I just stumbled across this piece on the Acton Institute site, which called my attention to the fuss kicked up by NPR over what the adjective “Christian” means. I find myself in agreement with the catholicity of Rev. Robert Sirico’s response–the part not quoted by the NPR blogger:
Christianity is and always has been a religion that “receives” its faith rather than one that “invents” it. Hence, a basic definition of “Who are the Christians?” begins with an adherence, doctrinally, to the ancient Creeds of the Church, beginning with the Apostles Creed (believed to have been of apostolic origin, the Apostles having in turn received their mandate from Christ Himself) and continuing on to the faith articulated at the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, Orange, Hippo and Quicunque Vult (aka, The Athanasian Creed), all of which were formative for the belief of Christians. The traditions that would agree with this ecumenical Trinitarian confession (most Catholics, Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox, et al.) have historically recognized that whatever other doctrinal differences may separate them, this is the meaning they share when they use the term “Christian.”
The contemporary noise is generated by those who object to the allegedly exclusive use of the adjective by theologically (and often politically) conservative Christians. Perhaps some of them do indeed mean to exclude those with whom they (politically) disagree as “un-Christian.” But I’d give them the benefit of the doubt, just as I’d give those with whom I politically disagree the benefit of the doubt. We’re all sinners and and, as such, all too often think and act in “un-Christian” ways. We ought indeed to remember that the mansion has many rooms.
That most emphatically doesn’t mean that we should erase the capacious line drawn by Rev. Sirico. Unitarian, for example, isn’t Christian. You can’t deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and call yourself a Christian. So I’m happy in an ecumenical spirit to join hands with all those who affirm the traditional creeds (without serious mental reservations and subjectivizing interpretations that strain credulity).
Stated another way, some portion of the NPR dispute seems to be between those who unapologetically (as it were) call themselves Christians and those who for a variety of reasons don’t want to proclaim it quite as loudly. In some cases, subjectivism has crept in. In other cases, there’s perhaps a misunderstanding of what is meant by toleration. In others, the apparent authority of science has made it hard to affirm in any sort of honest or authentic way the traditional creeds.
Surely the word shouldn’t be a merely political bone of contention.