Saturday, April 27, 2013

Evangelizing Jesus?

An article by blogger Jack Spatafora caught my eye on Good Friday. The title read, “Sorry! Here’s Why Jesus Wouldn’t Join Today’s Church.” The author’s bio describes him as 40 years educator/writer/intellectual, vagabond, speech writer for the White House and Fortune 500 CEOs, etc. With the Catholic Church very much in the news following the recent papal conclave and Holy Week, I suppose we should expect a few curmudgeons to ventilate.

Mr. Spatafora portrays Christianity as evolving from a comradeship among the apostles, to a formal philosophy in ancient Greece, to an institution in Rome, to a culture throughout Europe, and to an enterprise in our country today. As he puts it, “A dynamic of doctrines which quickly took on the appearance of one more Yankee venture that needed to be sold as the best product on the market.” The closing paragraph reads as follows:

“Here's the point. Christianity has come a long long way from that first humble Good Friday. Replete with big ideas, big budgets, big dreams, big horizons two billion strong. Would there be room here for a scruffy, bearded, unemployed hippie in sandals and visions...? I don't think so. And I don't think Jesus would have thought so too. It's not exactly what he seems to have had in mind.”

Understanding this author from my Catholic perspective is a bit of a conundrum. During the first three stages of his perceived evolution, Christianity is the Catholic Church. At some point during the fourth cultural stage came the so-called reformation or rejection of the true Church that eventually brought about the fragmentation of Christianity we see today. Would Jesus be happy with the fractured Christianity He sees today? I would think not. Would He join the Catholic Church today? He never left it, so how could He?

Speculating on whether Jesus would “join” today’s church is a little like wondering whether my great great great grandfather would “join” my current extended family. He is a progenitor and we are his descending children. Over many generations, descendants become numerous. Would my great great great grandfather be pleased with everything that goes on in our family today? Likely not, but he would not and could not become detached from the relationship. He would definitely not be pleased with those who have chosen to separate themselves from the family, and these may be the ones that better fit Spatafora’s model.

Our separated brothers and sisters, especially those in non-denominational congregations far removed from the historical Catholic Church, find themselves in competition with many other ecclesial communities. While geared to Bible-believing Christians, they are not centered in the Eucharist as we are. The face of their congregation may be a charismatic preacher, a dynamic praise band, or close-knit fellowship. Such groups may resemble a business model as they compete for membership. The so-called megachurches may be the Walmarts of modern-day Christianity.

Would Henry Ford want to join the Ford Motor Company today? After all, Ford has come a long way from that company founded in 1903. Replete with big ideas, big budgets, big dreams, big horizons, new technology, and over 200,000 employees worldwide, would there be room for an innovative industrialist and pacifist?

Ford’s legacy will remain with his company forever. In a much greater way, Jesus remains alive with His Church to the end of the age. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Separating Jesus from the Church is impossible. Does the Church look the same as it did 2000 years ago? No, although most Protestants would be shocked to know what similarities remain! The Church has grown over the centuries from east to west, holding fast to the deposit of faith as revealed by God. Is the Church an enterprise? In some respects, certainly. The Church is competing for souls, and convincing people to listen to an authoritative Church is a tough sell these days.

Just as Henry Ford established his company, expecting it to grow and be profitable, Jesus established His Church, with the great commission to spread His gospel. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This describes precisely what the Church has done and is still striving to do. Evangelization today necessitates big ideas, big budgets, big dreams, and big horizons. The Church encompasses everything Spatafora describes. These facets are not mutually exclusive. In the Church, we have comradeship, philosophies, an institution, many cultures, and enterprise. Casting the Church as a “venture that needed to be sold as the best product on the market” is basically truth stated in a pejorative way. The Catholic Church is the best product on the market for getting us to heaven. As Catholic apologist Tim Staples often states when questioned about various issues in the Church, “I’m not in management; I’m in sales.” Indeed, making disciples of all nations requires all of us to be salesmen, promoting our faith in the way we live our lives each day.