When I began to think about why there are so many Christian denominations, I realized that there is no simple answer to the question. Historically, we can point to the schism that divided the Eastern and Western Churches in 1054, or the Reformation that split the Western Church in the 16th century.
But I believe that the main reason these things happened is because, as human beings, we each have a unique view of the world and of God. We like to surround ourselves with like-minded people, and throughout history there have been splits in Christianity over theological and doctrinal issues that caused disagreement.
As human beings, we are far better at debate than we are at dialogue. When we have disputes with others over matters of faith, we seem to find it easier to point out the ways in which we perceive the other to be “wrong,” rather than finding ways to discuss disagreements in order to find common ground.
Divisions have occurred historically over these types of disputes, and the longer the splits exist, the harder it is to resolve the issues.
As Catholic Christians, we set aside one week each year in January to pray for Christian unity. I am convinced that if we all spend more time interacting with each other, we will come to understand each other better.
That does not mean that centuries of disputes can be resolved overnight, but if we dialogue more, I think we will find how much we have in common. This is especially true because, as Christians, we all believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
— Father Bryan K. Lowe, pastor, Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, Anniston
We’re all one family
The rise of denominations within the Christian faith can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation. This was the movement to “reform” the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th century. Martin Luther’s famed Ninety-Five Theses nailed to Wittenburg’s doors may have been the catalyst for the differing beliefs held in opposition to the Catholic Church.
There were primitive forms of reforms prior to Luther’s famed act. These acts were tremors compared to the shock wave that Luther’s theses caused.
Luther’s theses invited debate, a differencing of opinion and beliefs and of biblical interpretation. Great theologians finally experienced the freedom to expound on their beliefs and interpretations of Scripture.
The core belief was central. Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son of God, born of the virgin birth — our Messiah. This core is the cornerstone of the marriage between differing interpretations and beliefs. This marriage birthed many children, looking and sounding like family — but different.
The children believed in different theologies of Holy Communion — real presence, transubstantiation, transignification, sacramental union, memorialism, consubstantiation, impanation — whew, is your head swimming by now?
Disagreements continued on the subject of baptism. Baptism is by immersion only! Other children said no! Baptism can be by sprinkling or immersion and, yes, infants can be baptized.
Did the children stop fighting here? No, they differed on gender calls, worship styles, how one should dress.
OK, so we are not all on the same page. But we are in the same book — the Bible! God’s story to humankind is so much larger than our differences. As long as we hold onto the central core — the basic tenets of our family faith — we will find our way home. Home, that place where we are one with God, one with each other and one in love.
— Rev. Dr. Genia Garrett, pastor, Glen Addie Community Church, Anniston