Thursday, December 25, 2014

Victory Over The 'War On Christmas'

The Adoration of the Shepherds
Painted by Gerard van Honthorst on December 25, 1622

Every year we hear about it. Some new department store chain has changed the word Christmas to "Holiday" and instructed their employees to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." The laughable example of the "Holiday Tree" comes to mind. I saw this in a supercenter a couple years ago. A "Six Foot Holiday Tree with Built In Lighting" was just $39.99+tax. It was hideous actually, but I couldn't stop myself from chuckling out loud. Go to a typical department store and just try to find "holiday" decorations with an overtly Christian flare. Good luck! There may still be a few holdouts here and there, but for the most part, if you want Christmas decorations that focus on the Christ child, you almost have to go to a religious store to find them. If you do find a regular store that still sells Christian decorations, please patron them, and be sure to tell all your friends and family to do the same. We should be sure to reward those establishments that still honour the real reason for the season.

In America this politically correct trend, toward the purging of Christ from Christmas, has been dubbed the "war on Christmas." Americans seem to be obsessed with violence, and as a result, many new social trends seem to become a "war" on something. In this case however, the metaphor may be justified, because there really is a purging going on, and to those on the receiving end of it (Christians) it truly does feel like a war they're losing.

In truth, this metaphorical "war on Christmas" has been going on for a very long time, and I think it began decades ago with the hyper-commercialisation of Christmas. I remember working in a department store about a quarter of a century ago. (I say it that way just to give a perspective of how long this has been going on.) It was a popular arts and crafts store. It was December, so naturally we were selling all sorts of Christmas decorations. One night a finely dressed Asian woman and her children came into the store frantically looking for lights and decorations. Her English was good, but I could tell she was new to the country. I helped her find everything she needed. She seemed very concerned, that if she didn't decorate her house as quickly as possible, she might be seen as disrespecting our culture or something. She had many questions about these decorating traditions which were very foreign to her. I explained to her that all the fuss was about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Then she stopped and looked at me in the most astonished way. "Jesus Christ?" she asked. I explained the whole thing to her. She was amazed, and even more confused. She told me she thought the whole thing was about Santa Claus, and presents, and most of all -- being American!

Now I bring up this true story to illustrate a point. What kind of message is our culture sending with all of this pomp and circumstance we do every December? This lovely immigrant I met twenty-five years ago had been looking at decorations go up for weeks and yet she made no connection to a religious celebration. If you ask me, that's an indictment, not of her but of us, and especially our culture. This "war on Christmas" has been going on for a very long time. Long before "happy holidays" and "holiday trees," our Christian culture surrendered our Christmas celebrations to the cult of commercialism. In fact, I would say this surrender began an extremely long time ago, way back in the early twentieth century. It started when retailers learnt that December was the biggest shopping month of the year, thanks to the popular Christian celebration of exchanging gifts on Christmas. So to generate more sales, they needed to promote the Christmas holiday, but to do that, they couldn't get too religious. After all, Jews shop in December too, and so do atheists and non-religious people. Any overtly Christian message might drive those customers away. So immediately, there was an attempt to scale back the religious connections to Christmas, and an emphasis was put on popular folk tales and cultural mythology instead. It wasn't long before Santa Claus became the focus of Christmas more so than Jesus Christ. Now this may seem odd, since Saint Nicholas was not only a Christian figure, one of particularly Catholic character, but it wasn't the historical Saint Nicholas retailers were interested in promoting. Rather, it was some fabricated mythical character resembling the "jolly old elf" from Clement Moore's classic 1823 poem "​Twas the Night Before Christmas".  With the retail adoption of that particular version of Santa Claus, the commercialisation of Christmas was in full swing, and for quite a while, Christian Americans naively embraced it. As time went on however, promotion of Santa Claus simply wasn't enough, and fears arose that any mention of Christ in Christmas might offend non-Christian shoppers. So then came the purging. Not only would the mythical Santa Clause be promoted, as well as all the other mythical characters that arose during the twentieth century, but all mention of the Christ child was to be gradually eliminated. Again, our American culture simply went along with this, not realising the full scope of what was happening.

Then, roughly about ten to fifteen years ago, the unthinkable happened, and we finally hit the overreach of political correctness. Not only department stores, but public schools as well, stopped saying "Merry Christmas," and substituted the term "Happy Holidays." The holiday phrase had been used for a long time of course, in general public discourse, mainly to refer to Christmas and Hanukkah together, but now for the first time, people were being told not to say Christmas any more. Thus the metaphorical "war on Christmas" was born, and here we are today with our happy holidays, holiday trees and our festival of lights. Where is Christ in all of this? Well, he's not in the department stores. That's for sure. You won't find him on the campus of public schools. Outside of very rare occasions, he's not usually featured on television Christmas specials. Thankfully, we still have him on the radio, now and then, with some popular Christmas carols from ages past. However, with all the new pop artists releasing Christmas albums every year, I'm not sure how long that will last. Indeed, if we rely on retailers, governments, artists and broadcasters to keep Christ in Christmas, we're done for.

That's the problem really. We Christians have been relying on others to fight our battles for us, and that is our undoing. These days I hear a lot of people bemoaning the commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas (err, I mean "holiday time"), but we fail to see that everything we need to win the battle is already in our hands. It's time to stop cursing the darkness and create a light -- a big light -- one that will outshine and outlast all those inflatable yard ornaments. It's really simple. Any Christian family can do it, and any Christian pastor can promote it.

The solution draws heavily upon our Christian liturgical calendar, which is already familiar to many Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Lutherans. This will be new to Baptists, Pentecostals and Evangelicals, but they can catch on rather quickly. It's called Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas, or Christmastide.

For our Christian brethren who might not know, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. So look at your calendar, find Christmas, and count back four Sundays. That's the start of Advent. Now Advent is a time when we prepare for Christmas, just like everyone else, but as Christians, we should be making this a particularly religious occasion.

For example; I don't have a problem with mythical Santa, elves and flying reindeer. However, if our intention is to put Christ back into Christmas, than maybe we should leave the fairy tales in the attic and showcase the nativity scenes front and centre. On a personal note, my annual Christmas outdoor display is very simple. I put the Holy Family in the middle of my front yard, and surrounded them with little spiral Christmas trees. That's it! It's nothing fancy, but it definitely gets the point across. There is no way anyone can drive by my house and not know that Jesus Christ is the reason for our celebration. Multiply a display like this by a several million, and don't tell me it wouldn't have some kind of impact on our culture. It would. So when you're putting up those Christmas lights, think about this. How can you tell your neighbours, and everyone who drives by, that Jesus is the sole reason for the season?

Then of course there is the Advent wreath. Every Christian home should have one, or at least four Advent candles, to light one for each week, until all are lit. Children love this custom, as it serves as a visual countdown to Christmas. Every candle lighting session in the home should be accompanied by the song "O' Come Emmanuel" to remind everyone in the house what this season of Advent is about. The word Advent means "coming" and it is a Latin translation of the Greek word Parousia. During Advent we contemplate Christ's two comings. The First Advent he came to us as a babe in a stable, to save the world from sin. In his Second Advent, he shall come to us in the clouds as a conquering King to judge the world and bring us into eternity. This is a side of the Advent season sorely neglected in our modern age, and needs to be brought back. The song "O' Come Emmanuel" has a haunting double meaning when Christ's Second Advent is considered, with the understanding that the Church as the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).

Advent calendars have also become popular in recent centuries. These usually start on December first and end on the twenty-fourth. Children love them, as again, they serves as a countdown to Christmas. As Christians, we should be particularly careful to get get Advent calendars with a religious theme.

Some Christians observe Advent with mild fasting and abstinence. While this is not an official practice, it is observed by some, and of course there is nothing wrong with that. Others prefer to look at Advent as a time of increasing joy and expectation. Certainly this is the case with most children. I prefer the later approach. One thing Christians should be mindful of is a slowness and tranquillity in our Christmas preparations. This is so completely opposite of how things usually work. One of the ways my family deals with this is by getting all the big things out of the way first. Shopping is done early, the earlier the better. Avoiding the chaos of department stores and supercentres is a must for me. Christmas decorations go up immediately after Advent begins, so I'm not trying to rush them later. Wrapping of gifts happens early too, usually weeks before Christmas Day. Everything is done as early as possible to reduce the Christmas rush, and try to enjoy the time of Advent for what it is. Advent is supposed to be a time of peaceful preparation for the coming of Our Lord, wherein we remember his first coming as the babe in a stable, and look forward to his Second Coming as our King in the sky. It is so important that we project to the world an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. Our celebration of Advent and Christmas should be a joyous one, completely disconnected from the hustle and bustle of the commercialised "holidays" put forward by retailers, governments and broadcasters.

Now get ready because Advent is just the preparation. I'm about to tell you how to strike a death blow to the metaphorical "war on Christmas." This is how to do it. Prepare and then STOP.  That's right, I said "Prepare for Christmas and then STOP." Don't go any further. There should be no Christmas parties prior to December 25. There should be no carolling prior to December 25. Once everything is ready, STOP and enjoy the lights, music and candles until December 25. Then, on Christmas Eve (the evening before December 25) GO! -- the partying begins. Not only does it begin on December 25, but it shouldn't stop until January 6.  Here is why. Christmas is not a day. It's a period of time lasting twelve days. It starts on December 25, which is the Feast of the Nativity, wherein we remember the birth of Christ and the visit by the shepherds. Then it goes through until January 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the visit of the magi (wise men). Now stop and consider this. The commercialised Christmas (holiday) ends on December 25. By December 26 it's over. So long as Christians celebrate Christmas this way, the commercialisation and secularisation wins. The way to gain victory over the "war on Christmas" is to keep celebrating long after everyone else has stopped. So get as many recordings of religious Christmas music as you can, and keep them playing through January 6. Call those Christian radio stations, playing Christmas music in December, and nicely tell them if they're really "Christian" they should keep that Christmas music going through January 6. Keep all the decorations up, and for heaven's sake, don't turn out those Christmas lights! Keep them going! Instead of having one giant dinner on Christmas Eve with the whole extended family, maybe consider two or three (or more) Christmas dinners, at various houses, during the twelve days of Christmas. Share the cooking and hosting you see. Then get religious! Attend church services more often during Christmastide (the twelve days of Christmas). This is the time for carolling, parades, pageantries and parties. Churches can organise a lot of these things. If pastors begin working together with other pastors, across denominational lines, they can begin community pageants and parades with a strictly religious theme. The New Year celebration can take on a much more traditional religious tone. While many Christian families can break up their gift-giving into two parts. Some gifts on Nativity (December 25) and some gifts on Epiphany (January 6).

Retailers can control what they put on their shelves, and what they tell their employees to say. Schools and government offices can do the same. None of them, however, can control time. That is something we Christians have on our side. The commercial and secular "war on Christmas" has a flaw. It's an Achilles Heel that we can easily exploit to our advantage. Santa Clause only comes on Christmas Eve. In other words, the whole commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas is dependent on everything coming to a close on the morning of December 25. Whatever happens after December 25 is beyond the control of retailers and government institutions. If Christians will simply reclaim the historical celebrations of Advent and Christmastide, which rightfully belong to them anyway, victory over the "war on Christmas" will be inevitable. We can't stop the commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas, but we sure can render it irrelevant.

This article was first published in Forward In Christ Magazine

------------------------------------------------------

Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

THE BOOK CONTAINS A
NIHIL OBSTAT AND 
IMPRIMATUR
ORDER YOUR COPY HERE

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Great Catholic Boycott

If video above does not play, click here.

This isn't the first time something like this has been called for, and it certainly won't be the last. It is however, the first time it's been called for on such a large scale, by a media outlet with such a broad reach. I suspect it will have a significant long-term effect.

As much as many in the U.S. Catholic establishment would like Michael Voris to just "fade away," that is not going to happen. He's raised a small army at ChurchMilitant.TV with many subordinates who could take over his position if necessary, or who could go off and start their own Internet media outfit if they had to. Likewise, he has managed to rally scores of bloggers on the Internet, bringing them to a singular focus. What this man has done is impressive, but it is no longer limited to him alone. Michael Voris is just the tip of a very big iceberg. There is only one way to avoid running aground on this thing, and that is for the bishops and priests of the U.S. Catholic Church to steer away from it. Trying to knock the tip off the iceberg (as some have tried to do by attacking Voris) is not going to solve the problem. Even if successful, the iceberg still remains. The best way to avoid hitting the iceberg is to simply be nowhere near it. That means there is only one way out -- fix the problem!

The problem has been avoided for far too long. Mother Angelica, of EWTN, fired the warning shot across the bow 20 years ago (see here). For this she was disciplined. Yes, the tip of the iceberg was cut off, but the ship still ran aground on it. About 10 years later it was hit with the worst sex-abuse scandal in the history of Christianity. The ramifications of this are still being played out, and the money lost by the Church is incalculable, both in lawsuit payouts and lost donations. Well, here we are 10 years later again, and guess what? Very little has changed, and the ship is about to hit the iceberg again. The proverbial "bell" has been "rung" and nobody can "unring" it.  The call has been put out with this video, and unlike mainstream television, this isn't just a one time running. This video will be played over and over again, on computers, tablets and smart phones -- indefinitely. It's not going away. It's never going away. Who would have thought that we would finally reach the point, when a Catholic media persona could actually, and legitimately, make the claim that being a faithful Catholic means NOT giving donations to your parish and diocese? Well, it's happened, and his call is resonating.

I am fortunate. The "diocese" I am part of doesn't have these problems. It is traditional, and does not compromise on Catholic teaching. I will continue to give to my "diocese" and to the parish we are attempting to start here in my area.  Some of you, however, are not in the same position. It is important for a Catholic Christian to give, especially during this Advent and Christmas seasons. So if you decide not to give to your parish or diocese, because of the appeal given by Voris in the video above, then might I suggest a few alternatives...

  • You could find a conservative and traditional parish or group to give to instead. It could simply be a traditional Novus Ordo parish, or a traditional Anglican Use parish. It could be a local Latin Mass parish or community, preferably one within your diocese or a regularised fraternity such as the FSSP. (I strongly discourage giving any money to the SSPX or similar unregularised outfits.)
  • You could give directly to a regularised traditional fraternity, prelature or ordinariate. Some suggestions might be such organisations as: Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, Institute of Christ the King, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, Una Voce, and Opus Dei. In all of these fully Catholic organisations, you can rest assured that your donations will be put to use in the most traditional way, building a more traditional future for the Catholic Church here in North America.
  • You could simply find local charities, that are consistent with Catholic social teaching, and give directly to them instead. I would recommend crisis pregnancy centres as one example, local soup kitchens, and homeless shelters as another.

Whatever you do, don't stop giving. Rather, if you decide to follow Voris' call for a financial boycott on Catholic parishes and dioceses that no longer adhere to the Catholic faith, then just redirect your funds to those that do.

As I said, the proverbial "bell" has been "rung" and nobody can "unring" it now. The only people who can stop this boycott are the Catholic bishops and priests themselves, by getting back to the traditional basics and start teaching Catholicism again. If not, well, I imagine it will only be a matter of time before they start feeling the pinch. Remember, this video isn't going away. It will be played over and over again -- indefinitely. There is certainly nothing I can do to stop it, and sharing it here on my little blog (which only has a small following) isn't going to make any difference one way or another. I'm sure more videos like it will soon follow. Watch the big Catholic blogs and you'll see, they'll be jumping on this bandwagon soon enough.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Getting the Big Picture

CHRISTIANITY WORLDWIDE

Stepping back and getting the big picture is something I like to do because I find it helps me gain a better understanding of things. I live in the Bible Belt of the United States. Here one can easily get a very skewed picture of what Christianity looks like. For example; I've had the opportunity to speak to multiple Catholic youth groups in Springfield Missouri over the past decade or so. One of the things I've noticed pretty consistently is how the views of young Catholics in this area are shaped by the immediate world around them. I would ask them what the largest Christian church in the world is. Almost always they would answer "Baptist." A few might answer "Assemblies of God" which is a Pentecostal denomination. This shouldn't be surprising. The Bible Belt of the United States is overwhelmingly Baptist, and Springfield Missouri is the worldwide headquarters for the Assemblies of God. Most of these kids are shocked when I tell them the truth.

While it is true that here in the Bible Belt, the Baptists and Pentecostals are the "big boys" on the block, that only applies to a small segment of the North American continent. Outside of that geographical region, which really isn't all that big, the numbers radically change. The most dominant form of Christianity in North America is Catholicism. The same is true for South America and all of the Americas. In fact, the most dominant form of Christianity throughout the world is Catholicism. Take a look at the bar chart below. The numbers are based on a composite from multiple reliable sources around the Internet; particularly Google, Wikipedia and Adherents.com. Here is the breakdown in estimated numbers...
The graph is based on composite numbers from multiple sources. It reflects the number of people
who adhere to Trinitarian Christianity.

Christianity Worldwide
Catholic1,200,000,000
Orthodox300,000,000
Oriental86,000,000
African60,000,000
Pentecostal280,000,000
Reformed75,000,000
Anglican85,000,000
Baptist75,000,000
Methodists75,000,000
Lutheran70,000,000
Nondenominational80,000,000
Adventist17,000,000
Apostolic10,000,000
Restoration7,000,000
Brethren1,500,000
Anabaptist3,500,000
ESTIMATED TOTAL2,425,000,000

In this chart and graph above, I only included those Christian groups with over 1 million members. I grouped the catholic churches toward the top, meaning those with authentic holy orders, sacraments and apostolic origins. The Protestants begin with the "African" churches on down. As I said, these are groups, and many denominations can be part of one group. For example, in this chart, Pentecostal consists of 21 specific denominations that are categorised as Pentecostal in nature. Baptist consists of 40 different Baptist denominations, of which the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest, having 16 million members. Nondenominational consists of 5 mainstream affiliations, of which the Calvary Chapel affiliation is disputably the largest. The so-called Restoration group is commonly known as the Church of Christ, Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ. The Anabaptists are commonly known as the Mennonites and Amish. I did not include non-Trinitarian groups, such as the Mormon (15 million), Jehovah's Witness (8 million), Oneness Pentecostal (6 million), Unitarian Universalist (less than a million), and Christian Scientists (less than a million).

Now keep in mind, these numbers do not reflect actual practising Christians. They merely reflect those who officially identify with a particular type of Christianity. Here are some facts we can glean...
  • There are about 2.4 billion Christians in the world, meaning those who adhere to the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • The Catholic Church is by far the world's largest Christian Church with 1.2 billion members.
  • The Eastern Orthodox churches are a distant second with just 1/4 the members (300 million).
  • Worldwide, the three largest Christian groups are (1) Catholic, (2) Eastern Orthodox, and (3) Pentecostal -- in that order.
  • All Protestant churches combined constitute a total 839 million souls, which is just 3/4 the size of the Catholic Church at 1.2 billion souls.
  • The world's largest Protestant group is the Pentecostals, consisting of dozens of different denominations, comprising 280 million souls. That's less than one quarter of the Catholic Church.
  • Worldwide, there are about the same amount of Baptists as there are Methodists -- 75 million each.
  • Worldwide, there are more Anglicans than there are Baptists.
  • Worldwide, the three largest Protestant groups are: Pentecostal, Anglican and nondenominational.
These are humbling statistics for most of the Christians here in the Ozarks. The Assemblies of God, which is part of Pentecostalism, can take comfort in knowing that it is within the world's largest Protestant group, which leaves the Baptists behind by over 200 million souls. I'm not picking on the Baptists here. Rather, I'm just trying to put things into perspective. When living in the Bible Belt of the USA, one would easily think that Baptists are the majority of the world's Christians. Actually worldwide, they only make up a very tiny minority.

Now lets break it down to the United States. In the United States there are about 108 million Protestants of various groups and only about 57 million Catholics. This clearly makes the United States a Protestant country. In spite of that, however, the Catholic Church remains the largest united Christian body, with the Baptists coming in at a distant second with about 36 million members of multiple denominations. The largest "unified" Protestant denomination in the United States is the Southern Baptist Convention with a membership of nearly 16 million. So if we want to look at unified Christian churches alone in the United States, it would be (1) The Catholic Church with 57 million, then (2) The South Baptist Convention with 16 million, and finally (3) The United Methodist Church with nearly 8 million. Here is the full breakdown, based on groups as a graph and table chart...
Christianity in the United States
Catholic57,199,000
Orthodox1,044,000
Pentecostal7,948,000
Presbyterian4,723,000
Anglican2,405,000
Baptist36,148,000
Methodist11,366,000
Lutheran8,674,000
Nondenominational32,441,000
Adventist938,000
Restoration2,657,000
Anabaptist600,000
ESTIMATED TOTAL166,143,000

While the numbers tell part of the story, they don't tell the whole story. A lot of our perceptions are based upon where we live, and the concentration of particular denominational groups to specific regions. The United States is highly compartmentalised by religion, as the following map from the 2010 census will illustrate...


As you can see from this map, it tells quite a story which is interwoven with America's turbulent religious history, much of which is centred around national origin. While one can easily find members of all different denominations in every part of the country, this map reveals their concentration. As you can see, Catholics occupy most of the country as reflected in the demographic numbers above. As for non-Catholics, the most significant concentration is in the Bible Belt, in red, which is essentially Baptist. It stretches from north Texas and Oklahoma eastward, jotting up and filling most of the states of Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia, filling in every state southward, with only the southern tips of Florida, Louisiana and Texas left to Catholics. This Bible Belt region is made up by people originating from British and African descent. It is deeply connected to the geographical boundaries of the Old South or Dixie. Just above the (Baptist) Bible Belt in red, we have the Methodist Belt in green. It's not nearly as pronounced but definitely present. It stretches from Kansas and Nebraska, jotting up over Missouri, through Iowa, and then back down across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. These are areas of the United States settled primarily by British and Germans. In the upper north-central region of the United States we have the Lutheran Quarter. It encompasses Minnesota, North Dakota, and small segments of Montana and South Dakota. This area was primarily settled by Germans and Scandinavians. The last notable area is the Mormon Quarter. While not Trinitarian, and therefore not historically "Christian" in a doctrinal sense, it is noteworthy that this group occupies such a large region of the United States. It consists of Utah, Idaho, half of Wyoming, as well as large swaths of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. The vast majority of Mormons in the United States are of European descent, but it is difficult to ascertain what parts of Europe their ancestry originates from. Statistically speaking, British and German would be the highest likely demographic. Mormonism is truly an "American religion" having been founded and formed entirely in the United States. There are no Old World connections, neither to Catholicism nor Protestantism.

So we can see how where you live in the United States affects your views of religion in the world. A child growing up in the Bible Belt is likely to think the majority of Christianity is Baptist, or something akin to Baptist, regardless of what religion that child is.  Likewise, a child growing up in the Methodist Belt might think the majority of Christianity is Methodist, or something akin to that. While a child growing up in the Lutheran Quarter might be inclined to think the same about Lutheranism. A child growing up in the Mormon Quarter might be inclined to think the same about Mormonism. Statistically and demographically speaking, the majority of the Christian world is Catholic. Protestants make up a minority, and when put all together, they still don't measure up to 3/4 the size of the Catholic Church. However, putting them together is just a statistical game. Protestants are generally not unified and a good number of them do not associate with each other. When we break it down to actual Protestant groups, meaning those groups that generally do associate and identify with each other, even the Eastern Orthodox churches (which are essentially catholic) outnumber the largest Protestant group. When I say the majority of the Christian world is catholic, I mean the overwhelming majority. It's something most Americans just don't grasp, especially those in the Bible Belt. As of recent years, I've heard a lot of Protestants talk about working toward unity with other Christians. This is commendable, but I would like to remind those Protestants that unless this unity involves some kind of reconciliation with Catholics, it won't be much of a unity at all.

------------------------------------------------------

Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

THE BOOK CONTAINS A
NIHIL OBSTAT AND 
IMPRIMATUR
ORDER YOUR COPY HERE

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Makes A Christian?


Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Baptist Church in California
Author of The Purpose Driven Life

Are Catholics Christians?  That was the title of one of the first articles I wrote for this blog. It was also one of my most popular articles. You can read it here. So what makes a Christian?  I mean, at least doctrinally speaking anyway. We can debate about a person's behaviour all we want. That's not the topic of this article. What I want to discuss here is what makes a Christian in a doctrinal sense. Maybe to be more specific, we should ask what defines Christianity, doctrinally speaking?  In modern society, we just take this sort of thing for granted. I mean what makes a Christian different from a Jew or a Muslim? They both believe in one God -- right? So couldn't we call a Muslim a Christian, or a Christian a Muslim? Can't the two terms be interchangeable? Well, not exactly.

You see, religions are defined by their understanding of God. This is why Pagans and Christians are not the same thing. Pagans believe in many gods, and worship them. Christians believe in only one God. We are monotheist, as opposed to polytheist. This distinction, between the number of gods, is a very large distinction, and it defines the respective religions. So you see, a religion, in the most simple of all breakdowns, is defined by its understanding of God.

Modern Jews and Muslims define God as absolute one. They are hyper-monotheists. In their understanding of God, there is no room for anything but one divine Person. While there are more distinctions between their respective understanding of God, this form of hyper-monotheism defines them. Christians however, have a modified monotheist approach. We believe in the Trinity, which is to say one God, eternally existent in three Divine Persons. Now this approach may seem strange to outsiders, but there is actually a very logical and profound reason for this. This definition of God has many other facets that further elaborate on it. From the Trinity comes the understanding of the Incarnation, which is to say that the Second Person of the Trinity (called "The Word" or "The Son") took upon himself human flesh and lived as a man named Jesus of Nazareth. From this understanding of the Incarnation we begin to get a better grasp of the Atonement, which is the teaching that God The Son, Jesus Christ, took upon himself all the sins of humanity, and paid the penalty for them on the cross, opening the gates of heaven to mankind, and then rose from the dead to demonstrate his victory over sin and death. These three doctrines -- the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement -- are intimately tied together, each one further elaborating on the other, creating the religion we know today as Christianity. There are many variations of Christianity today. These are known as communions, branches, denominations, affiliations and sects. But all of them are under the one religion of Christianity.

So what is Christianity in it's most stripped down, bear bones, absolute minimal doctrine.  It is...
  1. The Trinity
  2. The Incarnation
  3. The Atonement
Now admittedly that is a very minimal approach. If that's all there was, we would be left a little incomplete. Nevertheless, there is a whole lot packed into those three statements consisting of just six words.

The Catholic Church dose not have a problem recognising the essential Christianity in anyone who adheres to these three doctrines listed above. For the Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly says... 
1240 In the Latin Church this triple infusion is accompanied by the minister's words: "N., I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In the Eastern liturgies the catechumen turns toward the East and the priest says: "The servant of God, N., is baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." At the invocation of each person of the Most Holy Trinity, the priest immerses the candidate in the water and raises him up again.
1271 Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptised are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church." "Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn."
818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."
So in the Catholic Church, the criteria necessary for being recognised as a Christian, in the most basic and minimalist sense, is to be baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The idea here being that as the doctrine of the Trinity is contemplated fully, the other two doctrines of the Incarnation and the Atonement will be revealed. Catholic Christians, as a matter of Catholic faith, are required to recognise as "Christian" anyone who is baptised in the name of the Trinity.

Wow!  That's a pretty generous application when you really stop and think about it. That means, as a practising Catholic, I have to recognise as "Christian" brethren, anyone who was baptised in and professes faith in the Trinity. Who does this include? Well, it generally includes the Eastern Orthodox, and all of the following Protestant denominations...
  • Lutheran
  • Evangelical
  • Mennonite
  • Amish 
  • Reformed
  • Presbyterian
  • Anglican
  • Methodist
  • Puritan
  • Baptist
  • Pentecostal (with the exception of "Oneness Pentecostal")
  • Assemblies of God
  • Charismatic
  • Church of the Nazarene
  • Seventh Day Adventist
  • Salvation Army
There are of course many more, and well as a host of non-denominational, interdenominational and unaffiliated churches. It certainly doesn't include all churches, simply because some do not teach the Trinity, but as you can see by the list above, the vast majority do. As a Catholic, I would have to acknowledge any baptised member of one of these churches as a fellow Christian and my brother or sister in Christ. Granted, our communion is incomplete. It is less than perfect, because they are not Catholic, but it is a communion nonetheless. 

On the flip side, Protestants, historically and currently, have a harder time with reciprocation, especially with Catholics. This would include many within the list above. Some don't even acknowledge each other as Christian, so it's not surprising that they would exclude Catholicism from their definition of Christianity as well. There is nothing new about this. Indeed, Protestantism was originally founded on the assumption that the Catholic Church had apostate from the Christian faith. Granted, most mainline Protestant denominations have moderated that tone in subsequent centuries, but many of the newer denominations have stuck with it more militantly. Within all of these denominations and groups, one can easily find Protestant individuals who are willing to reach out to Catholics and acknowledge our Christianity. However, that doesn't necessarily mean their church would approve. For example; I know many Baptists and Pentecostals in my personal life. Most of them have been very open and forward in acknowledging me as a Christian brother. Some have even gone out of their way to do so. However, I also know a little bit about their respective churches. Some of their churches would approve of their actions toward me and some would not. In fact, I know of a couple of Baptists and Pentecostals who would be told to stop affirming me as their Christian brother if their pastors knew what they were doing. This is all just part of the overall condition Protestantism finds itself in these days. I certainly don't take it personally, and I never have, nor should any Catholic.

One of the most famous Protestant evangelists of recent memory was Billy Graham. Having a clear focus for keeping things simple, and trying to preach the gospel as clearly as he possibly could, Graham was well known for refusing to pull Catholics out of the Catholic Church. When Catholics would attend one of his crusades, and they would make the customary "altar call" (which is really just saying a prayer to accept Christ as personal Lord and Saviour) Graham would advise his counsellors to tell Catholics they should return to mass and the sacraments for further instruction. Typically, Evangelical "altar calls" (again, there is usually no altar, this is just an expression) are accompanied with an encouragement for non-Evangelicals to leave their previous religious tradition behind and become Evangelicals. Indeed, this is how many Catholics leave the Catholic Church. They attend an Evangelical crusade of some sort, participate in an "altar call" and are then advised to leave the Catholic Church. Graham broke with this custom, and focused instead on the message of salvation through Christ himself, and forming a personal relationship with him. Beyond that, Graham sought to return Catholics (and many other Christians) back to their churches for further instruction and growth. In his autobiography, Graham wrote...
"He [Willis Haymaker] would also call on the local Catholic bishop or other clerics to acquaint them with Crusade plans and invite them to the meetings; they would usually appoint a priest to attend and report back. This was years before Vatican II's openness to Protestants, but we were concerned to let the Catholic bishops see that my goal was not to get people to leave their church; rather, I wanted them to commit their lives to Christ." -- Billy Graham, Just As I Am, page 163  
"My goal, I always made clear, was not to preach against Catholic beliefs or to proselytise people who were already committed to Christ within the Catholic Church. Rather, it was to proclaim the Gospel to all those who had never truly committed their lives to Christ." -- Billy Graham, Just As I Am, page 357
"We also suspected, with some justification, that some of the hard-line Communist officials hoped to use an American Protestant evangelist to weaken the strong authority of the Roman Catholic Church. If so, it was a naive hope; I would not have done or said anything that might be taken as anti-Catholic." -- Billy Graham, Just As I Am, page 482 
"When we left Hungary, we set off on a brief trip to the Vatican. Years before, I had visited the city-state as a tourist, but on this trip I was to be received by Pope John Paul II, my first visit with a pope. As I was ushered into his quarters, Pope John Paul II greeted me, and we shook hands warmly. I found him extremely cordial and very interested in our ministry, especially in his homeland. After only a few minutes, I felt as if we had known each other for many years. He also expressed great delight at the small gift I had brought him, a woodcarving of a shepherd with his sheep, done by a North Carolina craftsman. We recalled together Jesus' words in John 10:14,16.... In turn the pope gave me a medallion commemorating his papacy and several magnificently bound volumes." -- Billy Graham, Just As I Am, pages 488-489 
"I was asked by Pope John Paul II to participate with him during that same time period in an unprecedented ecumenical service of worship during his visit to Colombia, South Carolina. It was not to be a Mass but a service of Scripture, prayer, and preaching. I was to speak on the subject of the family. I was looking forward to that event, especially since the pope and I had a cordial relationship." -- Billy Graham, Just As I Am, page 599
"One whom I have yet to mention - and with whom I felt a special affinity - was Roman Catholic preacher Bishop Fulton L. Sheen." -- Billy Graham, Just As I Am, page 692 
For this generous and ecumenical attitude toward Catholics, Billy Graham was (and continues to be) savaged by various Protestant Fundamentalists, who have called him everything from a "false teacher," to a "wolf in sheep's clothing." Again, this is nothing new. As I said above, all of Protestantism (from which these various denominations came) was originally founded five-hundred years ago on the prospect that the Roman Catholic Church had apostate from the Christian faith. They said it was no longer Christian. So modern Protestant Fundamentalists are simply being consistent with the Protestant founders. Any Evangelical, Baptist or Pentecostal preacher, be he a pastor or evangelist, walks a precariously narrow line when he steps outside this foundational principle of Protestantism. Indeed, many of these men have come to a better understanding of the truth, realising that there are strong elements of Christianity within Catholicism. But to actually speak about this understanding is very dangerous business in the Evangelical Protestant world. Few venture to tread down this path. Billy Graham was one of them, and he was quite probably the greatest Protestant evangelist of the 20th century. While many Protestant Fundamentalists are quick to write him off as a "heretic" because of his warm relations with Catholics, 20th century Protestantism would be a bleak and lonely religion without him. He was, in my estimation, one of the greatest men in Protestant history. There have been many who have followed in his footsteps, but none can fill his shoes.

This calls to mind my own epiphany while I was an Evangelical. It was that moment when I too, like Billy Graham before me, came to that realisation that Christianity extends far beyond my own Evangelical sphere. Indeed, with the narrow definition many Fundamentalists put on Christianity, scarcely anyone outside of Evangelical Protestantism (such as Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic or Adventist) could be considered Christian. Sometimes these groups don't even recognise each other as Christian. (As an anecdotal side note, I've even witnessed one Baptist church tell a Baptist woman, from another kind of Baptist church, that she would have to be "re-baptised" because they did not recognise her as a Christian.) It was shortly after I moved to the Ozark Mountains when I, as an Evangelical, came to the realisation that this line of thinking is just ridiculous! For if Christianity really is defined by the narrow criteria of Fundamentalists, then virtually nobody outside of North America can be Christian (except for a few missionary pockets here and there). Indeed, as I later came to study history, almost all Europeans for the last 2,000 years would have to be excluded from Christianity. Even the Protestant founders themselves would be questionable. This was absurd. On the flip side, I knew that liberal relativism was not the answer either. There had to be specific doctrinal criteria for what defined a Christian, but I knew it had to be simple. It was after reading authors like Billy Graham, and Dr. Walter Martin, that I came to accept the threefold minimal doctrines as defining Christianity: Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement. Naturally, upon accepting this, I was willing to take a second look at Catholicism as well. While I had many strong issues against the Catholic Church at the time, I was willing to acknowledge, as Christians, those who were its members in spite of the Church. As an Evangelical, this was a big step for me. It would be some years before I finally looked into the actual teachings of the Catholic Church as told by the Catechism. Only then would I begin to understand that Catholicism is Christianity to its fullest!

Other Evangelicals are coming to the same conclusion, and some of them are megachurch pastors. In Sweden recently, the pastor for the nation's largest Evangelical megachurch, Ulf Ekman, actually converted to Catholicism. While in the United States, Southern Baptist Pastor Rick Warren, of the Saddleback Baptist megachurch in Lake Forest, California, has come out speaking the truth about Catholics and the Catholic Church. You can watch the video above or by clicking here.

Pastor Warren has publicly acknowledged Catholics as Christians and the Catholic Church as a Christian institution. For this, in predictable fashion, he is being brutally cannibalised by some of his more Fundamentalist Baptist brethren. His sanity and very Christianity are now being called into question. There is no word yet as to whether or not the Southern Baptist Convention will take any disciplinary action. We Catholics should pray for this man, that he will at least have the courage to hold the narrow line, as Billy Graham did, if not completely swim the Tiber, as Pastor Ulf Ekman did. By making this bold statement, Pastor Rick Warren is calling out many other megachurch pastors to ecumenical recognition of Catholics, as well as other Christians. Let us pray his message does not fall on too many deaf ears.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

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