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One of the things that makes my heart ache is how divided Christianity really is.
In my own experience, I’ve seen the hostility go both ways. Leaving the Catholic faith initially in my teens was a heartbreaking experience for my relatives, and returning back to it felt like admitting to my Evangelical friends I was back in a relationship with an old ex-girlfriend. No matter which side of Christianity I chose to be on, there was always someone there to reassure me I am going to either Catholic Hell or Protestant Hell.
I can’t decide which one is worse, but regardless of the outcome at least my coffee will never turn cold.
While I wish that everyone would let go of the petty differences and unite under one body, I also understand it’s not that simple. I sometimes ask myself, why can’t we all just get along? But simultaneously, like in any relationship, disagreements can cause tension. I also understand truth is not based on someone’s own opinion, and opinions are often mistaken for facts. There is no such thing as my truth, because that would be considered my opinion or assumption. This is why, to the dismay of many people, relativism does not work and truth is often viewed as offensive. Truth is eternal.
Division throughout church history was usually the result of disagreements over different interpretations of Holy Scripture and historical tradition – oftentimes over major error. Churches would continually split off and form new denominations in a similar way cutting off the head of a hydra would cause more heads to emerge in its place. One of the verses from the Bible that comes to my mind is,
“For if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand.” – Mark 3:24 CPDV
With thousands of Christian denominations worldwide, each claiming to be true and led by the Holy Spirit, which one truly is right? And with schism after schism after schism, at what point does a newly ‘reformed’ church finally get it right? At what point does constant reformation become less about spiritual revival and more about remaining trendy or culturally relevant?
What if constant reformation leads to evolving into something indistinguishable from Jesus’ original intent for the Church?
One Christian holiday I find particularly bothersome is Reformation Day – the day celebrating when Martin Luther, a former Catholic monk in Wittenberg, posted his 95 theses on the door of the All Saints Church in 1517 which sparked the dawn of the Protestant Reformation….. or the Great Revolt – depending on which side of history you’re on. Admittedly, I once viewed him as a brave hero who stood before his accusers as an advocate for truth. While Luther’s intentions were well-meaning to correct some terrible ongoing abuses within the Catholic Church (which were later addressed and corrected in the Council of Trent), his actions after his excommunication had proven to be most destructively disunifying. It has been said by church historians, had the Council of Trent happened long before Luther’s time, the majority of Western Christendom might have still remained Catholic.
My issue with Reformation Day is it feels like a celebration of the complete disunity of the church while priding itself in not being Catholic, similar to how hipsters pride themselves in conforming to non-conformist conformity. I understand history is not one-sided, and Catholicism certainly has had to answer for some seriously grave matters. But why celebrate division when we, as believers in Christ, should be striving to unite as one Body and care for all its members?
To me, Reformation Day is segregative and counter-productive when it comes to ecumenical interfaith dialogue, and does nothing to help heal old wounds from historical animosity. It should rather be more of a commemorative history lesson such as one would treat the Crusades or the First and Second World War.
I’ve often heard people quote this verse as a means to justify disassociating from another denomination,
“Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness?” – 2 Corinthians 6:14 ASV
While this verse also warns about the dangers of watering down truths with falsehoods, calling another Christian an ‘unbeliever’ because of slight differences in personal theology is nothing short of a derogatory, ad hominem attack. Are we protesting against sin, falsehood and darkness, or are we only striving to not be like Pope Francis or John Piper? All I know is I am sick and tired of the us-versus-them mentality that continues to segregate Christianity to this very day.
C.S. Lewis once mentioned in The Great Divorce,
“There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.”
Many well-meaning Christians have incredible gifts of evangelism to help make disciples of the people they meet. While spreading the Gospel message is an important factor, sometimes the value of the human person can be an afterthought, and converting people to match a certain worldview seems to take priority over caring for a person’s needs. A friend of mine once said, “People are more valuable than ideology,” and it definitely puts into perspective that we are to look after the needs of our fellow neighbors before weighing in on their personal theology.
My biggest prayer for all believers in Christ is that we will not continue to pride ourselves in segregation but rejoice in the Spirit of Truth and Love. Rather than weighing each other’s spiritual worth on whether we are Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Evangelical, Baptist, Charismatic, Mennonite, Plymouth-Brethren, Puritan, Pentecostal or whatever, why don’t we start with placing our focus on Christ first?
And then maybe, just maybe, the rest will follow.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither servant nor free; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
– Galatians 3:28 CPDV