October 25, 2020

Schism: Is the Church under Judgment?

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, Dali

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, Dali

“If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples.” (Nehemiah 1:8)

“…it’s time for judgment to begin with God’s own household.” (1Peter 4:17)

* * *


The first recorded question a human being asked was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). In case you are wondering, Cain was saying, “I am not.” Building on this mindset and attitude, not only did he compete with his brother, get angry with his brother, and hold a grudge against his brother, but he murdered his brother.

When people seek wisdom apart from God (the original sin of Adam and Eve), one of its first manifestations is division and contention in the human community. Cut off from communion with God, we find ourselves at odds with each other.

Which makes me wonder. Is it possible?…

Is it conceivable that the Church is under God’s judgment for our disunity?

It has been estimated that there are 41,000 Christian denominations in the world. Does our radically divided condition perhaps indicate that God has “scattered us among the peoples,” as he did Cain, as he did Israel; that he has sent us into exile where we have settled in our own isolated communities, cut off from one another, pursuing our own lives and agendas?

Are we Cain — condemned to wander the earth until we find our own little cities of refuge in which to hunker down?

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, DaliThe story of the Bible indicates that God’s preferred method of judging his people is to scatter them from good places where God is central and the community is unified around him, causing them to wander in a diaspora.

In other words, he boots Adam and Eve out of the garden. He sends Cain packing. He scatters the nations at Babel over the earth. He sends the murmuring children of Israel walking in circles around the desert. He allows the folks in the days of Judges, each one, to do what his right in his own eyes. He sets even the members of King David’s own household against him. Like Israel under the kings, there is division, contention, and disintegration until the day of dispersion and destruction comes.

How can we not constantly pray, as Ezra did:

“My God, I’m too ashamed to lift up my face to you. Our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day, we’ve been deep in guilt. On account of our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case.” (Ezra 9:6-7)

For where is the “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church” that we confess? Where is “His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way,” united around “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”?

Where is the company of disciples for whom Jesus prayed, asking,

“I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23, CEB)?

It seems to me we’ve given up on the idea of unity so long ago that maybe God has said, “OK, you don’t want to be unified — I get it. You each want your own way. Well, have at it. Scatter and scatter and scatter until there is no more Church, just a multitude of individual believers on the earth. Plant more and more new churches in areas where there are already congregations. Call it devotion to mission, or call it my blessing, or something cool like ‘catching the next wave.’ You have the truth, after all, and you can rescue those who just call themselves Christians but don’t really know what it means like you do.

“Oh yes, and don’t ever pray for the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Pentecostals, the Mennonites or the non-denominational churches in town. Don’t ever mention their names except to describe what you disagree with them about. For heaven’s sake, don’t ever join with them in mission to relieve suffering in your communities in my name. In fact, it’s probably better if you simply ignore them altogether. They may not be real Christians after all.”

Maybe God said one day, “Hey, I have an idea. Since you don’t like each other and don’t think that other so-called Christians really understand the truth, why don’t you forbid each other from taking Communion at your tables? You can back it up with Scripture. I have given all of you plenty of room to interpret things differently in the Bible. Whenever you can, magnify those differences and make them matters for separation. Build your walls high. Just disregard all those passages about love and acceptance and unity. Consider them optional. Pretend your brethren don’t even exist.”


The Persistence of Memory, Dali

Perhaps God just got fed up with us taking natural differences and cultural variety — things that he loves — and turning them into parochialism. So he’s scattered us like the nations from Babel into our own little enclaves.

Maybe all the power plays and self-advancement that has gone on in the name of Christ finally got to him and he gave us up to our own devices and let us put our own rulers on the throne.

Maybe the “scattering” of the Church, the schisms, the divisions, the contentions, the wars, the nationalism, the parochialism, the territorialism, the dogmatism and separatism is the result of God abandoning us to our selfish and short-sighted ways.

Maybe God has judged us. Perhaps we have been under his judgment for so long we don’t even recognize it any longer.

Is there any other explanation for why we just keep on going down the same path of disintegration and disunity?

Do we even know to whom we are praying when we say, “Our Father…”?


  1. This post is a fantastic example of how antinomianism is just another form of legalism.

    You are judging conservative churches that restrict fellowship based on a standard, a Law, that has only ever been found in the west in the 20th and 21st century. Conservative churches that have not adopted your modern, western Law of unity and tolerance are schismatics and must repent, and, they must show their tolerance for your innovations by joining you at the altar, even though our divisive doctrines can be “backed it up with Scripture,” in good faith.

    The legalistic condemnations on us sola scriptura folks who don’t agree with your doctrine of tolerance and unity as paramount values are absolutely no different than conservative condemnations of those who depart from Scripture. You are just operating under a different standard. That’s some kind of Law, but where does it come from? Who’s Law is right? The liberal law of tolerance and unity trumping all doctrine, or the conservative view of holding fast to Scripture? These are first principles. I can’t see how “Christians” could use any standard other than Christ’s teachings in Scripture.

    • Why do you assume I’m “judging conservative churches”?

      I said clearly: perhaps The Church is under judgment.

      And I can see that the comments for this post may very well provide evidence.

      • Nice try CM, but given the context of some of your recent posts, the implication is clear: Those churches who (shudder) hold to any standards at all are the schismatics.

        But hey, when you’ve already thrown down the gauntlet that any dissent somehow proves your point, I guess there’s no point in even trying to engage in dialogue.

    • So do you make supplication for all the saints, like Paul commands, or just the “sola scriptura folks”? Can Christians unite around the gospel of Jesus, or must we only unite around the gospel AND a common doctrinal understanding?

      • In our churches we pray for the whole Church, regardless of denomination. But since when are doctrine and the Gospel a separate thing? The Gospel IS the doctrine of the Christian church.

        • Good point Miguel (as always). What I meant was, the gospel + justification by faith alone, calvinism, cessationism etc. Can we just unite around the common belief that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, or do we also have to agree on a whole bunch of other beliefs as well?

          • I would say that we ARE united around the common belief that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord (and the rest of the content of the ecumenical creeds). However, as we encounter irreconcilable differences in less central issues, the right thing to do is to organize accordingly and those of similar conviction to band together. That way we can hold our arguments at a safe distance, where they do not interfere with the day to day work of ministry. Catholics and Protestants ARE part of the same invisible church, but since you cannot have a Pope and not have a Pope at the same time, they isolate themselves into different organizational structures based on doctrine. But we can still work together and keep open channels of dialogue for mutual edification (and I would say we are getting better at this by the day).

    • Sorry Boaz, but I think you just proved Chaplain Mike’s point.

  2. I also don’t see why disunity is such a problem. We have no teaching that says, avoid disunity at all costs, even if it means ignoring what I have taught you.

    It has always been the case that the church is divided. We have no promise of one institutional church in full agreement with each other. There’s no reason to expect it will ever be the case.

    What we should do is find unity where we can, and be charitable where we can’t. But what’s the point of blaming each other for disunity? Disunity should be recognized, and we go about our business until another opportunity arises to find unity. But if we are going to play the game of determining who is responsible for creating disunity, those insisting on sola scriptura, interpreted in accordance with the tradition of the church, can’t be blamed.

    The ELCA has abandoned traditional and Scriptural Christianity by ordaining women, by marrying homosexuals, by funding contraceptive abortions with its insurance programs and performing them in its hospitals, by permitting its pastors to reject the resurrection, or anything really. It has abandoned Lutheranism by joining fellowship with protestants that reject the sacraments and entering a meaningless paper agreement with the Pope that the Pope says denies justification through faith alone.

    Yet the ELCA is not responsible for disunity? Sorry, that’s simply inaccurate. The liberal mainlines have separated themselves from historical Christianity and worldwide Christianity. They have chosen to stand by themselves, away from their old traditions and away from Scripture. The one that innovates and adopts new teachings is the one that creates disunity.

    • Point of the post spectacularly missed, Boaz.

      • Marcus Johnson says


      • I’m not so sure. You want to point the finger for disunity? False doctrine causes disunity. Always has, always will. Or in our post-modern age, do we even believe such a thing as false doctrine even exists? Oh sure, there is abject heresy, like being intolerant, but far be it from me to insist that I believe rightly as the church and scripture teach. I’m like N.T. Wright or Eugene Peterson who say that at any given time, up to 50% of my theology could be wrong! Yeah, there’s a gut level conviction that proclaims the Gospel with boldness.

        Even if it’s not a matter of right and wrong, and just a matter of perspective, where there is stability of tradition and an innovator comes along and demandes their new teaching be accepted, that person is being divisive. Case and point: the Papacy and Filioque were doctrinal innovations which led to the great schism. Regardless of whether they are right or wrong, the fact that they were new caused unnecessary friction. I can see merit on either side of some arguments, but in those cases, I do tend to default toward the historic, established position precisely because I value unity in the church, and continuity is the surest path towards maintaining it. I think it is hypocritical for progressives to introduce divisive doctrinal inventions and then paint the traditionalists as divisive when they refuse to accept them.

    • Ooooh, they’ve ordained women!

      The horror! The horror! They actually believe and act like God incarnated as a human and not simply as a male human. I’m shocked! Shocked! Where will the heresy end?

      The Antichrist must be near!

      • Good point! More discussion needed! As I study the names of God, I am discovering the affeminent origins of the name, “El Shaddai”. This is probably not the time and place…

      • Yeah….due to woman being ordained people are ice skating in hell. 😛

      • Eric W, mock all you want, but the Scriptures are clear about women’s ordination. If the Church is under judgement it is for crap like that. Miguel and Boaz have brilliantly explicated what is going on. Churches that actively promote homosexuality and abortion castigate those of us who refuse to go along and then raise ‘Unity’ to the ultimate importance. Then they condemn those who disagree and accuse us of schism and hatred because our consciences are scandalized by their doctrinal and practical innovation. I call Bulls#!t.

        For the record I have no doubt the Church is under judgement. I have long said the Church in America could use a good dose of persecution. Let it come….

        • Eric W, mock all you want, but the Scriptures are clear about women’s ordination.

          Tell that to Junia.

          And Paul.

          And Jesus.

          Try to put off your old man and enter the New Creation. Come on in, the water’s F-I-N-E!

          For your edification: http://www.cbeinternational.org/

          • In some manuscripts its Junias.

            Paul says “12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first [h]created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, [i]fell into transgression”

            Those who reference Galatians 3 rip Paul’s words out of context (salvation as opposed to qualification for office) and cause him to contradict himself. Those who argue for a merely local or cultural tradition of a male only pastorate are arguing from silence and against Paul’s rooting of the prohibition in the Creation and the Fall. Good luck with that.

            And refresh my memory again, but which one(s) of the Twelve Apostles were women?

            The bottom line is that we are so saturated and poisoned by a culture that thinks it is the ‘Great Cure’ to the old and ‘evil’ patriarchal cultures that we are outraged by the plain statements in Scripture. We are unable to even hear such a thing in this culture with out desperately trying to bend and twist it into a more culturally acceptable form.. The attitude of many is, “How dare God disqualify women from the pastoral office as a consequence of the fall.. Who does He think He is?”

            New Creation or not, there are still qualifications and disqualifications for the pastoral office.

          • Wrong.

        • Actually, the scripture has very little to say about ordination.

          • I think there’s two things that can be meant by the word “ordination.” It can refer to the man-made rite which is a ceremony for formally inducting candidates into the vocational ministry of a church body. But it can also refer to the general act of setting aside specific persons for doing specific tasks on behalf of the church (Titus 1:5). You could also say the Bible doesn’t give a ton of instruction for weddings, but it does have something to say about marriage.

    • Ok, let’s grant (for the sake of argument) that condoning homosexuality, allowing women’s ordination, funding abortions, etc are sins. Are these any worse sins in God’s eyes than neglecting the poor, lusting after political and cultural power, etc? Were/are the Christians of the South not really Christians because they were/are blind to the sins of.slavery and racism?

      Also, I was raised Lutheran, I have studied Luther and Lutheran theology and liturgy. There is a *lot* I admire about your tradition. But the rockribbed insistence that communion is only for those who believe in the Lord’s Presence in the exact same way that you do is a dealbreaker for me. That kind of lack of understanding for those who faithfully believe and read Scripture is what drove me from the Reformed camp.

      What’s my point here? My point is what is the standard for unity? If it’s lack of sinfulness, there’s no hope for unity because we all fall short. If it’s specific doctrines, that’s a recipe for the exact situation we have now.

      For 1500-odd years, the Church got by with the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. Maybe there’s something to simplicity…

      • That same Church that got us all by for the first 1500 years STILL hasn’t gone anywhere……..Just sayin’…..

        • You of course mean the Eastern Orthodox Church – which hasn’t even changed its liturgy for nearly 3/4 of a millennium or so.

          • Or the Oriental Orthodox, which have remained even more faithful to ancient Christianity, prior to the distortions of the illegitimate Chalcedonian creed.

          • @Sandra: Well, since “Oriental” means “Eastern” – sure. 🙂

            But you’re right – the Non-Chalcedonian aka Monophysite aka Miaphysite Churches do use more ancient liturgies. My (could be faulty) recollection is that the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (used by the EOC for most of its Divine Liturgies) underwent some changes around the time of Nicholas Cabasilas (born 1319/1323) or just before his time.

      • That kind of lack of understanding for those who faithfully believe and read Scripture is what drove me from the Reformed camp.

        What? Last I checked, the Reformed camp was the source of the doctrine of open communion, and mainly because they have such a low view of it. It is the historic church and the traditions that continue it which are the proponents of closed communion: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Orthodox.

        That kind of lack of understanding for those who faithfully believe and read Scripture

        Good intentions and best efforts are not ever a substitute for truth. I get that many disagree with this doctrine on the level of their conscience. That is their right and should be respected. But Christianity has slowly began to take the form where orthodoxy is subject to everyone’s approval. I’m not saying the church should be above critique, but we have lost the ability, it seems, to trust what was given to us. Everybody has set themselves up at judge and final arbitrator of all doctrine in the church, and THAT is why there is no Concordia.

        • I apologize for not making my point clearer. I meant to say that the general trend of doctrinal intransigence in Reformed circles helped speed my departure, not that closed communion was necessarily a Reformed position (though I have known Reformed congregations that practiced it, or wanted to).

      • BTW: love your pseudonym!

    • Richard Hershberger says

      There is a lot I could respond to here, so I am going to go for the trivial: “contraceptive abortions”??? Think about that phrase for thirty seconds. Not as ammunition to throw out in your own little corner of the culture wars, but as an English phrase composed of two words, each of which actually mean something. In particular, two words whose meanings do not combine such that “contraceptive abortion” is a meaningful phrase. When you reach the point that you are throwing out self-contradictory word bombs, perhaps it is time to switch the radio to a nice classical station and lie down and close your eyes for a spell.

    • “We have no teaching that says, avoid disunity at all costs, even if it means ignoring what I have taught you.”

      But what we see in our world is disunity for very cheap reasons. Not usually “ignoring what he taught,” but often ignoring stuff we decided to invent for ourselves because it makes us feel like we’re of the superior spiritual class.

      • MelissatheRagamuffin says


      • Really? Who exactly are you referring to? Are you saying that there are no believers who do care deeply about their doctrine, but any who claim so are only posturing to bolster their ego? That’s quite an assertion. I agree that often disunity can happen over the color of the carpet. But what I propose is that the older the disagreement is, the deeper its significance. Churches these days split over the color of the carpet. But churches of the reformation split over the sale of indulgences. Hardly a “very cheap reason.”

        • Agreed. There are plenty of good reasons to leave, to disunify, from a tradition. What I’m mostly referring to are distinctions which can’t be proven as central New Testament principles or practices.

          Even Luther’s objections were primarily an attempt to reform the old church, not splinter and create a new one.

          What if this were the MO (and I believe this resembles Luther’s situation): Institution insists on unbiblical or heretical practice/teaching. A faction within the institution resists, and refuses to comply. They become vocal about it. The institutional leaders put pressure on, perhaps disenfrachise the faction, perhaps threaten them. The faction continues to stand firm, yet expresses desire to remain with the greater church. At some point, either A) the institution reforms, or B) people are excommunicated. At which point the disunity is on the hands of those doing the excommunicating. It’s still not desirable to split- it’s just that someone couldn’t see past the length of their nose to judge what was truly important. So even when it seems there’s no other option than schism, it should be looked upon as anomalous, as undesirable. There may even be ways to express a degree of unity in these situations, yet no one’s really looking for that. That, to me is an indicator of the depth of the problem.

          A finer point of the NT church is that unity was around Person, not doctrine. Doctrine, it seems, was designed to hold people in unity around Person. So doctrine that is concerned with what the NT finds central might be a sound reason to have conflict. But plenty of doctrine that keeps people apart is on the level of the “color of the carpet.” In my opinion.

          • I agree with you on how to handle doctrinal disagreement. Sempre reformanda and let the church define herself. But you cannot separate the person of Christ from the doctrine of Christ (Christology). As soon as you answer the question “who is Christ?” you are embarking on a definition that draws dividing lines. The person and work of Christ, along with the stages of Christ and the application of his work, are the Gospel. We cannot tolerate infinite diversity on such topic: We must adhere to the Kerygma. Jesus taught doctrine, and he constantly called out false doctrine. He ought to be the source of our doctrine, and if that creates devision, well, then Jesus gets an “I told you so.”

    • +1

    • I also don’t see why disunity is such a problem. We have no teaching that says, avoid disunity at all costs, even if it means ignoring what I have taught you. It has always been the case that the church is divided. We have no promise of one institutional church in full agreement with each other. There’s no reason to expect it will ever be the case.

      And yet Jesus prayer at Gethsamane, for us, all of us, was that we be one. What do we do with that? Might that not make unity something to strive for. And won’t it be achieved even in heaven, where we might all be surprised at who we’re standing next to and where Jesus’ glory and presence will make so, so many of our now grandiose differences seem petty and small indeed?

      Should we not be striving to have God’s kingdom break through into the here and now, including unity?

      • I’m guessing that if Jesus asked God for unity, it was because he knew there was no point asking us…

  3. I used to work for an organization in rural Ohio whose goal was to bring all the churches in the county together to help people who were living in poverty. We were amazed that almost all the churches worked with us and other churches to meet the needs of people. It was a blessing to get to know a variety of people as we worked side by side to love others as Jesus called us to do. Differences in theology and practice were put aside as we served Christ.

    • I’d love to hear more about that sometime, Amy. Drop me an email if you like.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Such things aren’t all that uncommon, or at least didn’t used to be. My father was pastor in a Lutheran church in a smallish town in the Mojave Desert. That church hosted the food bank, but this was mostly because it had a spare closet. All, or nearly all, the churches in town contributed.

        Come to think of it, my town nowadays has a very good local non-profit devoted to helping the needy with basics. (http://www.shepstaff.org/index.asp, if you want to look it up.) The local paper a while back had a big article about it, including listing the churches that support it. I noticed that the Catholic parish and all the mainstream Protestants were on the list, while the Evangelicals were not. Make of this what you will.

        • People from all denominations participated with the organization I worked for in Ohio. That was what was so wonderful about it. It took some face to face meetings and building relationships with people before some would get involved. But there were very few churches that refused to participate.

  4. Just a couple of days ago, I reflected on the number of churches within a couple mile radius of my own church. There has to be a dozen, if not more. And in that moment it felt as if the Lord said to me, “Rick, your church doesn’t have a monopoly on sound doctrine and, more importantly, my love and grace.”

    That thought made me smile. A “God is pleased” smile. He is out there, in many, many houses of worship, trying to rescue people.

    I now pray for all the churches in my community – and NOT just my own – that they be filled with the Spirit, that God uses them to rescue lost souls. I’d like to think that that is unity. And sadly, since I’ve only just begun doing it myself, I wonder how few Christians pray for churches that aren’t their own. Maybe that’s a good starting point: praying for churches other than our own.

    • Wholeheartedly agree. A great place to start.

      • We pray for Christian unity every week at Mass….AND even for Jews and Muslims who love God.

        • Since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has come a long way toward the rest of the Church. Has the rest of the church reciprocated?

          • Things have certainly improved between the Catholics and Orthodox in that time. The impressive looking part was in 1969, with the retraction of all sorts of anathemas and whatnot, but the work has continued at the glacial pace Orthodoxy does things at ever since.

          • I hear a lot more positive things about Catholics in my evangelical circles today than I did growing up. I have also noticed that Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops working together on a number of endeavours of common interest.

  5. This highlights a point that I discovered studying the demgraphics of the church in my home town. For example, 30% of the church going population is Catholic. The Catholic church here has 9% of the overall church buildings in the area. That leaves all protestant denominations at probably 65% percent of the population with 80%+ of the church buildings in the area once you factor out the non Christian churches in the area.

    There is a total of 2.3% of the population that is Lutheran in the area. In my Elca denomination, there are 4 churches within 10 miles of each other. All 4 of these congregations together probably number about 600 regular attenders. We all insist on having our own separate buildings and worship style that is a little different at each congregation. If theoretically we could combine all 4 congregations together it would be a better use of resources on paper and reduce the overhead of duplicate staff and buildings. It will never happen though because all 4 congregations want autonomy and nobody likes change. Your point resonated with me Chaplain Mike.

    • What exactly is a non-Christian church? I’m guessing you mean the non-Nicean LDS, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, but I’m not sure.

      • Just guessing here, but in my area we have Sikh and Muslim places of worship. Maybe they would be considered non-Christian “churches.”

        • Yes, but they wouldn’t be churches. I mean, I attend a Temple or Synagogue, not a Jewish church. Same with the Muslims and their mosques or the Sikhs and their temples. I usually use the phrase “religious institution” to get away from having to have multiple words to describe them.

          • The greek word for church “ekklesia” meant “assembly of people”. It did not necessarily have religious tones. That is why Jesus speaks of “my church” as opposed to other types of assembly.

  6. I’m not using this hard case to disprove the main thrust of your post (because I do agree with you almost all the way), but simply to highlight the fact that there are exceptions that involve keeping apparent unity at the cost of essential integrity: when Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church declared that the German Christians were in essence no longer a church of Jesus Christ, and so there could be no communion between them, they were obeying God, not being judged by him.

  7. I have advocated for some time that someone needs to write an anthropological history of the church. By that I mean a catalog of beliefs and belief systems placed in a taxonomy and coupled with historical biographies of how these differences arose and the political and sociological threads that connected them to one another.

    For instance, I have always been taught on “how we got our beliefs” as if it were an inevitable path. One of the scenes in the movie Arthur with Clive Owen that gripped me was the discussion about Bishop Arius and how he had fallen from favor. It was then made real to me that controversies were connected to actual people who were loved and lauded by other people and that these were not just mere academic discussions that men in robes had while wandering halls. These were controversies that were rooted in a political and social milieu.

    Just like today.

    Take your discussion on inerrancy as an example. The Chicago statement has become a shibboleth for modern evangelicals, just like premillennialism was in the 70’s. Has nothing to do with what the Bible actually says, but has a great deal to do with who is “in” and who is “out.”

    But in all this, here is where I draw my consolation:
    And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word[a] without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

    Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

  8. I wonder how many of us would lock the doors of our preferred Sunday institution to join with fellow believers at a half-filled sanctuary across the street. Talk of unity is fine, but it seems to focus more on finding common ground – admirable I’ll admit – while forgoing sacrifice of our own comfort to bridge the gap to those we don’t agree with.

    • That is one possible expression of unity. But many believers want to worship with “like minded” believers. I have many brothers in Christ who are Baptist, but I’m not interested in worshiping the way they worship (they are welcome to lock their doors and join me…and I suspect they would say the same about my church). However, I am more than happy to be the church with them. Feeding the poor, visiting the afflicted, sharing the gospel – there can be unity in these things without forcing everyone to adopt a single theological and cultural perspective during the worship service.

  9. I think the church of Jesus Christ is very much alive and well. The Old Testament tribes were scattered and the New Testament letters were written to The Diaspora. The Church was “the mystery now revealed” and it was from that point on, I believe, unable to be contained. Denominations don’t bother me at all. God doesn’t expect all His children to think exactly alike which is what men are always trying to enforce. The desire to control which obviously doesn’t work. I think our differences are for the most part a beautiful testimony to the Freedom that our Heavenly Father gives to us. The church is a Spiritual entity, a living organism and therefore continues to grow and multiply all over the world. Are there tares among the wheat? Of course and Jesus told his followers not to worry about them. They will be separated in His good time.

    Unfortunately I think the American church has not been “beautiful” and that does discourage. But Jesus will make His Bride beautiful again in His time. He will present His people to His Father “without spot or blemish.” We can’t allow the Enemy or our flesh to focus on the outward and granted sometimes the downright ugly. We need to lift up our heads and encourage one another as our redemption draws near. We are a beautiful people even when, as children will, we don’t always act in a beautiful way. God is Faithful. His Church will prevail.

    • +1 AMEN!

      It’s only been over the past year or so that I’m coming around to this way of thinking, too. My earlier post alludes to this, the fact that there are so many churches out there, NONE of which have a monopoly on God’s love and mercy…which means God can and will use all of them.

    • It’s not our “differences” that bother me. As I said in the post, God treasures variety. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and love one another. Tribes are fine. Tribalism is not.

      • Give me a break Mike. A week or two ago you were pretty vigilant in calling out the LCMS. How loving are you of them?

        You’re no different than the liberals who scream for tolerance, but are often the most intolerant people that exist.

        • “liberals…are the most intolerant people that exist.” Are you serious, Alan? The most intolerant? That’s quite a leap to make. I’m all for doctrine along with unity and all that. Maybe a good place to start with unity would be to tone down the dogmatism in our opinions. Maybe we could tone down our over-generalizations and angry tones in our writing. Go ahead and be conservative. That’s fine with me. But please choose your words carefully.

        • I meant to put “often” in there. Maybe I need to choose my words more carefully as well. Or at least proof read more carefully!

        • Alan, please. Critiquing the handling of one situation, and doing so with a number of qualifications and even praises for the way some acted in the situation is intolerance?

          But I guess you have me and this blog pegged now.

  10. We should all be in deep pain over the division of the Church. Too many times, I’ve heard pastors promote fear of other denominations, or of the “pre-denominationals” (Orthodox Christians), because we humans have this innate need to be RIGHT about something. More than once, I have listened to an evangelical pastor (of which I am one) tell me that the Catholic and Orthodox branches of our faith are “works-based”, and therefore, not really Christian. But…when I ask them what they mean by this, they really don’t know enough about the doctrine and theology of those groups to make an argument for the supposed truth of their statements.

    I wish I could think of where I read it now, but I once saw where an Orthodox priest wrote that we are all Orthodox to some degree…some are closer than others…and some are moving that direction faster than others…they just may not know it yet. Perhaps if we understood that we all have a common goal…modeling the Kingdom of God so that the world might know Christ…We could understand that we’re all moving toward a common destination.

    Nah…Let’s just continue to condemn each other and to attempt to evangelize each other, while the lost world watches and laughs.

    • Justin Boulmay says

      I agree with your first paragraph, Lee. A number of my misconceptions about Catholics and the Orthodox fell away once I actually bothered to learn from them as opposed to letting them be defined by misinformed Protestants who were intent on knocking down caricatures.

      • Justin, I was on a mission trip to Macedonia, and had been told that any Orthodox Christians I met were lost. I fell for the line, until I actually met Orthodox Christians and discussed their faith with them. I was frankly embarrassed for the leadership of that group, one of whom attempted to debate a priest and several nuns in a grocery store one afternoon. The experience led me to appreciate Church history and tradition in a way I never had before.

        • Lee , I had the same experience in Moldova. We were taught that Moldova was 2% Christian. Well , I guess that works if you only count the Baptist and ignore the 95% Orthodox.

        • I was frankly embarrassed for the leadership of that group, one of whom attempted to debate a priest and several nuns in a grocery store one afternoon.

          If the subject of the Trinity ever came up, the Evangelical should just forfeit the match immediately, shut his or her mouth, and walk away with his or her tail between his or her legs.

    • Lee, I’m with you. One of my points in doing this series and this post in Lent is to call us to pray the Psalms of lament over our own scatteredness.

    • great point

  11. Disunity does not always equal antagonism.

    As Paul Copan once posted at Parchment and Pen, diversity can be a good thing for the body as a whole.

    He stressed the old sayings: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

    • I think this is true. By having multiple brands (like Proctor and Gamble), Christianity was historically able to appeal to many different kinds of people. By having churches on the left and on the right, it could appeal to all politically. By having churches that stressed social activism and contemplative prayer, it could appeal to different interests. By having traditional churches and non-traditional churches it could appeal to both conformists and non-conformists.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      As Paul Copan once posted at Parchment and Pen, diversity can be a good thing for the body as a whole.

      Mostly true, RDavid. However, I see a significant difference between disunity and diversity. Diversity allows for individual church bodies to collaborate with each other on the work of sharing the gospel within their community, while allowing for folk to feel as though there is a place for them within the catholic (note the lowercase “c”) church. Disunity implies that each church body is solely responsible for preserving the faith, that other church communities compete for membership, and that communication and collaboration between denominations threatens the church mission.

    • On this issue I don’t know what exactly to believe. I’ve heard all tribes rip on each other in different parts of my life.

      1. I’ve heard the Mormons express anger at the Baptists and vice versa.
      2. I’ve heard Catholic Priests criticize evangelicals. My family actually used to get Catholic Answers some stuff in there can be quite divisive.
      3. When I was in an Evangelical Free, Crusade, and Third Wave church I heard that Catholics, Orthodox and mainstream Protestant are not Christian.

      So I’ve made the full cirlce. A lack of criticism is one of the things I am actively looking for in the place I am checking out. I’m so used to hearing, “x,y,z” I’m listening attentively and haven’t heard the same bitter discourse. Due to my history I think I will be difficult on a number of Baptist, Neo-reformed evangelicals for their hypocrisy in this area. They’re kind of like the mob…they’ll pratice unity with corrupt churches and ministries while being needlessly divisive with other evangelicals. I just think of what John Piper has said about NT Wright and even Mark Driscoll has done a 180 on Wright over his history. In light of “The Neo-Reformed Mob” maybe we should call some of these guys “Wirey from Minneapolis” for John Piper. 😛 “Baldy from Gaithersburg” for CJ Mahaney. 😛 And for Mark Driscoll “Dapper Don” 😛

      But seriously…unity could be helpful. It could accomplish wonders from where I stand.

    • Exactly, RDavid, and cermak’s comparison to multiple brands is good too.

      There was an article in Christianity Today several years ago (didn’t save it, and can’t remember the author) that also said this—that diversity (various denominations) is what makes unity possible. I’ve come to agree. Too many people look at the multiplication of denominations as “proof” that the Christian faith is divided and therefore false.

  12. CM, as I was doing my morning blog-browsing, I came across this at another of my favorite places to visit, “Confessions of a Closet Anglican”. Hope you enjoy…


  13. From my perspective, the Church as a whole has actually gotten a bit more unified in my lifetime. I grew up in the AoG, and I really did believe that most other churches were simply lost. It wasn’t necessarily that this was always preached explicitly (although, unfortunately, sometimes it was), but I think when you’re young you tend to have a strong tribal identity. And it’s hard to see past that. Going to a secular college relatively far away from home was probably the best thing I did for my faith. It was there that I developed relationships with Christians from all sorts of church backgrounds.

    What I see from people in my peer group and younger is that they have little stomach for denominational turf wars. I think that’s one reason people are attracted to “non-denominational” mega-churches. And even the mega-churches that are part of a denomination don’t play up that fact. You often have to deliberately look on a church’s website to find its affiliation because it’s not explicitly stated. While one could take the purely cynical view that these churches are trying to trick people, I think there’s a bit more to it than that. I think people are sick about fighting over what they perceive to be unimportant quirks in theology.

    So I guess I’m somewhat more optimistic than Chaplain Mike. I just don’t see that the average Christian sitting in these churches is so unwilling to accept Christians from other churches. Sure, there are some assholes, and it seems they often control the conversation. But I refuse to believe that most people are assholes.

    • I would say that our language has changed but our practice in general has not. We say denominations don’t matter but we know next to nothing about each other and make little effort to understand.

      • I guess that’s true to a degree, but I’m just speaking of my experience as a campus pastor. We had students from all sorts of traditions come to our services and events, and there seemed to be a lot of cross-pollination between the different groups. For example, we had a group of Orthodox students that would come sometimes, and they invited some of students to go to their Pascha service with them. Some of our students took them up on that offer. I guess what I’m saying is that I find it rare that younger people see Christians in other churches as lesser Christians or immediately suspect. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to actually see what’s happening in different churches now because of things like Facebook.

        I’m not saying that we’re turning into a unified utopia yet, but only that there might be some reason for some optimism. The other thing I always tell people when this conversation comes up is that on one hand, I think it may be something of a blessing that people can break off so easily. It’s not like these different Protestant groups in America are resorting to violence against one another.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Perhaps the disconnect between Phil M and Chaplain Mike’s perspective comes from the environment in which you minister. Creating learner-centered environments is a major goal for practically all higher education institutions, so your ministry naturally has a more inclusive vibe to it. Even in a faith-based institution, pastors and other spiritual leaders like yourself seem to recognize the need to encourage spiritual development throughout their student population, regardless of denomination.

          Step off campus, though, and ask churches within the greater community where you live to collaborate in ministry (or, in praying for lives lost due to a horrible tragedy–yes, Chaplain Mike, I’m referencing THAT earlier post), and you’ll get folks asserting their personal preferences and distancing themselves from “other” faiths, for the sake of proving to the world how very Lutheran, or Methodist, or Catholic, they are.

          Step outside of faith communities altogether, and you’ll see that folk of different ideologies seem habitually loathed to unite together, even when it is apparent that they should (Congress, that means you). Strangely enough, the only institution in which I have seen folks unite despite their differences has been the military.

          Well, maybe not so strangely…

          • That’s a good point. That’s a big reason I actually enjoy working with college students. Even though some of them are pretty convinced they know everything, when it comes down to it, this one of the only times people have in their lives to actually dedicate to thinking (or drinking, I suppose, depending on your major 🙂 ). But anyway, I always enjoyed having discussions with students and feeling that they actually cared what you thought.

  14. David Cornwell says

    I was pastor in one little town where unity was practiced on a scale I’ve never seen before or since. There were two Methodist Churches, one very conservative, the other (where I was pastor) was the larger and more mainline. The others were Church of the Nazarene, Catholic, and ELCA Lutheran. We did many things together during Lent, and then a community Good Friday service (many times in the Catholic Church). The churches also participated in a large concert (community choir) just after Easter Day (usually in my church).

    We had a group for pastors who met monthly to consider the needs of the community, pray together, have fun, and promote fellowship.

    Once the Catholic Church had a young priest from Ireland visit with them for a few weeks. He had been involved with the process of community reconciliation back in Ireland. He visited our Protestant churches, preached where invited, joined with us to share food and prayer. All these years later he is still mentioned in terms of endearment and love.

    Another source of community unity was the Catholic elementary school. It was strong and a source of pride for the whole town.

    This was a small town and the churches served a large rural area. One of the helpful aspects was the interconnection of families. Catholics married Methodists and Lutherans. Cousins were everywhere. Fun stories were told about these old families and how their attitudes toward each other gradually changed over the years.

    I give thanks to God for the opportunity to have lived and served in that location.

    Now for a note of sourness: The other branch of Lutheranism with a large church down the road would have nothing to do with the rest of us, needing to stand tall for strong doctrine.

  15. I got forced into mental health treatment and disowned by my conservative Christian mother for being transgender.

    I got kicked out of one conservative church for being transgender. I spent a couple years at another one in the closet. I got refused entry into another. I left a third because something bad seemed inevitable to happen. I spent many years not attending any church out of fear that something bad would happen when I really needed to attend for the sake of my spiritual health. It was too much, so, finally, I left Christianity altogether.

    I know in my head that there ought to be “many paths” for the diverse personality types, backgrounds, cultures, etc. that many people come from, but I really, really struggle to think good things about conservative Christians. It’s one of my biggest struggles.

    I want to teach the world about love.

    • Thanks for sharing that. Just remember, God is good, even when people are not.

    • Have you ever considered the United Church of Christ or the Metropolitan Community Church? Surely those would be communities you find welcoming and affirming.

      • (Not so) Sad Girl says

        Thank you. I haven’t. I don’t currently live in the United States. None of the denominations in the country I live in right now are welcoming. I don’t wish to go back to church. Too many crazy things happened. I love Jesus, I love Christians, and I love Christianity, but I’d rather pray and try to love from afar.

        In my experience, most of the people who insist on “standards” seem not to be aware of the extent of their own sin. Maybe I should say they often seem unable even to conceive of their own sin. I was always acutely aware of it, because I always being accused. When I would point out to them, in response, how they were obviously falling short themselves, as everyone does, they’d get affronted and mad, or they would act like it was a hopelessly trite point, or they’d say they were “working on it”, when they clearly weren’t. They seemed unable to imagine that mine wasn’t “the real sin”, and completely unable to imagine that theirs was “real”, too.

        • Maybe you could carry a stone around with you, and whenever you are confronted about your issues, you could hand the stone to the person and say, “Here. If you are without sin, throw it at me.”

          Of course, the problem is someone might take you up on it. 😉

          • Apparently there is someone amongst us who would take that stone and throw it at you. Sorry for that.

        • BTW…my sister is a LGBT supporter at her church, and I come from a more fundemental background. You should’ve heard some of the stuff we’ve discussed in the past! But I must say, I learned a lot from her when I began noticing she was a lot more Christ-like than I was. I’ve learned now to err on the side of grace…GRACE…and let God sort out the other stuff. Frankly, my sins are no less than hers, or yours.

          Blessings upon you, (Not So) Sad Girl!

          • Not So Sad Girl says

            No, no–the stone idea was really funny! I love it!

            I like this phrase, a lot, “err on the side of grace”. I should try to practice it.

            I can be an impossible jerk sometimes.

            Blessings upon you, too. 🙂

      • Blessings on you for a gracious response!

        I have a gay friend who told me recently that I was the only Christian (other than his mother) who had ever “had his back.”

        That made me quite sad.

    • It sounds like you’re assuming (Not So) Sad Girl doesn’t believe in Jesus. And while you and I might argue that “transgender” is something God didn’t intend, neither is ANY sin in the world. The question then becomes, can God save us from what He didn’t intend? YES! Just believe in Jesus and those sins are covered with His Blood.

      • (This comment was written in response to a post that has since been deleted and probably doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone comment.)

      • (Note: This comment was written in response to a post that has since been deleted and probably doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone comment.)

    • Much as you might wish it’s true, “God’s laws” really don’t have anything written in them that specifically mentions transgender and intersexed folks. We’re a rather unadressed minority by the Bible. I’ve often wished it had some specific guidance to offer, but instead we’re left to deal with applying more general wisdom to our situation.

      I can’t speak for “Sad Girl”, but I go to church to seek God, worship him, thank him for the many blessings I’ve received, and ask his mercy for me and the rest of the world. I imagine it’s what most people go for, and it most certainly has a point.

      • Good points. The ability to change gender is such a recent innovation, it is so vastly removed from the world of the Scriptures it would be a stretch to say that the Bible speaks directly to it. One could build a decent case from implication, but it’s just that: taking strong stances on implication is seldom the best idea.

        Sounds like you go to church in order to pray!

    • Chaplain Doug’s unkind post has been expunged. Sorry I didn’t see it earlier, (Not So) Sad Girl.

  16. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

    I’ve gone back and forth about posting on this topic all morning. It’s a really tough issue. On the one hand, it’s hard to see that there aren’t some legitimate reasons for breaking fellowship. On the other hand, the Church always considered schism to be one of the chief sins.

    I’m a deacon-soon-to-become-priest in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). I became Anglican after ACNA formed out of the alphabet soup of folks who had left the Episcopal Church (TEC), but I knew what was going on. Had ACNA not formed, I don’t think I’d have become Anglican. On the one hand, I couldn’t get behind some of the very public theological innovations of TEC. On the other hand, the alphabet soup of splinter groups was no good for me either.

    All that is to say, that I’m certain that this is where God wants me to be. However, ACNA came about due to schism. There’s no way to get around that. Would I have made the same decision to leave TEC that many of our bishops did (I say “many” because not all of our bishops are former Episcopalians)? Maybe. Probably. But it was still a dividing of the visible Church, and that’s never a good thing. I’m grateful for the Reformation, but I see it more as a tragic necessity than something to be celebrated. I feel the same way about ACNA. And unfortunately, some of us are a lot more willing to separate now that we’ve experienced it in the first place. I’ve seen the same thing in some divorcees: the first divorce was REALLY hard. The second… not so much.

    Again, I’m certain that I’m where God wants me to be (i.e. pursuing Holy Orders in ACNA). But, I’m not always sure we (i.e. the denomination) is where God wants us to be. Sometimes it keeps me up at night. Sometimes it sends me running to God’s throne. Mostly, though, I tuck that away in a dark part of my mind and get on with life, work, ministry, etc.

    But with the bad news out of the way (and very bad news it is), there is also some real brightness. At our inaugural assembly, the Metropolitan Bishop of the Orthodox Church in America (who are Russian Orthodox, I believe) spoke and said that they were very interested in moving toward dialogues that could eventually move toward full communion. He also laid out some obstacles that need to be overcome prior to such discussions, but that’s a great sign. And over the last few years, some of those obstacles are slowly being addressed on our end. We also have been in talks with the Polish National Catholic Church, the North American Lutheran Church, several Messianic groups, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, among others, all with the goal of exploring paths to full communion. That’s pretty mighty stuff, considering some of them (e.g. LCMS) have historically never explored such things with anyone before. Also, unlike the Anglican splinter groups of the 1970’s who have spent the last 40 years splintering further, we were formed out of a whole mess of splinter groups unifying. So, yeah, I’ve seen some bright spots, despite the sorrowful reality of schism.

    I’m reminded of when Israel became two kingdoms in the OT. The Northern Kingdom split off from Judah due to Solomon’s and his son Rehoboam’s sins. God GAVE the northern tribes to Jereboam as both a reform of the Israelites and as a judgement on David’s heirs. Jereboam soon slipped even further away from God than Rehoboam had. the Northern Kingdom never had a righteous king. So, not only did Israel end up divided, but the schism produced more unrighteousness rather than true reform. I think that needs to be a cautionary tale to all of is in the Body of Christ.

    • Isaac — What do you think of the special ordinariate allowing Anglican congregations to join the Catholic church, keeping their (married) priests and staying together as a congregation? Is that a positive thing, do you think, or is it poaching?

      • I think it was very kind and generous on the part of Pope Benedict. It was a good compromise on stuff that Roman Catholic doctrine allows compromise on (i.e. non-doctrine/dogma issues; clerical celibacy, for example, is a discipline, not a doctrine). It met a very real need for those who went that way. Unfortunately, due to some of the persistant doctrine/dogma issues, it wasn’t something that I considered more than fleetingly. That is, it is good that the Ordinariate allowed for those Anglicans to keep many of their traditions. Nevertheless, it still requires accepting the doctrines and dogmas that are problematic to folks like me.

        • I should hasten to point out that Pope Benedict was on very good terms with Archbishop Rowan Williams (the recently-retired Archbishop of Canterbury). He was also on good terms with our Archbishop, Robert Duncan. There’s some great photos floating around the Internet of a recent meeting between Benedict, Duncan, and a couple other of our bishops. We don’t know all of what those meetings were about, but I’m sure it’s good stuff.

        • Thank you, Isaac.

  17. Aidan Clevinger says

    I agree entirely with the idea that we should mourn over the divisions in Christendom and work towards greater unity (though that unity must be in truth as well as in love), and I think Chaplain Mike raises an excellent point in questioning whether or not we have grown callous to the question of our divisions. It’s a question we would all do well to wrestle over and pray earnestly about.

    However, I can’t help but think that this post misses some of the Gospel comfort of what the Church is and how God preserves her. Chaplain Mike, you asked where the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is. The answer: she’s where she always is – wherever the Gospel is preached, Baptism given, and the Eucharist administered. Where the means of grace are, there is the Church; as Irenaeus says, where *Christ* is, there is the Church. Unam sanctum is not a goal towards which we should be working; it is an unchangeable reality that exists by the grace of God, one that can be grasped only by faith and not by sight. There is, and always will be, one Church of God, just as there is, and always will be, one Lord of the Church.

    We ought to work towards unity. We ought to discuss, debate, pray, and wrestle with one another. But we should also remember Jesus’ promise that *He* will build His Church, and that is a promise that doesn’t depend on our goodness or love. To paraphrase the Lutheran Confessors: the one true Church is not a Platonic ideal, but rather a living reality in the world, even though it is an article of faith rather than something we can test empirically.

    P.S. It’s not the main point of my comment, but we also have to remember that unity is not something that *we* create; it is a reality created by the Holy Spirit that we must recognize. Granted, there are many times when we, through sin, refuse to acknowledge that the Spirit has put us in fellowship with other church bodies with whom we are in agreement, and there are many times when our divisions occur as a result of lovelessness, envy, and strife. Those divisions are sinful and ought to be repented of. But we also have to remember that the same Christ who prayed that we would be one as He and the Father were one also prayed that we would be one *in truth*. Love and truth must be inseparable in questions of Church fellowship. As somebody who grow up, first as a non-denominational evangelical, and then Reformed, I can testify to the deep, personal hurt that false doctrine can cause. It needn’t be a lack of love to refuse Communion to someone who truly needs to come to a better understanding of what it is. Done the right way, it can be an indescribable mercy, because it can force people to reconsider, search the Scriptures, and take comfort in the true grace offered at the altar.

    Having said that, you made an excellent point about being sure to pray for and be friendly with Christians of other denominations. Just thought I’d throw that one out there.

    • I like what you have to say here, and my comment in response would be: yes truth is important (and our convictions about it), but that does not mean we must anathematize those who disagree with us and separate from them totally. Find those areas where we can act like the extended family we are. Make unity where it is possible a priority and, as you say, “a living reality in the world.” It can start, as has been said in this thread, with something as simple as praying for each other by name, speaking kindly of each other in public, acknowledging the faith and goodwill of others and refusing to speak ill of our brothers and sisters. In areas where we feel conscience-bound not to compromise, follow the example of the Catholic church. When I go to a Catholic service, I always find printed in their worship materials their policy regarding communion, and it is written respectfully, it offers people a chance to participate even if they don’t partake, and it includes a prayer for the ultimate unity of the Church at the table.

      • Aidan Clevinger says

        ^I think all of this above is excellent advice, Chaplain. Thank you.

        As far as anathemas go, I think there’s an important distinction to be made in calling *something* heresy and calling *someone* anathema. The latter is a wholesale condemnation of the person, while the former is condemnation of a teaching. I think the Church ought to be freer with the former than the latter. For instance, the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement is a heresy – it is false, contrary to Scripture, harmful to believers, and should not be taught in the Church. However, Calvinists themselves are *not* anathema. They are our fellow Christians by virtue of their Baptisms and professions of faith, and, as you pointed out, should be prayed for (and with), spoken of with goodwill, and so on, so forth. We can condemn heresy without calling into question the salvation of the person holding to it in simple error.

    • Aiden — You say that “unity is not something that *we* create.” True enough. Division is our specialty.

      Still, I like your comment and find your reminders encouraging. Thank you.

  18. Great story, and well put. I would just add that, with the break off from TEC, this may have been a split in the visible institution of the church, but by the time that happens there has long since been division on many other levels. The institution just comes to reflect the deeper reality after time.

    • (rely to Isaac)

    • Yeah, that’s true. The divisions were there (and had been growing for decades), just not necessarily reflected institutionally. And, like a tragic but necessary divorce, I think both TEC and ACNA seem to be better off without each other. It’s still really sad, though.

  19. I LOVE Salvator Dali. His paintings are dope. So are his one-liners.
    Chaplain Mike, perhaps you can clear up a bit of confusion about the post here for me: Is God judging the church for her splintering, or is the splintering itself the judgement of God? I’m not sure which here are you saying is the chicken or the egg.

    • Miguel, in a word: yes. As in Romans 1, God gives us what we want and are already pursuing. Allowing us to get what we want is judgment, because it is not good for us.

      • Well that cleared it up. 😛
        I don’t think that certain persons insisting on specific doctrines are hell bent on splintering the church. Usually this is done out of concern for the well being of the church. I not necessarily sure that denominations are a bad thing. I think that when we believe differently about specific issues, it is best for us to recognize this and organize accordingly in order to minimize the obstruction of cooperation because of repeated disagreement. Honesty is a high value for me, and if you believe differently than I do, that’s fine, but those of similar confession ought to band together for the benefit of their doctrinal unity. This kind of unity is definitely worth something.

        Also, between differing denominations and traditions, certain ones adapt to various cultures more easily than others. Perhaps the diversity in Christianity is more of a strategic thing which has enabled the Gospel to go into more places than if we had stayed as a singular organizational entity. Just a half-baked theory.

    • Ditto the Dali.

      His paintings, at least. I don’t know much about Dali the person, but I often think of a quote by another of my favorites, George Orwell (did I see this on iMonk a few days ago?), that we should give credit where credit is due. The Orwell quote:

      “One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being.”

  20. The only nit I would pick is that you seem to be saying that it’s a curse to be among those non-Christian peoples. Like somehow, we’re dangerous to Christians. And yet, in the US, at least, I don’t see that. Other than an atheist here and there, most people don’t care how other people worship. They only get irritated when churches try to control non-adherent’s lives. So, how is it a curse? Is having to co-exist in a market place of ideas where Christianity is only 1 of the ideas that awful?

    • Didn’t mean to imply that at all. The Church’s “scattering,” unlike Israel’s, is from each other. Our “scattering” into the world, on the other hand, is a positive and necessary component of what it means to be Christian.

  21. Does God have to judge us if we simply follow the natural inclinations of our heart? On the other hand, unity is not uniformity. The question is “how is God one?” so that we can be one like Him.

  22. Randy Thompson says

    Church Unity: A Parable.

    A big storm comes. All the ecclesiastical boats, small and large, are sunk in the storm. The survivors swim for their lives and cling to whatever wreckage they can find, whether it’s from their particular boat or not. They find each other, and piece together a raft from all the wreckage, and head for land.

    The end.

    The Point:

    At this particular historical point, only Christ can unify his church, and his road to unity, if we take seriously his teaching about losing your life to gain it, may well entail all the churches as we know them collapsing in a heap in hard times, with the survivors (think “remnant”) desperately seeking a home, and suddenly and inadvertently finding themselves in The Church. In other words, it may come to pass that the Catholic Church of the creed is not the Roman Catholic Church, but the Remnant Catholic Church.

  23. I would like to introduce my favorite Bible passage to the discussion.

    Ephesians 4: 1-6

    As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

    I think that if people were truly following what Paul sets out here we would not have had the divisions that we do.

    • Ali Griffiths says


    • …because we would all agree doctrinally, or because we would simply agree to disagree? And are you referring to organizational, institutional division, or personal, relational division?

      • Probably referring to both organizational as well as personal.

        For example. I noted that the Pope when meeting with an/the? Eastern Orthodox Patriarch omitted the Theotokos clause when reciting the Nicene Creed together. Had every effort been made originally, would we have had the Great Schism? If the sense of generosity existed back then as was displayed recently, would we have had the split in the first place. If I have looked at many of the church splits I have observed, both historically and currently, and think most of them failed the test of “make every effort”.

    • I agree, Mike. But in the diversity discussion I think you’ll agree with 1 Corinthians 12, Paul’s “one body, many parts” analogy, which makes the human body possible (and therefore united), each part performing its function, different though each may be.

      And even though you’re north of the border don’t forget our motto: e pluribus unum. 🙂

  24. I’m not sure it is right to suppose that God is judging the Church in the same way God judged Israel. The Church is the Body of Christ, Israel was not. Certainly God can discipline individuals within the Church, and people or groups of people can break away from the Church (schism), but how can the Body of Christ be subject to judgement?

    • Well, to start with, there is 1Peter 4:17, which I quoted above…

      • I don’t think 1 Peter 4:17 is referring to the same kind of judgement as punishment that was experienced by the Israelites. In context, this passage seems to be referring more to judgement as purification. In any case, my comment was poorly worded. My main point is that I don’t think you can read God’s handling of the Isralites into a situation in the Church because those are two separate things. Israel was not the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

      • Here is 1 Peter 4:12 – 19 for context. Verse 17 is not referring to judgment in response to disobedience like with the Israelites. In fact, Peter contrasts the house of God, on whom judgment will begin, with those who do not obey the gospel of God, implying that the house of God does obey the gospel.

        “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

        For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
        Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

  25. I recently listened to a podcast of an Greek Orthodox sermon which seemed right on the money until the very end. In it, the priest identified the marks of a follower of Christ- love, joy, peace, etc. He highlighted that Jesus was not identifying his followers based on their nationality or preference in food, or such minor distinctives. He even gave a nod to Protestantism’s strengths. But at the end, he began urging protestant and Roman Catholics to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy (and also urging currently EO folks to “convert” people of those faiths). So “unity” meant everyone converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. Even after he got done saying the faith is identifiable wherever the character of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit is. It was all very confusing. I really thought he had it for a minute, and then…

    The disunity I’ve seen usually happens when someone discovers a hobby horse- some fruit of Gospel awareness, of Christ’s work, that becomes very important to the believer/tribe. They then begin to codify and centralize that fruit and insist that their gift/fruit/calling is THE mark of Christians, and thus other Christians who haven’t displayed this gift are “not there yet,” “not filled with the Spirit,” “immature,” or “not really Christians.” The verbiage changes, but the principle is consistent. Everyone then rallies around the flag, which ultimately ceases to be Christ himself, crucifed and risen, and begins identifying the “true faith” according to their hobby horse. Enter new sect or denomination, new volley of polemics, and new elitist hierarchy.

    • What’s wrong with wanting people of other Christian traditions to convert to the tradition you believe is most true and complete? There are many serious points of contradition between Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant theology and worship and practice (not to mention the contradictions between protestant denominations). If we believe that the tradition to which we belong is truest to the teaching of Christ (if we didn’t why would we belong to it), shouldn’t we want all Christians to be unified within that tradition?

      • If we believe that the tradition to which we belong is truest to the teaching of Christ (if we didn’t why would we belong to it), shouldn’t we want all Christians to be unified within that tradition?

        I think this is a bit of an over-simplification. I don’t know what tradition can actually claim to be truest to the teachings of Christ. In one sense, I don’t really care, either. Because when it comes down to it, what most people are impressed with in a congregation is how loving the members are towards each other and towards outsiders.

        I think most people are in the church they are for reasons that have almost nothing to do with theology. Inertia is still a powerful thing when it comes to people and churches, especially in more traditional churches. Sure there are converts, but for Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, especially, many of these families have been part of these churches for generations.

        I guess the way I look at is that there is a lot of good that can be mined from most traditions. It’s hard for to think of groups (other than truly heretical groups) that I would say the world be a better place if that group simple ceased to exist. I think there’s still room for us all to learn from one another and be in the bounds of (little “o”) orthodoxy.

        • Some traditions do believe themselves to be true to the teachings of Christ, Eastern Orthodoxy, for example. So if you belong to a Tradition that believes itself to be truly Orthodox, why would one not expect members of that Tradition to hope for the unification of all Christian within that Tradition? And the belief no single tradition can actually claim to be true to the teachings of Christ, well that is a tradition in and of itself, and a relatively new one at that.

          • Regarding Eastern Orthodoxy and the desire to convert others, I’d say that this varies a lot from individual to individual and parish to parish. There are some Orthodox Christians I know who are very dogmatic that the Orthodox way is the right way and others are not quite Christian. But I do know other Orthodox Christians, who I happen to be pretty good friends with, who don’t have any problem affirming that I’m fully Christian.

      • Not really. I fully believe in absolute truth, but that most denominational distinctions are due to differences of interpretation or the historical outworking of the faith, not generally with the fundamentals. More fundamental than many of these distinctions is the uncharitable way in which differences are handled. I think a Christian can be relatively at home in a set of doctrines/practices without feeling the need to convert, or even attract, people from other traditions. In most cases. If the Way of Christ is central to their faith & methodology. Those “serious points of contradiction” are often not as serious as they’re made out to be, when you take them in perspective with what the New Testament seems to be emphasizing.

        The original church seemed to express a raw, non-institutional devotion to the person and work of Christ, and the distinctives of gathered church worship/liturgy are relatively few. Doctrine, I suppose, began to develop with the apostles, but nowhere near to the point of the distinctions we have today. In fact, if you use Romans as a high example of early doctrinal development, it could be argued that “doctrine” was used to preserve unity among disparate factions in the church- Jewish beleivers vs. Gentile ones. To, in other words preserve the unity of the faith among people with radically different practices. Both sides had to give. No one got everything they wanted. Everyone retained both their distinctiveness, and their calling to consider the church One, with its members and with Christ (in the ideal at least).

        On the flip side, I do think all Christians should be readily willing to interrogate the assumptions of any Christian tradition, most readily their own, using the NT as their plumbline. But I don’t think unity looks like everyone rallying under the banner of one institutional tradition.

        • Two quotes I’ve seen recently seem to speak to this subject……

          “There’s no immunity for any of us; just a constant need for humility, mutual respect and careful consideration of what God may be doing in those different from ourselves.” – Michael Spencer

          “What many evangelicals don’t understand is that Rome wasn’t built in a day…and neither is faith. What holds faith together and allows people to move forward is grace.” – Eagle

  26. I just want to chime in to say all of the above shows the Intra-Lutheran debate is the most interesting debate in Christianity.

    • …and also quite simple. There are two kinds of Lutherans: those who are Lutheran by affiliation with a denomination with historic origins tracing back to the reformation that started in Germany (quatenus), and those who are Lutheran because they confess the historic teaching of the Lutheran church as she has defined herself (quia). And the debate is over whether or not Lutheran doctrine is a true exposition of Holy Scripture. Or more succinctly, Lutheran-ish Lutherans arguing with Lutheran Lutherans over whether Lutheranism is Lutheran.

  27. I will certainly agree with you on the lack of charity often expressed in discussing theological differences. That is truly unfortunate. However, I do believe that there are fundamental differences in play such as the meaning of sacraments, the meaning of the cross, the understanding of the Church, even the very meaning of salvation. We may all believe that Christ died on the cross and rose again, but what is the reason and what does it mean – that’s where the differences are, and I do not believe they are “secondary” differences.

    I also disagree that the early church was non-institutional. The early writings such as Irenaus of Lyon, Clement of Rome, and the Didache make it clear that the Church had hierarchical leadership and set rituals in worship from the very beginning.

    • Yes Clay.
      But none of those guys are in the bible.

      • This was meant to be in reply to Nate’s post above in which he says the early Church was non-institutional. A reading of the actual documents produced by members of the early Church proves this not to be the case.

        What is your point that they are not in the Bible? Of course they aren’t, they lived after the books that eventually were canonized were written.

    • I agree that the fundamentals of what the death and resurrection of Christ mean may be important, but I don’t believe they need to create splits in which we insist that other Christians convert to our Tradition.

      The only thing I’m willing to call absolutely primary, and fundamental, are the historical events, not the interpretations. This probably labels me as “a Tradition” of some kind, but I would just highlight that the faith stands or falls on the historical, bodily Resurrection of the Messiah, not on the interpretaions of what it means, or what the Sacraments mean, as important as those teachings may be. At least, they’re not important enough to compel this in-house “conversion” ethic I hear so often (assuming conversion means you’re not part of the “true faith” until you’re in our fold.) Again, it seems like in most cases, these are questions of emphasis, not of absolute truth. When it IS a question of absolute truth, it’s worth addressing, but not creating entire new denominations, a la Protestantism currently, until it’s resulting in an embedded practices that are destructive. This has sometimes been the case, of course.

      You’re probably right about the early Fathers, following the apostles. You’re then faced with the question “how far ahead in the Tradition do you want to observe as authoritative?” I’m not exactly Sola Scriptura per se, but I do think once you get past the NT generation, you’re working with a lot of great texts (and saints) that simply may not have quite the same weight as the original Apostolic ones. So there has to be a fair degree of leeway with traditions/Christians that agree on the earliest teachings and events, but differ in how to express that faith.

      • Let me give an example of why one’s understanding of sacraments is so important. This may also shed some light on why the Orthodox priest you were listening to ended with a call for other Christians to join the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Tradition, to which I belong, holds that the bread becomes the true Body and the wine becomes the True Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This means that in receiving communion, we are united to Christ and to each other in the Church. We take Jesus’ words in John 6 very literally, “He who eats my flesh and drink My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” The Eucharist is not just a point of doctrine, it is our lifeline. So in inviting people into the Orthodox Church, the priest was inviting people to join themselves fully to Christ and His Church, which the Orthodox Tradition teaches is one Church visibly united under Christ through the bishops. You can disagree with those beliefs. But if those are the beliefs one holds to, the only loving thing to do is to invite others to experience true communion with Christ and His Church.

        • We take Jesus’ words in John 6 very literally, “He who eats my flesh and drink My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”

          And others of us believe that John 6 is about coming to Jesus and believing in him, and not about the bread and wine of the Eucharist becoming Christ’s Real-Presence body and blood.

          • A quick tour of the Greek in that passage dispels that interpretation. Jesus uses the word that means to ‘grind with the teeth’. Why do you think many of the disciples turned back and no longer followed him right after he said that? The meaning was clear to them and they couldn’t / wouldn’t believe Him.

          • @Patrick:

            Which is why you should not stop with “a quick tour of the Greek.”

            For if you read the Gospel in Greek you will see that the author of John likes to use synonyms for apparently stylistic reasons. Look at the pairs he uses in John 21, e.g. So a switch of words that have similar meanings is often of little consequence in GJohn.

            But if you study John’s Gospel, you will also see that he exclusively uses esthiô (aorist form: ephagon) for non-present-tense instances of “eat,” and he uses trôgô for present-tense instances. In fact, you will not find a single instance of esthiô in the entire Gospel except for its irregular aorist stem. THAT is at least as good an explanation for his switch to trôgô in John 6:54ff. where he uses the present participle than the supposition that he’s making a point about people really chewing his flesh.

            As for them turning away from him, you can see their real “beef” with him was that he claimed to have come down from heaven (6:41-42) and was the True Manna and had seen the Father and would give Eternal Life to all who believed. He had already given them plenty of “hard saying” before he even got to 6:53.

          • @Patrick:

            And besides, if “grinding with the teeth” is so important, why does the Roman Catholic Church use dissolve-on-your-tongue ultra-thin wafers for the Host?

            (To guard against Stercoranists, perhaps?)

          • So John just happens to use ‘grind with the teeth’ for stylistic reasons and because synonyms are cool? Thus the exact words Jesus used (or at least John reported) are ‘ often of little consequence’?

            I am not buying what you are trying to sell

          • I’m not trying to sell anything.
            2 Corinthians 2:17; 5:13-21.

        • You’ve described something pretty close to what I believe about the sacraments. I just think that the sensible way to handle one who disagrees would be to tell them the truth about the sacraments, set them straight, not necessarily urge them to switch churches or traditions.

          • Personally I could not hold to a sacramental worldview and remain as part of a non-sacramental tradition.

      • assuming conversion means you’re not part of the “true faith” until you’re in our fold

        That’s just it. The vast majority of sacramental churches consider the faith of most non-sacramental Christians to be valid and saving. It’s actually the non-sacramental churches who often do not reciprocate this openness.

        The only thing I’m willing to call absolutely primary, and fundamental, are the historical events, not the interpretations.

        Apart from the interpretations, this is nothing other than a nice story. This ethos dismisses the vast majority of the epistles.

        how far ahead in the Tradition do you want to observe as authoritative?

        Lutherans would generally say none, but since it is what you were handed by your fathers in the faith, the only viable reason to reject it is for err that has crept in (indulgences) or a superior method (congregational singing).

        • Classically, Anglicans would quote Lancelot Andrewes’ aphorism on what tradition is “authoritative”: “One Canon, two Testaments, three Creeds, four General Councils, five centuries and the series of Fathers in that period determine the boundries of our faith.”

          That, of course, is subject to the following qualifier from the 39 Articles: “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.”

        • Miguel, I’m in total agreement with your first comment. The divisive attitude of non-sacramental churches towards sacramental ones is why this issue stokes my coals, not generally the other way around. The EO example was just one that encountered very recently.

          As to my statement about interpretations- I’m not dismissing the epistles at all. Just trying to assert that Jesus Christ proper is the foundation of the faith, and that one’s use of the Good News to produce fruit is actually not something I can consider as radically important the literal, incarnate Story itself. I know it’s not very Lutheran/protestant of me, but I’d put justifications in this category. Not so I can dismiss it, but because it’s a metaphor, an example of the what the Gospel does, not what it is. It’s the adjective where the Gospel (Christ himself) is the noun. If that makes any sense. I’d consider most of Paul’s writing to be this.

          As to tradition, I very much like the idea of looking to the non-canonical fathers and traditions for guidance. But I’d treat it as optional as far as it represents a contextualization of the faith. I’d treat it as valuable story, but the further we get historically from Jesus Christ, the more wary I’d want to be about holding tightly to tradition.

          • the further we get historically from Jesus Christ, the more wary I’d want to be about holding tightly to tradition.

            Bingo. Which is why I prefer to lean on the ancient tradition of the church handed down from the early centuries, rather than whatever is popular at the hot conferences now.

            However, you still have your grammar wrong. Justification is not an adjective, it is a verb. Jesus Christ justifies sinners. Take away justification, and you have a noun without a verb. An incomplete sentence cannot be a “good news” proclamation. Who is Jesus, and what has he done? That is the gospel. Even Roman Catholics believe in justification, just not sola fide. Justification is not the use of the good news to produce fruit (though maybe in RC progressive justification?). That would be a sanctification issue. Yes, the resurrection is the “lynchpin” of the faith, but it is not the whole story either. There is not a superfluous line in the Apostles’ Creed, imo, and each one needs to have the question answered “what does this mean?”

          • Miguel- Well yes, everyone believes in justification of some sort if they’re Biblical, and I do too. But I don’t believe that without it you have a noun without a verb. The disciples believed and were compelled by something before this theology was developed, beginning at their calling. The Resurrection wasn’t just a nice story until they figured out that they had been legally acquitted of guilt. It was the defeat of death, decay and of unjust tyrants. It was the confirmation that Messiah had come, and Jesus had been installed as King, and promised to restore the creational order. The metaphor seems to have developed later for a particular purpose, and a good one at that. It just wasn’t the first purpose of Christ or the definition of the Gospel.

          • The theology of justification was “developed?” As if it were a creation by the church? Justification is none other than the forgiveness of sins. It is written all over the Old Testament. The writings of Paul which spell this out were among the earliest of the NT documents. Sure, they didn’t fully grasp it, until the Spirit illuminated their minds at Pentecost. But the first teaching of the apostles post-resurrection was “repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” You cannot separate the person of Christ from the work of Christ anymore than you can separate the nature of God from the character of God: One leads directly into the other, which in turn verifies the former. Oh, and I don’t see what the cross had to do with defeating unjust tyrants. God has always been raising up rulers and bringing them down, from the beginning of time. The cross was the defeat of sin, death and the Devil, and the purchasing of our forgiveness, life, and salvation. Justification is all over that.

          • Ok, if you mean the death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, simple as that, then yes, it was there at the beginning. I was thinking more of Paul’s formulation of it in Romans as a specifically legal metaphor. Being acquitted is slightly different than being forgiven, or for that matter, from the way the death of Jesus is proclaimed in Acts.

            But with the understanding of justification/forgiveness, you still have only one problem dealt with- guilt. John the Baptist announced “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” referring to, it appears, more than just guilt. If the immediate curse following Adam’s disobedience was death, the removal of the curse is most immediately seen in the Resurrection. The “tyrants” I refer to are anyone who wields the power of death over others to consolidate their power, usurping God’s authority (the rulers who crucified Jesus, and yes ultimately Satan). The death and Resurrection of “the Righteous One” are God’s judgment upon the evil men who did it, and the stripping of their power. Jesus is thus confirmed as just (he opposed evil without becoming evil) and God’s true King (he rose!) All of this is very good news to the poor and imprisoned and marginalized- they are now convinced their plight of injustice is, in real historical terms, opposed by God, with eschatological reality before their eyes. Now, at some point this must lead everyone into the recognition of their own sin as collusion in crucifying Jesus, and thus their need for forgiveness. It’s just that outside of “tier one” history (Israel, and Jesus’ role within it) that doesn’t make much sense right off the bat- we after all didn’t even live during his time or know him, so how could we be responsible for his death? (Side point- I think this is why Paul doesn’t mention Christ’s death at the Areopagus, but goes straight for the Resurrection). Now, if you want to CALL all of this justification, fine. But you are at that point giving preference to a language, and only one of many that are used in the NT.

            Farbeit from me to separate the person from the work of Christ. But I do occasionally see reasons give preference to the naming of the historical, embodied events (and their context) over the theology of those events. Death was a physical event- at someone’s hands- and THEN the Spirit gradually shapes its significance in the heart of the church. I say this because, strangely enough, it actually becomes possible to talk about justification, imputation, forgiveness of sin, the freedom of grace, even unconditional love, without the historical facts of death and resurrection as reference points. Bizarre, but I’ve been in the midst of it myself at times.

  28. I don’t know if it’s God’s judgment, but I do know that the amount of disunity is a real problem. I find it so disheartening and discouraging. For example, I work with a very faithful Catholic brother in Christ and we share our journeys of faith often and see eye-to-eye on many things while both remain in our traiditons. The relationship is one of respect and mutual support and I really cherish it.

    Then I read things like this:


    and get discouraged all over again for a while.


    • Ironic that JMcA’s blog is entitled, “Grace to You.” That certainly is a grace-less post.

      • That’s also the name of McArthur’s radio program. I’ve long thought it to be unintentionally ironic. I’ve never tuned in and heard grace.

    • This is really scary. I had no idea John MacArthur was like that.

      • I knew he had said some things like this in the past, but I was surprised that he seems not to have tempered them one bit,and possibly has become even more strident. I had hoped the past statements might have been one-off missteps, but not so.

        I’m not impressed with his teaching or approach, or that of his ardent followers. It’s truly lacking in grace and I don’t think it makes the faith attractive at all.

    • Methinks Mr. MacArthur has eaten too many Chick Tracts.

  29. Many years ago, John Frame (a quasi-famous Presbyterian theologian) wrote a book criticizing the disunity among protestant evangelicals, and calling for greater unity. That book, Evangelical Reunion, has been all but ignored. FWIW, it’s available for free online.

    Evangelical Reunion.

    He probably doesn’t go far enough for the tastes of most here, but it’s a start…

  30. Very, very good points.

    Maybe instead of “growing and planting “x” amount of churches in “x” amount of time, churches should pray for each other, come together instead of individually and serve those in need, maybe they should stop “counting those who were saved last weekend”, and do the work of Jesus “together”. What a great idea! God HAS spoken already, and we are seeing the product every single day.

  31. Marcus Johnson says

    I told this story in an earlier post but, due to the present conversation, it bears repeating:

    I was with a Seventh-Day Adventist church in Texas on the one-year anniversary of 9/11, and the pastor wanted to help spearhead a community-wide interdenominational memorial service. It was a hot day in September 2002, so one of the pastors from another church brought Cokes. This incensed one of the elders, who was a strict no-caffeine, no-sugar vegan (in accordance with SDA doctrine regarding the “health message”). Another elder laid out a table filled with pamphlets on SDA doctrine and practice. Then the pastor, in his speech, digressed from the 3,000 dead to tout the SDA church as “true doctrine.” Needless to say, the memorial service never happened again, and I left the church completely shortly after that.

    This is not a unique situation, and I’m sure there are folks who have had similar experiences. We are so intent on preserving doctrine that sometimes we forget to spread the gospel. The Pharisees had the same problem, so Jesus intentionally violated their laws to prove that the gospel can transcend the symbols and rituals we use to understand and contain it.

    • “the gospel can transcend the symbols and rituals we use to understand and contain it.”

      This is interesting to think about. Can the gospel transcend the symbols and rituals of the SDA church?

      • Marcus Johnson says

        In the story I told above, and in many other stories I could tell, the gospel does and did transcend. Once I had too many of those experiences, I left the church.

    • If your doctrine interferes with the proclamation of the gospel, your doctrine is wrong. Period. Jesus violated the traditions of men in order to rebuke their false doctrine. Yes, the Gospel can transcend any one particular set of communicative devices, but it will always be proclaimed somehow. The question ought to be “which symbols and rituals best proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ for sinners?”.

      • So hypothetical:

        A Lutheran, a Catholic, and a Evangelical (you name the denomination) are hanging out in a park, in unity, and an unbeliever approaches them and asks them how they can go to heaven. All three have the same answer, but the Catholic invites the unbeliever to his/her church. In the name of “unity”, should the other two remain silent?

        • Absolutely not. They should encourage the unbeliever to accept the invitation!

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Actually, the Lutheran and the Evangelical should immediately apologize for not being the first to extend the invitation. Then they should all go to a Cinnabon, because Cinnabons are awesome, and they should do so in unity.

        • The FIRST “hypothetical” situation ever posed to me that I’ve actually seen happen! I have no shame, though, arguing why my church is better and you should visit us first. But it would definitely depend on the tone of the conversation. That is not the time for Christians to air their dirty laundry, but a little friendly competition never hurt anyone.

        • Heh heh. If one of them reads NT Wright, they probably answer something like “that’s not the point.”

        • “Whenever any church stops believing in its own gospel, God has to come in through the air ducts. God has to find a shrouded identity, code words to say the same thing, new ways to open the human heart, and catch people with the truth when their guard is down.” – Richard Rohr

      • Like Marcus said, I think “the gospel can transcend the symbols and rituals we use to understand and contain it.” The hard part in remaining united comes in “figuring out which symbols and rituals best proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ for sinners?”.

  32. “For now we see in a mirror dimly ….” (1 Cor. 13:12) The image is fuzzy, clearly.

    –We can err unintentionally both by missing what can be seen and by seeing what is not there.
    –We lack integrity if we deny what we can readily see or attribute to the glass an image that we know is of our own making.

    Men of goodwill will pursue the truth and surrender themselves to the truth that they have come to understand. To “understand” suggests a posture of “standing under” — in humility recognizing the challenge of seeing accurately but nevertheless pointing helpfully upward to the lights that one has come to trust. There is love in that.

    –Where two see the lights differently, distrust spits the accusation, “You deny what is clear! You imagine what suits you!”
    –Perhaps it is better to say, “I cannot see what you see. I see this over here. Will you look with me?”

    Where people are seeing and following the same lights, unity emerges.

    • I like this:
      “–Perhaps it is better to say, ‘I cannot see what you see. I see this over here. Will you look with me?'”

      You could also tweak it to: “I cannot see what you see. I see this over here. Can you help me see what you see?”

      I also like this:
      “Where people are seeing and following the same lights, unity emerges.”

      Indeed. At a recent wedding I attended, the pastor said, “In your marriage, focus on Jesus on the cross and walk toward Him. Then, whenever you have moments when you have drifted away from each other, you begin walking toward Jesus on the cross and automatically begin drawing nearer to each other.”

      It’s spiritual truth via physics or geometry!!!

  33. “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
    Genesis 11:7 (ESV)

  34. Bill Garrett says


    I don’t often read the comments on your posts because I follow your writings via RSS. After reading a bit of the conversation tonight, my appreciation for your commitment to this ministry on top of your others increases my esteem and prayers for you tenfold!

  35. I’ve quoted this here before, sorry, but I really think that it is apposite to the discussion. You really should go and read the original (these are my transliterations):

    I may be divided from them in part for either of these two reasons – them preventing me from, or demanding from me, something other than what the Lord demands – but because of my own duty to God, and not because I must judge THEIR evils. If a system proves to be narrower or wider than the truth, I will either stop short, or go beyond it, but I would INFINITELY RATHER BEAR with all their evils, than SEPARATE from THEIR good.


    I am absolutely convinced that to have real power in speaking to other people’s consciences, you must be seen to more tolerant towards them than they are to themselves, rather than less; that your love is eager to cover their faults, rather than your eagle eyes looking to spy out their failings.


    If I am invited to someone’s house as a visitor, no-one is going to hold me responsible for the way the house is ordered, or even consider my visit as approving the state of the house. They might come to my house and form a judgement, but even in that case, if I was one amongst many responsible, no right-thinking person would hold me responsible for things which I had been against, but which I had tolerated for the greater good, or to avoid a greater evil.

  36. My viewpoint is that there is a purpose for what has happened to the Church.

    Maybe it is to make the church more accessible to everybody in the world.

    Questions what we should always be asking is

    Who is the Church?
    What is the Church?
    Whose is the Church

  37. I think the better part of wisdom for me would be to walk into this room, blink a few times, and back out quietly.
    However, I’m not wise. So, I am going to make a single observation. Supposedly, this entire debate about the validity of Scripture. Granted, it is, in part. However, I would make the observation that the hermeneutical battles that everyone so up in arms above affects something like 451 issues of doctrine and practice.

    However, interestingly it is a few select issues that get people upset enough to issue anathemas. And most of them involve sex. So, there’s something else going on here, beyond mere intellectual/doctrinal wrangling.
    The thing going on is that issues of gender identity, gender roles, and sex are of great symbolic/personal/social significance and it is this fact—not merely the intellectual requirements of Scripture interpretation—that is providing the raw fuel for the debate. Watch the last few decades for the debates great enough to cause major denominational battles. You can have debates over Biblical criticism or the meaning in “infallibility” (etc) simmer for eons, but it is at the moment that things like women’s ordination pop up that the gloves really come off.

    While I submit that these issues are significant and may in some cases necessitate separation (that depends on your perspective), it is important to understand that these are cultural and political matters as much as they are anything else. People are responding, predictably, in visceral ways because in the past 100 years or so, more has changed in the West’s understanding of sex and gender than has shifted at almost any other point in history. This should cause us to understand that something unprecedented is taking place and this fact should inspire caution and an extra effort to maintain mutual respect—esp since these are issues that, however important, *Do Not Rise to the Level of the Doctrines such as the Incarnation and Resurrection.* (Am I the only person who thinks it is a bit odd/tragic that it took homosexuality to break the Episcopal Church, when even doctrinal liberals denying the Resurrection couldn’t accomplish the feat?) It is going to take a long time to work through. And it is really not so surprising that people are winding up on different sides of the conversation (and at points in between).

    Whatever your perspective, I can guarantee you this: Anyone, whether progressive or conservative, who shackles the gospel to their particular understanding of gender and sex during this time of transition is going be caught with the pants down later on.

    So, is there room for at least a conversation? Do we have something behind us together greater than the culture wars?

    For our sake, we had better.

  38. I just recently had an awareness that in many ways the Eden story in the Bible parallels the story of Israel. It has also, for many years, occurred to me that the story of the Church also parallels the story of Israel. I wonder if there is supposed to be a message there for us.

  39. I wish to apologize to CM (and everyone else who read) for the harsh tone in my comments on this topic. I’ve been chewing on this topic for the last couple of days and I think I’m just finally beginning to get the point of the post. So again, my apologies.

    I do though have to ask a question. In the comments, CM said that we must not be tribal and we must learn to accept the good in all branches of the church (please correct me if that’s wrong). So the challenge for me is to learn to love and appreciate and accept and acknowledge the good in denoms like the ELCA, PCUSA, ECUSA, etc. But here’s my question and challenge for the other side. Will you learn to accept the good in the more conservative denoms and personalities that are often skewered on this site (for the record, I’m not too big a fan of many of those guys myself. But if unity is what we’re after, then we’re going to have to learn to appreciate the good in those with whom we disagree)? If we can all do that, then it would seem that at least we’ve taken the first step.

    Again, my apologies to CM and everyone else.

    • (Though I wasn’t personally offended, that was a nice apology, Alan F.)

      BTW…I agree with you. The trick is acceptance of differing “theologies.” If we all prayed for other churches and denominations than our own – that God use any and every church that calls itself Christian – to reach the lost for HIS glory and to further HIS kingdom, then I think we’ve taken a step of unity. And yes…that means even praying FOR the more conservative denoms and personalities that are often – rightly or wrongly – skewered on this site!