In Donal’s One Body post, mdavid and Denise make good points about the schism and disunity in the Church.
Specifically, if you’re read up on the reformation there are some big points of disagreement between the Prostestants and the Catholic Church. These are normally described by the five Solas.
- Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
- Sola Fide (by faith alone)
- Sola gratia (by grace alone)
- Solus Christus (Christ alone)
- Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)
I personally have mixed feelings about all of this.
Having been brought up in a Protestant non-denominational church it is quite obvious that it is my inclination to believe in the five Solas. However, the Protestant denominations as a whole do a very poor job passing the eye test (or rather, fruit test):
Matthew 7 (NASB)
15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will [k]know them by their fruits. [l]Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will [m]know them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [n]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
Frankly speaking, the whole of Protestant Church’s does not have good fruit today. It is espouses views of feminism rather than God. There is much bad fruit from those who claim they are Christians. Divorce, entitlement, factions, strife, and what have you are rampant.
Overall, the Catholic Church has done a much better job of this in that they hold fast to the Scriptures better than the Protestants, especially in terms of the importance of families. However, as some of the Catholics have told me there is the rot of feminism seeping into the Catholic church slowly as well.
Instead of delving into denominational differences, I’d like to present an alternative view.
One of the analogies I make for people is that in healthcare there are going to be lots of different people in every profession:
- There are lots of good doctors and there are lots of bad doctors
- There are lots of good nurses and there are lots of bad nurses
- There are lots of good chiropractors and lots of bad chiropractors
- There are lots of good physical therapists and lots of bad physical therapist
- There are lots of good athletic trainers and lots of bad athletic trainers
- There are lots of good personal trainers and lots of bad personal trainers
At a fundamental level, this is quite an obvious set of statements when you think about it. Most of them are looking to improve overall health, but not all of them do a good job. What separates them from the good and the bad is their interaction with patients or clients and the results that they get from them.
So too I regard the denominational differences in doctrine in the Church. This is one of the reasons why I have ceased to talk about denominations but rather focus on people’s words and actions. As I stated in the One Body post:
It’s my opinion that all of the divisions in the Church in terms of doctrine matter very little though. Those that are Christians follow Jesus’ commands — they love one another as He has loved them (John 13:34-15; John 15:12). As Jesus stated many times throughout the gospels those that are in Him will bear good fruit (Matt 7, Luke 6). Those that bear good fruit (fruit of the Spirit Galatians 5) are Christians regardless of what “denomination” they are.
When I meet someone who claims to be a Christian, I can tell from their interactions with other people whether they actually believe in what they say and carry it out. I don’t need to know what their denomination is. I don’t need to know what they specifically believe whether it’s Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura. I know they are following God because they are obeying Jesus’ commands.
The ultimate futility of taking sides
Let me skip to a different example.
It’s clear that both the Churches in China as well as in Islamic countries are being persecuted heavily. People are losing their property, their families, their money, their livelihoods, and even their lives for the sake of Christ.
No one from any denomination would assert that these Christians suffering and being persecuted for believing in Jesus are not Christians.
Yet, these Christians probably know nothing of Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura. They know nothing of different denominational differences. They don’t know anything about Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox. They have no inkling of what it means to have differences from other Christians.
However, these Christians are willing to give their lives for the sake of Jesus. That is a powerful statement and witness which transcends denominations.
Abundance and prosperity
Abundance and prosperity are from God although it is very easy to allow it to affect us in the form of entitlement.
As the Church grew through the middle ages the prosperity was immense. The Church had spread all throughout the known world including all of Europe. However, this growth ultimately resulted in the Reformation as there were “potentially” corrupt practices in the RCC.
From what I’ve read on Martin Luther’s Theses, breach, and excommunication (here’s a summary), it seemed both sides were not interested in unity aside from Karl von Miltitz to his credit. Luther was initially predisposed to reconciliation and concessions, but it devolved from there into an irreparable schism much like the current manosphere incident has now (See Unity and Unity Part 2).
I do not find it a coincidence that as the church has become more prosperous — especially in modern times — that there have been more schisms and splits within it.
Mark 10:23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, “[b]Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
People can go make their own church rather than resolving the differences in the body of Christ. People care more about being right than they do about God’s commands. People think they know what is right, but they fail to love.
1 Corinthians 8:Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge [a]makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
That God has blessed us has allowed us to do more to love and to serve, but instead many of us use the prosperity and wealth for our own ends rather than for God.
I believe this is why God put such a big emphasis on tithing and offerings. His Scriptures on tithing and offerings are also one of the few Scriptures that have promises associated with them. As we have more we tend to become less generous and more selfish, but that is not how God wants us to think or act.
As much as I think knowing and debating what doctrine and tradition is true is a good thing, it is very easy to lose the proverbial sight of the forest when you’re among the trees.
It’s more important for someone to believe in Jesus and the Scripture and then to walk it out in their daily life rather than having an opinion on whether it is faith alone saves or not. It’s more important for the Church to understand what we can agree on and affirm than to focus on any differences that may be there. After all, Christians aren’t defined by their doctrine or traditions; they’re defined by if they’re living out Jesus’ commands.
How then are we to understand doctrine and tradition in the context of the Christian faith?
Doctrine and tradition, in my mind, are Good. It is like the Law. The meaning behind doctrine and traditions are to affirm our faith. Likewise, we observe the Law because the Law is Good. God gave the Law just as many doctrines and traditions spring forth from Jesus’ instruction.
Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. Yet, we are not bound by doctrines or traditions just as we are not bound by the Law. We are bound by grace, and this is the freedom afforded to us by Jesus through the establishment of the New Testament by the shedding of His blood.
It is by this measure important to know the meaning behind many traditions and doctrines just as Jesus explained the intent of the Law.
Mark 12:28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the [q]foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; 33 and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.
Therefore, it is good to debate doctrine and tradition. But just as the Law-breaking requires sacrifice, we should never condemn those that live life in a manner worthy of Christ if they hold different doctrine or traditions:
I desire [e]compassion (or mercy) and not a sacrifice
This is what is meant when Jesus states from Hosea in regard to Jesus dining with the tax collectors and sinners (Matt 9) and breaking the “laws” of the Sabbath (Matt 12) where the Pharisees were condemning the innocent.
God knows the hearts of all, and He is reflected in those that live according to His commands regardless of their tradition or doctrine.
I believe these are the common points that most if not all Christian denominations agree on in regard to Christianity and salvation, and those that believe and follow Him will be saved:
- Jesus was born of the virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus lived a sinless life.
- Jesus was crucified and died [for our sins].
- Jesus was buried for 3 days.
- Jesus was resurrected on the 3rd day [overcoming sin, death, and which proved He is God].
- Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to believers.
- Jesus said all who follow Him should be baptized.
- Jesus said all who follow Him should take communion / Eucharist in rememberance of Him.
- Jesus said to make disciples of all nations.
- Jesus said those who love Him will obey His commands (Logos).
- Jesus said love one another as He loved us.
- Jesus said that there would be God’s judgment for that which we have done on earth.