Catholic And Christian
John Michael Talbot
Here in the southern Midwest we are all too aware of the doctrinal tensions between fundamentalist Christians and Roman Catholics. As a Catholic Christian who became one after being a fundamentalist, I know both sides of the arguments very well. They rarely accomplish much in persuading anyone from " the other side." I would like to look at the basics of the words, "Christian," and, "Catholic," as one who has a love and devotion to the real meaning of both.
The word, "Christian," simply means, "like Christ." "Christ," literally means, "the Anointed One," and was the Greek word used for the promised Messiah of the Jewish faith. Anointed by whom, or what? Anointed by the Spirit of God. As Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry, quoting the messianic passages from Isaiah the prophet, "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me."
But, after 23 years of involvement with the Catholic and interdenominational Charismatic Renewal around the world, I have found that there is sometimes much confusion about this whole concept of being anointed by the Spirit.
Sometimes we think that we are anointed, but we are only excited. You can get excited about a sports event, but that is not necessarily a sign of the true anointing of the Spirit of God. We have all seen religious fanatics who are convinced that they are anointed by the Spirit just because of their newfound enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is good, as long as it empowers real Christ like attitudes and actions rather than mere religious fanatics. No doubt, this is what caused the likes of John Wesley to write a tract against false enthusiasm during the beginning of the Holiness movement, from which the modern Pentecostal movement was eventually born.
I have found that a good test of the anointing of the Spirit is using the words, "like Jesus," to define my Christianity. But who is the real Jesus? We do not necessarily have to go pouring through extra biblical books to find him, though I personally find that the appropriate historical study of these things is sometimes also helpful. The real Jesus is right there in the four Gospels, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables, and the Paradoxes of the Paschal Mystery, for those who have the eyes to see. He is right there all along. But be forewarned, this Jesus probably has a whole lot more in common with the tradition of the Jewish prophets, the Buddhist Bodhisattvas, or the Hindu Sannyasin, than he does with the modern mega church pastor, televangelist, or radio preacher, though these too have their appropriate place in Christianity.
He is also in the New Testament passages describing the authentic "Christian" life of the Church. The famous "love passage" from St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, or the wonderful "fruit of the spirit" in Galatians 5: 22-23, and especially the self emptying, or "Kenosis," of Jesus in Philippians 2, all give us a wonderful description of what it is for the Christian to really be "like Jesus." Go through these passages. It will not take much time, but it will be enough to fill a lifetime.
The word, "Catholic," was first used in Antioch, the same place that the word, "Christian," was first employed. It means, "universal, abundant, and full." The classical definition was given to us by St. Vincent of Lerins, a monk of the island off the south of what we now call France where Christian monasticism first came from the middle east to Europe. Basically, he said that to be a Catholic Christian is to believe all that is believed around the world and from the beginning by the Church in union with the authentic bishops, who are successors to the apostles.
This is a most helpful definition, but I would like to put forward a more personal definition that we might find even more useful on a non-doctrinal level in an ecumenical setting today. I would like to define, "Catholic," as one who is universally and abundantly filled from head to toe with the real Jesus in their daily life.
Most creedal Christians profess the Apostles and Nicene creeds in their churches. In both creeds mainline Catholics and Protestants alike profess belief in "the Catholic Church." The next time we profess these words, I would propose that we do a little reality check. Are we really living like Jesus here in our own day and time, have we emptied our self of self and really learned to selflessly love like Jesus loved, or have we simply become cultural Christians, or worse yet, religious fanatics? In this regard, may we all really BE Catholic Christians.
John Michael Talbot