The Church vs. the church
I wrote a paper recently where I referred to the Reformation and I needed to be clear about capitalization of a few key terms. So I asked. The answer I got basically said that the Catholic church has capitalized “Church” and so because of that, reformed churches do not capitalize “church” because they are not referring to “THE Church” but rather to “church.”
Since I began this blog, I’ve been capitalizing “Church.”
I thought I knew why at first. Since then, I have wondered about the significance this might bring about.
I remember learning, in high school, about the difference between “Communism” and “communism.” “communism” was the ideal. “Communism” was what actually happened (think dictators and more non-communal type leadership efforts that created a bad name for communism and socialism among most of today’s conservative Americans).
To me, in light of understanding the concept of Big C communism vs. Little C communism, I’ve had to reflect on the significance of the capitalization. Because, as is true in every language, the words that you use and the way you place them and conjugate them signify and often mimic what you intend to say. Even in my brief study of Greek in order to learn to read the New Testament, I have learned how certain interpretations of words can change entire theological ideas.
So my gut reaction, after hearing the explanation that the Catholic Church is referred to as “The Church,” was to be pissed off. Who says they get to claim the proper noun?
Much of the language that many of the early Christians used, especially those around the time of Luther who did not agree with the dissenting voices, involved the idea of the “true church.” Somehow, because the Catholic Church had some apostolic tradition and had been in existence since the beginning (many consider Peter to be the first papal type voice), their traditions were right and though there were many issues that came up…the “universal” (credit to Ignatius?) church was still worth sticking with. Before the days of video cameras, copy machines, and computers, much emphasis was placed on the succession of traditions and documents. It all mattered where things came from and whom (who? The English language is so confusing) things came from.
The idea is dead simple: because I wasn’t there with Jesus, I must try to understand those who were with him. This was important for the early church and it ought to still be important today. (I’ve always wanted to write a post about how stupid the Gospel of Peter is for attempting to try to pin Peter’s name to it to give the document authority. What a bad practice.)
However, to me, the Reformation (both in parts of Europe, including England) changed that. Because we had a Canon, and the Catholic church had some unfortunate leadership, churches split off. Some maintained some traditions, some didn’t. And, in 2011 we have a whole mess of churches that call themselves Christian churches.
When I refer to the “Church,” I refer to the body of Christ (and purposefully I leave that “body” not capitalized). For me, despite different traditions and understandings of Scripture, anyone who claims Christ and has confessed of their sins and accepted the love and grace is a part of the Church (this includes, but is not limited to: Catholics, Westboro Baptists, Methodists, persecuted Asian churches, Calvinists, Church of Christ-ers, casual Catholics, casual Protestants, youth, women, Black churches, and more.)
**To me, it doesn’t have ANYTHING to do with discipleship. Is discipleship a necessary trait in someone who follows Christ? Of course. They help make up the “Body” of Christ (see, capitalization).**
Here is the issue: if we continue to think of the crazies as some other sort of body, some other entity, we miss the boat and we end up with the same situation as the Islamic people today (i.e. they won’t let us build a building of worship wherever we want). The world paints them and us with the same brush: Westboro Baptists = Christians.
To me, anyone who would call themselves a Christian helps to make up The Church.
And The Church is in trouble. Why? Because as it stands right now, the Western part of The Church (mainly Euro-American bodies) is the body of Christ. And we need to be the Body of Christ.
Can we continue to use the word “catholic” as “universal”? It seems to be that unity needs to be #1 priority and so when we talk about the future, we ought to use one term and all get behind that in order to move forward.
I think God has such high hopes for The Church.