September 19, 2020

Christian Without The Adjectives

I have been reading a novel, and the protagonist is an Italian immigrant, and Catholic. At the end of a long introductory description, it simply said, “…he was a Christian.”

Now for some reason this struck me. It’s not that I’m enamored with the word. I’m on record as saying we might have good reason to give it a break, considering all the confusion and distortion that accompanies it.

But what actually got my attention was this: in the context of Roman Catholicism, you could simply say this man was a Christian, and that summarized a great deal without further explanation. He believed. He confessed. He communed. He prayed. He loved his family. He knew his calling. He tried to live the Christian life. He was a Christian.

And in this novel, that worked.

You are now allowed to say, “He starting to go Catholic,” because it seems to me that if this book were about a typical evangelical, we would soon have to start piling on the adjectives and hauling out the unique experience stories.

Saying the character was a “Christian,” would say very little about an evangelical protagonist. He would have to have a denominational label, of course. And he would need some descriptors like “a great Christian,” or “a zealous Christian,” or “a man who wanted to change the world for God,” or “a man who believed God was calling him to preach to his neighbors.” He would have to have a unique experience of God, one that was captivating and unique.

In the evangelical version of the story, the Christian would have to be closer to the front of the stage, with his or her own personal mission and story prominently described.

It would be unlikely that “the Faith” would be the solid fact on which his life would be lived. It’s more likely “the Experience” would be taking the reader along for an ever changing ride.

I know that there are Catholics with adjectives, too. I’m sure I’m guilty of a good bit of hyperbole, but I won’t give this up completely.

I think we are too much the stars of the story. It’s God’s story. It’s the Gospel that is the story.

Our stories- our testimonies, our experiences- can’t come to center stage. They can’t upstage Jesus and the Gospel.

You’ve heard it before. Yes, Paul gives his testimony when asked to do so, but does Paul ever make his story the largest story being told? Can anyone imagine Peter and the apostles going out on Pentecost to tell their own experiences.

I think our experiences are the coffee after the main program. The show is Jesus and the Gospel. Our experiences and all those adjectives need to get out of the way, and Jesus needs to be clearly seen.

Not as someone in our story, but as the one who gives us a story to be part of at all.

Comments

  1. Absolutely beautiful! In my wild imagination, I see Paul constantly knowing the reality of his identity, ” being in Christ, and in the Kingdom.” It sounds so simply, but to constantly breathe that reality in and out every moment…it soon becomes all that matters. We become that fountain, spilling identity and place into all that surrounds us, ” HIS.”

  2. In Your light we see light says

    My questions is, “What IS the novel?” Sounds like a good read.

  3. I had the same reaction when I read Out of the Silent Planet the main character’s faith was revealed in the middle of the story, he was a Christian, simple. His faith was ingrained in his person, no need to parade it or emphasize for dramatic effect.

  4. “I know that there are Catholics with adjectives, too.”

    Oh, indeed. The vast majority of us are “bad” Catholics, otherwise known as “practicing” Catholics (because boy, do we need the practice):-)

    The rest of us are “devout” or “committed” or “fervent” Catholics, which used to mean pious and devotional, perhaps with a tendency to favour the more obscure Marian apparitions, but mostly harmless. Otherwise, it applies to the small minority of us who are saints (and whom the vast majority of us bad Catholics rely upon to do the heavy lifting, spiritually speaking).

    Though nowadays it seemes to be used mainly in the context of newspaper stories, when Person A is described (or indeed describes him- or herself) as a “devout/fervent/committed Catholic” before adding “And that’s why the Vatican is completely and utterly wrong on divorce/contraception/abortion/married priests/women priests/reincarnation/flying saucers!”

    Basically, if you ever hear someone saying “I’m a good Catholic!”, be very, very suspicious 😉

  5. For some reason this reminded me of when my wife and I read Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter”.

    *** WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD ***

    It struck us that you could read that book and say that the protagonists become “Christians”, and indeed they do, but that’s missing the point. Graham Greene characters are never merely Christians, they’re Catholics. The specificity is important.

  6. Great points. Certainly a far cry from “I’m a Christian. But not one of those hyper-fundamentalists. And not one of those left-leaning liberals, either. I mean, I believe the Bible is true, but I don’t know if it’s entirely 100% literal, but it could be, but I’m just not sure.”

    Something that has got me thinking lately is our tendency, when meeting someone who “is a Christian,” to ask something like, “Oh, what church do you go to?” Somehow that defines who that person is to us. We can apparently size up the individual pretty well by knowing their denominational preference, or worship style, or pastor, or whatever. Wouldn’t a far better question be, “Oh, what do you do?” In other words, “Since you’re a Christian, what do you do to show that you’re a Christian? What sort of ministry are you involved in? What organizations do you financially support?” etc.

  7. My goodness, the book doesn’t describe his walking forward during an “invitation” to shake a pastor’s hand and being led in the so-called “sinner’s prayer,” then being baptized (by immersion, of course), then being given a “laundry list” of “dos and don’ts”), proper beliefs, resources to consult/read, identifying his spiritual gifts and ministry in which to serve, etc. I don’t think that I get it :).

    You might also want to look at the books of Miriam Toews who writes about Mennonite culture in western Canada.

  8. Martha is absolutly right. Most of us are bad Catholics. Yes, I could not highlight her comment any better about those who claim to be “good Catholics” no Saint in the Church on Earth or in Heaven would have ever made such a statement. Just as St. Paul said “we hope in love.”

    This is a rather complicated topic, IM if you did a little research on the matter I am sure you would find the reasons why it is that Catholics, Protestans and Orthodox don’t simply called them selves Christians.

    Getting back to your topic however, absolutly the greatest testimony a person can give about his faith is to live it, to truely live the Gospel.

    As the great St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

    Peter and Paul may not have been given their oral testimony however, you see at all times them living the Gospel and showing the good news of Jesus Christ, through them, in them and with them.

  9. Dan Crawford says

    Michael,

    I’ve always wondered when in Christian History “Christian” became the synonym for Protestant. Even the magazine Christian History seems to understand “Christian” as referring to the period after Halloween, 1517.

  10. Dan –

    Hallowe’en? Why are you mentioning that godless pagan festival on a good Christian site like this? 😉

  11. Memphis Aggie says

    I thought the use of the term “Christian” was found in the Early church dating from Acts. I guess it naturally became less frequently used or dropped when it became an insufficiently vague label because of the divisions within Christianity. Just a guess.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    You’ve heard it before. Yes, Paul gives his testimony when asked to do so, but does Paul ever make his story the largest story being told? Can anyone imagine Peter and the apostles going out on Pentecost to tell their own experiences? — IMonk

    LaHaye & Jenkins can. In the third book of the prequel trilogy to Left Behind (yes, a prequel trilogy to a 12 or 13-book series; never since Slave Girls of Gor has a background been so obsessively chronicled), they describe Heaven as one long Never-Ending Testimony Night where Everybody Gives Their Testimony and Gives Their Testimony and Gives Their Testimony…

    Paraphrasing Chesterton, “One of those Heavens that is rather worse than many Hells”.

    I’ve always wondered when in Christian History “Christian” became the synonym for Protestant. Even the magazine Christian History seems to understand “Christian” as referring to the period after Halloween, 1517. — Dan Crawford

    Simple. The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648, but somebody still hasn’t gotten the word.

    I remember this one talk show where a lot of the callers started out with a nonchalant “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m CHRISTIAN (TM)”. And other CHRISTIAN (TM) churches, megachurches, parachurches, and movements are heavily invested in perpetuating the difference. (“I am for Apollos! I am for Paul! Just so long as I’m Not for The Pope!”) On the same radio channel as the abovementioned talk show, I remember Calvary Chapel preachers on the radio spouting Hislop and Chick and Rivera’s rabid anti-Catholic rants almost word for word. (Except for the Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa guy; he never passed up an opportunity to bash Star Wars, even if he had to create the opportunity in the first place. It’s a Great Big Weird World out there…)

  13. Marths, the older I get (though I’m not very old), and no matter where I go, in any language, everything you said about Catholics holds true.

    Everything that’s sensible about Catholicism seems start with acknowledging that almost nobody is a very good or very holy; I think that’s harder to believe than anything else the Church teaches, and you make it seem as simple as it really is. That’s awesome, you’re awesome, way to go.

  14. Ah no, Patrick, being a bad Catholic myself, it’s easy to know where I’m falling down.

    But thank you for the kind words 🙂

  15. I’ve always wondered when in Christian History “Christian” became the synonym for Protestant. Even the magazine Christian History seems to understand “Christian” as referring to the period after Halloween, 1517.

    It’s kind of an Anglo thing, really. In Catholic countries like Italy or Spain, “Christian” is synonymous with Catholic.

  16. Yes Sam that is def true but let us not forget also that Catholics are considered Christians in many Protestant circles, less so now a days than in the past but the thought persists.

    On the Catholic side of things, I can’t seem to remember the Pope that declare it, but he condemned many Catholic both clerics and laymen for not considering Protestants Christians.

    As we believe that all who are baptized in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” are to be considered Christians and part of the Church.

    This is the problem with Mormons they might may be Christian in a philosophical sense, but not a true sense.

    From the Protestant side well, let just say they have been a bit less charitable. Though things are getting better.

  17. As a side note, in Russia, non-Orthodox Christians are almost always referred to as Catholics. Drives a lot of evangelical Protestant missionaries nuts.

  18. Kristine D'Ambrosio says

    I was baptized as an infant in the ORTHODOX CHURCh and recently as an adult I was baptized again in a nondenominational church- I believe that if you follow Jesus – read the word- do what it says you are a Christ follower no matter what denomination you are . We are all sinners and fall short- Jesus had one command and that was to love one another- Jesus said he is the way the truth and the life – no man comes to the father but by me- the Church is the body of believers- if you don’t believe me get a bible ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and read the gospels for yourself. People educate themselves when it comes to buying a car , taking a vacation or even what to eat- take the time to read the word- until we are all humbled to see that God’s will is the only thing that is important – nothing else will work–inChrist -Kristine

  19. Well Timothy most Orthodox have never heard of Protestants. I personaly had never been aware of protestantism until I was well in to my 20’s and began to put research Christianity to see if it was true or not.

    It is a bit worst in China where Christianity is the same word as Catholic which literaly means “faith from the God in heaven” while protestatism is translated as “the new religion.”

  20. “I remember this one talk show where a lot of the callers started out with a nonchalant “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m CHRISTIAN (TM)”.

    Zillions of such folk. Read Ralph Martin’s ‘The Catholic Church at the End of An Age’.

  21. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It is a bit worst in China where Christianity is the same word as Catholic which literaly means “faith from the God in heaven” while protestatism is translated as “the new religion.” — Giovanni

    Well, given the relative ages of the two…

    “I remember this one talk show where a lot of the callers started out with a nonchalant “I used to be Catholic, but now I’m CHRISTIAN (TM)”.

    Zillions of such folk. Read Ralph Martin’s ‘The Catholic Church at the End of An Age’. — Joe

    Does this mean you agree with the callers or what?

    And it’s an oxymoron. Chesterton wrote once of a spectator objecting to a bells-and-smells religious procession — would it not make more sense to say “This is all bunk!” than to rush in, take the holy book from the processional priest’s hands, and claim “This IS The Word of God! And God Saith in His Word that YOU Are All False!”?

    Along the same lines, I once told a Full Gospel type that the only reason his church had a “Full Gospel” to preach was that the bishops of my church (Romish Popery) fought hard to keep the 2nd- and 3rd-Century Shirley Mac Laines from rewriting it in THEIR image.

  22. I would say that was not very ecumenical.

  23. “…he is a Christian.”
    Perhaps the life of this Italian immigrant helps define what Jesus Shaped Spirituality is.

  24. Thank you for the book recommendation. I read it this weekend, and found it quite thought provoking. I plan to suggest it for one of the books that my library book club reads.