This question is not unique to Christianity. Other religions have their own divisions. Muslims have Shia or Sunni. Judaism has Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed and in 1973 Jews for Jesus.
For whatever reason, believers in Christ preferred and are proud to be called Catholics or Protestants, instead of just Christians. But, why do they have to? It is true that the common bond between them is that Christ is the Savior, the “way, the truth and the life”, although in many ways they differ. And, be that as it may, how will this differentiation advance or negatively impact Christianity? Before tackling this subject, a lesson in history may give some perspective and context.
History of Christianity
It goes without saying that before the advent of “man-Christ Jesus” on earth, there were no Christians. At the time of Moses, the Hebrew congregants or assembly that gathered for YHVH-Elohim/Lord-God were called “church in the wilderness”. After the incarnation of YHVH-ELOHIM into “man-Christ Jesus”, believers in Christ were not called Catholics or Protestants. The early ones in the New Testament were called “Greek hagios, or saints but in this particular context, simply means “consecrated to God.” The first mention of those who were followers/disciples of Christ, “probably AD 30”, can be found in Acts 11:26 “…The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch”.
And the “group or congregation” of believers in Christ were called “church of Christ”, “body of Christ” or “church of God”. The congregants were further identified as to the place where they were, as in church of God at/of Corinth, Thessalonians, or even at prophetic seven churches in Asia, etc.
As it expands to different parts of the known world, the descriptive word “Catholic” came about from Greek “katholikos” sometime about 110 AD. to mean “whole, in general, universal” and first used by St Ignatius of Antioch. “The term (Catholic) has been incorporated into the name of the largest Christian communion, the Catholic Church (also called the Roman Catholic Church). All of the three main branches of Christianity in the East (Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church and Church of the East) had always identified themselves as Catholic in accordance with Apostolic traditions and the Nicene Creed. Also, Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Methodists believe that their churches are “Catholic” in the sense that they too are in continuity with the original universal church founded by the Apostles.”
“As there was schism in the church. so were there earlier breaks and attempts to reform the Catholic Church—notably by Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus—but only Luther succeeded in sparking a wider, lasting and modern movement.” The grievances against the Catholic Church led to the formation of Protestantism and others. Hence, Catholics or Protestants became a simple description of believers/followers of Christ.
Without imputing negative motivation, what effect does this differentiation of believers in Christ have. For one, it capitalizes on division and rift among Christians instead of unity and bonding. Moreover, it emphasizes differences instead of common ground. Commonality is marginalized and exclusivity becomes the attraction. “Holier-than-thou attitude” and pride supersede humility, kindness and gentleness. A shame/blame culture develops. Worse, it takes away and distracts from the very essence of Christ’s gospel, it’s message of the “kingdom of God”.
Bottom line, the description as Catholic or Protestant for Christians may prevent unity in the common struggle for preaching the world the “great commission”. Worse, it fosters the saying, “…a house divided against itself, will not stand”.
Religions have sub-divisions. Christianity is no different; it has Catholic vs Protestant. From Jesus’ time on earth and the apostolic era, it was not so. History confirms believers in Christ were called “Christians”, probably in 30 AD. As to how it evolved, is undisputed and may have unintended consequences. Keeping the original description as “Christians”, is unifying, uplifting and focused as “one entity” towards fulfilling the “great commission”.
This is no place for pontification nor virtue signaling, however we call ourselves. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 “ all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
And, because of sin of Adam in Genesis that was imputed to all mankind, all of us deserved the consequence of that sin, which is “eternal death”.
But, Jesus took on that death, to be imputed to us all, by being the Passover for all, by the grace/gift and love of God so that he became the Savior, the captain and trailblazer of our salvation through a process of an “ongoing creation”,
Finally, when asked what is your religion, we can just say boldly and with conviction, “I am a Christian”.
God bless 🙏😇👍
Original hyperlink version posted Dec 5, 2020
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