Saturday, April 24, 2010

Unity or division?

1Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.

2It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

3They said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.

4They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

5The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.

6The LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.

7"Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech."

8So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.

9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

(Genesis 11:1-9 ASV)

I've recently begun to wonder if some of the divisions throughout Christianity may have actually been put there by God to prevent a similar problem to the Babel incident. We as humans tend to group people together and naturally form little clusters of familiarity. There are just so many people we have the ability to actually see as people before we start seeing only the group. If your congregation or parish is small you probably know everybody that attends. If it is larger you probably have a certain group you are with and the rest are just a mass of faces to you.

Imagine how it was in the first and second century. there weren't 3-5 church buildings on every street. the people in small towns had to go to the nearest city to meet with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Imagine if every church in the world was still like that. How would we house so many worshippers? What would drive us to divide and build new churches? Can you see the inherent dangers that would form from having so many people together?

While on the surface this may sound like the unity that Jesus prayed for I'm beginning to wonder if God has a different view of unity than we do.

I first started wondering about this when I was reading early christian writings and found out that while Paul and Peter celebrated easter on Sunday as did every church they started, John celebrated easter on the day of Passover regardless of whether it was sunday or not. The day on which you celebrate easter (or if you celebrate it at all for that matter) is not a doctrine relevant to the salvation of your soul (Romans 14:1-12) but early on it nearly tore the church apart. The council of Nicaea declared an official day for easter ( for political reasons) and once again there was an uproar and groups broke off. Who are we to say one group was right and the other wrong? Both group's practices were apostolic in nature, both were still in communion with each other. It got me to wondering if the apostles intentionally taught certain other practices different from one another. Say, for instance baptism. Is it possible that some of the apostles only baptized believers, while others baptized believer's children as well? I'm not saying this with any form of certainty, I'm merely wondering out loud, but anybody who can give any extra information is more than welcome. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's thought along these lines before.

Maybe God left the descriptions of how the Lord's supper was to be done vague on purpose. He simply stated bread and fruit of the vine. My tradition uses both of the unleavened variety in order to closer approximate what was used in the last supper, but some use leavened bread, some leavened cup, and any mixture of the two. There have been wars fought over this because it has been seen as a sign of disunity. (it was one of the contributing factors to the great schism)

I am of a tradition that sings all of its worship songs a cappella because we see no command to use musical accompaniment. Others see this as a sign that any instrument is acceptable. Other than the fact that the songs are to teach and uplift we're not given much information. God had to know that there would be differing views on the matter. Was there intent behind not giving specifics? Was it freedom? Restriction?

I am not talking about doctrines pertaining to salvation (such as the deity of christ), but I think the great schism, the reformation, and denominationalism may actually be a defense mechanism God instilled in the church (for lack of a better word)

I could give more examples, but I'd like to hear other's views on the matter. I may come back and write more on it.

It appears to me that each time we as humans attempt to force unity on anything it splinters. I believe that in proclaiming christ and not foaming at the mouth at one another we show God's unity in our diversity and that despite its appearance the church is one.