I have lead a middle school (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) Catholic religious education class for three years and this question often comes up:
What's the difference between Christians and Catholics? My friends say they are Christian, but I thought we were too. What's the difference?
The reason for their question is because their friends simply say they are "christian", not "non-denominational christian", "baptist christian", or "protestant" for example. Often, they don't even know which denomination they belong to.
Introducing them to the Reformation is a good idea, but be careful not to overload them with more information than they care to know about. It's important to simplify the subject enough that they get the gist of it.
I usually take it as an opportunity to give a brief overview of church history, including a few interesting facts that you might not otherwise get a chance to talk about. I usually summarize it like this:
- In the beginning, there was Judaism. The Jews were God's chosen people, but were awaiting a Messiah to save them.
- Then God became human and died on a cross for the salvation of everyone.
- Jesus organized a special group of 12 followers (the apostles) to lead his church, making Peter the first Pope. The other apostles became the first bishops.
- The apostles went on to ordain priests. For the next 1,500 years there was only one church, the Catholic church.
- Then in the 16th century, some people decided to "protest" the way the church was being run at the time, split off and start denominations of their own. Then over the next 500 years, more and more denominations have formed. Now there are thousands of denominations.
I'm simplifying a bit there, obviously, but this gets the point across. Then you'll be able to add in a few other factoids:
- The word "Catholic" means "universal". The early christians used the word to describe the church because it is open to everyone (not just the Jews like Judaism was before).
- This is why, in the creed, we say that "We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church" because we believe that Jesus started one church and that he wanted us to be one, it's holy because Jesus said he would protect it ("the gates of hell would not prevail against it"), it's Catholic because it's open to everyone, and it's apostolic because our priests can trace their succession back to the first apostles.
In summary, just use it as an opportunity to clear up some confusion and use it as a teaching moment. You don't need to go into the gritty details.