Christmas is a season of tradition for families all over the world. I have fond memories of making peanut brittle and sugar cookies shaped by Christmas-themed molds with my mother. One glorious tradition I inherited from my wife’s family extends far beyond the Christmas season, though, and that is homemade pizza. Every Saturday was a family effort to hand make the dough and sauce, chop and spread the toppings, then eagerly await the deliciousness as the pie cooked. As we passed that tradition on to our children, we found that our tastes varied. Hannah wanted just cheese, Stephen wanted only meat toppings, and I loved Keira’s special combo with green pepper, black olive, onion, mushrooms, and sausage. After the melted cheese spread over all of the toppings, it became a challenge to determine which part of the pizza was which. Keira developed a strategy that put toothpicks on the line where one topping mix stopped and another began, so we could determine where to slice the cooked pizza and Hannah and Stephen would not have to eat a dreaded mushroom or olive.
Just like pizza, we humans often like to slice things into different categories to keep them straight. Christianity has its slices, too. The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s largest denomination and often takes its own category, although many experts and organizations will put other ancient churches such as the Orthodox, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic families in its slice. Churches that trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation, which started five hundred years ago, are often labeled Protestant, but there has been a tendency to slice that section of the Christian pizza a few more times.
Churches that trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation, which started five hundred years ago, are often labeled Protestant, but there has been a tendency to slice that section of the Christian pizza a few more times.
I grew up in a church that would fall under the category of Mainline Protestant. We were big on tradition and social engagement. Christmas was always a special season, and every year we read Chapter Two of Luke’s Gospel that included the angel’s words: “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (RSV – the translation we heard) We always closed the candlelight service by singing echoes of that passage in Silent Night, “Christ, the Savior, is born!” However, in spite of attending that church nearly every week, I never heard what those words really meant. I never knew I needed a Savior. Perhaps I might have understood if I had paid better attention when our pastor read the words of the angel to Joseph from Matthew Chapter One, that he was to name this child Jesus because “He will save his people from their sins,” but our church did not say what sin meant. It was not until my seventeenth year that my new youth pastor explained I needed a Savior because my own sin (wrong thoughts and actions) kept me from a relationship with God and eternal life. Sin also is the ultimate cause of the personal grief I was experiencing and the more severe pain of violence and abuse suffered by people all over the world. I learned the that behind “good news” (euangellion in Greek), there is forgiveness and deliverance through faith in Jesus.
When I came to the Savior Jesus, I experienced the joy that angel promised and hundreds of millions of Christ followers through the centuries have celebrated. Christmas became more than a tradition. It became a celebration of the new life Jesus brought. Because of that, I had no difficulty identifying with the Christian pizza slice derived from the Greek word for that good news: Evangelical. It represented a commitment to share the good news with others under the firm biblical-grounded belief that Jesus is the Savior, and, as one of his followers, Peter, said shortly after his Resurrection and Ascension, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NIV)
Because of that, I had no difficulty identifying with the Christian pizza slice derived from the Greek word for that good news: Evangelical
Later, the empowering work of the Holy Spirit led me to identify with what many of my colleagues categorize as another slice of the Christian pizza: Pentecostalism. Our more experiential worship, ethnically diverse constituency, and rapid majority world growth are certainly distinctive. Some, though, want to distance themselves from the right-wing nationalism often associated with the E-word, while others of us value a free market economy supported by a democratically elected representative government and an ethically-bound national defense. Yet, the Christian pizza is big enough for all of us. The real question, though, is Christ your Lord? Have you experienced the joy of that Savior born in Bethlehem? I don’t mind putting myself in a slice that is both Pentecostal and Evangelical, because I have met the Savior and his coming is truly good news for me and all the people who will believe in him no matter what part of the pizza they claim.
I pray your joy this Christmas will be truly great as you celebrate the birth of our Savior.