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So They May be One…

March 10, 2010

I’m often asked, as you might guess, what’s the toughest question I get asked by atheists. My first answer is to go straight for the Problem of Evil. I think I have a pretty good answer for that one. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize the hardest question from atheists I get is the idea of Christian unity. Or rather, the lack there of and the general “meh” shoulder shrug I see in the church when this gets brought up.

Now, before we get to into this idea, let me just say, I think there is a heck of a lot more unity among Christians who confess the Nicene Creed. Way more than is advertised. Last night, we had the church discussion at our Doubt God group. Myself, a Catholic, a baptist and other various Christians at this discuss agreed about a lot more than we disagreed.

However, the fact remains that we have an ungodly amount of denominations. I have heard brother’s and sisters argue this is actually a good thing for the body of Christ.  In other words, we should focus on the “church invisible” as Calvin called it.

I used to buy Calvin’s argument, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it anymore. I think there is some inherent gnosticism in that thinking in dividing the spiritual church from the physical church. I know that’s not what Calvin was trying to say. However, I think the way it get’s applied gets dangerously close to a dualistic way of thinking that isn’t biblical at all.

I have been doing a lot of reading on the Jewish roots of Christianity and rereading passages of the Bible. It’s stunning how much unity among believers is emphasized. This is especially true of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John. He doesn’t treat Christian unity something that should be on the backburner. Indeed, He considers it a vital belief of the church and a vital pursuit of the church. Paul does the exact same thing. It’s not just the “spiritual” unity of the church, but it’s also supposed to be a physical reality.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating cheap or superficial unity. There is no way we can ignore our denominational issues. They must be addressed. But, I find the lazy ass attitude towards unity talks among Christians to be grossly unbiblical. We have to put some time and energy into this discussion. The time has come.

I’m not even sure what I’m saying in this post. Maybe my work with atheists has given me a renewed sense of urgency. Maybe that’s why it bothers me so much. Or maybe, because Jesus says it’s important and we don’t work hard enough at it. I don’t.

And that, above all things, makes me sad.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2010 5:41 pm

    I’m curious, and I’m on a quest as well, having to do with our facebook conversation on the topic, I looked up Wikipedia stuff and landed on the age old question of Apostolic Succession, which seems key to Rome vs. Orthodox vs. Everybody else. I noticed Wikipedia makes a bold statement, that Protestants reject any authority as successing from the apostles to the bishops, which i found to be very assertive, considering the number of peoples and doctrines that are considered Protestant. I can easily create a person in theory who believes in apostolic authority but rejects the authority of, for this example, Rome. I don’t want to particularly swing my theological wrench to fully develop this person’s philosophy, but it could happen.

    How do you feel about this question, and how it relates to the question of our being united with those in communion with the Bishop of Rome? I actually find that, based on my very limited knowledge, the Orthodox churches in Alexandria, Antioch, etc. do not have the same theological barriers that I find in the Romans. My biggest wall is the idea of proclaiming something ex cathedra. From what I know, they don’t do that, especially since they don’t claim Petrine succession.

    Basically, to put it better, my question is how do we reconcile unifying with those who claim that by our excommunion with Rome means that we’re not a part of the church universal at all? How do we call ourselves one and the same?

  2. Richard Eis permalink
    March 11, 2010 5:18 am

    As a complex system reaches it’s full capacity/limits it stabilises somewhat but all resources are in use, a lot is wasted due to the complexity of the interactions and growth is eventually stunted (ah wonderful beauracracy). It can continue for quite a long time like this due to its stabilising feedback systems until the environment changes significantly, then it will lose complexity and numbers until it can restabilise.

    Natural effect of a complex system with little overarching control. Of course, this implies you are on the back end of a downward curve. Still it’s an interesting way of viewing things (IMHO of course).

  3. Stephen Onedate permalink
    March 11, 2010 12:54 pm

    Jesus prayed for later generations of believers “that they may all be one…so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn 17:21). The inference is that if Christians are not all one then the world will not believe. At no time is this disunity more stark than at Easter. The Resurrection is at the centre of the Christian faith, without it there is no Christianity. However almost every year Catholics, Protestant and Orthodox celebrate Easter on different dates, some years as much as five weeks apart and other years on the same date. This division among Christians in celebrating this Feast of Feasts is a great sin and Christians all know that division does not come from God. What is needed now is for all of us as Christians to recognise together the urgency of the Lord’s call to unity, and beginning with uniting the date of Easter, to continue by sharing and restoring all that was fundamental to the unity of the early undivided church, all in a spirit of love and humility. Stephen

  4. Knockgoats permalink
    March 11, 2010 5:51 pm

    Stephen Onedate,
    Well, speaking as an atheist, what would be even more convincing would be if all believers agreed to open their eggs at the convenient end.

  5. Andrew permalink
    March 11, 2010 7:01 pm


    Personally, though, from my outsider’s perspective as an atheist (but with pretty close family ties to the Church of England), I figure splitting of churches is more likely than merging for the immediate future, since there seem to be somewhat irreconcilable differences over matters such as women clergy, gay clergy, married clergy, abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc., which aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

    The fact that individuals of different denominations disagree on relatively few theological points doesn’t really help matters, especially faced with denominations like the Catholics who simply do not listen to their membership when it comes to doctrine.

  6. Richard Eis permalink
    March 12, 2010 5:08 am

    Haha Knockgoats. Cruel, but funny.

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