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”
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 REDINTEGRATIO – CHAPTER 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