One Church...Many Christianities?

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1219808902|%B %d

This afternoon, I ran across some intriguing articles on the present and future face of Christianity from the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. They have a good bird's eye sense of what's going on both inside and outside the Church, so their conclusions are fresh, informative, and challenging.

I like their inclusive vision for who falls under the "Christian" label. They are happy to consider as Christian anyone who carefully and prayerfully considers themselves to be a Christian—even the groups almost universally excluded as heretics and cults, such as the Gnostics of ancient times, and Mormons and JWs of more recent times. This has some parallels to my opinions on the constitution of the invisible Church. I tend to be more hesitant to include such fringe group, but I don't take the energy to exclude them, either.

Christians spend a lot of time painstakingly defining who is part of the "true" church, and who is not. Personally, I think this time is wasted. The final sorting of sheep and goats is God's business, after all. Our energies are much better spent on extravagantly loving Jesus, and leading others in doing the same. I do not think that correct doctrine is unimportant: I would just rather see us constructively demonstrating what we stand for, rather than endlessly decrying what we stand against.

The other comment that caught my eye was the point they make that the conservative and liberal "wings" of Christianity are practically different religions. Consider this telling quotation, that they take from Bruce Bawer:

"[The differences between contemporary conservative and liberal Christianity] are so monumental that any rapprochement seems, at present, unimaginable. Indeed, it seems likely that if one side does not decisively triumph, the next generation will see a realignment in which historical denominations give way to new institutions that more truly reflect the split in American Protestantism."

This is a truly fascinating observation. It is certainly something that we witness happening in the Church today. It is not yet a complete schism, but it looks more and more like one year after year, and with each denomination that is torn to shreds over, say, homosexuality in the church.

At this particular historical moment, there are still people like me who feel reasonably comfortable in both conservative and liberal churches. (Or perhaps feel equally uncomfortable in both settings for different reasons.) But it does not seem out of the question that the ultimate historical effect of our current situation could be such a rewriting of allegiances.

It spurns me to think about the sorts of social pressures that cause fissures and schisms to appear in the visible church. There have always been such pressures; there have always been separate, sometimes mutually exclusive communities bearing the name "Christian:" this has only become more true with the passage of time.

Holiness, vision, prophecies—in the course of the Church, perhaps these are forces that work intentionally, and with divine energy, contrary to the forces that are splintering the visible face of Christianity.

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