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. Returning to it felt like admitting to my Evangelical friends I was hooking up with an old ex-girlfriend. No matter what side of Christianity I was on, there was always someone reminding me I’m either going to 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 everyone would let go of the petty differences, I 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.
Divisions throughout church history were usually the result of disagreements over biblical exegesis — oftentimes over major error. When disagreements weren’t resolved, new denominations would split off and form in a similar way cutting off a hydra’s head 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 what view of history you subscribe to. 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. Some historians say had the Council of Trent happened before Luther’s time, the majority of Western Christendom might have still remained Catholic.
While Catholicism has its own problems of internal unity, my issue with Reformation Day is it feels like a celebration of the Church’s ruptured state. It seems to pride 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, it 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 somewhat derogatory. 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 utterly exhausted of the us-versus-them mentality that continues to segregate Christianity to this very day.
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. There are times when I also find evangelism is often treated like a sales pitch. Converting people to match a certain worldview seems to take priority over caring for a person’s needs. It definitely reinforces that we ought to look after the needs of our fellow neighbors before weighing in on their personal theology. As 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.”
My biggest prayer for all believers in Christ is to not pride ourselves in segregation but seek unity through a love for God, our neighbors and for truth. Rather than weighing each other’s spiritual worth on denominational association, why don’t we start with placing our focus on Christ first? And then maybe, just maybe, the rest will follow…
But at the same time, who we believe Christ is truly matters in how we pursue Christian unity. And it is not up to me, nor anyone else on earth, to decide who He is and how we become a member of His Body.
“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