Last night I was talking on the phone to my pagan friend who was raised Catholic. She’s an awesome person, and we’ve had some great conversations about religion and beliefs. Well, last night, we were talking politics too, and I made a remark that I’ve been feeling angry (to put it mildly) at some of my fellow Evangelical Christians. Her response, “Wait, you’re Evangelical? I thought you were Protestant!”
Cue twenty minutes of trying to explain to a non-Christian all the different sects, denominations, and divisions within the Christian church. I tried to keep it as simple, but as clear, as I could, and I still…well, I ended up getting bogged down in all kinds of crazy stuff.
Sometimes I feel like, if Jesus showed up in our churches today, He’d start calling us whited sepulchers and broods of vipers. How did we get so fractured?
(I’ll add a caveat here: I’m not opposed to denominations themselves. Variety is a wonderful thing, and I’ve always enjoyed going to different church services and seeing that people who are very different from me in some ways are also the same as me in the most vital ways.)
First you have the differences between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. Then you have all the different sorts of Protestants, all the different sorts of Catholics, and…well, I honestly don’t know. Are there all different sorts of Orthodox? I confess, I don’t know a lot about the Orthodox church, and only marginally more about the Catholic church.
My dad was raised Catholic, but converted to Protestantism when I was in grade school. Not out of any vitriol towards the Catholic church, just because my mom’s church resonated more with him spiritually, so I’ve been to plenty of Catholic weddings, funerals, and masses in my life. Which, according to some of the people I know, is probably putting me halfway down the highway to Hell.
The longer I tried to explain some of the differences to my friend, the more and more embarrassed I got. If we all believe in Jesus Christ, if we all believe in the saving power of the cross…why is there such vitriol in Evangelical circles against the Catholics? (My church actually supports missionaries to Spain trying to convert the Catholics to our “true” faith. WTH? Catholics have the same basic beliefs we do!) And if we all share a belief in the resurrection and the Great Commission, why is there all this bickering and in-fighting between people who take communion once a year and people who take it once a week?
Oh, sure, I know how it happens. I’ve even had those arguments myself. In high school I spent an entire Sunday School hour arguing with my class leader about baptism being a requirement for salvation. I refuse to believe that, if someone has a true conversion but is for some reason unable to be baptized before death, that person is going to Hell. The Bible says God judges a man’s heart. Not whether he’s had a bath lately.
So yeah, I do understand how we get all these divisions. But at the same time, it kills me that we can’t keep our focus on Christ. We can’t remember that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything in us, and the second greatest is to love our neighbors as ourselves. All of our neighbors, whether they take communion every day or never, whether they go to church three times a week or never, whether they worship with instruments or not, whether they’re 100% correct in every single point of law or not. (And this post is about Christian relations with other Christians, which is why I’m not also adding things like, whether they love someone who’s the same sex as them, whether they’re black or white, whether they’re rich or poor, etc. But that’s the only reason–we should love them too.)
Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 3. He writes,
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.
Have we forgotten that the core of our faith is grace? Have I forgotten? I’m sure as heck not very good at showing people grace. I get so caught up in being right that I forget it’s not about being right. My blogger friend Meerkat009 has a post that discusses “being right” more eloquently than I can, so I’ll direct you to it.
I recently swore off Facebook until after the election is over. I can’t continue to look at posts from people who say they see pure evil in President Obama’s eyes, or from people who say they think Mitt Romney is the anti-Christ. (Okay, I haven’t seen that last one specifically, but I’m sure someone out there has said it.) But it’s a good illustration of just how much grace we are lacking. There are Christians who say anyone who votes Democrat isn’t a true Christian. And there are equally committed Christians who would say the same thing about voting Republican.
What I say is, if the church would get off its collective ass, stop bickering within the family, and start doing something about all the problems in this world, maybe we wouldn’t have to worry about who wins this election.
And I’ll tell you, after I spent all that time explaining things to my pagan friend, she explained some of her belief to me. She honors all the gods, but feels closest to two in particular. She worships alone, because worship is generally not a corporate thing for many (if not most) pagans. And frankly, as sad as it makes me, her religion sounds more peaceful than mine.
I’m going to close with a quote from a man many revere as the greatest president the United States ever saw. This is from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech on March 4, 1865, and I think it’s a sentiment everyone in America, and all of my fellow Christians–of every brand–would do well to consider:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.