor. Still, his favorite Catholics include Priest William Collins, Father Guido Sarducci, and Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act I and II. Christoper Gillespie
The show is written and read by a man whose favorite fictional Catholic is Friar Tuck, only as an animated bear. I am Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.