One

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.

Mark 16:15

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:

Ephesians 4:1-16

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.

 

Matthew 18:20

20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

6 thoughts on “One

  1. JF says:

    Take courage, dear one! There is not yet need to conclude that the pursuit of truth leads to sin, and that there is a ringed fence beyond which it is not wise to stray. Veritas Lux Mea – do not fear the light. It has come to banish the darkness, not to advise against meddling with it.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for the comment! I wasn’t trying to say that the pursuit of truth leads to sin. Pursuing the truth is my foremost goal. I express my wish to see the Christian church as the whole to unite against the darkness in this world. It can be confusing to navigate the differences, and I deeply admire other denominations even as I struggle to recognize what I truly believe in within the Church (meaning, I’m asking myself, “Where do I belong?”) I pray that we, in Christ’s name, can banish the darkness as One

  2. Andrew says:

    As we’ve discussed before, this is also very near and dear to my heart. Most my friends outside of seminary are Protestant, some of my family is Orthodox, and I found much of my formation as a Christian outside of my own denomination. My best friend won’t attend a Catholic Mass for religious reasons, and I consider him one of the best Christians I know. With that in mind, here are my thoughts.

    There’s a temptation, especially with the rise of non-denominational Christianity and Jefferson Bethke’s “Jesus>Religion” movement, to try and put some sort of irreconcilable dichotomy between religion and having a relationship with Jesus. The complaint seems to be that we’re squabbling about things that don’t matter, and that things like doctrines, rituals, and traditions are outside the scope of what is essentially “Christianity.” So long as we all believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead (and the other Absolutes you mentioned) isn’t that enough? I would say, however, that that mentality is highly misleading.

    As I try to phrase this in the context of those four circles, there’s a further issue: who gets to decide what are Absolutes and what are Interpretations? For Catholics, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith: an Absolute that I hope I have the courage to die before professing anything contrary to. The same can be said of the Syrian and Byzantine churches. Yet for most Protestant denominations, that would fall under Interpretations. Must it objectively fall under Interpretations because at least some Christians don’t believe in it? Some “Christians” don’t believe that Jesus was truly Incarnate, fully God and fully man. Does that make the Incarnation also an Interpretation? Everything in the Scriptures takes some amount of interpretation, so every church, denomination, or individual Christian is in the business of defining Absolutes for themselves, or leaving no doctrine defined at all. When speaking inter-denominationally, the most we can call any doctrine, even the Resurrection itself, is “potentially Absolute,” depending on who you talk to.

    If all the differences were really a matter of that fourth circle, “Perspectives, Preferences, Experiences, and Opinions,” I don’t think we would have nearly the divisions we do. For instance, Eastern and Western Christianity have vastly different views on all sorts of things. Even while the Catholics and Orthodox disagree on a potentially Absolute issue (the Papacy), we can still admit to different but equally true theology, spirituality, and tradition. Going to a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, a Maronite Qurbono, and a Catholic Mass will all look and feel vastly different, but each would say that the other is valid, and essentially of the same Christianity. This is beautiful, and as a Western Christian, I’ve enjoyed learning how to see Christianity in a completely different light through the eyes of the Eastern church. However, I don’t think the arguments within Western Christianity, between Protestant churches and Protestantism and Catholicism, show much resemblance to that, because they question what is essentially Christian, not just the traditions surrounding that Christianity. They question denominational Absolutes.

    There is a fundamental problem in saying that the differences of doctrine can be ignored because we all love Jesus, since without doctrine, it’s unclear whether the Jesus I love is the same Jesus you love. One can only love what one knows, after all. I love the Jesus that offered up His body on the cross and in the Eucharist. That’s a fundamentally different fellow than a Jesus who didn’t institute Communion. That’s an essentially different Christianity. What’s more, if I’m wrong, I’m committing idolatry to a piece of bread every week, and my fellow Christians are allowing me to believe whatever I want to.

    But I’ll end with a word of encouragement. I *don’t* think the different denominations are different “churches,” in the absolute sense, or that everyone outside my denomination is going to Hell, or that their whole church is somehow invalid. Yes, the truth is worth searching for, and some truths have the validity of Christianity riding on them. However, I think our current, fractured Christianity is just that: fractured, but Christianity. It’s not that we’re a bunch of different religions, it’s that we’re one broken religion. Lord willing when we are someday united, I dearly hope it’s not by one denomination arguing the others into submission, and all Christians abandoning their beliefs and theology in favor of that. Rather, I think Orthodoxy has something to offer that Catholicism does not; Protestantism something that Orthodoxy does not; etc. I have learned more from my Protestant friends about the joy of Christianity than I have from any Catholic church or community I’ve attended, and I hope to integrate that into my own Catholic faith and love of Jesus Christ. Unity can happen, and I think it starts there. Just never stop searching for the truth, and don’t settle for anything less than that truth.

    • Rebecca says:

      Andrew, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this! You have challenged me to think even harder about this subject. You’re absolutely right, it is easy to say that the basic tenants are basically, “we love Jesus, he saved us from our sins”. The end. As pleasant as it would be for that to be the bottom line, everyone getting along happily, this is indeed a fallen world. So many schisms in the church…this has made it “fractured”. It hurts me to think about, but at the same time, I believe, in spite of the differences, when it comes down to standing against the world for the truth, Catholics and Protestants can stand together.

      And this comes to what you said about some “Christians” not believing in the Eucharist…In this post, when I say Christian, I mean, the Protestant denominations, or even Evangelical non-denominational, or Catholic. I think the people who claim to be Christian, but are seen as heretics by both Catholics and Protestants, would be Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses, for example. Those people who call themselves “Christians” don’t believe in the incarnation or the trinity, which both Catholics and Protestants believe in. I was trying to say, as far as Absolutes go, there are the non-negotiable truths we find written in the Gospels. When it comes to the Eucharist, I am just now realizing that some Protestants choose to interpret what Christ meant when He gave us His body and His blood for our earthly communion.

      I was discussing this over the weekend with my family. Just because the Protestants choose to interpret the Eucharist as being symbolic rather than literally the body and blood of Christ, doesn’t change the actual words in the Bible. I found out that Lutherans, the most Protestant of the Protestants, receive the Eucharist almost exactly the same way Catholics do. I wouldn’t call this a matter of semantics. But then again, I realize, whose place is it to question what Christ spoke that night at Passover, to his disciples? Whether the Eucharist is taken symbolically, or literally, the Christians receiving it, if truly convicted by Christ, will recognize what He has done for us. A question: would it be correct to say, “It is what it is” in the matter of the Eucharist? I mean, is a Christian not as appreciative of Christ’s death and resurrection if the Eucharist isn’t taken literally? I’m not sure if this isn’t confusing…but I want to know what you think. I hope what I said here makes sense…

      My brother-in-law pointed out that yes, the Absolutes in the church may be the same by Catholics and Protestants, but the real difference is how the magisterium chooses to focus or value those Absolutes. The doctrines upholding those absolutes do look quite different depending where you look, and this may or may not transform how those in the denomination view these Absolutes.
      And yes, “the truth is worth searching for, and some truths have the validity of Christianity riding on them”. I agree. For instance, I believe that certain progressive denominations (i.e. Episcopalian) have foregone God’s idea of righteousness and have conformed to what the world would find fair and moral (female/homosexual clergy), which in my opnion subverts the validity of scriptures…to a lesser degree, but significant enough to keep me from considering joining that particular denomination. It would be my very last desire for any denomination to “argue the others into submission”. When I speak of unity, I do mean a united effort among those professing the incarnation of Christ, His death and resurrection, and His commission for us as His followers to spread the Gospel, the weight and might of it, to all the nations.

      I think this post stemmed from the bleakness seen daily in the news around the world, the rise of ISIS, the rise of secular humanism and new-age philosophies/theologies. I was basically wishing out loud that as Christians, professing the Scriptural truths of what Christ has done, what He calls us to do in His name (not the feel good Jesus that liberals would prefer). This comes to the wonder of how He saved us by grace, and by faith we live for Him, seeking to honor Him. I understand that this matter too is one that is quarreled over between Protestants and Catholics. This is the debate, which you’re probably aware of : either we are saved by Faith alone (Sola Fide) or by the convictions our Faith instills in us—convictions to do good works in His name.

      In conclusion, yes, the pursuit of Truth is the crucial start to discovering those truths within the Christian church as whole, Catholic and Protestant. As fractured as the church is, I pray that somehow, in this age, we can make together a stand for Christ, who is truth itself. (I wonder if my Evangelical background is showing :D) Catholic or Protestant or not, I believe evangelizing to the world in Christ’s name is the bottom line.
      (I hope this entire reply made sense…haha)
      -Rebecca

  3. bookmombridget says:

    Very thoughtful. I enjoyed reading this post and found it to be very deeply thought out and compelling. I have been in just this place and have contemplated all of these things. I believe that we, as Christians, need to reach out to God and follow as He leads. As a former Catholic, I respect the Catholic denomination very much. As a Practicing Protestant, I consider that I am able to worship in a way that is different, but not “better” or “worse” than the way I worshiped as a Catholic. Both of these denominations have taught me much and helped me on my path as I strive towards my ultimate goal of communion with Christ and everlasting life in Him. Christ was my Lord and Savior in both my Catholic walk and my Protestant walk. And to me, He has always been the same unchanging Lord of Lords, the Resurrection and the Life, the one who suffered and died on the cross and offered up his body so that I might “live”.
    Keep reaching towards Him. I am proud of you for searching and desiring to know Him better.
    Mom

    • Rebecca says:

      I appreciate yours and Dad’s support as I mull over all of these matters. You are amazing parents whose willing spirits to listen to the Lord together (to adopt, homeschool, etc.) inspires me so much! Love you! 🙂

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