I’ve always been interested in the protestant reformation and the split from the “Church” back in the day. Many of Martin Luther’s objections were more than reasonable – and the split in the church seems normal through the lens of history. But, I can’t help but wonder a) what our Christian religious landscape would be like if it hadn’t split, and b) where it will end? Churches continue to splinter off over comparatively small disagreements. And wasn’t at least one of Jesus’ messages about coming together and putting differences aside? Instead we’re slicing and dicing interpretations of scripture to thinly that eventually we’ll each just form our own individual church!
Several recent blog posts reminded me of this. One from the Evangelical Outpost – Church Branding is the title of the post. The central theme is that Americans are switching churches with more regularity and don’t seem to be loyal to any one brand of their religion. Without getting into whether this is good or bad – because I don’t think that’s even the point. The bigger question is why are more and more people “jumping ship”?
Couple this news with the recent article “Most US Christians define own theology”. To sum it up with one quote,
“A sizable majority of the country’s faithful no longer hew closely to orthodox teachings, and look more to themselves than to churches or denominations to define their religious convictions, according to two recent surveys.”
To me it’s clear that both these phenomena exist at least in part because, within the Christian faith particularly, we have a history of walking away when we disagree with each other. There’s no sticking around to work out differences. Denominations split and splinter continually over differences in interpretations of the Bible, and disagreements in Doctrine. Including the most recent divorce of the Episcopal Church from itself. Is it any wonder that individuals do the same thing? Or pick and choose what pieces are meaningful to them and reject the rest. The Christian faith has been the guiding light for this behavior.
And why? Because there’s far too much focus on WHAT we believe and not enough on how that belief should impel us to act. So, the more specific churches get on that What, it’s inevitable that people will look to other ships, searching for that ONE that will meet their needs and match their belief system. News flash, it will never happen! No church will be completely sympatico with any one person’s beliefs. So we continue to break off. And what then, once a church breaks away, is it more pure, more true to the “real” teachings of Jesus than what it left behind? If so, we’re creating a dangerous Christian culture of elitism. Each group thinking they are better than the rest because of what they believe. When in reality they might all be equally appalling in how they actually behave on the planet!
Recently I’ve been familiarizing myself with the Buddhist and the Quaker religion – for those of you who’ve followed, I’ve attending the local Quaker Meeting on and off over the past several years. What I absolutely love about these two traditions is the almost exclusive focus on HOW to act with an indifference to one’s personal interpretation of doctrine. In the case of Buddhism, there is no doctrine really. It’s not about a God at all; it’s about how you personally can achieve true happiness (enlightenment) in the world. Quaker’s are more closely tied to the Christian faith but there is no dictate of what one should or should not believe. It’s a very personal experience with God with true understanding only be achieved as a group learns together.
A quote from A Quaker Book of Wisdom, by Robert Lawrence Smith,
“The premise of Quaker Meeting is that no one person sees the entire truth. The group search after truth is more comprehensive and more exacting than the search of one individual. At Meetings for Worship, the shared silence creates receptivity to the continuing revelation of the truth. People who are moved to vocal ministry offer small insights that contribute to each person’s understanding.”
Many foundational beliefs of both the Quakers and Buddhists, living simply, adherence to truth, and non-violence are not at all different from Christian teachings. Jesus was one of the strongest proponents of these concepts. But in learning about, and being part of the Quaker tradition for a short time, the difference is, these are not just things to say we believe in, they are a way of life.
How or can Christianity regain the focus on the wonderful acts of Christ without getting bogged down in the thin deli slices of scripture?