Definitions and confusion
Abraham Lincoln was fond of asking visitors to the White House
the following questions:
"How many legs does a dog have?"
To which the usual answer was, "Four."
And then the President asked the follow-up question:
"Now, let us say that a dog's tail is another leg. Now, how
many legs does the dog have?"
If the visitor answered, "Five", then old Abe would smile and
say, "No, he still has four legs. Because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it
And thus to... religious "definitions"!
Are we Christadelphians "Christian"? Are we "orthodox"? Are we
"evangelical"? Are we "pentecostal", even? What about "catholic"?
In every one of these cases, it all depends -- as one old
brother once put it -- on "what you mean by what you say." And we can mean very
different things by what we say. In fact, two peoples can mean ENORMOUSLY
different things even if they are saying precisely the same thing. (Stop and
think for a moment: how many things does "I love you?" mean? Unless we know the
context, and the background, and the personalities involved, and their
relationship, and -- especially -- HOW it is said, then we really have no idea
what the words are intended to convey... or HOW MUCH they are intended to
Anyway, back to religous "definitions":
- "Christian" of course meant -- originally -- a
follower of Christ. That of course is what all Christadelphians aspire to be...
but the world is filled with people who use the same term, and the question for
us is: do we want to be -- more or less -- associated with all of them? When the
news reporters talk about "Christian gunmen" in Northern Ireland, do we still
want to call ourselves "Christian"? Hence the dilemma: are we "Christian", or
aren't we? It all depends on what you mean by what you
- "Orthodox" means, literally, "conforming to
an established or agreed-upon pattern". Now the question becomes: who has
established and agreed upon the particular pattern (of beliefs, presumably --
but perhaps also of practice) the conformity to which makes you or me
"orthodox"? In what context is the term used? This makes a world of difference.
But when certain churches call themselves, more or less officially, "orthodox"
-- as in Greek Orthodox -- then, of course, we are put in a position where we
are NOT "orthodox" by their assumptions -- although we could argue,
persuasively, that we conform to the established pattern of the first-century
church much better than they.
- "Evangelical" was
originally a wonderful word: taken directly from the New Testament, it
transliterated the Greek word for "gospel" or "good news". Who could ever find
fault with such a word? If anyone knows the gospel, it ought to be
Christadelphians, right? But then other churches make that a part of their name:
there's Evangelical Lutheran, and Free Evangelical, and African Methodist
Evangelical... and who knows what others! And "evangelical" has come to describe
the whole broad, inclusive group of "believers" who have been "born again"
(another good Bible term all by itself, but what does IT mean?!) by some
"spiritual" (ditto!) experience -- with little or no regard to particular
beliefs. In this situation, we have to think twice before we want to call
ourselves "evangelical" either, although if anybody is "evangelical", it ought
to be us.
- "Pentecostal" alludes to the day of
Pentecost, referred to in Acts 2 -- when the power of the Holy Spirit was poured
out upon believers at Jerusalem. Given this, "Pentecostal" pretty plainly means
those who believe in, and practice, the present-day manifestation of a so-called
"Holy Spirit" power to speak in strange tongues -- and also to perform miracles
of healing and raising the dead. Of course, this loses us pretty fast: we don't
want to be "Pentecostal", even for a moment! On the other hand, we DO believe in
what happened in Acts 2, don't we? We just don't believe that the same gifts and
the same experiences can be manufactured at will today. And if we believe in
Acts 2, along with all the rest of Scripture, does that make us, in some sense,
- "Catholic": now there's a good
one. The English word itself means (or maybe we should say, "originally" meant!)
that which is universal, or widespread... as in the "worldwide Church of God".
By this strictly-literal definition we should be able to say, "Yes, I belong to
the worldwide body of believers called Christadelphians"... or "Yes, I am a
member of the catholic church, or ecclesia, of Christadelphians". But of course,
we would never want to say such a thing, because of what has happened to the
word "catholic" today -- particularly its almost universal application to the
And there you are. For the time would fail me to speak of
"Amended" and "Unamended", and "clean flesh", and "Andrewism" and
"Stricklerism", and "immortal emergence", and "Adamic condemnation", and
"eternal death", etc, etc... all of which may be defined differently -- very
differently -- by this person or that... but that's another story! Or
Meanwhile, we'll just go by the strictly-literal (and
original) definitions, and call ourselves...
the Catholic Christian Evangelical Orthodox Pentecostal Church
(the real one!). Right?
PS: NOW I'm in BIG trouble!