HEARERS OF THE WORD: We shouldn't define 'Christian' too exclusively

Wednesday I was listening to a discussion on American Family Radio when a young man called the show and complained that the panel had failed to condemn Catholics and Mormons as un-Christian. The panel listened politely and tried to explain their position. The man clearly wasn’t satisfied.
I don’t always agree with the AFR commentators but I have a lot of respect for them. I listen nearly every day and I think they’re dedicated and do a reasonably good job of not bashing particular denominations.
I had just come from having lunch with a United Methodist pastor. He and I think a lot alike – we even ordered the same sandwich – and we’d just been talking about how some Christians believe that because of the exclusive claims that Christianity makes, its followers can’t enter into authentic, mutual dialogue with other religions.
“There’s the preconditions thing,” I said to my friend. “Like in the election.” He nodded.
I went on. “We can talk, right? But, we can’t really grant the other religion – or, sometimes, even the other denomination – equal footing.” He nodded.
“The Catholic Church does it too,” I told him. “We have this habit of calling everyone else ‘ecclesial communities’ and reserving ‘church’ for us alone.” He nodded.
I’ll never understand this need, even among Christian denominations, to make the circle as small as possible. Christian fundamentalists are fond of asking where the basis for a teaching or a tradition is in the Bible. My question is, where do they find the basis for this exclusivist Jesus in which they believe so adamantly? In the man who kept company with prostitutes and tax collectors? In the man who excoriated the high and mighty for telling everyone else how unclean and unholy they were?
I know the early church councils had to be precise while developing their formulations. They were up against gnosticism, Arianism, monophysitism, and a score of other “isms” that threatened to seriously derail the church’s understanding of who Jesus was and what he was about.
I appreciate that, and I think we need doctrinal precision and watchdog organizations. We don’t, however, need total and complete homogeneity – or hegemony. There is such a thing as unity in diversity.
I don’t believe Joseph Smith found those tablets, or that God “created” Jesus, or a hundred other things in which Mormons believe. But, the Mormons in Tupelo are some of most dedicated, Jesus-loving people I’ve met. How else are we to define “Christian” than one who believes that Jesus Christ is the savior of humankind and the son of the one, true God? Mormons believe that. Catholics believe that. Mormons and Catholics hold some different views – very different, really – both from each other and from other denominations, but I don’t think that makes either denomination any less Christian.
One of the AFR commentators said he didn’t think Catholics were outside the parameters of Christianity, but Mormons were. It gets confusing exactly which people who worship Christ are or are not Christians.
I respect the commentator’s opinion but I disagree. My security as a Christian isn’t threatened by embracing someone who believes a little differently than I do.
The commentators ended the programing by saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “All of us on this panel believe that we are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not through works. We want to be clear about that.”
Amen. I’m with you. I’m Catholic – I’m certainly not a spokesperson for all Catholics, but I’m Catholic – and I’m with you. I call the Mormons my friends and I believe they’re with you. Why do some Christians insist that we’re not?
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com

Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal