preeeetty sure my version of Christianity is right and yours is wrong

preeeetty sure my version of Christianity is right and yours is wrong February 23, 2015

Here is an cartoon that came my way yesterday. I’m sure many of you have seen it (you may have to click on it to see it well).


It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

I’ve known a fair number of Christians who think this way about their own denomination, no matter how small–in fact, the smaller the denomination, the more likely one might be to think this way. (And I know in my student days in seminary I felt I was drawn this “chosen few” mentality.)

Most, though, bristle at the notion that one tradition has a corner on the mystery of the Christian faith.

After all, if you keep narrowing things down to your own tradition, you encourage a process of endless theological fine-tuning, that often ends on one very small group (or even one person) within a micro-movement, within a small denomination, within one of hundreds of Protestant denomination, etc., etc., being correct.

And then someone offers you some Kool-Aid–or a special limited edition theological decoder ring. Same thing.

Again, most recognize this is a problem.

So my question for this Monday morning is this: If this sort of narrowing where Christian “truth” is located is wrong, at what point does the broadening end?

If it is wrong for any one micro-element of one Christian tradition to claim exclusive rights to the eschatological fullness of Christian truth, and then we work backwards, at what point do we say, “OK, we’ve crossed the line here”?

And I’m just talking about staying within Christian boundaries. Is there one Protestant denomination or tradition that is basically right and the others wrong? Or is Protestantism as a whole basically right and Roman Catholicism or any version of Orthodoxy basically wrong?

I’m talking here not to my atheist or agnostic friends. I’m talking to Christians who are part of some Christian tradition. At the end of the day, do you think it really matters on the level of “truth” what denomination or sub-denomination, or sub-sub-sub-sub denomination you are a part of?

Or, is it all good, and the denomination you happen to be in is an accident of where you were born and the particular path your life has taken?

Do distinctions among Christians ultimately matter–not so much to us, but to God?

I suppose this post can be filed under “What is Mere Christianity?” That’s not a bad question to ask, given the post-Christian world we inhabit.

Feel free to chime in, folks–but only those who have a truly vested interest. Trolls will not be fed (i.e., pass the moderator).

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  • Peter Skett

    Great cartoon and post. I guess I would want to be as inclusive as possible. However, were the early church fathers wrong to draw lines around such matters as the humanity and divinity of Jesus?

    • Morgan

      I LOVE that cartoon!

      In my reading, Peter, the Church Fathers were playing defense more than offense – they defined and ‘drew lines’ around the nature of Christ because there were heretical movements that were leading people astray. It’s a fascinating history if you have the stamina to plow through it.

      I’m only up to about the 8th century.

      In reading, not in thinking (I hope!)

      • Andrew Dowling

        “were playing defense more than offense”

        Well . .that’s what the Fathers (history’s winners) claimed. But the reality is probably more nuanced than that.

        • Morgan

          It certainly is, yet the history of the Church in the East does include conflicts with the ‘government,’ represented by the Emperors. Several Emperors embraced positions that were opposed by both monastics and the people, and it took time and toil to preserve ‘Orthodoxy’ against what were essentially hostile rulers.

      • Rick

        I recommend Alister McGrath’s book “Heresy”, as he stresses that there were both internal and external reasons orthodoxy developed.

        • Morgan

          Of course. Very intense stuff. Thanks!

  • Great question. After being Nazarene, then nondenominational, we have settled on Anglican.

  • Liesha Petrovich

    I don’t want to follow a religion – I want to follow God. Staying true to one sub-group of Christianity isn’t my goal (now – I’m an ex-Catholic). So I’d say that if the narrowing focuses exclusively on how this one way is right, and all others are wrong, than the broadening has crossed a line and misses what Jesus set out to do.

  • marthooo

    In an albeit microscopic (because it’s based on personal experience) way, my article for the upcoming March issue of Church Music Forward struggles with this. Thank you for your post. Important grapplings. I don’t have an answer for sure-just to be open and hear that the Spirit is wild and larger than anything my peabrain can conceive.

  • Stephen W

    Looking at the history of Christianity, the Catholics are heretics (they changed the creed) and the Protestants are rebels. So surely Orthodoxy is the one-true-church?

    We should all convert (though I’m not sure to which Orthodox denomination…)

    • Morgan

      Stephen – there is no Orthodox ‘denomination.’ There are Orthodox ‘flavors,’ such as Greek, Antiochian, Russian, Romanian, and even an ‘American,” yet they are all equally Orthodox, and each of them is self-ruled.

      • Stephen W

        Whatever you call them, there are still choices 🙂

    • Dan F.

      Nope. Catholics didn’t change the Creed. It’s a translation and local use question (the filoque) and the Great Schism was primarily about politics. Also, within a generation, at the present pace, that split is going to be healed and the Eastern Churches will once more be in full communion with Rome making your distinction between Catholic and Orthodox functionally meaningless.

      • Eric Weiss

        Not a chance. The Orthodox will never accept the Primacy of Rome, and the Papacy will never let it go.

        • Dan F.

          Don’t be so sure. Christ’s prayer for unity still has power to heal if both sides will have some humility.

          • Eric Weiss

            Nope. The Orthodox are too stubborn and the RCC has made infallible pronouncements it can’t retract.

          • Dan F.

            Where’s your faith? This mountain can be moved and thrown into the sea just like any other.

        • newenglandsun

          Canon law can easily be adjusted. The Eastern Catholics see the Pope of Rome as a unifying factor for the Church with no liturgical authority over them. The key issue separating Catholics and Orthodox from each other seems to be interpretations over canon law and claims that the Catholic Church has added too much to the faith (immaculate conception, filioque clause, etc.). There are also liturgical problems with the Novus Ordo.

      • Stephen W

        Yes, they did change the creed. They changed the wording, as you have just pointed out, by including “Filioque” without the agreement of the Eastern Church. Whether this led to the great schism or not, it is still technically heretical.

        • Dan F.

          The history of the filoque is significantly more complicated than that. Saying the Creed in Latin vs Greek can change the meaning of that phrase from benign to heretical. In English it is not an issue. However, Rome has not insisted on it during any of the more recent joint prayer/ecumenical gatherings and instead has just left it off

  • Matt Soldano

    I believe what truly matters is whether or not a person seeks to find truth about God and Christ both in and out of scripture – no matter what conclusions are eventually drawn.

    “Beloved,” said the Glorious One, “unless thy desire had been for me
    thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what
    they truly seek.” – C.S. Lewis

  • Yuri Wijting

    Peter, it’s the approach toward scripture and tradition that draws boundaries among denominations. In Orthodox churches, scripture is inside the circle of tradition. Where as with Protestants, scripture is a much bigger circle with tradition being a smaller circle overlapping only a part of scripture. So with Protestants much of tradition is outside of scriputre whereas Orthodoxy see scripture within tradition. I will say this that if you don’t believe that Jesus was the Christ , and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you cannot really be in any meaningful sense a Christian. As for denominiations, well, they’re just the details.

    • kent hartmann

      what do we mean by “believe”?

      • charlesburchfield

        ultimately, to be honest, on a moment by moment basis i believe in the gospel of charles b/c i carry christ w/in. For me, an alkie, sobriety and serenity go together. If I don’t have serenity I don’t have sobriety and if I don’t have sobriety I am a devil! All idolatry is similar to dry drunkenness I think. I have also been a raging bible banger & so, for me, reading scripture was like slamming down a shot of booze.

  • colinkerr

    As our denomination discusses same-sex marriage, this has been an a topic of frequent conversation. How ok is it for Presbyterians to see differently on that issue, or should disagreement necessitate a division? If you assume we’re in a post-denominational Christianity, I would say how “open” we should be is not a matter of general theological quantity, but of specific quality that effects polity. Women in leadership, same-sex marriage, and how a church leader should “present” the Gospel seem to define boundary markers (at this moment). If you agree with me on all those three, then we’re on the same team regardless of denomination. If you don’t, then you’re playing for different team even if we’re wearing the same jerseys. I say this as an observer, of course. I try to confine my boundary marker to how one understands and presents the Gospel.

  • Matt Nyce

    As a Mennonite seminary student, I do run into that attitude of elitism a lot. There’s an oral tradition, stemming from the Reformation, of Mennonites seeing themselves as the “quiet in the land,” following the REAL teachings of Christ in their own space. I have never held to that attitude, and the seminary is very ecumenical. I met quite a few Methodists I respect a great deal, and the occasional Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Baptist. Some are fellow pacifists. Some are pointedly not. A friend of mine from my Greek classes is a former Army soldier who did two tours in Iraq and wants to a be a military chaplain. I have visited many different churches and found community there, including the Southern Baptist church I attend regularly with a group of friends from the area, and a local Anglican church I hit up whenever I feel a hankering for Communion done in the best of fashions. The Church, big C, is bigger than many of us dare admit, I have come to realize.

  • I have asked myself the same question. If I could wave a magic wand and combine as many Christian groups as I wanted into one “organization,” where would I stop that process?

    All I have to say on that is that the thief on the cross probably did not have a well thought out doctrine of justification by faith. Just sayin’.

  • David Pitchford

    The date on that chart appears to be wrong–it should read “1517 AD”.

    But seriously, you have touched on my biggest issue with Protestant denominationalism, its implicit relativism. With the many issues on which Protestants disagree and can’t come to an ‘orthodox’ consensus (the relation of free will and God’s sovereignty is a major one for me), the conclusion (in the spirit of not allowing any one tradition to have a corner on the truth) is that this is an “open-hand” issue, that a range of opinions are permissible on it, that we should disagree charitably on non-essential issues while seeking consensus on essential ones, etc. I grew tired of the erosion of the Christian faith that this produces; I couldn’t accept that it might not matter whether Calvinism or Arminianism is more correct as these have significant ramifications for God’s character. I think this approach to “open-hand” issues is backwards–it determines which doctrines are nonessential based on where there is diversity of opinion, rather than calling for unity on doctrines that are known to be essential.

  • Jim

    For the last ten years, I have found myself swimming back upstream … and life is good.

  • Chad

    I’ve always felt the boundaries should be drawn at the creedal issues of Trinity and person and work of Christ. I think outside of those boundaries there should be charity.

    • William Tarbush

      Even within issues of Trinity, there are disagreements. What is the difference between saying “got the Bible right” and “got the Trinity right”?

      • Chris Falter

        I concur that Trinitarian analogies and terminology can be hazy. We are dealing with a great mystery into which we can only see as in a mirror dimly, so humility is in order. However, it’s also pretty clear that the Bible presents a single God who is Creator and Sovereign, yet also presents three different “persons” as worthy of worship that only God deserves. Personhood can be tricky to define, but it would involve (at a minimum) identity, name, and intimate peer relationship, I think. Probably someone with an M.Div. can elucidate this far more accurately than I.

    • David Kemball-Cook

      I am a Christian and I don’t believe that the Trinity is scriptural. The councils came over 300 years after the NT was written.

      You are telling me I am not a Christian. On what basis?

      • Chris Falter

        Hi David,

        You are right that the councils came a good bit later. It’s worth noting, though, that right from the very beginning Christians were worshiping Jesus as God. To cite just one example from a great multitude, we read in Revelation 5:13:

        “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

        I would heartily recommend the standard work, Larry Hurtado’s seminal Lord Jesus Christ, if you are interested in investigating the topic of Jesus and worship in Christian origins. Have you read it?

        • David Kemball-Cook

          Yes I have read Hurtado.

          But where in the NT is there any teaching or preaching that God is three persons or that Jesus is God? These are supposed to be the foundational doctrines of Christianity. But where are they actually taught?

          You would think that Jesus, if he had known he was the second person in a Trinity, would have said something about it (or was it supposed to be a secret, for fear of offending somebody?).
          Likewise the apostles would have preached something about the threeness of God or the deity of Jesus, and this would have been recorded in Acts.

          Likewise Paul would have devoted at least a chapter of Romans to these important doctrines.

          But nothing. No teaching, no preaching, just the odd few verses with ambiguous translations that trinitarians seize upon as ‘proof’.

          These doctrines are not scriptural. It was later generations who devised them

          • Chris Falter

            Since you’ve read Hurtado, you realize that the NT depicts the Son of God, the Christ, as the object of worship.You know that the Spirit is depicted as both distinct from the Father and the Son (one sent by them) and yet somehow identical with them (referred to as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ). These Biblical data inevitably push Christians in a Trinitarian directoin, doncha think?

            I agree with you that the Nicean-Chalcedonian formulation is not Biblical data, per se. Would you agree with me that it’s a translation of Biblical data into a 4th-century Greek/Roman cultural context? And since the communion of the saints mostly existed in that context at that time, I am willing to regard it as a faithful enunciation of Biblical teaching. We might choose different language constructs or models today; for example, we might illustrate the divine relationships with quantum entanglement rather than perichoresis (a circle dance). But still we should be aiming at the same result, IMO.

            I do appreciate your bringing up the distinction between Biblical data and doctrinal formulation, David. It’s easy to lose sight of that distinction, which has important implications for the way we think about theology today.

          • David Kemball-Cook

            Thanks Chris

            I said I had read Hurtado, not that I agreed with him!

            If Jesus is worshipped as a divine figure alongside God, that makes two gods.

            If we see Jesus as the (human) agent of God, now glorified and made into a life-giving spirit, and the Spirit as God in outreach, all becomes clear (to me at least).

            After many years as a trinitarian, I feel I can now be confident that I can believe what the Bible says about God, that he is indeed .one’. And I don’t have to believe six impossible things before breakfast, such as ‘So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.’


          • Chris Falter

            And thanks, David. Your perspective seems, if I understand it correctly, to elevate mathematical rationality to the top of the hermeneutical food chain. I disagree with that approach, but I commend and respect your lucid explanation.

            You stated that you disagree with Hurtado, but it seems to me that you’re actually disagreeing with the apostolic authors of the New Testament and the communities of faith they founded. Hurtado’s work unearths what those communities and their leaders believed and practiced, and your response is that what they believed and practiced is irrational, so you’d rather go in a different direction. Am I understanding your perspective correctly?


          • David Kemball-Cook

            No I don’t believe I am disagreeing with the NT writers.

            Paul for instance sends greetings from ‘God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. Christ is there alongside God, but he is not portrayed as divine (still less as the Second Person in a Trinity). He is a glorified man, the mediator between God and man.

            The whole NT, gospels, Acts, epistle, emphasizes the subordination of Jesus to God. There is nothing about a tripersonal God.


          • Chris Falter

            Hi David,

            Hope your week has started well!

            I’m trying very hard to understand the direction of your argument. For example, you declare that the terminology “Lord Jesus Christ” indicates Jesus Christ is not divine, but your declaration would be a minority opinion among NT scholars. Please note that I am working hard to follow your argument, but I’m having trouble connecting the dots, so to speak.

            I also take interest in your declaration that “the whole NT … emphasizes the subordination of Jesus to God.” It seems that you did not even bother to read what I had written, frankly. I mentioned 3 different passages that point to the fully divine nature of Christ, and you just ignored them completely. I am disappointed, because it seemed that we had a good conversation going, but now it seems that you are treating the thread as an opportunity to just assert whatever you wish to assert without bothering to listen to anyone else. I mention this because I am hoping to get our conversation back on track, because it has been quite interesting up until now.

            I look forward to your reply. Have a great week, too!

          • David Kemball-Cook

            Hi Chris

            Sorry I did not mean to ignore what you quoted.

            I did not see three passages asserting the divine nature of Christ, and cannot see them now, looking over the dialogue. Maybe they got lost in the ether. What are these texts?

            I saw Rev 5:13. But that shows the Lamb receiving honour and blessing, alongside the one on the throne, but not that Jesus is (in some way) ‘God’.

            ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ as a title does not imply divinity. ‘Lord (kyrios)’ in the NT does not imply divinity, as you must already know.

            As an example of Jesus’ subordination to God, John 5:30 is a good example
            ‘I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.’

            But there are many such texts, as you are doubtless aware.


          • Chris Falter

            Hi David,

            I appreciate your patience, and I hope you enjoyed a long and restful weekend. And may your favorite college men’s basketball team defeat UK!

            I’ll provide the references for the passages, to make our conversation more productive:

            John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one”

            John 8:58 – “Before Abraham was, I am”

            Philippians 2:6,7 – “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

            Rev. 5:13 would actually provide support for the deity of Christ, as it would be blasphemous for any being who is not God to share in God’s blessing and honor.

            John 1:1 is also quite relevant: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Clearly this is a reference to Jesus Christ, since John 1 continues in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Would you agree that the Word in John chapter 1 is a reference to Jesus Christ?

            John 5:30 speaks of the incarnation of the Son of God. With respect to the human nature of Christ, He could of his own self do nothing, and sought the will of the Father. I’m not sure why you think this would contradict the doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, it supports the distinction between the Father and the Son that exists alongside their unity.

            You could, I suppose, accuse me and everyone else who believes in the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity as spouting nonsense. Simultaneously distinct and unified? Simultaneously three and one? Yes, I would plead guilty in a heartbeat. My only contention is that this is what the Bible teaches, and I believe it because in my own life I have encountered the reality of the mystery of Christ in God.



          • David Kemball-Cook

            Hi Chris
            No reply in a week, so I presume you have given up
            Perhaps you think that you cannot refute my claim that there is no tripersonal God in the NT, Also that Jesus always subordinates himself to God, and is never shown as a divine Second Person.

            If you have given up replying for that reason, I think it is a good reason! I find that when I ask trinitarians where the Trinity is actually taught or preached in the NT, there is no reply.


          • Chris Falter

            Hi David,

            I have been doing a consulting engagement halfway across the country for the past week; please accept my apologies for not replying earlier.

            You remember how Jesus stated that if they don’t believe Abraham, they won’t believe someone who comes back from the dead? That’s kind of where I’m at in this discussion. Hurtado lays out very, very strong evidence that the community of Christ’s followers regarded Him right from the beginning as fully God, in every sense of the word, while also fully human. And if you won’t believe Hurtado, why would I think that you would believe someone like me, no matter what I said?

            But since you want to talk about the Scriptures, let’s talk about them for a minute. I am convinced that Nicea and Chalcedon got it right because of, among others, the Gospel of John passages (“I and the Father are one”; “Before Abraham was, I am”) and Paul’s kenotic passage in Philippians (“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”)

            You probably know about them, but say that there are other passages that say other things, therefore, these passages have to be interpreted differently than what they seem to say. At least that’s what other anti-Trinitarians have argued to me. If you wish to take a different tack, I’m all ears.

            Anyway, I would recommend that instead of giving different weights to different types of passages, why not read them together as a whole? And reading the distinction passages (cited by anti-Trinitarians) and the unity passages (cited above) together is what led the church fathers (and your humble servant) to the doctrine of the Trinity.

            I also aver that the subordination passages about Jesus and the Father have to be read alongside the unity passages I cited. And again, it’s important to incorporate all the data, even though it makes the reality a little messy and hard to explain. And here, as you are aware, the Trinitarian doctrine states that the subordination passages refer to the human nature of Christ in relation to God, and the unity passages refer to the divine nature of the Son in relation to the Father.

            Have a good day and a good weekend, David. I’ll be traveling this weekend and busy next week, but I’ll try to keep up.


  • Xerepo

    That cartoon is just so ver true. I have now for a few years wrestle with that question about what is at the core of the Christian Faith? What is the minimum you need to believe to be a Christian? This has come as an even more painful need as some take the time to argue that the 21 Coptic murdered by ISIS weren’t really Christians, so we shouldn’t call them martyrs. Thank you Dr. Enns for articulating this issue so clearly.

    • Morgan

      Oh my – the Copts aren’t Christians?

      Did you know that they were Christian before the New Testament was written down? Did you know that they were Christian before any European was Christian? Did you know that it was ‘Copts,’ such as St. Athanasius of Alexandria, who almost single-handedly fought against heresies at the risk of his own life and liberty?

      My friend, if the Copts ain’t Christian, none of us are.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Morgan, Xerepo was noting others claim that, not himself.

        • Morgan

          I’m sorry. I’ve seen other blogs and other commenters make such statements, and I guess I posted with that in mind. My mistake. Sorry, Xerepo!

  • I have found Greg Boyd’s “concentric circles” framework for this very helpful. In the middle is the person of Jesus. In the next circle you get orthodox dogma, i.e. the creeds before the Great Schism. Then you get doctrine, which may have some meaningful consequences but can vary widely. Finally, simple opinion, which may be interesting but doesn’t really matter that much.

    When we are discussing our differences with other Christians, it is incredibly helpful to remember what category of differences we are talking about. Most of them are about doctrine or opinion. Few are about dogma, but there may be a few like Oneness Pentecostals. And as far as I’m concerned, if you’ve still got Jesus at the middle, we’ve still got a much larger common ground than differences out in the other circles.

    Denominations can still be somewhat useful, although they definitely often have more negative consequences than positive. The labels, when everyone understands them, can be a good way to summarize what you think. There are some things that practically just don’t work to have going on in the same congregation – you can’t both ordain women and not ordain women, have baptism only for adult believers and have baptism for infants, etc. – but even with those we can be operating in separate local churches while refusing to forget that they still have Jesus in the middle, too.

  • David

    I seem to be some what in the same boat as Jim, for the past 10 years or so I have been swimming back upstream as well, having been way down stream (mine is the only true church) for about 25 or so years. But yes there must be a point where the broadening ends denominationally. I am not sure that we as humans know where that point is, that is above our pay grade as they say. I say that because doctrinal orthodoxy may not be a sufficient line of demarcation, given that God looks at the heart. Rom 9: 21-22 and the thief on the cross may be useful in this regard

  • I think in all of these things God’s concern is with the heart. Are we truly trying to understand and live out the ways he has called us too? We can look back on denominations and theological perspectives from the past that now seem ridiculous and in many ways not Christ like.

    Would we say that they weren’t trying or were being willfully ignorant of God? Probably not. So I wonder if God is less worried about ALL of the sound doctrine as much as a heart that is honestly trying to find him.

    There probably is some objective truth God is drawing all his people too (I would guess around how be truly loving as he is, but it’s a guess) but no one has the market corned on it. We’d do well to learn from each other more than try to ensure everyone knows why our group is right.

    Edit: there’s an important differentiation that we often don’t make in these types of situations. When we talk about being Christian what do we mean? Do we mean getting into heaven or being Christ-like in the way we live? The denominations often spring from items that would, for most, not dictate your salvation (getting into heaven) but the practical way you act (more or less Christ-like).

  • Dr. Donny

    The question is similar to asking what makes a Democrat or Republican. Just what does one have to ‘believe’ to be a party member, or a Christian. And simply believing in something is in itself insufficient since the concept of belief is very soft. One can believe ‘strongly’, ‘weakly, etc. A useful definition of ‘belief” is ‘the probability that a concept, world view, claim, etc. is correct.’ Thus, I personally think the existence of God has a probability of 95%, but that the creedal claim of the Trinity is no more than 50% likely. But, I ‘believe’ in both. So am I a Christian or not?

    • Gary

      Go a church’s membership class and make these statements. You’ll get their answer.

      • Dr. Donny

        Not sure I understand what you mean. I already have spoken to many other Christian friends and none have said that just because I have doubts, I am not a Christian. Furthermore, I had a pastor who stated that the faith levels of his parishioners varied all over the place. The creeds begin with “I believe..” and not “I know…” And membership classes are usually for neophytes and present denominational distinctives, not the interesting and more difficult questions addressed by Dr. Enns.

  • Kim Fabricius

    Yeah: “You worship God in your way and I/we in his.”

    On Matthew 7:21-23.
    “It is basic to Matthew’s idea of judgement that the [i.e., his] community is apparently not given precedence a priori on Judgement Day…. All that ultimately matters are their works [i.e., what they do]. Before the Judge, all lances are of equal length. The sole advantage granted to readers of Matthew’s Gospel is that the evangelist tells them precisely that.” “What is more, this applies equally to Christians and non-Christians alike.”
    (Ulrich Luz, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew [1995], pp. 61, 59.)

    Thus also Judgement in Matthew 25:31-46: “Surprise! Surprise!”

    So even “Mere Christianity” doesn’t ultimately matter. What ultimately matters is “Mere Humanity”. Or as Eugene Peterson translates Micah 6:8:

    “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.
    It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love,
    And don’t take yourself too seriously —
    take God seriously.”

  • Adversarial for fun

    What s Mere Christianity?

    The Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed.

  • David Peachy

    Though the funny may be true in the narrow sense that marginal groups often claim to have exclusive access to the truth (Gnosticism in the 1st century as well as Jim Jones in the twentieth), most people will understand this funny in the sense that no one can claim to know absolute truth. Anyone who believes Jesus’ statement that He is the way , the truth, and the life, is just as deluded and ignorant as the school kid in the funny. The modern anti-religious movement allows for only one truth, and that is, no one can make valid religious truth claims.

  • Raised as a Wesleyan, I left for Bible college believing that I was part of a few. As I have traveled through life my acceptance has broadened. I am able to embrace many from a multiple of Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

    I think Paul gives us a great starting point in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 of the core beliefs of the Gospel. I view it as a wagon wheel. The hub is this passage of scripture. Everything else is contained in an outward spoke taking us to the peripheral issues. These peripheral issues seem to be where we like to spend our time debating.

    One further thought; we Protestants have founded our doctrine on protest. Once one protests and defies authority it is easier to do again and again. If we don’t like what is being presented then we “protest” by beginning something new. I believe this is evident in the number of denominations in existence.

    As for me, I will continue to open my arms and mind and hope to grow with others.

  • Derek

    I try and see these questions in light of a Christian worldview. Basically at the end of the day it seems to come down to the new birth/regeneration. Those who have the Spirit belong to Christ and the church and this fact spans a wide range of denominations.

    Although, I would also factor in the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit that seems to bring to light and life the core doctrines of the faith for the elect. So even though there won’t be 100% agreement there will be more-or-less a “one mindedness” amongst those that are part of the invisible church.

  • But if it’s just a chosen few, Christians need to rationalize why God is such a poor teacher that so few of his students graduate into heaven. Teachers pass 100% of their students all the time, but only a few of God’s beloved children make it into heaven?

    Someone needs to do a rewrite on this story.

    • Bob,

      I believe it was a statement in the early church that the hard thing was not creating the world in 7 days but saving it once it had fallen. And we are very fallen to be sure. I submit we have no idea how evil and corrupt we really are. We keep in mind that God is apt to give us what we want. No rewrite necessary, I suggest.


  • Doug

    “Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.” Thomas Merton.
    I think what we think about Religion , especially our “Religion” and how we approach it, says more about us, than God.
    Seek and you will find. I think we all find what we “look” for to some degree, sometimes the more we study translations and book after book, the less we know. I think we have lost the big picture, and fight over petty items.
    I read somewhere God’s only language is Silence.

    • Lars

      If God is silent then such a phylogenetic tree of truth is exactly what you expect (with plenty of extinctions along the way). About the only thing I’m certain of is that when I finally embraced universalism, my headaches went away.

  • Peter,

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    I do think it matters very much. I am a confessional Lutheran (LC-MS) and very consciously so. I had to laugh at your image, but that is pretty much how I see it (though not the comments made by the people looking at the chart : ) ). That doesn’t mean that everyone else is out or even that everyone in that church body is in. No, definitely a remnant theology going on here. God’s people have always been fractured. No real surprises there.


  • T Off

    “Or is Protestantism as a whole basically right and Roman Catholicism or any version of Orthodoxy basically wrong?”

    I think Protestantism as a whole, as opposed to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, is basically wrong with the way it confesses and refers to the Christian Faith. We cannot pry into a body of religious writings (the Sacred Scriptures), written over several thousands of years across a variety of cultures, the last of which was published 2000 years ago, and expect to accurately pound out the “fundamentals” of what it “means to be Christian.” There are thousands of years of debate as to what belongs in this collection in the first place (Catholics & Orthodox, Protestants and Jews still don’t agree as to what belongs in what we call the Old Testament). So I think “accuracy” is the wrong place to look.

    If you don’t have a church to physically point to, the broadening will continue ad infinitum. Protestants ought to give up on seeking any kind of unity they can physically identify, because their brand of Christianity does not allow for it. And it is my opinion that they should be okay with that. Regardless of what Luther originally did or didn’t mean by Sola Scriptura, there is no such thing as a “mere Christianity.” What would that even look like? The moment you clarify a belief, you have entered the world of distinctions. The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church already know this. And during Luther’s time, and still to this day, the Roman Catholic Church claims its confessions are 100% Biblical confessions. There is nothing in Catholic doctrine, the RCC claims, that contradicts Sacred Scripture – a collection of writings, by the way, that the RCC itself agreed was the literary groundwork of its Christian Faith. When the Church hierarchy decided upon this, by the way, its hierarchy did not dismantle. It’s Marian, soteriological and ecclesial doctrines did not all of a sudden disappear. The Church maintained it had every right to keep them. The very reason it DID include these Sacred Scriptures was because they complemented its tradition and theology, because these were the Scriptures that defined its longstanding, 400 year-since tradition, which they called the Christian Faith. They knew that the Jesus they believed in was a Jesus already filtered through 400 years of scholarly writings. And at this time, the Apostolic Succession was, clear as day, the defining signifier of the Christian Church, the Catholic Church (there was no such thing as “little c” catholicism).

    So when you ask about “Protestantism as a whole”, what IS Protestantism, even? The only agreement on that is that one is not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox but wants to maintain some kind of a Christian faith – one is distinctly a part of a confession that found its primary identity in Germany, England and France 500 years ago. But even at that time there was hardly any fundamental agreement on anything. Melanchton, for instance, fully endorsed justification by faith and works, whereas Luther did not, and literally almost threw the epistle of James out of the canon because it did not agree with the message of his Jesus. A Jesus he received only through a small faction of a much larger tradition, and only some of the writings of St. Augustine. Luther and Calvin both missed out on many of the other things St. Augustine wrote, which they would doggedly refer to as “Romanist” or “Papist”.

    As a Catholic, I completely understand and sympathize with where Luther, Melanchton and Calvin were at. I might have joined them at the time. There were undefined things going on in the Church. There was heresy touted as doctrine, and there was a lack of un-adressed things that the Church had yet to address, but the fact is that it eventually did address some things, refuted other things, and affirmed some other things these men wrote, based off of the very Church Fathers the Reformers referenced as their supposed authorities.

    The point is that, as long as one defines oneself as a Reformer, as a Protestant – one ought to be seeking every opportunity to “reform” the Catholic Church, and one’s identity should always rely on where one departs from the teachings and authority of the Catholic Church. As a Protestant, the only unity one should be seeking, is a unity with Rome. And if you hold beliefs that are not Roman Catholic, you ought to try and hold the RCC faithful to those teachings wherein you see it has gone astray. Rather one likes it or not, if one is a Protestant, one is really a child of Rome, seeking to reform Rome, seeking to reform the Church. You will run the risk of being declared a heretic, by, potentially, Christ’s one true Church, but that is just the risk you ought to be willing to take as a self-proclaimed Protestant.

    There is no “mere Christianity” and never was. It is a myth, a fable, and anyone trying to “return” to this fanciful time is deluding oneself and steering in the complete opposite direction of what Luther or any of the original Reformers would have wanted.

    • Dan F.

      Well said

    • Chris Falter

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment from the Roman Catholic perspective. The RC church actually presents a very interesting example of unity in diversity. My very conservative brother and his family attend Latin Mass at a little parish in Wisconsin, but the Church also welcomes Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who work for social justice. In fact, the Church has often permitted a certain amount of theological exploration at the boundaries, as when Augustine was not reprimanded for advocating unconditional election and merely compatibilist free will contra pretty much every previous scholar of the Church.

    • Chai Trzos

      I could not agree more.

    • Gail Finke

      I agree, and the reason I am posting here is not necessarily to convince Protestants but to witness that there is another way to approach things from square one. Non-Catholic and non-Orthodox Christians either look at things from a very narrow perspective — they and only they, in the entire history of the world, are correct; or from a vague and free-wheeling one — it doesn’t much matter what you believe, as long as you believe some fundamentals that we can generally agree on if we don’t talk about it much. Either of these approaches ends up the same way: in endless recreations of the wheel, as many Christianities as their are Christians. That has some positives when it comes to getting along (and is in many ways a reaction to European religious wars that ended up with established religions in each country, about as far from the ideals of the Reformation as one can get) but it progressively weakens faith and makes it difficult, if not impossible, for people to unite against tyranny or persecution. I’m not a Catholic for cultural reasons, but because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that all Christians are really part of the Church He founded. If not, then He wasn’t God and he didn’t really found anything and the whole idea is one giant mistake.

  • MRamey

    Love that cartoon! I use it to start out my lecture on different Christian traditions every semester. Well shared!

  • Michael Anderson

    Of course all of our theological minutiae matters deeply to us–humans use differentiation to create a sense of identity. I think you’re right to ask the question of whether those differences matter to God or not.

    Going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that the two central things that Jesus asked of us is faithfulness/”belief” (cf Gospel of John) and continuing the work of the Kingdom of God. I take it that as long as a denomination affirms the basic Apostle’s Creed–and lives that belief out–then they are meeting the first criterion. In regards to advancing the Kingdom of God, I’ve seen that having good theology really does shape what ministry we perform and how we perform it. Perhaps there is a perfect theology out there that is all-encompassing of the scope of the Kingdom of God and performs the ministry perfectly, but it is more likely that instead each denomination has areas of expertise. For example, as a fellow Messiah alum, I know you are familiar with the BIC’s expertise in community. The Vineyard folk I am currently running with, on the other hand, are quite frankly terrible at community but experts in “power evangelism”, demonstrating the superiority of God’s Kingdom over the kingdom of darkness through the “dunamis” of the Holy Spirit. I would love to see these two guys learn from each other more, but even without our unity, the work of the Kingdom is getting more done because we have differences.

    • Michael – I agree with so much of this comment.

      I like to think of the different denominations as facets on a stone. We might get a blinding flash of reflected Truth from each and every one of them depending on how the stone is turned. And we need each other. We are truly a body of Christ and cannot function without one another. I have massive conflict with some more conservative Christians (which I concede is often a misnomer), but I believe we’re called to stay in communion with one another despite profound disagreement because working through those differences is a part of the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

  • Stuart Blessman

    “What is Mere Christianity?”


  • Honordads

    Jesus didn’t start the church until about 33 A.D., so the chart is already wrong.

  • charlesburchfield

    Just a thot: what denomination did the thief on the cross belong to?

    • New Orthodox Reformed Baptist Church of Our Lady Who Is Standing Right There, Idumean Synod

  • “If you want to know what’s divine in the different Christian
    denominations, look at what they have in common. The differences
    between them are mostly human invention for human purposes, and have
    been put there with the specific objective of dividing and
    conquering, to provide leaders with loyal and committed followers.”

    That’s a quote from my free e-book Walkabout: The Story of a Brief Century. You can read that discussion here:

    • charlesburchfield


  • David

    The chart is off a bit. There was a universal (catholic) church for 1500 years before all the splits occurred.

    • Read up on the early church, David. The Greek Orthodox church and the Catholic church split up a long time before that. A thousand years or so. Not to mention the Coptic church. Plus a number of heretical sects, some of which may still be around.

    • Judy Buck-Glenn

      Oh come on–there has NEVER been a “universal church”! Celtic? Coptic? Arianism? Every “heresy” is simply a splinter Christianity that got trashed by “orthodoxy”.

    • Stephen W

      Or not. The Oriental Orthodox Church split from the rest in the 5th century.

    • Caliga

      No. There’s also the orthodox church, with the same claims as the catholic. And you don’t really think that the church of 1500 is the same you had in 100 AD? Actually, there was not even “one” church back then. The bible itself tells us about different views (that the apostels tried to correct) in the early churches.

      • T Off

        Yes, and the successors of those apostles, both equally contained within the RCC & EOC, have “tried to correct” those views via declarations of heresy. This isn’t the same kind of splintering. Protestants have no such claim to a succession. Only ideas. During the apostles’ time, there were also plenty of lay people who dissented, but their dissent did not have the blessing of the authority of the apostles or their successors (such as St. Timothy, or St. Ignatius of Antioch).

    • Alex

      East/West (c.1000)?
      Myaphysite/Dyophysite/Chalcedonian (451)?
      Nicene/Arian (325)?
      Donatists/~”Augustinian” (4th century)?

      To say that some of these were/are heresies is begging the question.

      • Josh M

        First correct use of ‘begging the question’ I’ve seen in… months. Thanks!

    • Linda

      IIRC, there was a split over Christology as early as Chalcedon in the 5th Century. Then, the great schism of 1054AD which divided Eastern Orthodoxy from the Western Church.

  • Brian Westley

    Or, is it all good, and the denomination you happen to be in is an accident of where you were born and the particular path your life has taken?

    Do distinctions among Christians ultimately matter–not so much to us, but to God?

    Why do you put the demarcation at “denominations” and not religions themselves?

    “Or, is it all good, and the religion you happen to be in is an accident of where you were born and the particular path your life has taken?”

    • peteenns

      I made that clear in my post, Brian.

      • Brian Westley

        You stated that that’s what you were doing (“And I’m just talking about staying within Christian boundaries”), but I’m asking why. You don’t appear to justify drawing the line there, you simply state you are drawing it there.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Because IMO, and I’m not speaking for Pete, expanding the boundaries muddies the discussion by turning it into yet another online tired atheist vs theist debate. Yawn. It’s actually more interesting if you look at the psychological mechanics of this issue interfaith.

        • Gary

          I see it as more a matter of a continuum anyhow. You mention “boundary” but whose boundaries are you using? Christianity is a bit like Europe before Westphalia–everybody draws the boundaries a bit differently.

  • rjsm

    “At the end of the day, do you think it really matters on the level of “truth” what denomination or sub-denomination, or sub-sub-sub-sub denomination you are a part of?”

    Doesn’t matter a bit. As long as the denomination acknowledges that it doesn’t matter a bit. Otherwise it matters a ton.

  • Gary

    What I think I find most fascinating is how theologically empty this problem all is. I’ve been to a number of churches across that chart over the years and, in my experience, it’s only the Orthodox and Catholic who have much theological consistency over time.

    Soon to start my sixth decade of life, I’ve been amazed how much individual churches theologically shift over time. What one pastor does and doesn’t say is extremely different from his predecessor but a few decades prior–in the same building to much of the same audience. I personally know a number of pastors who are employed under a statement of faith that they’d never be able to come up with if you gave them a white sheet of paper and unlimited time.

    From pulpit to pew, it’s even more diverse. Among Evangelicals, almost 1/3 don’t know or aren’t sure whether God the Father is more divine than Jesus. More than 1/4 think that Jesus is or might be the first creature created by God. Nominally Trinitarian and Christological matters are way back on the Christian phylogenetic theology tree, but if you simply listen to people in their own words, there’s very little correspondence between what they actually believe and what they’re supposed to in the denomination or group or statement of faith at hand. Perhaps it’s related to hearing so many inconsistent inputs year over year that they just reduce to self-doubt, or tune out, or something to cope with the theological inconsistencies.

    The context of the comic is the membership class. Given so few already on the inside believe or know the distinctive, belief itself is practically reduced to a joke. Imagine verbalizing any meaningful thought in that context. You’ll certainly get a pastor’s thought bubble of… “Oh, a trouble maker…” The pastor’s looking for people who can give money, not ask too many questions about anything theological, and meaningfully contribute to lay leadership of programs.

    Once at a new attendees’ event at a large church, they handed out pieces of paper for us to submit questions to the senior pastor to be read aloud and then responded to. I wrote this:

    “I can’t say I believe all the ‘non-negotiables’ you mentioned. Am I welcome here? If so, how?”

    I folded up my sheet of paper and put it on my group’s table. The junior pastor walked around and collected all the submitted questions.

    I think all of the other questions were read aloud and responded to by the senior pastor.

    Usually the tree better explains how the group came to be than what they believe today. Think of it as the same as apostolic succession, but with emphasis on schism rather than catholicity.

  • Chris

    Pete, one of the biggest reasons I have come to identify less and less with progressive Christianity is that it seems like just another iteration of the phenomenon described in the cartoon: not only do they accept gays and women as priests, they also have a distinct tendency to think that if people just approached the Bible with a bit more nuance, it would suddenly dawn on them that the Bible doesn’t actually condemn gays or women or whatever. “Jesus is so lucky to have us.” Christianity is the longest-running series of retconned histories in the world.

    (EDIT: just to be clear, my problem here is not with including gays and women, which I very much support; it’s with the clever histories we tell to pretend like we are the ones who finally got everything right.)

    Rather than search for “Mere Christianity,” I think it is best that we give up that search and instead ask better questions, like “What is good?” and “How do I love other people?” and see Christianity as a collection of traditions with some kind of family resemblance trying to address these questions. If people began approaching Christianity like that, I might have an easier time identifying with it. Right now, though, I’ve started calling myself a plain and simple “theist.”

  • Jessica

    Non-negotiable to God is this–Belief that Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to Earth to die for my sins, and arose from the dead to conquer Satan. I accept the gift acknowledging I am incapable of keeping the law and need a Savior.

    The plan is not complicated. Man makes it complicated by trying to add, subtract, and interpret. That is why the faith of a child is the best faith. Accept the gift. The rest is just details.

    • Aaron

      What if the gift was the same gift before Jesus? If Jesus is just the expression of what has always been then are we limited to your statement alone?

      • Jessica

        The cross is the central point of all history. God’s plan of sending his son to save mankind has been in place since original sin entered the world. God used the law to show mankind that he/she is incapable of keeping the law (being righteous/holy/good) on his/her own. The sins of mankind before the cross were atoned for by sacrifices that merely rolled all sin forward– to the cross. Mankind looked forward to the cross in faith. The sins of mankind after the cross are atoned for by mankind looking back to the cross in faith. Therefore yes, there is no salvation apart from belief that sin has been covered by Jesus death and resurrection. The gift is Jesus from Adam to present day.

        • Aaron

          Thank you for responding! So if God’s plan has always been to save, which I agree with. Who is God saving us from?

          • Jessica

            God is saving us from an eternity of being separated from him. God is holy. All in his presence must be holy as well. That is not possible without Jesus, who was the holy and perfect sacrifice that covers sin and makes man holy. Therefore I can be with God for eternity.

          • Aaron

            I hear what you’re saying. Going back to your original statement, “The plan is not complicated. Man makes it complicated by trying to add, subtract, and interpret.” What you propose is rather complicated then. In essence, what I hear you saying is God loves us, but can’t be with us because we are imperfect (our dirtiness will contaminate his cleanness), so unless we say what He wants us to say He will separate Himself from us for eternity. Thankfully He sacrificed an innocent, fully God fully man, being in our place so that He no longer has to punish us (the people that are actually guilty). We call this the “Good News”.

            However, when we look at the way Jesus (God in flesh) actually lived, he touches the dirty and made the dirty clean. Additionally if we used this method of sacrificing an innocent party to pardon the guilty in order to “make things right” I doubt many people would say we really made it right and would probably lean to the opposite and say we made it worse.

            If we are trying to keep it simple I would propose God has always invited people to know Him. God has always been able to be around the dirty. People don’t believe this and have separated themselves from Him. So to demonstrate the truth, he came to Earth in the person of Jesus who we hung on a cross because he was not the God people believed he should really be. But by rising from the dead he proved he was God and that God has always been able/willing to forgive… even His enemies. To me this is better news and way simpler to understand.

  • berryfriesen

    God’s work of saving Earth and the cosmos occurs through the body of Christ, that is, through the faithful witness of human communities that have the faith of Jesus and live by God’s justice-righteousness. So yes, it “ultimately” matters whether or not a community’s (denomination’s) witness is faithful or not.

    Jesus said his faithful followers would bind and loose, name and forgive sin. We will never all agree on how to do this, but that is the vocation of a faithful witness all the same.

  • Andrew Dowling

    This conversation through Christian history is fascinating because the root of Christianity is essentially heretical Judaism (remember the word ‘heretic’ in and of itself means nothing negative, it’s simply varying from established belief and practice . . and every religious tradition is a confluence and evolution of “orthodox” and “heretical” ideas . . you can’t have one without the other).

    This took hundreds of years to reconcile, and the two failed Jewish uprisings against Rome pretty much sealed the deal for the post Pauline Gentile church to ultimately prevail, as the other main branch of Christianity with strong (and I’d argue stronger) apostolic ties got crushed and dispersed. But it did have a lasting influence, as did other long declared “heresies” such as Gnosticism, Pelaganism, Arianism etc. What is now considered orthodoxy (and no universal agreement exists on that) is flavored with the herbs and spices of heresy; it’s how religions adapt and thrive.

  • TXGuy

    Growing up in the conservative churches of Christ, I was taught and believed that we were the only ones going to Heaven. Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, and even more liberal churches of Christ — those that were okay with contemporary Christian music, or — gasp! — dancing, were all pretty much on par with Satanists as far as their standing with God.

    Later in life I joined the International Churches of Christ (aka “Crossroads”/ “Boston Movement” / Discipling Movement) which believed that the Churches of Christ had gotten far off-track and were no longer right with God… the “one true church” circle got even smaller! Since leaving that church in 2004, it has again splintered, with a new sub-group claiming to be the only REAL group of “truly sold-out disciples.” I see a trend here…

    The older I’ve gotten and the more people I’ve gotten to know from different churches, the more I’ve grown to believe that the passage about different parts of the body all having their own intrinsic value and importance may apply to all the various church groups; perhaps all bring something of vital importance to the overall whole of God’s Kingdom.

  • TXGuy

    There’s a book of cartoons about the “one true church” mindset that’s actually quite funny, and many can be seen here:

  • Chris Falter

    I think much of the theological richness (to use a circumlocution) stems from the necessity of translating the core message into ever changing cultural and linguistic contexts. I’ll never forget sitting in a class with Chuck Kraft at Fuller and hearing him describe the various Christian movements across the ages and continents as facets of a diamond. It’s a wonderful model for thinking about this issue.

  • James

    I don’t think we should get so discouraged by interdenominational (if that’s not a word, it should be) frictions that we abandon a healthy desire to know the truth. Things that don’t “ultimately” matter may still have disastrous short-term consequences. Isn’t there a way to humbly disagree on those things?

  • Chai Trzos

    I would like to recommend a book to all, “Ordinary Radicals” by Shane Claiborne. He set out on a quest to find “real” Christianity, and to live it. Personally, I think he hits the nail on the head. I like to focus on what we have in common and to follow Jesus as closely as possible. If I spend all my time critiquing others I will have no time to live out the Gospel. To this end I respect others who differ from myself and I attempt to follow Christ. What did he say? What did he do? What didn’t he say and what didn’t he do?

  • In Judaism, contradictory interpretations by rabbis are preserved in midrashim as equally authoritative, and rabbinical students to this day pair up and debate the meanings of the Scriptures as a fundamental way to learn. It’s almost as though the community reasoning together about the Scriptures has inherent value outside of the discovery and propagation of the One True Truth.

    That religion considers their Scriptures highly authoritative, and many MANY have died for those teachings. They aren’t 4000 years of postmodern epistemology, but they have a level of comfort with disagreement about interpretations that I’m not sure we’ve ever learned from.

    You have rabbis disagreeing with each other in midrashim over whether Ezekiel’s temple is spiritual or physical, future, or past, and all of these observations are recorded and used for instruction. Leave it to us to be all, “What? You’re a mid-trib pre-beast post-trumpetaterian? I will fight you to the ends of the earth!”

  • Gail Finke

    As a Catholic, I have a different view. Catholicism, I believe, contains the fullness of the Church — and there are all sorts of what we call “spiritualities” within it. If you have a Franciscan outlook on things, you are more into social justice and mercy. But you don’t think every other Catholic is WRONG. If you have a Dominican outlook, you are more into logical and reason and preaching. But you don’t think every other Catholic is WRONG. You can be a hermit or a governor, a mother or a nun, a Biblical scholar or a person who hardly reads the Bible but devotes his life to the poor. The Catholics of the 700s or the 1300s or the 1600s or the 1800s would appear different in many ways but we all believe the same thing and are still the same Church now. We encompass it all in a very broad tent with many ways to practice one faith.

    To me, it seems that Protestants and nondenominational Christians grab one thing they like and go with it, rejecting everyone else and surrounding themselves with people who are exactly like themselves in approach and taste (and usually race, culture, income and educational level, and so on). They read the Bible and decide what they think about it, then look for a church that thinks the same. And what about the Orthodox? I know this is a broad brush and I’m not claiming it of everyone, but many of the Protestants and nondenominational Christians I know seem to regard Orthodox Christianity as almost from another planet — if they think about it at all. If a type of Christianity doesn’t encompass and acknowledge the ancient Orthodox ways of faith, then IMHO it can’t claim to be true because they are just as legitimate.

    Jesus said that we are all to be one. To me that means one visible Church, just as it did to the early Christians, not a convenient but indefinable “invisible church” that anyone who believes anything can confidently decide he’s part of… even if he’s the only one in the world.

    • How is defining various groups as heretical and overpowering them at Councils and excommunicating them different from Protestant splintering? I could have one unified church, too, if I anathematized everyone who thought the church was wrong.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of all the Protestant splintering, either, but let’s not have romantic notions that the unity of the RC church is solely a result of people being charitable and valuing the unity of the Spirit. A great deal of that “unity” has come by excising dissenters. Whether that is somehow more obedient to Jesus’ desire for unity than what Protestantism is doing, I don’t know.

      • T Off

        It’s different in that the RCC and EOC have an Apostolic Succession and Protestantism does not.

        • Andrew Dowling

          The value of “apostolic succession” is debatable. Much of Catholic tradition’s claims regarding direct apostolic connections are highly suspect; for example, it’s unlikely given the evidence Peter was ever Bishop of Rome or even spent any amount of extended time there. And the obscure John who is said to have taught Papias and Polycarp; is it the Apostle (who would’ve had to have been extremely old), the Evangelist? The Presbyter? The Elder? (are some of those the same person?) Or the John of Patmos who wrote Revelation? Given the literary evidence we have, it doesn’t support that those two men actually knew a disciple of Jesus; we have a whole letter of Polycarp, for example, and it betrays no knowledge of any “inner-circle” knowledge of an Apostle John or Jesus beyond common sayings in the Gospels and Pauline Epistles (although ironically, nothing from the Gospel of John).

          Not to mention, it’s kinda like having “legacy” families at colleges . . the father can be a founding man of principle and honor, but his grandchildren or even children may be of a very different character, despite their literal blood lineage.

          All of that said, I highly respect both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions (I’m Roman Catholic myself), and they definitely have a more respectable approach to the Bible than the wide majority of Protestantism IMO

        • I think the Avignon Papacy is evidence enough that RCC claims to apostolic succession are rather hand-wavy.

          But even so, you’re basically saying that what the RCC does is actually not functionally different than what Protestants do, it’s just that you happen to be right when you do it, and that by itself is not a very satisfactory justification.

          How do you know apostolic succession is a valid criterion on which to base truth claims? Is it because that’s what the Church says? Isn’t that circular? Apostolic succession guarantees correct teaching because the people who said it have apostolic succession?

          Is it because that’s what the Church says the Bible teaches, and you agree with that? If so, isn’t that precisely the way Protestants operate?

          • Brad

            No, the point of my comment was to avoid any talk of “we’re right when we do it.” I’m saying it IS functionally different, because it is a physically identified and recorded tradition, with specific reference points for when people depart from doctrine and dogma, as defined by the eastern and western traditions who gave us Christianity.

          • Hi Brad,

            I don’t think I was responding to you unless you were posting under another alias, but you raise a good point. The RC tradition is a physically identified and recorded tradition with specific reference points for departure, correct. There are also other physically identified and recorded traditions with specific reference points for departure, and there have been from the earliest of early church records.

            “But we have apostolic succession.”

            Well, A) no you don’t, and B) so what? The people who are telling you that apostolic succession matters are the same people claiming to have apostolic succession. They are a single early church tradition that happened to win in the West.

            Please don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to say that the Protestant ego-driven splintering is somehow preferable. I just think there are a lot of RCs in this comment thread with a very hagiographical and romantic (no pun intended) view of their own history. The RC church historically is not significantly less divisive than Protestantism, they just tend to kill or anathematize their splinter groups instead of going their separate ways.

          • T Off

            Yes, my apologies. Same person. I was responding on my phone the last time (connected to different email).

            “A) no you don’t” – I don’t know how else to retort other than with, “yes, we do.” [Pope] Clement I wrote of it in the late 1st century, even. Ignatius of Antioch (late 1st, early 2nd century) was clear as daylight on the topic, and just about every Church father who wrote anything after them (Irenaeus, Cyprian), including (but almost no need to mention) St. Augustine, years down the line. Tertullian also defended it in very great detail. And as time went on, the Church Fathers were even more intent on recording it. I never knew it was much of a debate, but, of course, if this is debatable, so is everything else the church has historically documented, and just about everything else is suspect. Did Jesus even exist, then?

            “B) So what? The people who are telling that apostolic succession matters are the same people claiming to have apostolic succession.” Right. The Eastern Orthodox & RCC are the only ones who have a legitimate claim to an apostolic succession from a bishop who was not excommunicated, and the EOC & RCC obviously excommunicated each other. Which others claim to have had an apostolic succession? And how well would it have even been recorded?

            I could care less about saying the RCC is “just right” and everyone else is wrong (and the ONLY reason I am RC and not Eastern Orthodox is because I’m a child of the West and western traditions). What IS different is that the RCC and EOC simply DO have rights to claim the brand through their succession from the very beginning. It is one thing to cut people off from PHYSICAL communion with a PHYSICAL body of people than to tell someone they’re excommunicated because they disagree with your ideas (as in Protestantism). It’s functionally different in that way. Not only that, but its these very successions that gave us the MEANING of heresy in the first place, let alone every other essential Christian doctrine.

          • Brad,

            Thanks for your response.

            First, the state of apostolic succession claims in the first century and the state of those claims in the twenty first century are very different. Someone ordained by the apostle Peter probably has a solid claim to apostolic succession.

            The question is whether or not this has remained intact for two thousand years in any meaningful sense. In the Papacy of Avignon, for example, you have three Popes of the RC church all excommunicating each other and their followers.

            In the fourth century, there were Arians, Semi-Arians, Acacians, Subordinationists, and several other non-homousion views of the Trinity. All these movements were led by ordained bishops having apostolic succession. The Arians sent 22 bishops to the Council of Nicea led by none other than Eusebius, himself. Then, that great theologian Constantine (not even baptized, much less an apostolic successor) required everyone to support the homousion view and exiled everyone who didn’t or that he suspected was lying about their support. Just think, if Constantine had decided the Arians were right, your unbroken apostolic church tradition would be teaching Arianism right now.

            Second, you tried to establish the validity of apostolic succession by, once again, referring to people’s historical dependency on it, and this is question begging.

            Let me ask you this: what evidence do you have besides church teaching (that depends on apostolic succession) that apostolic succession is a guarantor of the truth?

          • T Off

            I don’t care to have evidence that apostolic succession is a guarantor of the truth (Although, I could argue from a theological point of view) – just a guarantor of tradition. You’re right, the RC could very well be teaching Arianism right now, and I would be subscribing to it. The Church gave me Jesus in the first place, and so, at the end of the day, my only interest is following the Christ who has “evolved”, so to speak, through doctrine, over time, as I will only get to know Christ through time, anyway. I don’t have time to sift through thousands of different claims to the “accurate” perspective of Christ, or “exegetics”. I’m no scholar and don’t plan to be one, so I would rather sit on a 2000 year old tradition that seeks to remain faithful to its own historical marking points, terms, and the logic of those terms. That’s my interest. Not going to try and figure out who Jesus “REALLY” was, because it won’t happen.

          • T Off

            And that also means I’ll follow the victor in the end. We DO have two popes now, and history would only tell who mattered if one excommunicated the other, based off of who the victor is. Real simple. Real bland, but, as I said, that’s all that matters to someone too interested in figuring out other things.

          • Ok, I appreciate the honesty.

          • T Off

            And here’s a little excerpt I found from Clement I…

            “Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry’ (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80] –

            So, was this guy just walking around publicly announcing his fantasy land as if it was uncontested fact? Or was he a compulsive liar, and no one thought to correct him?

    • Gary

      Personally I think the church in the West over the next hundred years is going to go through major reduction and consolidation principally driven by social and economic factors. I suspect results though may be asymmetrically educational and spiritual–better understand of history, better understanding of science, better theology (especially ecclesiology, soteriology, and eschatology), and an overall more generous, if not even peaceful and peaceable, way of being. In this context, Orthodoxy’s finest hour could be yet to come.

  • Stewart Dunham

    makes me think of George carlin’s the god question

    disclaimer language in video is rough

  • Brian Millhollon

    Late to the discussion but a few thoughts:

    In the woman-at-the-well discourse in John, Jesus pointed out that religious posturing about who had the right formula for worshiping God would end and be supplanted by something new. The new worship, like himself, would eventually transcend all human ideas about pleasing God.

    Jesus did not make many friends when he indicated that the temple, the most significant, tangible and permanent symbol of jewish worship, was not what God was after and would be replaced (after it had been completely destroyed).

    Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, suggested that in less than a generation after Jesus’s death and resurrection (the fulfillment of his temple prophecy), Christians had already started to construct new, little temples around personalities. Paul was not impressed, saying that they clearly did not get it and were acting like children.

    Throughout the two thousand year history of the Christian church, the Spirt has inspired groups of people, giving rise to exciting theological insight and producing genuine fruit, but then moves on. We see the empty boxes everywhere.

    It is very sad to find groups of Christians who have felt threatened by a change in wind and a rising tide, and rather than unfurl their sail to head out into the swift moving waters, they remain anchored close to shore. Protected from the wind and the tide, the safe harbor becomes a putrid swamp, with nothing to do but swat flies.

  • PastorAlex McGilvery

    My experience is that the people in the pews don’t see a lot of difference between the different churches. Highly nuanced theology is a leadership issue. The membership is content to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and feel that it is true.

    • And those that aren’t content (like myself) leave the pews and don’t come back.

    • Preston Garrison

      That is true now, but that is a recent development. Hostility between Protestants and Catholics was still not uncommon in the ’50s, although thankfully my parents didn’t raise me that way, and it was only 4 centuries ago that Christians were killing each other over whether the wine really turned into blood, the relative need for faith and works and whether there should be images in churches. The odium theologicum is an old tradition and it reached to the people in the pews all too often, and still does today over certain issues.

  • Phillip Campbell

    There was no other Christian Church besides the Catholic Church for over a millenium after the death of Jesus. During that first millenium, the Catholic Church determined which books would constitute the New Testament at the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in 394 and 397 AD. It is pretty tough for me to pick a different denomination when every other denomination claims to teach and live by the book that was compiled by the Catholics. Quoting the Bible against the Catholic Church is like quoting Romeo and Juliet against Shakespeare.

    • So let’s draw on Samuel Butler instead. Not just against the Catholic church, but against all her like-minded offspring, as well. Another quote from my free e-book Walkabout:

      Keep in mind that the Catholic Church isn’t the spawn of the Apostolic Church, but of the sun-worshipping Sol Invictus cult, the Roman state cult of which emperor Constantine I was head priest, also called Pontifex Maximus. This was the cult he merged with the apostolic church, and little of the latter remains.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Greg, I’m often pointing out flaws in Catholic apologetics, but this statement “the Catholic Church isn’t the spawn of the Apostolic Church, but of the sun-worshipping Sol Invictus cult” is simply not accurate. There was what could be called a “proto-orthodox” confederation of ‘catholic’ churches long before Constantine got in the game.

        • Tim Harper

          Constantine invented church as we know it today. There was no building with worship, tithe/offering, preacher in pulpit until he converted and made it law to be Christian. Then he formed the church guidelines based off pagan worship guidelines and presto, the Catholic church is born.

          • Brad

            That’s simply not true. Blatantly false. Anyone who has sat down for 10 minutes with the 2nd century church fathers knows that.

          • Brad

            Or read the Didache

        • Andrew, I’m not talking theology here–not my field. I’m talking execution, business plans. That’s why Samuel Butler is the authority, not Saint So-and-so. See Erewhon Revisited, here:

          Also please read that discussion in my book:

          Then, if you care to discuss execution and such, let’s revisit the thread.

          All the best,

    • Are you claiming the Catholic Church authored the Bible? If not, how does your analogy work?

      • Guadalupe Lavaca

        He said nothing of the sort. He said the Catholic “determined” which books would constitute the NT. It was like compiling an anthology. The Catholic church didn’t write anything, they just selected the writings. Let me add that the Church also preserved the Bible by having the monks hand copy the scriptures century after century. But for the Catholic church it is possible we wouldn’t even have a written bible today.

        • Well, right, but then how would quoting the Bible to a Roman Catholic be like quoting “Romeo and Juliet” to Shakespeare? Wouldn’t it be more like quoting “Romeo and Juliet” to the good people at Penguin Classics?

  • LostAndFound50

    I began my life as a Catholic-and for over 18 years had been convinced that was the ONLY “True Faith”.
    I then dated a devout Southern Baptist, (imagine my mother’s HORROR!! My Uncle, a priest, calmed her down-this was the late 70’s and he told her “at least she’s still a ‘Christian”!!). The 1st Baptist preacher emphasized THEY were the “True Faith”.
    Then, after we broke up, my Aunt, a Mormon (other side of the family!), stepped in and took me to her “Temple”. THEY told me that only THEY were the “True Faith”.
    I then began seeing, and eventually married my (now) ex-husband. Although born into an Episcpletarian home, he had attended a. Catholic college, then reverted back to E. Our preacher who married us convinced us that THEY were the ” True Faith”.
    After the divorce, I continued to explore other faiths and practices, as well as their history.
    I’ve been a practicing Hindu now for over 15 years. My teachers taught me that we don’t doubt the validity of ANY persons faith. My faith is, as my teachers taught, based on very personal and direct experience. I was made to feel very welcome and continue to feel a peace I’d never felt before. And I love continuing to study the history and belief systems of all peoples. And, I’m blessed that my family accepts my beliefs, knowing that it is a very personal, individual experience, and borne from many years of personal experiences.
    Oh, and My ex now regards himself a “Pagan” and his wife, a “Priestess of Witchcraft”.
    Whatever floats your boat…. 😉

    • Lennie

      Yes, as some believe that all religions/faiths are equally valid and true. You’d have to overcome the law of non-contradiction for that to be true. Jesus said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jer 29:13

  • Francis Bacon

    Well… If everyone using the same method (faith) comes up with very different answers what can be said of that method?

    • T Off

      Well, first of all, it’s not a method… It’s a function of the will. But if it was, that’s like saying love doesn’t exist, or ideas don’t exist, or consciousoness doesn’t exist because everyone who investigates these comes up with different answers.

      Good ol’ Francis Bacon…. “the rape of the natural world”, the first of many British idiots to come after him with the most reckless philosopies ever introduced to the West.

      • Guest

        I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “function of the will”. Could you elaborate on that?

      • Guest

        I’m not sure what you mean by “…function of the will”. Could you expound upon that?

      • Francis Bacon

        I’m not sure what you mean by “…a function of the will”. Could you expound upon that?

        • T Off

          It’s that conscious activity of agreeing with a proposition that sounds true.

          • Francis Bacon

            Interesting. What makes something sound true? What method did you use to arrive at your beliefs? Would I be correct in saying that you identify as Christian?

          • T Off

            Almost anything makes a proposition sound true. A good sales pitch can make it sound true.

            “What method did you use to arrive at your beliefs?” – Which ones?

            “Would I be correct in saying that you identify as a Christian?” Mhm

          • Francis Bacon

            So if anything can make a proposition sound true it sounds like you don’t put much confidence in just talk. What do you think is a good way to come to a true belief?

            The beliefs I’m curious about are your beliefs regarding any god/gods.

          • T Off

            Francis, are you trying to bring home your originally absurd, stupid, and juvenile point that because people believe in different shit, it somehow makes the object of their belief non-existent? Please just say it if you are.

            The scientific method doesn’t apply when people are speculating about how to identify the object of their study, whether that be personhood, dignity or an invisible entity. That’s a qualitative distinction. It depends on epistemology and phenomenology, not the scientific method. The scientific method has never confirmed or ever will confirm the existence of “human liberty” or “consciousness” or “human dignity”, nor will it confirm anything about the divine.

          • Francis Bacon

            I don’t think I’ve mentioned any of those things.

          • Francis Bacon

            My goal was to learn more about how you came to your god beliefs. It’s unfortunate if that upsets you. I understand if you don’t wish to discuss it. Take it easy!

          • T Off

            And knowing that you identify with the (more than likely) autistic Francis Bacon (talk about “interesting”), I would love to hear about YOUR beliefs… Please, I’ve spent 7 years of my academic life in post-enlightenment philosophy. I’m sure you have interesting things to share.

          • Francis Bacon

            I certainly wouldn’t disparage someone for being autistic.

            As for my beliefs? Hmmm… I believe champagne is a bit overrated. I believe it will be partly sunny tomorrow. Was there anything specifically you would like to know about?

  • Sorry; I can’t contribute. I am too busy thinking about the epistemic presuppositions necessary to even have this conversation.

  • Jill

    So many of the questions you have asked I have pondered myself. In my own story, I’ve had experience in both the Protestant and Catholic world. Was born to cradle Catholic parents and baptized as an infant. My parents had a born again experience when I was a young child, and I was thereafter raised in a conservative Baptist Church (definitely anti-Catholic).
    As I grew into my teenage years, I began to question some of the more fundamentalist type of beliefs. Later I met and married a Baptist. In time, we began attending a Methodist Church. Eventually, my husband decided to become Catholic. I really didn’t know what to do. My family was definitely not happy (they weren’t even happy about us attending a Methodist Church to begin with:) ), and I was torn. This went on for a good five years.
    I am not a theologian or a Bible Scholar (not even close), and I tried to look at so many different denominations to try and figure out what was “the truth” and what was the best church for me/my family. I actually became pretty depressed about the whole situation. In many ways, I liked the moderation and ecumenical spirit of the Methodist Church, the whole Scripture/Tradition/Reason/Experience quadrilateral. However, I was also drawn to the sacramental beliefs in the Catholic Church as well as other things. Partly the sense of unity and the lack of formal divisions as seen in the Protestant Churches.
    Long story short (okay, not too short as I’m dragging this out quite a bit!), I kept saying, I could go into the Catholic Church except for a couple of their doctrines. Reading some fundamentalist type of Catholic blogs didn’t help me either. Eventually, I met with a very knowledgeable and understanding Catholic priest and after going through RCIA, I joined the church.
    I guess I’ve come to understand that you can still question some of the doctrines of the church and still have a place in the Catholic Church. The core beliefs I hold to, but I’ve come to see that the Catholic Church is a very wide tent, actually. Doctrines develop over time and sometimes change. I am hopeful that more and more dialogue will continue to be encouraged with Pope Francis. Both within the Catholic Church and also between the Catholic Church and Orthodox/Protestant and other religions.
    I think there will always be groups continuing to splinter off, especially in the Protestant World. The fact that there are so many different types of Catholics but that they are still within the same church and have communion together, I find important.
    One final thing. I saw an article recently in America-The National Catholic Review that showed a set of emails between James Martin (a Jesuit – yes, the one who was on the Colbert Report a number of times!) and Ross Douthat, the New York Times Columnist. They discussed many things, but it was a good snapshot of a more conservative and a more progressive Catholic. At least they were talking together. I was thinking, if they were Protestant, they would probably be in different denominations.

    • Gary

      Thanks. Good story. Could put in a more theological language, but I think a key question is one you tell a story about: Which is more important “being right” or “being together?” The story of the centuries seems to be more a triumph of the former. To me as I understanding them, the Person of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the symbolic identity of Mary, the catholicity of the Church, the act of communion, the communion of saints, the hope of the world to come, each integrally point to the latter. John 17:20-26 is an interesting contextual read. Anyhow, I personally have trouble taking too seriously what much of Christianity takes so seriously. Sometimes I think the Way isn’t narrow in an individualistic context, but in a human context. That we are and need to be all in this together may be what makes the road narrow and gate small. Matthew 7 and seeing its center verse at least in the chapter’s context might be of interest too.

      • Jill

        Thanks for your responses. A few more thoughts. In defence of my parents, they were brought up in the Catholic Church prior to Vatican II. It seems there was much more emphasis on the rules and traditions perhaps more than love and mercy. Eating meat on Friday was probably a big deal, for instance. For my parents, I think it seemed like, well, if you do x y and z you’ll be fine, but break one of these specific rules and you’ll be going to hell. So it seemed a lot of people kind of blew it all off and didn’t take it too seriously, or were very afraid and took it very literally. So when the faith alone approach was presented to my parents, it felt very freeing to them. They grew in their faith a lot after leaving the Catholic Church and truly love the Lord with all of their hearts. I understand why they left. I also understand why Luther protested abuses in the Catholic Church. But reactions to the churches problems often become over reactions. My parents can only see salvation in a faith alone context and are truly fearful for the salvation of others who see it differently. However, if I had been raised in the Catholic Church like them, I probably would have wanted to leave too. It seems that fear is at the heart of much of it.
        One more note, I appreciate that the Catholic Church can see other Christians in other denominations as brothers and sisters in Christ, and even allow that those who are not Christian but in other religions/beliefs can inherit eternal life as well.

    • Patricia Hofer

      Jill, my experience is similar to yours in that I was raised a Christian Scientist, had a conversion experience that led me out of it. I now belong to a Methodist church. But I find Anglicanism and Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox very compelling. So I now see Christianity as greater than any one denomination. And so I identify myself as Christian.

  • newenglandsun

    I think it matters what we believe as Christians. Jesus came down and said he was truth–if he is, why are there so many different versions of truth? If we look at Christian history, most of it is engaged combating some form of heresy–Arianism, Anabaptism, monophystism, Nestorianism, iconoclastism, etc.

    Will God send us to an eternity of Hell-fire if we get a few things wrong here and there? No. So in that sense, I don’t think it matters what denomination we belong to.

    I believe that the sacraments are very important to Christianity–baptism, eucharist, marriage, holy orders, confession, extreme unction, and confirmation. I believe that participating in these sacraments will bring one closer to God. But sometimes, by accident, one is severed from one or more of these sacraments and we trust that God understands the person’s situation.

    Also, I’m not Catholic or Orthodox, I’m High Anglican. So many Catholics I know of have questioned as to why I haven’t fully joined the Catholic Church yet. There are some issues–specifically with the traditionalists and the liberals within the Catholic Church, I think many Catholics have lost the vision of the Church.

    As John Wesley once commented, the important thing is to love one another (though because we are fallen, we won’t do it perfectly)–THEN we can talk about the other issues. I personally think when we begin talking about the other issues, we need also to begin with the majors. For instance, us High Churchers have a different understanding of Biblical authority than Evangelicals.

    • Patricia Hofer

      I’m interested in your last sentence: “High Churchers have a different understanding of Biblical authority than Evangelicals.” I think I agree somewhat but would like more explanation.

      • newenglandsun

        I use the term “High Church/High Churcher” to describe Catholic, Orthodox, Anglo-Catholic, strands of Christianity.

        Evangelicals favor Biblicism–more the idea of the Bible as the final trump card. High Churchers favor more church authority in interpreting the Bible. One is more Bible over church and the other acknowledges Bible as product of the Church and thus the source of the authority of the Bible must flow from the Church.

        • John Lindsay Mayger

          We evangelical sector of the ekklesia believe that we should as Paulos says Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We don’t like the Orthodox or Roman catholics or Hi church accept old theologians but only recent ones like CS Lewis. lol. “It doesn’t matter the colour of the cat as long as it catches mice”. Likewise it doesn’t matter how we believe only that our belief influences “our life of good works” that give glory to God and establish our ranking in the Kingdom.

          • newenglandsun

            I’m confused by your comment. Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglican Catholics are in full agreement with St. Paul as well. We should work out our salvation in fear and trembling. I know Evangelicals who read more ancient theologians as well. My Uncle cites St. Augustine from time-to-time. He’s an Evangelical. Of course, Catholics and Orthodox Christians probably read them much more than do Evangelicals but there are in fact Evangelicals who accept the “old theologians”. Also, many Catholics, Orthodox, and of course Anglican Catholics, are greatly influenced by C.S. Lewis.

            I strongly disagree that it doesn’t matter how one believes. You say, “our life of good works”. Do you mean to say our own good works get us into Heaven? This is not accurate. Man cannot rely on his own righteousness to get him into Heaven. If a sacrament confers a deifying grace, then it does matter whether we partake in it or willingly refuse. We have one free will decision–saying yes to grace or no to grace. Let go and let God is what an Orthodox friend of mine says.

          • Patricia Hofer

            I guess I would say it does matter how we believe. And CS Lewis walks the fine line between the extremes of high church and evangelicalism. That is his virtue, I believe, and not his vice.

  • The human tendency is to seek to build little kingdoms around differences -different leaders, different doctrines, different ways of baptizing, etc. I believe God’s way is to reject that kind of thinking, and to build unity around the one thing that Christians have in common – Christ Jesus.

  • Evan Cumpston

    1) Doctrine is important

    ~1 Timothy 4:16 -Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers

    2) As disciples of Christ, we have His words as our standard. No matter what denomination, we must look to the words of Christ above all.

    ~John 12:48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.

    ~Mark 7:1-13 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

    “‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
    They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.

    You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

  • Richard White

    My father was an ordained American Convention minister and a graduate of Eastern Baptist Seminary. When he retired from his church in Philadelphia, PA (in part because of my mother’s asthma), he and my mother moved to a small town in New Mexico. At the time the only Baptist church in the town was Southern Baptist Convention. When my folks asked to join the church, Dad was told that a precondition of his joining this church was a public confession of his “spiritual error and sin” of being an American Baptist Convention minister, instead of the “only true church”, the Southern Baptist Convention. He refused and started his own church, which continues on after my parent’s deaths.

    My standard response to someone saying, “The United States is a Christian nation” is “Which denomination of Christian do you mean?”

    • LostAndFound50

      Your Father’s experience was unconscionable to me-and similar to what they told me to do because I had been brought up a Catholic. I refused and had my fiancé’s (at the time) father not been the biggest monetary contributor and deacon-I wondered if they would even let me through the door. I had a similar experience at a “Church of Christ” years later. They actually started speaking in tongues, everyone grabbing at me wanting to wash the “demons” (from having been Catholic & then Baptist) from me.
      Scared the dickens out of me!! I never returned. Any “faith” that requires you to demonize the faith of your family; or thinks you need to be “cleansed” because supposed demons from other faiths inhabit your body…I’m sorry, I missed that part of God’s word….

  • Emerald Twilights

    I used to be a Christian — started as Mormon and then looked around — and found that all Christianities suffered from the same fatal problem… The more I read and studied the Bible the more it became obvious that Judaism had been right about Jesus and the NT and Christianity all along.

    The more it became obvious –– although one must accept that idiosyncratic Paul believed what he believed –– that the anonymous Gospels, on the other hand, were neither reliable history nor reflected any “fulfillment” of Jewish scripture. They were stories loosely based on the life and death of Jesus contrived to convert a failed, false, dead Jewish messiah into a successful, true, living Christian messiah. With some purely made up fictions, like the bodily, post-resurrection appearances.

    And for pagan Greeks ignorant of Jewish scripture and messianism, it worked. The Jews obviously knew better.

    Later came the conclusion that the entire Bible, both OT and NT, was purely an invention of H. sapiens sapiens, with no god anywhere involved. And nothing in or about the Bible strongly arguing for, let along requiring, a god.

    But one thing is certain: the Bible, by it’s very nature, absolutely guarantees an endless multiplicity of Christianities. Not least because it, itself, clearly reflects multiple Christianities and multiple Christs.

    If it’s the word of a god, it’s pretty clearly a god of confusion.

    Thomas Paine got it right: “”The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.”

    • Brad

      And then your life became serene, with no doubts about meaning or anything… No angst, no temptation to believe in anything else, just so much sublimity and serenity you no longer have any need to post a comment about religion on any blog. Sheer liberty and happiness… “Did I get my upvotes for today?? Yesss!”

    • Gary

      Not unreasoned or unreasonable.

    • D. Barron

      Nothing is what you want, nothing is what you get. Sit back, relax. You’ve got it all figured out. Leave the small stuff to us ignorant, gullible “believers.”
      Be blessed?

      • Emerald Twilights

        D. Baron, of course nothing I said implies or imputes either ignorance or gullibility. Different emotional temperaments, perhaps.

        As far as ‘figuring it all out’, since the Bible and Christianity are not “all”, even figuring them out completely leaves an enormous Cosmos left to consider. Including not only the physical cosmos but ethics and morality; the Qur’an and the Gita; justice and a just society; poverty and injustice; family & relationships; and the all important ‘connectedness’ in human life and happiness.

        Blessed? Now more than ever, thank you.

      • Without Malice

        Ignorant and gullible is about right. It is logically impossible to refute the fact that in a world created by an all-knowing and all-powerful God nothing could ever, ever happen that was not in accordance with his will. It is impossible that this world, with all its flaws and sorrow and pain can be any other way than the way God wanted it. Your God had every chance, and he had the power, to make a world free from sin and suffering and sorrow, and he, of his own free will in the face of his perfect foresight, created it just the way he wanted it. Adam and Eve never existed, but if they had, and if they had been put in a garden with a talking snake, then your God would have known full well how the result of that little experiment would turn out. The idea that God created man and the world perfect but that somehow man messed it up is too ridiculous to give a seconds thought to. And it is also beyond refutation that if the world was created by an omnibenevolent deity, it sure as hell wouldn’t be like it is.

    • Emerald,

      I actually do think there is good evidence – even as, it seems, God combines that evidence with assertion.

      Quickly note this about Acts 17:31 (“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”):

      -One need not believe the book of Acts is infallible to have confidence that the Apostle Paul said this or that what he said might be worth listening to or asking serious questions about [note also Luke’s reputation for being a good historian here as well – i.e. being verifiable in many respects]

      -While an invitation into what all would call “evidentially-based considerations”, this statement is nevertheless more of an assertion about how God has made Himself known in history – and what He calls proof and defines as proof.

      So not only do the Scriptures say you are wrong, but, as far as I am concerned, there are no good evidential reasons that have been put forth that put my faith in doubt. On the contrary, the evidence is strongly in favor of what I believe. What I believe is what I have yet to be shown is false, as one of the former editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica said.


      • Emerald Twilights

        Nathan, everybody, of course, has exactly the same body of evidence.

        It’s interesting that virtually the only people who interpret that evidence in the affirmative for Christian faith claims are — for the most part — people who already believe with emotional investment and psychological commitment.

          –– And not even all of them….   while it is not uncommon for former devout believers — based on that evidence — to deconvert, it’s relatively uncommon for non-believers to convert based on the conclusions of truly informed, critical study of that common body of evidence.

        Your comment, of course, includes what appears to be a strong pre-supposition that god not only exists, but exists with the form and nature that you believe it to have. Which is fine. It never is nor can it be a matter of “proof” but always a matter of what conclusion that evidence best supports while doing our best to set aside already formed assumptions.

        Using the Bible as “evidence” to support the existence and the nature of the Biblical god is closely akin to circular reasoning. In any case, I would not even want you to doubt your faith — your journey is your own and, it seems to me, whether your conclusions are right or wrong is less important than if your faith improves your life & death regardless.

        • Lennie

          Emerald, it sounds like you are unaware of many non-believers who came to believe in the gospel of Jesus the Christ almost unwillingly by exposure to evidence. I’ve appreciated Josh McDowell’s testimony as a former scoffer and atheist (see his books More Than a Carpenter and Evidence That Demands a Verdict). Also Simon Greenleaf (principal founder of Harvard School of Law) who after examining the evidence found in the NT Gospels was convinced of their truthfulness and thus believed. Lee Strobel is a former atheist journalist who examined the case for Christ and found it compelling and truthful and submitted to Jesus the Savior. All these intelligent educated men were convinced against their preconceived notions about a god to accept that way beyond a preponderance of the evidence that He is real and wants a personal relationship with His creation; even you & me Emerald. Please check it out. I did.

          • Emerald Twilights

            Lennie, thanks for your comments.

            I’m well aware of both McDowell and Strobel and find their claims to be so-called atheists highly unpersuasive. (And the quality of the critical study, and of their apologeticc reasoning & arguments even more so –– but that’s another issue.)

            Strobel, more than anything, on his own website shows an extra-ordinary ignorance of what atheism even is, vis’a’vis whether or not the Bible is reliable history and how that led him into his “atheism.” (At least it used to — I can’t right now find the comment about his early person journey that used to be prominent in his introduction. Something about, if the Bible was not true then there was no God and therefore atheism must be true and so he became an atheist.)

            I have no doubt that Strobel, with his devout wife at his side, experienced a strong emotional re-embrace of Christianity, but the quality of his study — as reflected in his writings and public apologetics & debates — does not, in my opinion, reflect an intellectual conversion based on the conclusions of true critical study.

            Greenleaf also does not seem to me to be a very good example of truly serious, informed, critical study although I know others would disagree.

            However, among the billions of Christian who have ever lived, that there might be a few legitimate exceptions would not surprising. What is more revealing and instructive, it seems to me, is that they represent such an exquisitely small percentage of those billions. They seem rather like exceptions that prove the rule or damnation by faint praise.

            Thanks again and Shalom.

          • Lennie

            Emerald, you may reject the personal testimonies of the people I referenced as lying as to their former un-belief. They don’t come across as liars to me but that’s your opinion. But more importantly can you trust the scripture that turned their lives around? You say no and I (and they) say yes. God promises to reveal himself to those who truly seek Him. I’ve found this to be true and I believe you can too. In the first part of Paul’s letter to the Romans he reminds us that since God’s very creation displays for all to understand without excuse His truth, His invisible qualities and His divine nature. You will either believe it or deny it. One to your great benefit the other to your great loss. I pray you will believe unto everlasting life. Shalom

          • Emerald,

            I like what Lenny said.

            Let me also just repeat this: “One need not believe the book of Acts is infallible to have confidence that the Apostle Paul said this or that what he said might be worth listening to or asking serious questions about.”

            And then, I’ll add a couple more witnesses to Lenny’s list. Here is a quote from another former atheist John W. Montgomery:

            “[My argumentation that the New Testament books need to be construed as reliable] rests solely and squarely upon historical method,the kind of method all of us, whether Christians, rationalists, agnostics, or Tibetan monks, have to use in analyzing historical data. Perhaps at this point we can understand why C.S. Lewis, the great Renaissance
            English scholar, in describing his conversion from atheism to Christianity, writes:

            “Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and
            remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. “Rum thing,” he went on. “All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.” To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any
            interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the
            toughest of the toughs, were not-as I would still have put it — “safe,” where could I turn? Was there then no escape?” [read quote in full context here on PBS’s website:

            Subsequently, says Lewis, “God closed in on me.”
            How “God closes in” when we face the implications of historically reliable New Testament documents is the subject of this chapter….” (John Montgomery, Where is History Going? pp. 53,54)


          • Andrew Dowling

            Lennie, I could provide long lists of “intelligent, educated” men who lost faith as they examined the evidence as well (lots of very intelligent people have also converted to other religions).

            Accounts of “so and so” converted or deconverted don’t say much one way or the other. That’s like saying “the investment advice of Donald Trump must be great because he’s a rich businessman.”

  • Elvenfoot

    This very topic is what troubled me so deeply as a Protestant and had me go to original writings of the early Church to see what they believed and how they worshiped (which I reasoned wouldn’t be wrong, as they were so close to the apostles and Jesus Himself). I ended up finding myself in the frightening and unbelievable position of having to choose between Catholic and Orthodox Churches–frightening and unbelievable because I grew up so anti-Catholic. I am Catholic, now. (happily, but it took me awhile).

  • “He, who begins by loving Christianity better than Truth, will proceed by loving his own Sect or Church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, 1824, ‘Moral and Religious Aphorisms’, XXV

    • gelo

      I like that quote!
      But these days I’d say ‘Jesus’ rather than ‘Truth’, tho I’d guess that was what Snr. Coleridge meant.

    • Mark

      Thanks for this. I like it. I will have to look up Coleridge now.

  • D. Barron

    Great post! Scriptural cherry picking, a single verse becoming doctrine, men’s interpretation and application of said doctrine becoming tradition to be enforced by rule, not good! Jesus didn’t stutter or hesitate in any thing He stated. Denominationalism does. Carry on brother! Be blessed in your endeavour!

    • What if a person – or even a whole “denomination” – doesn’t really stutter?


  • Dr. Enns,

    Hello there. I commented briefly earlier, but am back. First of all, I must say that of the conversation I have looked on the blog, it disheartens me. Jesus told us to seek unity and truth – and to love God with all of our mind. Knowing who He is and what He has done is of supreme importance. Knowing who His people are and what they do should also be near the top of our list. It is that loving God with all one’s soul, strength and mind thing.

    A couple comments and a big question for you. The cartoon that you led off with this post is powerful, but veils some key issues.

    First of all, the “church history tree diagram”: there are going to be better and worse diagrams. All will surely reflect, or can reflect biases, as with all “maps” (since we as people are not capable of fully expunging our biases), but this does not mean that some maps cannot be more helpful in dealing with the available data and cannot be more effective in explaining it. As a biased confessional Lutheran, here is the map I like, from the Lutheran church historian Martin Noland: (this is featured on a blog post I did on my
    own blog, theology like a child, addressing this very issue. The post is called “Church history like a child: Lutherans don’t leave”)

    Second of all, we need to address the responses of the people in the cartoon. Obviously, when Athanasius may have felt like it was him alone vs. the world (or Elijah for that matter), it was highly unlikely this was his attitude. If there were only a few (or 7,000) that were left, their attitude would likely be one of great humility, since they would, by definition, be the “true remnant” (so you would expect them to have some real measure of true sanctification). So my big question for you:

    Do you think it is even possible for someone to think that his church is the true church (or, at the very least, the one that is the closest to getting it right) and still have true humility? (I think I see this in spades in a guy like the 16th c. Lutheran theologian John Gerhard, for example, who wrote an amazing work countering Rome’s claims to be the true church). I would be very curious to know how you would respond to this question.


    • I think that diagram is flawed as it is biased toward this “World Council of Churches”: The WCC is not a denomination, but a “fellowship”, or with members, in different denominations. I can’t imagine an Eastern Orthodox church would think they are the same denomination as a Presbyterian or vice-versa.

  • Doug Evans

    Here’s how you figure it out. Read the bible. Is your denomination in open rebellion to the New Covenant? If not then differences between your denomination and another denomination that is not in rebellion is merely politics and aesthetics. If it is in open rebellion the word Apostate is applicable.

    • Dean

      Doug, I think it goes without saying that most Christians believe what they believe because they believe that is what the Bible says.

      • Mike McCaskey

        Doug, I disagee totally. I believe most “Christians” today believe what they believe because that is what they have been told by the church they attend that is what they should believe.

    • Wes Smith

      hmm, I would think that there are a number of different understandings of the “New Covenant” and of what constitutes “open rebellion”. Also, is “open rebellion” a Biblical term? And if two denominations differ in their understanding, who judges which one is openly rebellious and which not is not? And before you say “Scripture”, don’t forget that two people operating in good faith and with the best of intentions can arrive at two different conclusions when it comes to interpreting Scripture.

  • Dean

    It is definitely disturbing isn’t it? To quote from the fundamentalists themselves, is the perspicuity of scripture a real thing? James White always talks about that, but it is dogma for him. I think any honest person would have to admit that the Bible is not clear on a lot of things and then you have to wonder why would God give us a Bible what wasn’t crystal clear. I think maybe we can say the Bible is clear about certain things and that Jesus is supposed to be the perfect representation of God the Father. I think if you take that literally, it will get you a long ways. Maybe what gets you the rest of the way is that the Bible is pointing you in a certain direction and that what really matters is that you orient yourself in that direction. One direction leads to life, the other leads to death, or non-life. Now I sound all new-agey, which also makes me uncomfortable, but I think it is not reasonable to disconnect how the Church is and has been with what it means to be a Christian. Fundamentalists like to disconnect the two and invent this idealized version of a Real True Christian, which conveniently always includes themselves, but excludes 99% of every other purported “Christian” who has ever lived. It’s never clear to me why that doesn’t make them more uncomfortable. Maybe that is the appeal of Calvinism these days, the Elect is supposed to be minority of humanity, I mean, who would want the riff raff coming to your exclusive country club anyway?

  • Dan Melin

    Sometimes I get “who’s right” debate fatigue, not to mention proof texting fatigue. Every debate about the broadening Peter speaks of comes up with a different set of essentials. The splintering of Protestant Christianity that is especially prevalent in the US seems to me a force that has too much momentum to stop. I came out of classic fundamentalism that championed what is commonly known as secondary separation (you don’t just separate from error but separate from those who don’t separate like you do). I confess I have not read all the comments so I may be repeating someone else but if we limit our core to “Love God and Love People” it makes people uncomfortable because there is no doctrinal belief attached to it. There will always be the faith(doctrine) vs works tension and I will continue to voice my understanding(s) of that in the circle in which I find myself but I have no illusions about reaching a broad consensus. I have too great of a doubt about my own ability to completely grasp TRUTH to ever be too dogmatic to the point of saying I have the answer to any biblical issue/doctrine.

    • charlesburchfield

      your post abt doubting your own ability to completely grasp TRUTH makes me think of a recomendation i have heard from MARK TWAIN regarding the comma, “when in doubt strike it out.” In A.A., on the third step, I learned to “turn it (doubt) over to god. After all “your best thinking got you here.” right now you have the option of considering a loving relationship w/ god & others. Once the momentum starts it keeps going I think, unless one slips into doubting the process.

  • focusontheargument .

    Peace to all of you, people.

    I have a question about which I hope someone will be able to help me with.

    The question is… is there scholarly work on reconstructing biblical christianity?

    Like, reconstructing the religion which is taught by the bible in order to get as close as possible to how it was believed in in Jesus’ time?

    Thank you in advance!!

    • John Daily

      I don’t know if this will help you, but here are my thoughts. On a Pastoral level, something we are constantly aware of is the context of when and where Scripture was written. Congregants and parishioners tend to look at Scripture only in terms of the ‘here and now” which can lead to misinterpretation; so, in that sense, there is always work being done in this area. In terms of something more “scholarly,” I believe the answer is also yes. Seminary textbooks, particularly regarding the Old Testament, try to recreate those times. There are new books coming out all the time in Pauline research, and even magazines & journals like “Biblical Archaeology Review” advance the field. Colleges offer online and on-campus courses that I believe fall into this area as well (such as “The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation” provided at Emory University).

      I think the only question is where, specifically in the field, you’d like to work. I hope this helps!

      • focusontheargument .

        Thank you very much, it was very helpful! I will do the rest of the searching, thank you very much for these helpful hints.


  • Preston Garrison

    179 comments and counting. Have you considered making this an all cartoons all the time blog?

  • Preston Garrison

    I remember reading a book about the Massachusetts Puritans years ago. They were very into deciding who was really a Christian and who wasn’t. Roger Williams was part of this and he became more and more narrow in his definition until he was only sure about himself and his wife (and he may had doubts about his wife.) At that point the light went on and he saw the absurdity of what he had been doing. The result of his change of mind was his embrace of freedom of conscience, with great consequences for all us Americans.

    The discussion here is about the institutional level rather than the personal, but it reflects the same dynamic of defining things more and more carefully and more and more narrowly, and reaches the same absurd conclusion. Church institutions are necessary for us to function practically, but if you are not to become preoccupied with defending turf and deciding a pecking order or worse, cutting off fellowship, you’ve got to recognize that God has his people all over the place in different institutions. Every institution includes its wheat and tares, those who walk with God and those who think they do, but don’t. My experience is that His sheep from different pastures don’t just recognize the shepherd; they recognize each other as members of his flock. It’s not that hard to recognize love for God if you know what it looks like. That’s the real church. Jesus asked the Father to give unity to His people. The visible churches are anything but unified, but I don’t think the Father said ‘no’ to Jesus. The unity is there among those that He knows.

    The business of thinking that your institution is the best or the one true church is a perspective of the immature. There’s is one church, Jesus is running it and He is quite up to the job, despite the propensity of sheep to act like sheep and get into squabbles and disagreements,

  • Duncan Pugh

    You could look at that genealogy in the cartoon as an unfinished process leading ultimately to the crucifixion of institutionalised Christianity and the final fruition of the teachings and example of Jesus bursting forth into the world?

  • David Taylor

    I attended a Pentacostal Bible college in which my preaching professor once said that everyone has a measure of truth, Christians have an even bigger measure of truth, protestants have an even greater measure, evangelicals even more, and pentacostals have the most. I remember thinking how absurd this was and that was in 1998 or so. It’s a shame that even we Christians can be so divisive over non-foundational issues. Thanks for sharing this cartoon.

  • Guadalupe Lavaca

    We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and no denomination is superior than the other. I was raised Catholic and taught that Catholicism was the “one true Church.” When I left for college I drifted away from religion. When I wanted to return to Christianity I started attended services at a variety of different churches, both mainstream Protestant and independent Community Churches. I found the people to be welcoming and devoted to Jesus. Their faith was real.

    I eventually returned to the Catholic Church, but not because I thought it to be “better” or “more true” than other forms of Christianity. I went back because I liked the Christian experience better. I think it is a great thing that there are different ways that we can show our love for Jesus Christ. Christians should not fight each other over our differences, but rather we should embrace the unity in our belief that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.

  • Brad

    My apologies about the cynicism. I admittedly happened across your comments at 2 in the morning after a few drinks with the boys. Keep on keeping on.
    There is Bronze and Iron in all of us, though. And I haven’t evolved past it. I have an MA in philosophy, but my Bronze Age aspirations have never prevented me from exploring new questions and answers. I simply suspend belief or disbelief to entertain the argument in front of me. I can’t imagine any mature thinker that is not plagued with their own narrow beliefs, unless they are a directionless adolescent. Call it Bronze age or Postmodern, whatever… It shouldn’t make a difference.

  • stefanstackhouse

    “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” We’ve all got our pet “non-essentials”, and we can’t all be right about those; probably just about all of us are wrong about one or another non-essentials, and just maybe nobody at all has gotten all of them perfectly right. No matter, they are “non-essentials” after all. The two problems – the two sides of the coin, as it were: 1) Because we don’t all get it right and agree upon the non-essentials, we therefore give up in despair of agreeing upon and holding firm to any set of essential truths, and so we fudge on them or abandon them altogether; or 2) we become so zealous in behalf of the essentials, we end up elevating non-essentials to “essential” status as well, and then charity goes out the window. Striking a balance is really, really hard (and impossible without God’s help), yet that balance between fidelity to essential truths and charity to all is exactly what Christ wants and expects for His followers. Very few manage to come close to that balance, though more than a few do at least realize that this should be their goal and they do try.

  • Mike McCaskey

    There are two reasons for the divisiveness in religious circles (which for my comments I am limiting to Protestants, Romsn Catholics and Orthodox Churches). 1. Is simple, all of us as human beings are born with egos that make admitting that we just might not be the “chosen” repository of all truth, almost impossible. 2. And equally important, is that the majority of human beings cannot process the concept that the particular local assembly of believers is NOT the sole repository of truth. They would not be able to grasp a concept such as God might choose to reveal His truth in different ways in order to make the Gospel more understandable to a more diverse audience. For the majority of people, this is not applicable to the younger generations, want to sit in church on Sunday and have their chosen leader tell the what to believe and what is truth so they can go home feeling safe that their eternal future is secure because the “leader” just told them so.

    The challenge for the church moving forward is to realize that the younger generations DON’T what to be told to believe and what truth is. They don’t buy the concept that there is any single assembly of believers or any individual who is the sole repository of truth. They are looking for a place where a diverse group of people can gather, with equal respect for all beliefs, and strive together to find the true path to God or whatever name might be chosen to give the entity they have chosen to honor. How many churches, as we know them today, would be willing to open their doors to this group just described, some with Bibles and others with other religious texts and be willing to allow the Spirit of God the freedom to exercise His omnipotence and guide the group to the truth?

    It is my personal belief that unless we can find a way to do just this, as in Europe today, there are going to be a great deal of empty churches and generations of future people growing up with no place to find the truth their hearts are aching to know.

  • Dusty Speiser

    2Ti 2:22-23. 22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.

    Tit 3:9 But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.

    Mat 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

  • Daniel Fisher

    I understand the intent, and agree that many folks take the “my very particular version is right” to the extreme…. but isn’t it axiomatic that whatever position we hold firmly about something controversial, we are claiming our position to be correct (or at least more correct), while claiming opposing views are wrong?

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but most of Peter’s books that I’ve read are written in support of the idea that his particular view (of inspiration, Old Testament History, the historicity of Adam, etc.) is the correct one, and any other views which diverge significantly from his view are wrong.

    This is not a criticism of his writing, this is what all scholars do and ought to be doing… just an observation that any of us who discuss such topics will, by definition, be claiming that our view of (whatever topic is under discussion) is right while opposing views are wrong, no?

  • David Sweet

    “I believe in Christ made man, crucified for my sins and raised to life to give life to all.

    Pretty much everything else is detail – some details quite important but we can agree to disagree if necessary.

  • archidude

    These are some fantastic comments. I perused a few pages. What I find lacking is the influence of the Holy Spirit. Mike comments that young people want a diversity, a place to explore truth. My experience shows that young people want love. My sons want passion. This kind of passionate love for God is birthed through the Holy Spirit.

    Worship has exploded across the globe. Hillsong, United, Passion, Jesus Culture, Vertical Worship,, etc. have ignited the passion of young people for God (Father, Son, and Spirt). We can personalize our love in Christ. We can experience the very presences of God in the Holy Spirit. Granted, these experiences are subjective. But this passion to worship our King even trumps the sexualized culture with which we have to do.

    The experience of God in our midst through the Holy Spirit is huge. There comes an expectation that God is good. God is love, and he will act for the best for all. National politics, denominational exclusiveness, and even personal preference are but shadows in the light and power of the Holy Spirit. Once a culture experiences the loving, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, young people begin to pray, to expect, to risk. This is what is most needed. Who is right is shadowed by who is loved and willing to love.

  • James Mace

    Submission of the individual will to the Lord is the point at which one is adopted into the family of the communitarian loving solidarity of the corporate Imago Trinitatis Socialis, a.k.a. the Church, whose reciprocal love for one another, mutual love with fellow Christians (Second Great Commandment), and with the divine Love Community of the Trinity (First Great Commandment) allow growth in increasing conformity to the Holy One(s) via enhanced empowerment by Holy Spirit and provide the love community as the ordained centripetal evangelistic attraction to transform the cosmos (cf. John 17). That is basic Christianity unified across ethnic, racial, and national boundaries.

    • Francis Bacon

      When a Catholic tells you that the wafers and wine are literally turned into blood and flesh how do you respond? Are they correct?

  • Mark Whittington

    The parable of the vineyard owner with two sons illustrates the difference in saying one will follow v actually following. God judges one’s heart–i’m not sure it can justifiably said that God uses your identification of yourself to determine the state of your spirit, either; many will cry “Lord, Lord.” Ergo, perhaps even a professed “atheist,” as unlikely as the idea is, might overcome their hypocrisy, as we all must, and find God, even if He is called Higher Power. So even these limitations are from man, possibly.

    • Francis Bacon

      So if someone’s higher power had Muhammad as a prophet would that person be following the correct god?

      • Mark Whittington

        Well, even the Bible tells us there are “many mansions,” and that God does not judge like we do. So i would say that God will judge their heart, just like any person’s.

        • Francis Bacon

          Not according to the Jesus of the bible. “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

          • Mark Whittington

            Well, the Bible also says that women are saved through childbirth; so i think that statement should be taken more allegorically, possibly; for what Christ represents. “Love your enemies,” perhaps. Jesus repeatedly refused to wear an earthly crown, which is basically what taking that statement literally/religiously would mean, imo.

          • Francis Bacon

            I think an awful lot of it should be taken allegorically.

      • Mark Whittington

        Why not? Even the Bible is plain that God does not judge as we do, but judges one’s heart. Most of the Muslims i know rep Christ better than most of the Christians. You cannot accept Christ with your mouth.

        • Francis Bacon

          So accepting Jesus as a prophet and not Yahweh himself would be okay to the Christian God?

  • Nimblewill

    Romans 11:36 Pretty much sums it up for me. I’m with Barth on this one. Jesus loves me this I know.

  • James

    Why is oblivion at death not a fear for you? Or rather, why do you go on doing what you do, living life normally (I’m guessing), now that you’ve changed your beliefs about purpose in life and so on? I’m curious because it seems to me that if people don’t believe in God, they need to invent their own purpose in life – so that they can be sure the whole business of existing is worth the trouble.

    I’ve always felt that would be unsatisfying, because you’d always know at the back of your mind that you made up your reasons to live life as you’re living it. It seems arbitrary.

    • Emerald Twilights

      What about oblivion is there to fear? Do you fear nights of dreamless sleep?

      Once we’re dead we won’t even know that we’re dead or care. What’s to fear?

      What other animal worries whether existence being worth the trouble or what their purpose is? Why should they? They just live.

      H. sapiens, like all other animals, comes with a will to live. Suicide never entered my mind simply because I no longer believed in god. I still wake up every day with something to look forward to. Family and friends and work and study and curiosity still gives me joy and meaning and purpose.

      What seems arbitrary is to uncritically accept the claims of religious authority that that the reason to live is found in bronze- and iron-age myth and religion and their promise of an afterlife.

      • James

        Other animals don’t worry about death, but they certainly fear it. If we come with such a will to live, and in addition we have a unique capacity for reflection, there is everything to fear about oblivion. All of the things we enjoy will end. All the things we accomplished (or didn’t) won’t matter in the long run. Eventually we’ll be forgotten. Concepts like justice and love fall apart. You could be a horrible person or not – both courses of action lose their meaning in the big picture.

        • Emerald Twilights

          But you will not, in your oblivion, experience the absence of all those things you enjoyed.

          You will not, in your oblivion, experience any pain or angst or disappointment in, or even awareness of, their absence. You’ll experience nothing at all; you won’t know and you won’t care.

          In the long run, in the big, cosmic picture, you’re absolutely right…. it’ll all be forgotten. But you’ll neither be aware of it nor care. Nor will anybody else.

          Love and justice are concepts of the living and the sentient. We either experience them here and now or not at all. My feelings for and about love & justice changed not one wit when I ceased to believe in a god or an afterlife. I love my family and friends no less, nor they me. I seek and hope for justice just as much now as I always did. I have the exact same pleasure and purpose in work and study and nature and connectedness. I have the same joys and sorrows.

          But you’re right…. a big reason why people invent messiahs and an afterlife is the hope for ultimate justice. Alas… it’s not to be.

          If that realization leads you to cease caring or loving or striving, or to existential suicide, then there’s something wrong with you. And there’s no doubt that many lives are so miserable and painful that a pardisiacal afterlife is devoutly to be wished. Without it, live for them is literally not worth living.

          But consider…. your dear departed loved-ones, for whom you mourn and grieve — and hope to see again — they don’t think or care about you in the least. Or about anything else. They are oblivious to your loss and pain. They are oblivious to their own oblivion. The afterlife is not for them…. it’s for you, to comfort you in your loss. But they don’t know and they couldn’t care less about your suffering.

          With rare exceptions, there’s no evidence that sub-human animals have any real concept of death. They fear danger and they instinctively fight for survival. But that doesn’t imply or infer they experience a meaningful “fear of death.” Any more than it does a sense of an afterlife. And that was the point… they live their lives totally unconcerned about an afterlife.

          • James

            I understand what oblivion is and that there is nothing to
            fear after it. I’m talking about life before oblivion. I’m talking about the
            consequences of understanding that life has no big picture meaning now. What I
            don’t understand is how you square your continued feelings for and about love
            and justice and so on with your realization that none of that matters in the
            long run.

            To be clear, I don’t accept your assertions about what happens after death. I believe
            God exists, I believe he gives life meaning, and I’m glad that you don’t feel compelled
            to commit existential suicide. I’m just trying to understand whether or not you’re
            being logically consistent. It seems to me that contrary to your argument, there
            is nothing wrong with a person who stops loving people, or stops caring about
            justice, or commits suicide, in the face of meaninglessness. Those are quite
            rational responses to meaninglessness. After all, from your point of view it presumably
            doesn’t matter what you do with your life. Moreover, if you believe that the
            things people usually care about (like having good relationships, having some
            kind of integrity, achieving difficult goals, etc) are just “human concepts” or
            coping mechanisms for survival, you’ve undermined their value, because they work
            best when they’re seen as part of the natural order of things. How can you
            really believe a positive lie when you are aware that it is a lie?

            Conversely, if I’ve misunderstood or
            misrepresented you, and you don’t believe that the things people usually care
            about are just “human concepts” or coping mechanisms for survival, and you
            treat them as intrinsically good or absolutely valuable, how do you square that
            with the bigger picture?

          • Emerald Twilights

            There’s nothing to square, least of all false worries of a ‘logical consistency.’ It is just simply a FACT that it changed nothing in the subjective or intellectual way I feel about life and relationships, etc., or the way I live my life.

            I am unable to even force myself to re-imagine things into a meaningless ‘here and now’ just because there is no eternal, cosmic meaning.

            In the open-ended discussion that is philosophy, if somebody wants to claim a logical inconsistency on my part, let’em do it. It has zero impact on my life today or tomorrow. And it’s not as if you, yourself, live moment to moment examining each and every act for logical consistency.

            That there is nothing “wrong” in an eternal, cosmic sense, does not diminish the fact that there is plenty wrong (as measured by avoidable harm and pain) in the here and now for the people involved. For normal, empathic people, that is enough. And that is where we live our lives… in the here and now. Whether there’s an afterlife matters not one wit on how I treat my family or friends or community. No more than it does for any other social mammal. Nor should it for you (at least if you’re normal).

            It ‘undermines’ nothing, least of all their value…. that’s your unjustified attribution.

            Empathy (and altruism, and cooperative social living, a sense of fairness & sharing, and the nurture, education & protection of the live-born young) *ARE* all part of the “natural order of things.” If that’s a requirement for ‘works best’ (for whatever argument or point you think you were advancing), then there’s no problem.

            They’re the natural order of things because they are all natural, pro-social evolutionary traits that can be observed within the animal kingdom even outside of the hominids (particularly in other social mammals). Evidence for empathy — as a natural order of things — has even been observed in pre-verbal human infants.

            Indeed, those are the very roots of our morality and, along with evolutionary intelligence, all that is required to formulate and elucidate a workable system of morals and social order. I don’t need either a reward in heaven or eternal, cosmic meaning to behave in a pro-social, empathic way and neither do you (at least if you’re normal).

            Nor do I need it to find meaning and purpose and joy in my shared existence with others. Are you saying that you don’t experience intrinsic and unmeasurable meaning & purpose in providing for your wife and children and family and friends? And sharing in their happiness and accomplishments? And in your own process of study and work and discovery? That would be very sad if you don’t…. if you need an afterlife for those things to provide you with — here and now — motivating meaning and purpose. Very sad indeed.

            As far as I’m concerned, there is no “bigger picture” with which it needs to be squared. Am I to believe that you think my life should fall apart, or change in the smallest way, because you claim or think you demonstrate a logical inconsistency?