The phrase “The Body of Christ” has many meanings.  The Eucharist, the Church, the Corpus on the Crucifix, all Christians, and many more, I’m sure.  Lately, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me what it means with regards to “the Church” and “all Christians”.

At first, it seemed to me that there was a conflict in these two interpretations.  Protestant Christians, either by ignorance, birth, choice, or a combination, have rejected the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church; so how could they be a part of the Body of Christ – the Church that they have rejected.  To get some outside perspective, I started these two threads on different forums: LTS Forum and CA Forum.

The general consensus was that Protestant Christians are, by virtue of valid baptism, a part of the Body of Christ and therefore are also a part of the Church.  I have to admit that this is a concept that I’ve had a hard time accepting over the years.  How can you be a part of something you have rejected?  How can Protestants be a part of the Church and still, by action or voice, denounce and deny it?

Yet, here again I have found the Holy Spirit working on my pride and hubris.  It is only by the grace of God that I was born Catholic.  Had I been born into a Protestant family, I too would be separated from the Church.  I like to think that I would have found my way Home, but that too would have been only by God’s grace.  In light of that, how can I, who have been so blessed, look down upon those who are still suffering in ignorance and/or pride?

The Holy Spirit continued this work in me this morning.  I went to get my oil changed.  I had to wait on it, which gave me about 45 minutes of free time.  I pulled out my tablet, checked Facebook, checked my email.  I got some coffee from the hospitality station.  Then I pulled out a book I’ve been carrying around with me: Speak, Lord, Your Servant Is Listening: A Daily Guide to Scriptural Prayer.  I’ve started this book a few times, but something always seems to get in the way of really digging in to it.  This morning, waiting for my oil change, the chance to do so landed in my lap.  Isn’t it great how God can use the little minutial tasks of our day to give us the time to know Him?

I started reading, and it was clear that God wanted me to get it into my heart that Protestants ARE my brothers and sisters, and ARE His sons and daughters.  A valid Baptism incorporates the recipient into the Body of Christ. A valid Baptism consists of the use of water, and the correct intent to baptize according to God’s Will (which is generally assumed when a person is baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”).  Therefore, Prostestants (excepting some, such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) are validy Baptized and are a part of the Body of Christ.

So, then, what is the difference between a Protestant and a Catholic?  My answer is Confirmation.  The Church considers Confirmation to be a sacrament of maturity.  It endows us “with special gifts of the Spirit which enable us to fulfill our function in the body of Christ.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not given solely for our own spiritual growth but for our specific role of service in the Community. … The Holy Spirit builds community.  In order for the Spirit to work, we must establish the proper conditions.  We must exhibit loving concern for one another.” (Emphasis mine, quoted from Speak Lord, Your Servant is Listening)

So Protestants are a part of the Body of Christ.  They are a part of the community of the Church.  In order for the Holy Spirit to build that community – to unify the Church, a deep desire of mine and many other Catholics – we must exhibit loving concern for all members of that community.  Protestants are not confirmed in the Church, but they are a part of it.  Confirmation is a sacrament of maturity – meaning those who do not or have not received it have not been blessed with the maturity of faith necessary to seek it.

Should we revile Protestants then, for their immaturity of faith?  Surely not; no more than we should revile a child for his immaturity of thought.  Just as we should be patient with a child and teach him to think rightly, so we must be patient with Protestants and attempt to teach them to believe rightly.  All this should be done with loving concern.  It should be done with an attitude of understanding: that our own faith is a gift and grace that we did not attain for ourselves, that Protestants are children in faith but not necessarily children in thought, that God has likely graced them with certain insights that may be greater than our own, and that, above all, they are our brothers and sisters and should be treated with the utmost respect.  After all, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42