I wrote this post after this post on Interetmonk got me thinking about Christian unity. Today I'm going to talk about the brokenness of the American church and reflect on how we got here.
One of the major teachings in the New Testament is that Christians should be united. In John 17 Jesus prays that all who believe in Him should be one. Likewise, Christian unity is a major theme in Paul's letters. Paul's letters to the Romans, Ephesians and his first letter to the Corinthians all address the issue of unity in the church.
I want to talk about how these words are lived out. I would like to talk about how Jesus' prayer has been answered. I would like to talk about how Paul's instructions are being lived out by the church. I would like to talk about these things, but I can't, because the sad truth is that the church is very deeply divided.
I should know. I'm part of the American Evangelical church. As a group, we're some of the least united and most divisive Christians around. We might talk about unity among believers, but all too often we fail to live it out, even in our local church. Even though we may say that we value unity our actions reveal a different picture.
It's not surprising that we evangelicals have a hard time with unity when you consider our history. First of all, Evangelical churches are part of the Protestant tradition, which means that we're separated from the Roman Catholic church. And ever since the Council of Trent, when the Catholic/Protestant split became official, Protestants have tried, and failed, to present a unified front against Roman Catholicism.
Very quickly, different groups of Protestants began to separate themselves, not only from Rome, but also from each other. Over time these different groups of Protestants formed many different denominations that are still with us today.
When Protestantism came to America new groups and new denominations began to form even more rapidly. You see, unlike most of Europe, America has a long history of freedom of religion. This makes it easier for new denominations and new church groups to form because the Government isn't trying to impose a single religion on its populace.
Today not only do we have hundreds of different denominations of Christianity, but we also have an increasing number of nondenominational churches. In one sense nondenominational churches can be seen as a less divisive, since they don't make the problem worse by forming a new division. The problem is that these churches are typically independent, not only from denominations, but also from each other. As a consequence, these days the American Evangelical church is broken up into thousands of tiny pieces.
In such an environment it's easy to see why people feel apathetic about unity in the church. With American Evangelicals broken fellowships are the rule rather than the exception.
Disunity in the church is a problem we have inherited, but that doesn't mean that we have to accept it. I believe that with God's help that we can reunite the broken fellowships and bring unity back to the church. In future posts I will be talking about how unity among Christians happens and how we can pursue it.