I know I’ve been away for a few days, but I’m hoping that I can come back to writing with an issue that will (hopefully) resonate with a lot of other Christians. I’ll try to keep this short because I still have a load of revision to do, but I just want to get this point across.
Unity. What should be one of the the church’s greatest strengths has somehow become one of her weaknesses. I believe that there is a fundamental reason that the church is referred to as the bride of Christ in the New Testament; Christians are called to function as one body, as one person, called to be Christ’s singular bride. Notice that Jesus is monogamous in this, he does not want to marry multiple churches. I just want to run with this metaphor a little bit. Can you imagine if, on his wedding day, Jesus is standing at the altar and lo and behold! countless brides come walking up the aisle! There might be a Roman Catholic bride, a Lutheran bride, a Pentecostal bride, an Eastern Orthodox bride, a Coptic bride, a Methodist bride, a Baptist bride, an Anglican bride and goodness knows how many more! Needless to say, that image is not in the Bible. Instead, Christians are referred to by Paul as forming a singular, united body. As Paul says, different parts of the body have different functions, but there is not one part of the body that can say to the other, ‘I don’t need you’. Does the global church look like one body?
There have been at least two major schisms in the history of the church. The first, known as the East-West schism, took place over a number of centuries, starting in the 11th century A.D. From this schism, we have what are now know as the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The other great schism in Western Christianity was the 16th century Protestant Reformation which fathered a number of non-Catholic denominations which are now identifiable as Lutheran, Quaker, Baptist and many more. In the wake of the Reformation, more and more denominations such as Pentecostalism and Methodism were also able to spring up at later dates. In many ways, it saddens me that Christianity has been characterised over the years by such huge splits. Throughout our history, there seems to have been an unwillingness to talk over doctrinal differences, as the Apostles did in Acts and reach a consensus that everyone was happy with. Perhaps I am being naive in wishing for a unified Christian body, but I can’t help but think that Jesus wants unity and that the early Church fathers strove for it too. Instead of the church being a strong, loving, unified body, the world sees it as an institution ravaged by in-fighting and hostility.
I’ve got to be honest with you, I’ve looked down on various denominations and sneered at various beliefs within Christianity before, as I’m sure lots of people have (though that doesn’t excuse me in any way). I can’t help but think that really we shouldn’t be focusing on the differences, but the similarities. In my mind, to be a Christian, someone has to accept the sacrifice if Jesus as payment for their own sins and live a life with Jesus as their Lord. I think that’s a pretty sound, Biblical definition of a Christian and I’m willing to debate if someone disagrees because I think that they are the fundamental points. I know that the vast majority of Christian denominations hold to those beliefs, yet we persist in looking for the differences. I actually kind of like to think about the whole church as a pie chart (bear with me on this one) with different sections representing the different denominations and the sacrifice of Jesus at the centre. If you look at denominations like that, you see that yes, there are differences in doctrine or whatever, but Jesus is holding them all together at the centre and they can exist as a complete unified whole.
My plea to myself and to all Christians who read this is that we would make an effort to look past denominational differences and just see each other as Christians. Let’s try dropping the titles – ‘I’m Catholic’, ‘I’m Anglican’, ‘I’m non-denominational’ – and start seeing each other as Jesus meant us to be, as parts of the same body. If Christians can make that happen, then I believe the world will start to see us differently, and it has to start on an individual level, with every one of us deciding to stop judging other Christians, and accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ.