Something I hear quite often: “I’m not Catholic, I’m a Christian!” Or, “I’m a Catholic,” implying that being Catholic is different in some way from being a Christian. It is all very confusing for me, especially when I think of the way Christians (that includes Catholics!) refer to themselves as the “Body of Christ.” I think one of the scandals of Christianity as a whole is the way the various denominations and factions talk about Christian unity, but only in reference to their particular Christian ethos. That is, if you’re in my Christian circle that is good, and if you’re not, well, you are probably going to hell! To which I say, “Really?!”
I can understand how some want to think of their particular faith expression is the true expression, and how other faith expressions just do not measure up. I know the arguments based in concepts such as “Apostolic Succession” and “Latter Day Saints” and most things in between.
For example, October 31st is called “Reformation Day” by many Christians, and will be celebrated by many Protestant congregations this coming Sunday. It commemorates that day Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg in 1517. Remember that in the 16th Century there was one Christian church and Luther was asking for an open debate on these 95 theses, or problems he saw confronting the church.
Wait. I’m sorry. There were actually two Christian divisions by then, one we call Eastern Orthodox and one we call Roman Catholic. The schism happened in 1054. Eastern Christianity was Greek speaking. Western Christianity was Latin speaking. Their liturgies were different. Their polity was different.
So anyway, Luther wanted to open up dialog about what he thought was wrong about the church. The result was his excommunication and the beginning of what we call the Great Reformation. During the next two hundred years many new denominations of Christianity arose in Western Europe.
Today Reformation Sunday celebrates the Great Reformation. Of course it is Protestant churches who do the most celebrating! The real question is should they? Does the celebration of Reformation Sunday simply reinforce a false division between Christian faith communities?
When Pope John XXIII, now Saint John XXIII called for a Vatican Council in 1963 (only the second time in Christian history that such a council was convened) it was said that the results of the Council was what Martin Luther had wanted five hundred years before. One could speculate that, if that council had been convened in the 16th Century there might not have been a Great Reformation at all.
Even so,the Roman Catholic church resisted the changes even to today. I know of folks who quit attending Mass because it was being said in English and not Latin despite the fact that their native language was English. “That’s not the way we’ve always done things” became the cry of those who struggled with the changes.
Adding to the question is the fact that every faith community has within it distinct, and often subtle differences of interpretation. I suppose the only ones who do not are those who teach a rigid doctrine, policing the membership in order to prevent questioning and critical thinking.
So, where does this concept of the Body of Christ come in? It began with Paul writing to the church in Corinth. “Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many.” (1 Cor. 12:12)
My question is, when will the Body of Christ, the whole body—every Christian faith community—recognize that they are each, according to Paul, a particular part. Isn’t it time we worked together to truly be the Body of Christ?