Wednesday, November 16, 2011


A little less than half of all Christians in the world are Protestant.
Within that group there thousands and thousands of denominations each promising to have the handle on God’s truth. It is the great scandal of the Christian Church that we are not all one.

Jesus’ message was supposed to bring us together into unity. “That they may be one,” He said. Yet we are anything but when almost half of Christians belong to that segment of Christianity that “Protests” not only against the other half, but internally with the protesting denominations themselves. (And to be honest we often protest right back.)

There are two wrong approaches in addressing this reality. (No solutions here – just a couple of those things that should be avoided.)

The first mistake is not recognizing that there are any difference between us. If we do not recognize any differences then there is little impetus to work toward unity. An example of this would be Communion in the Catholic Church. It is not unusual for a priest to be upbraided for not giving Communion to anybody who shows up at such times as funerals or weddings. Before Communion I generally make an announcement which states that although we are honored to have non-Catholics with us and that they are most welcome, I may only offer Communion to those Catholics who are properly disposed.

There are those within the Church who are angry because this appears rude to them. “Can’t we all just get along?” No. We don’t. Then there are those outside the Church who are angry because they feel excluded from Catholic Eucharist. Of course they are welcome if they want to hold and believe what Catholics do. Most of the time there is no intention.

Yet if we glossed over this moments and pretended there was unity, what would ever change? What issues would be discussed? What reality recognized? It is this very act that has been the genesis for many discussions and reconciliations. Would they have occurred if we pretended our divisions did not exist?

At the other end of the scale is inappropriately celebrating the divisions. Rather than celebrating there should be great mourning and penance that the Christian Church is divided. Triumphalism and disdain have no role in the life of any Christian in any denomination.

A Methodist minister recently wrote this:

“[O]ur daughter has been asked to play organ music for today’s worship in her Chicago church that is appropriate for Reformation Sunday. In many Protestant churches, today will be celebrated in remembrance of Martin Luther’s posting of 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany October 31, 1517. Luther’s simple act is often regarded as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

“I have not asked a church to celebrate the Protestant Reformation in 25 years. I came quickly to the point as a pastor when I could not lead a church in celebrating division. We have been schooled to call it the Reformation, yet the division of the church into Protestant and Catholic was finally a failure of love. Why would Christians want to celebrate brokenness when Christ has called his church to be a sign of unit in the world? When people break off from a denomination or church to form new congregations, no one is sadder than Jesus.”

This is a man with whom you could engage in a conversation and perhaps work at the true issue of healing division within Jesus’ Church.


Robin said...

In the same spirit, let me gently suggest that there are many consequences of the Reformation worthy of our honor and respect. Brokenness and divisiveness are not among them, but renewal in scholarship and practice, openness to the Spirit's winds of change, and - after many centuries -- fellowship and generosity instead of strife and violence -- among those who disagree, all of it in both Protestant and Catholic traditions -- those are things to celebrate.

(Full disclosure: I am a Protestant pastor).

Anonymous said...

a gentle suggestion . . . and worthy of consideration


Tom said...

I'm really not sure what Robin's gentle suggestion is. It is phrased in the same wishy washy terms that Modernist in the Catholic Church use when they evoke the "Spirit of Vatican II" The Reformation deserves no honor or respect or for that matter any strife or violence. Instead of working within the Church, Luther's pride force himself out of it and the consequences of this rupture are with us still.