The Fear of Christians

Christian debate

Source Wikicommons

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – The Words of Jesus as penned by the Apostle John – Circa 1st Century.

I had a conversation with a friend recently and something he said struck me.

“There is no reason for there to be a divided church anymore”

St.John's Fragment

Rylands Library Papyrus P52 – Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are over 33,000 different Christian denominations (and counting). We all look to the Bible as an authoritative text.
I find it a bit odd that we consider the Bible an inspired, authoritative guide, and the guy we follow and consider God is recorded as having said the prayer “that they may all be one.” Yet we are not one, we are divided 181.7 times to the power of 2.

There are a number of reasons for this that I am not going to get into. Lets just say it had something to do with some corrupt clergymen and a guy called Martin Luther back in the 16th Century. (over simplification, I am aware.)
Essentially this was the start of the Protestant movement, which separated itself from the authority of the Catholic Church, rejected the Churches claim to truth and thus turned to the Bible as the sole source of revelation.

Fast forward to today and Christians are a divided people.

This history of animosity and misunderstanding has made modern-day Christians cautious to say the least. On both sides of the Catholic – Protestant debate are those who choose to claim “complete truth.”

Bringing up discussion of church with my friends of different Christian traditions usually involves a lot of tip toeing and gentle wording. When meeting other Christians and mentioning I am Catholic, a common response is, “Oh, cool……” and then the conversation moves on.

But is this tip-toeing and awkwardness really necessary?

I think my friend who said there is no need for a divided church was onto something. So much of what we perceive as differences upon closer examination prove to be not so different after all. There are some big fundamental theological differences, yes, but perhaps not as many as people think.

Something I am learning is that I don’t have to be threatened by other Christians. If a friend tells me about an amazing worship service at her church where people broke down crying, lives were given to God and an old lady’s cataracts were healed I can fall into the trap of worrying that if God is moving in someone else’s church, then maybe I am in the wrong place. Letting go of these insecurities has been a process of accepting that God is God and can work through whoever and whatever means He chooses.

There is a passage in scripture in which the disciples tell Jesus that a man was casting out demons in His name. They told him to stop but Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

I am finding this realisation incredibly freeing. It gives me a sense of joy to be able to acknowledge my brothers and sisters in other churches; Their successes are my successes and their struggles are my struggles. I truly believe that we are unified in our belief in Christ and in our baptism, despite our differences in name.

Before writing this article I read through parts of the Vatican II documents NOSTRA AETATE (In our Age), which speaks about the Churches position on other religions and UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO (Restoration of Unity) which discusses the Catholic approach to ecumenism. I found them quite beautiful in many ways and to end, I thought I would share with you what stood out for me.

All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church…
…Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church. – UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIOCHAPTER I, Paragraph 4

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. – NOSTRA AETATE – Paragraph 2

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. NOSTRA AETATE – Paragraph 3

“He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8). NOSTRA AETATE – Paragraph 5, quotation from 1 John 4:8


6 thoughts on “The Fear of Christians

  1. Surely the more important split is that of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. The invitation extended by Pope Francis to the Orthodox Patriarch to attend the prayer meeting recently held at the Vatican with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders was a wonderful gesture of true ecumenism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Patricia. I agree it was an amazing gesture of peace and ecumenism but I wouldn’t label it as “more important”. In my eyes the rift between Protestant and Catholic is greater than, and therefore in more need of ecumenical dialogue. That being said, I do feel it is still of huge importance and urgency for the Church to foster dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Itself. It would be beautiful to be united again. Thank you for reading!


  2. Great post, Seb. The doubts that plagued the final stages of my conversion towards Catholicism were only put to rest when God gave me the grace to literally weep over Christian division.

    While I agree with what your friend means when he says that “there is no reason for there to be a divided church anymore”, technically, as Catholics, we don’t believe in a divided Church. We believe in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” The protestant groups in the West are not apostolic and are therefore not actually part of the Church in a strictly ontological sense, although they obviously are brothers in Christ by virtue of a shared baptism.

    So I must agree with Patricia’s comment above: unity with the Orthodox who are apostolic and with whom we share a much deeper sacramental closeness, is far more important, ecumenical speaking, than unity with the Protestant groups, who not only cannot find unity among themselves, but who also have abandoned so much of apostolic teaching, not least the sacramental economy of Christianity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jono. That makes a lot of sense. Could the inverse be argued that all Christian’s by virtue of their baptism are in fact already Catholic? Just not fully initiated? A statement sure to get many people’s backs up but an interesting idea.
      Just checking my catechism. Ref 838 – The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptised who are honoured by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter. Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptised are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”

      Yah, so interesting. With the Orthodox Churches, I kind of picture a game of pool. When you have a ball right next to a pocket, you leave it and go for the harder balls first… 🙂 That was my reasoning. Anyway, I just feel frustrated because I feel “there are not over 100 people who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions of people who hate what the wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

      We do have much in common. Many non-denominations here in Cape Town seem to believe in similar doctrines without even realising it. I am thinking specifically of “Saved by faith, through grace working in love.” – Because many have lost their “reformation baggage”, they are drawing directly from scripture and scripture, I believe, objectively leads to Catholicism – And I believe that can be argued from an entirely non-religious perspective. But anyway, getting carried away. Thanks for your comment, it was food for thought. God bless.


      • But don’t you leave those balls near the pocket to be obstacles for your opponent? Just joking, I get your analogy, and in a country whose Christians are mainly Protestant (even if they don’t acknowledge the label) rather than Orthodox, you’re probably right.

        St Augustine has some interesting ideas when it comes to Christians in schism:

        “Come, brothers, if you wish, so that you may be grafted to the vine. We are saddened to see you thus cut off and lying so. Count the bishops who have occupied the See of Peter; see this uninterrupted succession of popes. See the rock against which the powers of hell will not be able to prevail.” (In psal. contr. part. Donat.)


        “Baptism does not profit a man outside unity with the Church, for many heretics also possess this Sacrament, but not the fruits of salvation. Children baptised in other communions cease to be members of the Church when, after reaching the age of reason, they make formal profession of heresy, as, for example, by receiving communion in a non-Catholic church.” (Sermon VIII, PL 46:838; SS vol.IV, p.254)


  3. Great quotes from the V2 docs. I always try to impress upon my students in church history that division was not inevitable (though based on historical context it should not have been surprising. When our timeline creeps up to 1054 I hope to make clear that the division that we are all used to is not at all what Christ wanted. I would disagree with the notion that there’s “no reason” for a divided church. Surely the division is regrettable, but centuries of rift and development in different direction is not something that can be solved with a magic wand. There may be few differences between Christians but there are still enough between churches that unity won’t happen overnight, and if it ever does it will likely take a form that few of us could predict or even recognize.

    Liked by 1 person

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