There Must Be Factions

In talking about attending a Roman Catholic wedding Protestant friends asked rather enthusiastically about taking communion during the wedding service. They thought it would communicate a sense of unity and support with the bride and groom and their families. They thought it would show their ecclesiastical egalitarianism, Protestants big enough and confident enough to cross the denominational divide in a show of Christian unity.

I quashed their enthusiasm as quickly as I could. I explained that communion for Roman Catholics wasn’t a symbolic remembrance, but a change of substance as the priest RC Communionintoned words from the Mass by which the elements became Christ. I also told them that the Roman Catholic Church wasn’t as broadminded as they were, and that as non Roman Catholics they shouldn’t participate, indeed weren’t welcome at that table, as those who hadn’t embraced that expression of faith through baptism and confirmation in the Roman Catholic fold. This was all rather an unwelcome deflation of their sincere but naïve enthusiasm for ecumenism.

The apostle Paul exhorted for unity in the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:11) while also recognizing that factions within that same holy organization were a necessity (1 Corinthians 11:19) because through those divisions…

those who are approved may become evident among you. 1 Corinthians 11:19 NASB

Forget for the moment that factions in the Church universal necessarily mean some groups and their positions are correct and some are not. We can at least recognize the fact that a group making theological assertions should be accepted or rejected, joined or rejected, based on their own assertions. coexist-earth2We should show them the respect that we ourselves would want, that their assertions and beliefs mean something significant to them. We shouldn’t blithely join with them as if we agreed with their set of beliefs, when in fact we don’t.

It’s become popular today for a kind of well meaning vanity to adorn our faith. We give to those in alien ecclesiastical camps our benevolent nod in our willingness to join in– say in communion at a wedding– while not holding that faction’s core beliefs, in this case on what communion is.

Ecclesiastical denominations were established and exist because founders and adherents held and hold a set of beliefs significantly different than those that came before them. They created a faction believing their own views were true and right in a way other groups weren’t. When we treat other denominations or expressions of faith as if we are in their camp when we’re not it’s dishonest and it’s disrespectful.

Many from Protestant evangelical circles today will take up residence in liturgical denominations because they value the liturgies, the regularity of communion, the regular cycles of readings, the “smells and the bells”. But these cross pollinated evangelicals usually do so without informing their new host that they don’t, in fact, believe in the real presence, haven’t been baptized in that denomination’s fount, or been received by that faction’s communion. They act as if the differences that led to that faction’s existence aren’t important enough to discover, recognize or respect.

From a different direction, many churches in Protestant denominations are ridding themselves of nomenclature that might readily identify them as part of their historic denomination. That cloaking of their own identity and distinctive beliefs and practices is done with the hope that those who might have a negative image of the denomination Luther95Theseswon’t be put off from entering their doors. Only when they’ve seen elements of life and practice they appreciate might they discover they’re in a Baptist, or Methodist or Wesleyan assembly. While I might applaud the shrewdness of this practice it still seems a bit underhanded. I appreciate Roman Catholic and Orthodox claims to be the singular holders of truth because that’s what they’ve always taught; it’s true to who they are. I absolutely reject their claims, but appreciate their transparency.

One day the unity Jesus prayed for (John 17:11) will become reality but that will be because he makes it so. Until then there will be factions among those who claim his name. We should examine our own beliefs as carefully as possible, scrutinizing creeds, doctrines and practices we and our own faction hold against the touchstone of truth, the Scriptures.  We should seek to approve those things of excellence (Philippians 1:10). And we should show those from other camps respect by acknowledging their own faction’s set of beliefs; beliefs right or wrong they claim as their own.


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