In this morning’s first reading from 2 Thessalonians, we find a very important but often overlooked fact. When the books of the New Testament, especially the epistles were written, they were written to Christians who were already a part of the church. Notice verse 1: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the Church of the Thessalonians.” I’ll give an example to attempt to show how this one small detail is important.
The relationship between faith and works has been an issue of much contention between Catholics and Protestants for nearly five centuries now. Indeed, before then this was an issue of significant doctrinal debate in the time of St. Augustine. Two of the books that have traditionally played heavily in these discussions are the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle of James (though “epistle” does not really adequately describe the book of James).
The key point here is that Romans and James (like the example of 2 Thessalonians this morning) were both written either to churches or broader groups of Christians. In these texts some explanation of the relationship between faith and works was given. In other words, the people encountering these texts were already a part of the church and then the relationship between faith and works was still being explained to them. So, a proper understanding of this issue was not a prerequisite for being a Christian.
Well, what does this mean for the way in which Catholics and Protestants talk to one another? It means that though we may disagree about the relationship between faith and works this is not just cause for labeling the other person a non-Christian or heretic or choose your epithet …
Furthermore, I think this extends to other areas of doctrinal disagreement that we may have with someone, whether of our own faith tradition or another. We should not automatically treat the other person as a non-Christian or as not Catholic enough if they do not agree with us about some things, though it is a favorite practice of many to have litmus tests of a person’s faith. Christianity has always been a unity amid diversity.
Of the highest importance is our confession of Jesus Christ as Lord who has died for our sins and been raised from the dead. Let us work out everything else in a spirit of Christian charity.