Recently, I found this deeply moving song called “One” by Chris Sligh. It bears a significant message that weighs heavily on my heart.
Holding onto our beliefs
Like a child holds to its father
It’s like we’re trying so hard to breathe
With our heads underneath the water
Keep trying to find the balance
Of our love and our convictions
‘Cause we know that life in You
Moves far beyond religion
Last semester, I wrote a post here called, “As a Protestant at a Catholic University” and proceeded to explain my background as far as denominations go. Since then, the Catechism of the Catholic church and a couple of Scott Hahn’s books have come into my possession. I feel this is the next step in my process of figuring everything out. I’ve found it very easy lately to become frustrated with the whole concept of doctrine and theological variations within the denominations. I think to myself, “The only thing that should really matter is a person’s relationship with Christ and a strong focus on scripture.” But, I have also found out that there is such a thing as the Magisterium, the church authorities who interpret the Scriptures. All my life, I’ve read and processed Bible scriptures and stories in a certain way. That is to say, almost completely literally. And beyond that, I’ve been hearing the back-and-forth arguments of Catholics and Protestants, a startling debate that I was probably only vaguely aware of once upon a time. Not so anymore. I’ve encountered many people who are far more aware of these debates and either side’s viewpoints and different (or sometimes similar) theology.
This is where the song, and a sermon by Pastor John at Valley Creek church (where I’ve gone all my life), enter the scene of my whirling thought processes.
“One” addresses the divineness in the Christian church as a whole. And I don’t mean Christian as in the Catholic church OR the Protestant/reformed church. I mean all of it, with its rough patches and the struggling sides grouped as the entire Christian church begun in the first century, Anno Domini. And yes, I know that in so many people’s minds, there is indeed lines dividing the Church. And that’s why the first lines of the song strike me so hard.
Holding onto our beliefs
Like a child holds to its father
I know, there’s been probably millions of posts and theses and explications tackling this very issue. But I’m simply thinking in black and white, here on this random blog. I’m an idealist, honestly. When I was younger, I seriously thought there was no better church than Valley Creek. And while it is a gathering place of sincere followers of Christ, I knew only one way of thinking. But recently, I’ve been listening–to my teachers, friends, family, considering what they say. I sometimes hear people say, “there are Christians who are Catholics” and vice versa. I understand, this is earth, this is divisiveness that reigns in this world. Personally, I feel one second like I need to defend one side, and another moment I think, “What on earth??? There’s an attack launched at THIS side.” Opposing sides. Lines drawn. It’s honestly dizzying.
Is there one right denomination and a wrong one? No. There isn’t. We live in a fallen world. Each sector of belief within the Christian community is bound to be flawed. Some would say a specific denomination is irreparable and irredeemable. No, I don’t believe so. I believe the problem is the lines that split the ground in the Church body as a whole. And this is a tragedy. We cling onto beliefs we’ve invested in, oftentimes surrounded by family and friends who share the same pride and prejudices. Is there anything wrong with that? Not necessarily. But my problem is when a person, a church, trying to sincerely promote the Kingdom of God, is pointed to as having “messed up” doctrine that therefore disqualifies the entire denomination. My pastor made an interesting diagram of this very sort of thinking. He drew a small circle on a white board, and identified it as Absolutes. That is, truths of scripture that I am certain Catholics and Protestants alike agree on–the incarnation of Christ, His authority over the world, His death and resurrection.
Outside of that crucial circle, was the second circle–titled Interpretations. That is, how the Magisterium and/or church authorities choose to interpret and understand scriptures, therefore setting the precedent for the entire denomination. The third circle outside of Interpretations was named Deductions. That I believe, refers to what is read between the lines. I believe what he meant by this included some things like predestination, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception…and depending who you ask, those deductions are truths or inaccuracies.
The final circle was named Perspectives, Preferences, Experiences, and Opinions. This is where a lot of the confusion comes into play. Someone could prefer loud music or quiet instrumental worship. Or, one could have a negative experience with a ministry at a certain church. Someone might hold the opinion that a particular structure in a denomination is erroneous. The final circle is where the war truly begins, I think. I’d really appreciate any thoughts on these four rings within the Christian church and all its denominations.
We are the face of Christ
In a world of shadows
Is it God’s love we’re fighting for
Or our denomination’s ego?
However hard it is to admit it, it is so easy to scorn another for the church they belong to. This is not to say there aren’t some denominations that have caved to the ways of the world (female pastors, homosexual clergy…). But in reality, generalization and/or personal bias (which no one is free of) prevents unity in the Church, the bride of Christ. In this fallen world, we’ll never be free of turmoil and conflict. But the Church is indeed the Kingdom of God on earth. We are called by Christ to honor him and join together to bring hope and redemption to the world. How can we do that if we are constantly downing one another and quarreling over a particular difference in theology, when, in the grand scheme of things, we are meant to be fishers of men?
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
I’ve probably simplified this topic a great deal, but this is a matter that, as I said, weighs on my soul, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this, whoever you are reading this right now. Below are scripture addressing our call to be unified in Christ:
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
2 Corinthians 5:19-20
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
1 Corinthians 12:25-27
25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”