I recently witnessed the following exchange on Facebook between a Catholic and a Protestant.
Protestant: What do say that “The Gospel” is?
Catholic: we read from one of the four Gospels at each Mass.
P: And no answer as to what the gospel is …. Interesting
C: What’s the matter? Can’t you read what I posted above? We have a different Gospel reading each day. Today’s was Luke 12:32-48.
P: Perhaps it would behoove you to learn what the gospel is and what the gospels are !!!!!!
C: THE Gospel is that Christ came and died for your sins and mine. He was crucified, died and was buried. He rose from the dead on the third day. He sits at the right hand of the father from where he will judge the living and the dead.
P: Very good. !!!
C: This is the good news.
P: I’m impressed
P: First Catholic to get it right
C: No, I doubt I’m the first. We proclaim this at every mass.
P: Never heard a single catholic proclaim that ever.
P: Most don’t even know what the gospel is.
A few comments:
It’s interesting to note how they begin by talking past each other. The Protestant doesn’t understand that a reading from one of the four Gospels is a central part of the Mass. And the Catholic doesn’t realize that the Protestant is only asking about the minimal Biblical definition of the Good News.
The Protestant assumes that a Catholic will have no idea what the Christian faith is based upon — essentially that a Catholic doesn’t even understand what it means to be a Christian! And when the Catholic does beautifully summarize the shared centrality of our faith, the Protestant is surprised, having apparently never encountered a Catholic Christian before.
But this creedal affirmation is repeated at every Catholic mass, and indeed at many Protestant services as well. There’s simply no way you could be a Catholic and not be intimately familiar with this profession.
But the Protestant seems to have encountered many a Catholic who didn’t have a well-crafted response to the question “what is the Gospel?” The problem here isn’t that Catholics don’t know what the Good News is, it’s that they aren’t hung up on a quick label that serves as a litmus test for one’s soteriological state. And, I don’t think Protestant should be either — we shouldn’t be running around asking questions like “what’s the Gospel?” or “are you saved?” or “have you been born again?”
Christianity isn’t about being able to attach the right definitions to words. It’s not about being able to properly articulate one’s relationship with God. It’s not about being able to pinpoint a specific moment when one became “born again” and it’s certainly not about understanding the precise theological facets of that event.
Dialogue between Catholics and Protestants is extraordinarily important, but we need to listen more than we talk. We need to assume the best about one another rather than the worst. We need to try and understand before we critique. We need to avoid reductionist, binary, divisive tendencies and instead seek out irenic, loving, generous and graceful conversation. Only then will we have hope of realizing the unity to which we are called, leading our lives
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph 4.2-6)