Christianity has literally tens of thousands of denominations. Which can’t be honoring to God; the unity of the body of Christ seems to be very important to God. Jesus talked about the desire for us to be one. Paul speaks repeatedly of the need for Christian believers to be unified. And yet, we keep splitting up, often acrimoniously. Of course this isn’t particularly new; the early Christian church was much more diverse than we often realize.
What drives these divisions, for the most part are disagreements, often valid and serious, about what Christian beliefs are true. Are sacraments necessary for salvation? Is the sinner’s prayer? Must members of a church affirm a particular creed? What is the role of tradition? How should various scripture verses be interpreted? How should claims of revelations be handled? All serious points. All with presumably one right answer, or at least a limited range of right answers. Then again, many of these disagreements are more than likely completely besides the point; does anyone seriously think God cares if we are sprinkled or dunked at baptism?
So we have all these disagreements, and thus all these divisions. And we can argue all we want over the particulars, the fact still remains that this level of division among God’s people cannot be pleasing to God. But what to do about it?
I certainly don’t have the answers sheet for who has the right answers to all the issues which lead to our division (although I have plenty of opinions!). However, I would suggest that we look at the biblical principle of “good fruit/bad fruit”. That is, if we see a good result, we can assume that whatever is producing it is good. If we see a bad result, then we can assume that whatever is producing it is bad. Obviously the division in the body of Christ is bad, so we would do well to figure out what is creating this bad fruit.
beliefism [is] ‘about me being right.’ This is a lot different than being devoted to a Person, to Jesus. Beliefism is devotion to a system of beliefs.”
I have long argued that Christians are often so devoted to their particular set of beliefs or interpretation of scripture that they place this, rather than Jesus Christ at the center of their faith walk. It seems to me that we should be going to Jesus to be taught and use scriptures to “test the spirits” and inform our understanding of this central relationship. Instead the tendency seems to be to go to the accepted interpretation of scriptures or church tradition first and then go to God, using our understanding to shape our view of God.
Of course, there is a legitimate need to be faithful to the truth. It sounds really good to say that we need to put Jesus and not our beliefs about Jesus at the center of our faith life. However, surely we can’t let go of our beliefs altogether! And the fact of the matter is that our very relationship with Jesus will inevitably lead us fallible humans to hold beliefs which cause us to be in conflict with each other. What does it really mean to put Jesus rather than our belief system at the center of our Christian faith any how?
One of the commentors to this article put it far better than I ever could:
The litmus test for us all is the degree to which we insist on being right when we are speaking with those who disagree with us. Jesus has to be our model in all things, if we belong to Him, and he was the master of restraint when it came to people who disagreed with him (just think about how YOU would have handled the opposition if YOU were God in the flesh!). Devotion to Jesus means we believe certain things about him and what he is about. Most of those things we call beliefs, and some of those beliefs are universally shared among followers of Jesus…though I think the number of universally shared beliefs is quite small. Some people see faith as defending their views on their beliefs well enough to win arguments. That is beliefism. We can hold our beliefs, stand on them, count on them for our eternal destiny…and still not use them as weapons against those who might disagree. We can only do this if we worship Jesus instead of our beliefs about Jesus.”
I love that line towards the end: “We can hold our beliefs, stand on them, count on them for our eternal destiny . . . and still not use them as weapons against those who might disagree.” How do we use our beliefs as weapons against those who disagree? I would say that if you find yourself sorting out in your head “real Christians” and “weak or phony Christians” by any criteria other than clear evidence of evil done. If you use another’s disagreement with your beliefs as evidence that they are doomed to hell, not in relationship with God, etc. Or if you are willing to disrupt the unity of the body for a belief not even found in Christianity’s foundational creeds, then you are using your beliefs as a weapon.
The fact is that you may be right in your judgements – some people really will fall into the category of “real Christian” while others won’t. Some people you meet who claim to know the Truth really are destined to spend time in hell, aren’t in relationship with God or whatever. But you haven’t been given a charge to discern those truths about people. You have been given a charge to LOVE people. Period. God will work out the rest – it’s just not your job.
Getting back to the problem of divisions in the body of Christ, if we can stop using our beliefs as weapons to try and do God’s work with, then this would almost certainly allow us to begin to heal some of the divisions between us. Of course, even the earliest Christian church had to deal with people who were preaching things quite clearly removed from the Christian faith that Jesus established and Paul and the apostles preached. We are no different today.
However, it is quite obvious that we have radically expanded on those beliefs which our Christian predecessors, who disagreed on a great many things, were in agreement on in deciding what beliefs invalidated someone’s claims to the faith. When we do this, we are showing our devotion to a set of beliefs, not the person of Jesus Christ, who prayed on his last days on earth, “I have given them the glory that you gave me; that they may be one as we are one. . . may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.” John 17:22-23
This is too important a matter to let our “beliefism” get in the way. While this of course, won’t magically solve the problem of division in the body of Christ, any hope we have is completely dependent on letting go of our “beliefism” first. So which do you love more? Your theological beliefs or Jesus?