This post about church divisions reminded me of some experiences in India. In that country, where human suffering is all around and bloody, nihilistic religions flourish, can you guess what the churches are most concerned with? Denominational rivalry, of course! If you think it’s bad here, you wouldn’t believe what it’s like there. Churches mount loudspeakers on electric poles, trying to blast their message out to the most people. In Sunday School, they don’t teach the basic bible stories – they teach them why the Baptists are wrong and are going to hell. If you’re a missionary from America you’re treated like Paul sent back down from heaven – until you try to teach at the church across the street. Then God help you, because His people surely won’t. Theological sophistication consists of having a deeply nuanced understanding of why your denomination is right and all the others are raving heretics. In other words, in India they are still fighting proxy battles in the interdenominational warss which petered out long ago in the West. I understand this is common in the Third World. Everyone wants their own little kingdom, even if it’s a religious one.
Unlilke some, I find this more amusing than anything else. I was lucky enough to grow up among people who believed in unity and I’ve seen enough change even in my lifetime to believe that the overall trend in the US at least is solidly towards unity-with-diversity amongst the mainstream denominations. The real clash that the future holds is that between the liberalized, more inclusive nothern-hemisphere church and the increasingly radicalized southern hemisphere – South America, the Indian subcontinent, and especially Africa.
I just don’t know about the “move toward unity” thing- one afternoon spent with my mother’s family would make you wonder, too; what with the talk about dispensationalism, “pre-trib” and “Dallas men” and post-raptural events….among the fundamentalists, I believe they have lost so many battles with science, that they have now turned their guns on themselves!
For years, after first having researched the circular proofs, manhandled scripture, legalism, and joyless pronouncements, and arriving at my conclusions, the joy returned to my life..I am comforted by what I do (and don’t) believe. I never close myself to grounded discussion, but “walk in the light I am given”, and arrive at my own conclusions. There is comfort in that.
I think that the man-made rules lead to all division and rivalry.
I personally have been barraged with so much foolishness in the name of fervor that I have tuned it all out…
All I know is that in my lifetime I’ve seen interdenominational cooperation that would have shocked those of the previous generations. Promise Keepers is one example – Catholics and Protestants, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopals, black churches, white churches, messianic Jewish congregations, Native American christians, you name it, all gathering together, apologizing for the hatred of the past, and focussing on things of greater importance – like being good dads and husbands.
Another good example would be the soup kitchen in my old hometown of Westminster, which is shared among various local churches. This is not to say that there are not still plenty of silly divisions amongst churchgoers, but I think the same pattern I saw in my old church is true everywhere – there is a gradually shrinking coterie of oldsters who still cling to the insular ways of the past. Steadily eclipsing them is a growing majority of younger Christians who most likely have already been through two or three denominations and are much more interested in finding a church family where they “fit”, rather than arguing over doctrinal minutae. I think this is partly due to the growing mobility of modern families – where in the old days a family would stay in the same area and attend the same church for generations, nowadays people will move multiple times in their lifetime, each time having to find a new place of worship. Coupled with that is the fact that Christian singles are less likely to find a spouse from their own church these days.
Sure hope your side wins!
My side? What’s my side?
The uniters: (not my family)
This portion here:
…makes me think there’s more of a story left inside you that’s waiting to be told. I, for one, am interested in hearing about it. What’s going on in those parts of the world?
It’s really a story left inside an old issue of The Atlantic. I’ll pull it out of the archives for you.
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