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Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Why the Biblical Definition of the Word ‘Christian’ Only Applies to Catholics
Why the Biblical Definition of the Word ‘Christian’ Only Applies to Catholics
Note: Not an endorsement for David
History is littered with words that
have lost their original meaning. In the English language, the words
'marriage' and 'gay' immediately come to mind. Yet, another,
immediately applicable to the instant case, which has long ago lost its
original intention is the word 'Christian(s)'.
For some, the title
of this article may seem to be unnecessarily abrasive and polemic to
both Protestants and Catholics, yet, let’s agree on one basic premise;
that, all ‘words’ have an original meaning, which can be traced back to
their original usage. While ‘words’ may later be hijacked by those
attempting to usurp and redefine them to fit their agenda, it never
changes the fact that those ‘words’ had an original usage and impetus,
which was specific and intentional.
History is littered with words that have lost their original meaning.
In the English language, the words ‘marriage’ and ‘gay’ immediately
come to mind. Yet, another, immediately applicable to the instant case,
which has long ago lost its original intention is the word Christian(s).
The Root of the Word ‘Christian’
To go back to the beginning, in the New Testament the word Christian (Gk. Χριστός) is only mentioned three times:
“Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found
him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church
and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the
disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:25-26).
“Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.”
Paul replied, “I would pray to God that sooner or later not only you
but all who listen to me today might become as I am except for these
chains”” (Acts 26:28-29).
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are
you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let no one
among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as
an intriguer. But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian
should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. For it is
time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins
with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?”
(1 Peter 4:14-17).
From the three usages of the word Christian in the
New Testament it can be said that the explicit and original meaning of
the term was applied to: (1) The Disciples of the Apostles of Jesus
Christ; (2) Someone who becomes as Paul (Paul here connects himself as
an example of the word Christian); and (3) One who suffers for the name of Christ Jesus.
What is implied out of these three usages is that a ‘Christian’ is
someone who is associated with the Church of Peter and Paul; for, only
in connection with these two persons was the word ever originally used.
That is, the word Christian was never associated with
any other of the other Apostles or evangelists, such as Apollos, but
only Peter and Paul. Moreover, the word was never associated with any
other community, such as the Gnostics or Judaizers.
This implied definition is important because whenever we are speaking
about an unofficial identifying word that people are ‘called’, such as Christian,
we must then associate that group of people with a local community or
geography. That is to say, that we must answer the associating question
which follows the identifier, such as, ‘Where does that group belong?’
or ‘Who does that group belong to?’ In this case, the Christian belongs to a Church in Antioch, which is globally associated with the Church community established by the Apostles. While the modern definition of the word Christian simply means
someone who has committed themselves to following/being a disciple of
Jesus, the original meaning meant much more. You were not merely a
disciple of Jesus, you were a disciple of Jesus through His
Apostles. You merely didn’t just profession a belief in Jesus Christ,
you professed the creed of the Church of Jesus Christ. It was not you or
your chosen pastor who taught you the faith and how to live, rather, it
was the Apostles themselves and their successors who instructed
Christians on how to live. Being known as a Christian was not as that
silly song suggests, ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our love, love
love.’ Rather, they knew we were Christians because we were persecuted
for believing and preaching the truth.
This praxis of the faith was taught by Christ Jesus Himself, who said to the Apostles, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke
10:16). Paul reinforces this a number of times, but particularly in
writing to the Church of the Thessalonians, “So then, brethren, stand
firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter”
(2:15). He also connects the Church he helped to found as being a
source of authority on the Apostolic teaching in his first letter to
Timothy, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these
instructions to you so that, if I am delayed you may know how one ought
to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth” (3:15).
Finding the ‘True’ Christians Today
Therefore, if we were to connect the original meaning of the word Christian
with a group of people today, where would we find them? Our path to
answer this question would lead us, first, to find the community of
Churches that the Apostles, particularly Peter and Paul started, and
then, second, determine whether that community of people are still being
taught by the successors of the Apostles and if they are still
suffering for the name of Jesus Christ. These two examinations would
the lead us to conclude that these people are the true Christians.
Fortunate for us, there is beyond a sufficient amount of evidence of
prove that the same community Churches that we read about in the Bible
eventually began calling themselves Catholic by the early second
century. Whereas, those who belonged to this community of Church were
first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26), it was also in Antioch where the community was first documented as being called Catholic.
In his Letter to the Smyrnaeans and in other letters, Saint
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch draws from the traditional teaching, which
connected Christian discipleship to being taught by Apostles and their
successors to offer a theology of high episcopacy in a community he
“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does
the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence
the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything
connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a
proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one
to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let
the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is,
there is the Catholic Church” (Chapter 8).
What just happened is that the third Bishop of the Church of Antioch
where Saint Peter had served as the first Bishop, just called that
Church, ‘Catholic’. He also mentioned the Sacrament of the Holy
Eucharist, which is very important in regards to the search of a true
Christian as well. For, as we see documented in the Johannine (John
6:22-71), Pauline (I Cor. 11:17-34), and Antiochian Catholic Christian
communities (Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans 7:3, Letter to the Philadelphians 4:1, and Letter to the Smyrnaeans
7:1) the faithful were always obligated to believe that Christ Jesus
comes to them at the Sacrifice of the Mass (Sunday worship) in His Real
Presence of Real Flesh and Blood as the bread and wine, respectively.
Also in the Biblical definition of a Christian, we saw that a Christian
was someone who is associated with the Church of Peter and Paul. This
too is something we see being taught very early on by the Fathers. For
example, Saint Irenaeus, second Bishop of the Church of Lyons, affirms
primacy of the Church of Rome and its continuance in passing on the
Apostolic teachings in Chapter 3 of his 180/199 Against Heresies:
“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as
this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to
confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil
self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion,
assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating
that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the
very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at
Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.
For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with
this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the
faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved
continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the
Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate.
Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him
succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the
apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen
the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said
to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and
their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there
were many still remaining who had received instructions from the
apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension
having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome
dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to
peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had
lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God,
omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who
brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the
land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets,
and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels.
From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He,
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and
may also understand the tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is
of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who
conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of
all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus.
Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was
appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then
Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having
succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the
apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order,
and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles,
and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most
abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has
been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed
down in truth.”
Now, tieing all of this neatly together, we must first return to the original definition of the word Christian,
which is (1) a Disciple of the Apostles of Jesus Christ; One who
suffers for the name of Christ Jesus (e.g. like Paul), and (3) Someone
who is associated with the Church of Peter and Paul.
We then ask, ‘Where is the only place today where we can find and
document an unbroken succession of the Apostles?’ We also ask, ‘Where is
the only place where we can find an unbroken and unaltered teaching on
the Holy Eucharist?’ Again, we also the latter question because we have
seen that the teaching on the Holy Eucharist is something very peculiar
and unique to the early Christian communities, which is evidenced from
Scriptures and tradition. The answer to both of those questions would be ‘the Catholic
Churches’ that are in union with Catholic Church Rome where the
successor of Peter sits, and in the community of Orthodox Churches.
Both of these communities can produce a documented paper trail of
succession of episcopal ordination back to the second and third
centuries. Both of these communities also profess a belief that the
Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the Real Presence of Body, Blood,
Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
Now, the third qualifier of being a Christian; that
is, ‘Someone who is associated with the Church of Peter and Paul,’ ONLY
befits those who belong to the community of Catholic Churches that are
in union with the Church founded by Peter and Paul, and where the
successor of Saint Peter sits. Thus, that qualifier excludes Orthodox
so-called Christians (e.g. Russian and Greek)
So the question the sprouts next is, ‘What shall we call Protestants
and other non-Catholics who identify themselves as being Christian.’ I
answer that in asking you whether you call a man who self-identifies as a
woman, a man? You see, we can’t change the terms and definitions of
things that have been established by God. Surely, we could call an
orange an apple, because those are things that we have defined. You may
sound stupid calling an orange and apple, but that is under your
liberty to do so. To the contrary, the definition of a Christian belongs to the Divine deposit of faith;
that is, it has been revealed by God in the sacred Scriptures.
Therefore, to call someone a Christian who does not fit the Biblical
definition diminishes the value of the calling. Moreover, to know what
God has ordered a thing to be, and to label it something other than that
is an offense against God. Again, as Christians, if we know a person
was created by God to be a man, we don’t call that person a woman.
That’s like celebrating a victory of Satan over God. We don’t do that.
We don’t misassign what God has assigned.
So what do we call them? ell, certainly, we can call Baptists,
Baptists and Methodist, Methodists and Anglicans, Anglicans. We can
call them brother and sisters. We can all them any number of charitable
things, but we should never call them what they are not, which is Christian.
You think this is a new teaching that we should only call faithful Catholics Christian? Consider what St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, write in his Four Letters to Serapion of Thmuis around 359-360 A.D.:
“But what is also to the point, let us note that the very
tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning,
which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by
the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian.”