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Would the REAL church please stand up – Confusion in the Kingdom of God

Churches[This is a reflection on my San Diego Reader Column where I visited a different church each week for 2005 and part of 2004.]

One theme that developed as I spoke with different pastors/priests for a variety of denominations and faiths is that each one was convicted that their expression was the true expression of faith. Catholic Priests had a sense of confidence that “theirs was the true church that traced itself back to Peter and Jesus Christ.” The Mass was the place where the Eucharist was served and followers needed to access the grace offered here. Yet, other splinter Catholic groups (Byzantine and Old Catholics) were quick to point out their legitimacy in relation to the “ROMAN Catholic” traditions.

On the other side of the world, Eastern Orthodox congregations (visited two, one Greek and the other Antiochian) were most vocal in their position as ‘truest church’. [“I believe the [Greek Orthodox Church] is the true church, but I’m not going to rub it in anyone’s face,” said Nazo Zakkak, an altar boy at St. Gregory of Nyssa Greek Orthodox Church.]

Both these groups (Catholics & Eastern Orthodox) often citied the amount of denominations in the Protestant movement as an indictment against Evangelicals. “There are 20,000 some-odd denominations, any time an Evangelic has a minor doctrinal disagreement, they just go off and start their own church,” is a common comment about Protestantism.

Where does this leave us? How do we deal with the denominational divides? One comment is often, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty.” Yet an Orthodox Father pointed out that denominations aren’t even in agreement on what is essential or non-essential so how can their be unity. It seems like the church is in a mess but why does God allow such a divergent expression of faith amongst people who call themselves Christians?

3 Comments

  1. Drew, I have had conflicting thoughts about this very topic. The cliches (which I am guilty of using) of “agreeing to disagree” and “unity in essentials” don’t really address the nub of the matter. As a preliminary, we can see that unity is not the exclusive province of any branch of Christianity. Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism have all had mighty strains of discord throughout history within each of them. Baptists who claim a pure “trail of blood” are just as guilty of myopeia as Catholics who claim that the Roman church has been unified and happy since Peter. At one time, I would have said the disunity and disagreement was a type of test from God. That is, knowing all our different proclivities and personalities, He wants to see how well we live out the grace to each other that He has shown to us. But that is, I fear, an inferior answer. After all, God is a God of unity and truth. So it seems to me that his desire is to see everyone believe about Him only those things which are true and accurate. It seems to me RC Sproul is closer to the truth, when he tells his seminary students that all our incorrect doctrinal beliefs are fundamentally a result of sin. We might say, “The Bible isn’t clear.” In reality, if we were like Adam, our knowledge and dedication and holiness would strip away the imperfections that we “perceive” about God’s Word. In a funny way, you could say Adam should have written a systematic theology for us before he sinned (I realize he had no Bible from which to draw conclusions, but you get my drift). What we are left with, is to muddle through as best we can, attempting to prioritize our beliefs as best we can in the light of scripture.

    A secondary point about this is that I do believe there is soundness in a “pyramid scheme” of doctrine. By that I mean it makes sense to have doctrines which are primary, secondary, tertiary, and so on. Part of my difficulty with the Regular Baptist denomination, with which I was formerly affiliated, is that they have about 30 doctrines that – if you hear them speak of them – all seem equally non-negotiable. To me, a sign of denominational weakness or legalism is when the doctrine of the atonement is of equal importance to the doctrine of the rapture. Guys like Driscoll do a much better job, I think, in attempting to put doctrines in their proper context and levels of importance.

  2. Having a diversity of denominational teachings is no different than the competing views of thousands of Rabbi’s in ancient Judaism. Same God, same various teachings “competing.”

  3. Jonathan,

    Are you saying it’s ok? Do you think the disciples had competing views of Christ? (Not differing views in terms of personality and how they contextualized the message.)

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