The focus of this website is looking at original Christianity and how it has progressed from then until now into a myriad number of denominations. One tenet of original Christianity is unity of mind and judgment. In fact, there is one verse that may be quoted more than any other on this site:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1Co 1:10 ESV)
Paul is writing in the time of original Christianity, and there were already divisions then, just not the huge amount of them that there is today. And the point is and always has been that the best state for all Christians is one body united with one mind and judgement.
So, a question might be; is there any benefit to having all this division?
When I was a very young kid I had this naïve thought. I thought that what we needed was a government based on God, a Christian government, if you will. I spoke that rash thought and was assaulted with history lessons of all the disasters caused by all the theocracies in the world. More specifically, in the USA, this country was founded, in part, to free itself of governments that were rife with the integration of the Christian church and state.
England, the sovereign nation over the colonies, specifically, was a monarchy with a Christian state religion. In the early 17th century the Puritans disagreed with the state of Christianity in England and pushed to “purify” the religion to biblical norms, hence the name Puritans. They pushed to remove things like the cross, the priest’s vestments, and perhaps even the altar from the church. And they argued that the episcopacy, the rule of the church by bishops was not biblical, and therefore not a divine right, and many Puritans argued for a Presbyterian form of church government, as presbyters are found in the New Testament.[i]
In fact, it was the intent of James 1st of England to use the church to increase his power which he thought was his right as king. He is said to say, “Without bishops, there is no king.”[ii] Like many places in the Western world, Christian doctrine was a matter of government policy. So which forms of Christianity were to be allowed was a matter of Government interest. For James, Anabaptists were to be persecuted, Catholics treated as traitors, and anything Calvinist was seen as friendly. The Puritans were basically Calvinists so at this time they fared well in England.
But things were not great for all puritans. One of the issues brought up by the Puritans was whether the church should be separate from the state. The Puritans pushing for separation were called separatists. The problem was that separating from the Church of England was considered treasonous.
Some of these separatists migrated to Holland, and then to the new world on the Mayflower. And they certainly brought the concept of separating church and state functionality with them.
After James came King Charles 1. Charles’ wife was Catholic and Charles swung to the Catholic side which meant poorer times for the Puritans as well as other Protestant factions.
In the middle of these times, actually 1618-1648, came the 30 Years War, a terrible waste of life and limb that was started by rivalry between the Protestants and the Catholics. While other issues came to bear in the dispute, this started as Christians fighting Christians over doctrine.
Furthermore, religious wars were so commonplace in European history that the Encyclopedia Britannica has a section called The Wars of Religion.[iii] Look at the article to see things like “cuius regio, eius religio” (whose realm, his religion) applied as the resolution to some of these conflicts, which basically meant that whoever was the ruler got to dictate the beliefs of the people. Also in the article are examples of religious support for groups in order to get political or military advantages, like the “Catholic king Henry II of France, supported the Lutheran cause in the second Schmalkaldic War in 1552 to secure French bases in Lorraine”.[iv] France had religious wars that ran off and on from 1562 to 1598, in all religious and political interests were intertwined. The end result of a conflict might be that a ruler would change faiths as did Henry II accepting Catholicism.
The problem with national religions is that they are run by secular leaders with the apparent mindset that they have the God-given right to tell people what to believe, whether it be Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or no-religion in communist or fascist countries. Within the Catholic-Christian European landscape, with the emergence of the Reformation, as new denominations grew the chances grew for political upheaval and war. But the point of the reformation or even just of Christianity, the spread of the word of God in the message of salvation brought by Jesus Christ was not the point of these political maneuverings; it was the pursuit of political power that seems to be the base of all these religious wars.
If this looks like a terrible picture that’s the point! A major portion of this misery happened because of Government control of the churches in different countries. At that time there were an increasing number of denominations but nothing like we have today.
Fast forward to now with our tens of thousands of denominations and “non-denominational” groups. At the same time the decision for even having a national religion in a lot of these countries have been changed to “no”. The Church of England remains the state church of England, but the United Kingdom as a whole has no official religion as is the case with Spain, France, Germany and a number of the countries involved in the religious wars of Europe.
Interestingly, Italy only stopped having Roman Catholicism as its national religion in 1984.[v] It has taken many centuries but now in the 21st century, the Vatican’s power and control have finally waned to where it can’t control countries and their populations politically or otherwise like it once did.
With so many churches with varying beliefs in extant today it is much harder to coerce one denomination over another. In other words, all these divisions have made it easier for Christians to be able to worship without interference in a lot of places.
However, we know that there are still a number of countries where Government policy dictates which faiths are acceptable. (And we are not talking here just about Christianity. For example, we know that Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Kuwait are Muslim countries. Bhutan and Sri Lanka are Buddhist countries. In all those places the government has a say in what is acceptable as far as faith[vi]
We also know that there are governments who persecute certain religions, Christianity not being the least of them. We must never cease from praying for those countries, that the believers there are blessed and protected, and that the countries themselves change to allow religious freedom.
But, for a lot of us, especially in the western world, the abundance of Christian Groups works against one group being powerful enough to persecute those who disagree with their tenets. That is one benefit of having all these divisions, freedom of religion is more available now.
Praise the Lord that some of us, at least, are free to pursue God without being forced to cower before authorities. Praise the Lord for the freedom of religion where it exists, and we pray for the spread of the word of God in those areas where it does not currently exist.
And I pray in the name of Jesus Christ that the need for a lot of divisions continues to lessen and that the number of divisions decreases so that the whole body of Christ grows to that model of having one mind and one judgment.
[i] THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY, Vol 2, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 1985, p. 150-151
[ii] Ibid, p. 152
[iii] Encyclopedia Brittanica, The Wars of Religion at https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Europe/The-Wars-of-Religion
[v] The New York Times as found at https://www.nytimes.com/1984/02/19/world/italy-abolishes-state-religion-in-vatican-pact.html
[vi] Which Countries Have State Religions, Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/3710663/Barro_WhichCountries.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y