To Each His Own Belief
Reassessing the pattern and priority structure of the Protestant ethos and how Romans 14 advocates institutional unity above personal belief and denominations.
This is the next entry in the series Why Do You Believe? In the first entry, I spoke about how a belief grounded in Scripture will ascend to knowledge, either actual or perceived, because the purpose of belief is to grasp truth, and Scripture is (supposed to be) from God—Truth itself—and we, as Christians, ought not doubt God for, in doing, we degrade the very foundation of our faith and, thus, our own sense of assurance (salvation). Therefore, a belief that could-be-true that is perceived or believed to be true or will-be-true will ascend to perceived knowledge, and not just perceived knowledge but sacred certainty, the highest property of knowledge. The result of which means that perceived (or false) knowledge is galvanized and reinforced by ‘the word of God’ as well as our holy affections (deep-seated feelings inextricably tied to such beliefs) and sense of assurance, which inevitably and inadvertently leads to a false pattern or way of identifying, grasping, and understanding truth. In other words, a belief is equal with truth itself and so the individual becomes the basis of forming true beliefs, which when perceived to ascend to sacred true knowledge, teaches that a subliminal pattern of presumptuousness is an authentic way to believe in doctrine. In short, our beliefs become an echo chamber from which the echo is believed to be God’s voice. Let’s continue.
William Yeames, “Dawn of the Reformation” (c.1867). Oil on canvas. It depicts John Wycliffe dispatching his Lollard followers to preach the gospel to the people.
It is a difficult thing for Christians to claim to possess the truth and light of the world out of one side of their mouth and then turn around and say, “I believe in a pretribulation rapture!” while others say “There is no rapture!’ and ‘You are wrong, I believe it’s after the tribulation,” or “I believe in infant baptism” and others “I believe that’s dangerous and faithless!” or “I believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist” and “I reject that! Communion is purely symbolic or memorial” or even, “We interpret Romans 9 this way,” and “We interpret Romans 9 that way,” and yet all go their merry way and say, “because I believe the Bible!” It’s just terrible PR. Why? It sounds confused. And I don’t mean the people—though them, too—I mean the Bible appears to breed confusion. When the same Spirit that wrote Scripture is the same Spirit that compels belief in Scripture, how can that testify, or be a good witness rather, to the authenticity of Christ and His teachings and the Spirit given the wide variety of conflicting doctrine and dogmatism? When a person claims to believe in doctrine, especially from Scripture—the principal author of which is God—they make a declaration that it must be true and sacred and that counterviews are false and forbidden, not because they want it to be true, but because that they are compelled and obliged to believe in its truth. To believe in doctrine is to commit yourself to the truth of the doctrine, not as if it is true doctrine—whether it is or not is of no concern at this point—it is as true to you as truth can be, especially when the belief is grounded in a Biblical interpretation because it is (supposed to be) of God. And if Scripture is true and sacred, then I think you can see how the belief would become, at the least, emotively dogmatic to a person—they believe it is the truth of God who cannot lie lest their faith and salvation be in vain. A lot is on the line, here; at least, perceptibly. So, when there are a myriad of people groups believing in this and believing in that and believing in there, it sends a terrible message to non-Christians, doubters, skeptics, religious pluralists, those of weak faith, and even young children growing up in the faith about the inner workings of Christianity. God appears double-tongued. Our Christian witness impaired.
If the last five hundred years of Protestant history has taught us anything, it is that prioritizing a personal belief in things that could-be-true as necessary doctrine or dogma, incontrovertible saving truth, at the expense of good works, mutual edification, and brotherly love (as if such is a lesser doctrine!), only divides the Church. One man is deeply convicted by his way to read the Bible, another man convinced in another way, and more men in other ways, and rather than come together to understand each other’s differences and then undertake the long vexing task of reconciling discrepancies and wrongs, as the apostles advocate for all who believe Jesus is Lord, each man starts a new church. Or, as it happened so often in times past, one church forces their view upon another at gunpoint—a stiff-necked path that has led to many martyrs on all sides, whether worthy or misguided, orthodox or heretical, such as founding Anabaptist member, Felix Manz, who was bound hand and foot by other Protestants and thrown into the Limmat River, or Anabaptist theologian, Balthasar Hubmaier, who was jailed for months, suffered torture and burned at the stake by Zwingli shortly before his wife was thrown into the River Danube with a millstone fastened to her neck by the Roman Catholic Church, all for their now-not-so controversial view among Protestants on infant baptism, that is, not denouncing the necessity of credobaptism. Now, that is not to come against the need for some reformation of some kind, it is simply to stress what happened thereafter. The feudal abuse of selling indulgences renewed by Pope Leo X, for instance, was incredibly disturbing and needed to end, it was a deep doctrinal heresy that stood since the Crusades, for nearly five centuries, and very explicitly contradicted Scripture and the apostolic teachings of Peter who chastised Simon the Sorcerer for assuming salvation could be purchased monetarily (Acts 8:14-24). And so, coming out of a culture of systemic dogmatism and authoritative intolerance, holding to affirm-or-die doctrinal expectations, whether it is Luther’s signing for the execution of the heretical Anabaptists, Calvin’s condoning of capital punishment for theological deviation, or Zwingli’s torture tactics, and the Spanish Inquisition need no introduction, the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic resistance led to a blood sport of heresy hunters, doctrinal divisions, and schisms, the repercussions of which we live with today.
For instance, I have even heard Reformed fundamentalists, namely, Steven J. Lawson, call their tradition “Reformed Truth”, which is, quite frankly, an oxymoron in all respects given the overarching Protestant ethos/framework is not to be the only institution that holds true doctrine, yet it is very clear by such a claim that they think only the Reformed tradition is the Truth. It is no wonder, then, that many Reformed Protestants and Calvinists dismiss, reject, or even condemn most so-called weaker Protestant denominations as Semipelagian, or heretical to be exact. In another respect, Eastern Orthodoxy strawman the entire Church of the West as heretical and damned, while in the West Catholicism teaches that if you’re not capital ‘C’ Catholic then you cannot obtain the “full salvation” of Jesus Christ. Yet each sect or denomination, at some level, claims to herald from the One True Church of God, handed down from Christ to the apostles to them.
All this reminds me of that time in the Middle Ages when a dozen or so Holy Prepuces were floating around Christendom, each church claiming to possess the one true foreskin—but which foreskin was truly Christ’s?—If everyone is shouting unfalsifiable claims, no one’s foreskin can be trusted. In the same way, claiming that our sect or denomination is the One True Church (even if it is) amidst a clear lack of institutional/doctrinal unity while each Church holds fast to fundamental dogma (i.e., Trinity) only confuses the entrance for an exit—the entire Christian Church suffers, no matter the truth of a sect or denomination, when there is no push for institutional unity as a doctrinal necessity.
To be clear, disunity is not just a Protestant problem—whether it’s questioning or rejecting the papal validity of Pope Francis due to his supposed, say, infamous Pachamama idolatry, interreligious prayer, climate change agendas, opposition to the traditional Latin mass and long homilies, or his overall limp-wristed moral exterior, to name a few, or whether it is presbyteral indifference or jurisdictionalism in Eastern Orthodoxy of America or the most current schism underway from Putin’s supposed ‘holy war’ against the West, sanctified by Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus' and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has only intensified the schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople—disunity is a human problem. So has it always been. You can see this very plainly when you read history or watch the news, so I need not hash out the inefficacy of political unity or mutual belief of, say, secular humanism, that stands without true underlying moral values. Schisms, “fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,” and disunity is of the sin condition, a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). True unity, however, is otherworldly (Galatians 5:22-24). That said, from what I have discerned so far, disunity and doctrinal division is a pattern that runs rampant, almost freely, in Protestant traditions and denominations – built into its overarching ethos – even so far as ‘church hop’ for preferred maximal doctrinal alignment on, say, eschatology at the expense of brotherly love, mutual edification and, thus, sanctification. But despite this, the denominational divisions today typically possess a lesser degree of weight than its historical parentage or than Catholic or Orthodox dogma, which necessarily binds a belief to salvation. Protestants may have more problems, but the weight of each load is lighter from what I can tell. Consider that Protestants (sans Reformed) will typically give the benefit of the doubt to “other” Christians from different sects as saved, but the vast majority of Eastern Orthodox and traditional Roman Catholics, depending on where they land on Vatican II, reject salvation as possible outside their institution.
Be that as it may, I do not wish to press Orthodoxy or Catholicism in this entry, though I had to draw attention to them given just how entangled their historical relationship is with historical Protestantism, rather I want to focus on the side-effects, ill effects even, of the overarching Protestant ethos or framework and how it has fostered individualism, suffered democratization, lost doctrinal resolution, among other concerns here in the West. That is not a slight or denunciation of the Protestant cause either, if it is still concerned with reforming the pulpit from within, which then requires some degree of ecumenicism. Protestantism is flexible enough to take tremendous criticism because less doctrines are inextricably tied to institutional salvation, but it is also not unified and organized well enough to fix the problems it has.
Denomination or Segregation? The Wild West of Faith Alone
Consider the overwhelming number of Protestant denominations across the world—45,000, so I’ve heard, if you include unorthodox or heretical offshoots like Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Science, Seventh-Day Adventists, modern Quakers, King James Only movement, Hyper-Charismania, Hyper-Calvinism, et cetera, as well as the plethora of nontrinitarian denominations espousing “Oneness theology”, New Age and Swedenborgian-esque prophets, and the all-embracing variations of Progressive Christianity that deviate from historical orthodoxy and creeds. Now this is a very liberal, if not, mythical number, often used as a polemic against Protestantism, but whether it’s 45,000 or 1,000 or 10—Anglican, Baptist, Brethren (Schwarzenau, Plymouth, etc.), Charismatic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Mennonite (Amish, Anabaptist, etc.), Methodist (Wesleyan), Pentecostal, Presbyterian (Reformed, Calvinist, etc.), to name the dominant accepted orthodoxy—it begs the question: Did this number come about by attempting to seek truth and unity through Christ or by prioritizing individual belief over brotherhood? That is, rather than seeking truth through brotherly love and perseverance. Especially given the rapid multiplication of new denominations. It seems to me, at least, that by putting each person’s progressive understanding of truth aside, for the sake of our personal belief, burning zeal, institutional decorum, or ecclesiastical parentage, we set aside the truth. To the degree of which is nothing shy of destructive.
Consider the Wild West of biblical interpretation: Colonial era United States. While personal interpretation is not limited to America, its gunslinging hermeneutic and pioneer mindset was nevertheless archetypal of Protestant theology, which was cultivated and embellished by the American way of life. Spurred in the nineteenth century by the ongoing demarcation of church and state, the onset of industrialization, door-to-door Bible salesmen, and the onslaught of Biblical translations apart from traditional authoritative structures, the Bible largely became a book of private interpretation for personal faith alone, and yet retained its binding authoritative status and institutional prestige. This had severe consequences. The antebellum slavery debate, where northern and southern theologians could not reconcile their Biblical interpretations, is of noteworthy consideration. Southern Baptists believed as Richard Furman did, the right to enslave people was “clearly established by the holy Scriptures, both by precept and example,” so to contest slavery was to come against Scripture. While northern theologians and abolitionists like Frederick Douglass contested slavery with fiery passion, they did so by unwittingly quoting the verses used in support of proslavery! Whose Bible was the right one? From then on, there was no more common ground between certain denominational interpretations, despite their mutual belief that Scriptural jurisdiction presided over the hearts of all men. A reconciliation that could have curbed the bloodiest war in American history. Not just then, but even the civil unrest today; we continue to suffer from the long-term effects of actual racism to critical race theory propaganda, which weaponizes Americans against themselves, because of this inept desire to reconcile doctrinal differences and justify personal beliefs, desires, and lifestyles with Scripture.
What about Romans 14?
To this sentiment many counterargue with Romans 14, that each believer ought to be “fully convinced in his own mind” (v.5) in what he or she believes. Therefore, this warrants denominations due to each person pursuing their conscience in the Lord. Granted, there is some truth to this argument, but it misses a vital underlying concern. To be fully convinced is not at the expense of unity, it is in spite of our relative convictions and personal beliefs. For instance, there are some denominations who identify with the firm belief in observing Sabbath, vegetarianism, and fasting (Romans 14:5-9), even though Paul likens rigid ascetic regulations to deceptive philosophy, human tradition, and the works of the law, which are “shadows of things to come” because the “substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-19), he also makes it very clear that these beliefs are not placed on par with essential doctrine or dogma, incontrovertible saving truths of the faith, worthy of division if not applied. In fact, Paul equates such beliefs with “opinions” and the “weak in faith” (v.1). Opinions that can be useful in our Christian walk and witness so long as what truly matters is maintained throughout the process: Our lives are lived for the Lord (vv.7-9). In a nutshell, everyone is growing in their understanding of Christ (i.e., sanctification), and this is where that person sits at this given moment. Paul is not advocating that you must believe in these opinions just because it is found somewhere in Scripture, he is teaching that because a variety of personal beliefs about the faith exist due to spiritual growth, here is how to manage a variety of permissible viewpoints without falling prey to either extreme. Not that these opinions are valid necessarily, because they are, in fact, just opinions, which are not foundational to the faith. Paul is clearly not advocating to divide over opinions. He is saying that these opinions are permissible so long as each person is progressively growing in the Spirit of mutual edification, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.... Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.” (vv.14,20) Not looking out for their own faith first, but everyone’s faith together.
Therefore, Paul argues just the opposite. You are free to be “fully convinced” in your opinion, and you “should” be, Paul says, if your belief is for God and the betterment of God’s people, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.” (vv.7-8) But this requires spiritual maturity and a hierarchal priority structure that places truth and unity above a fully convinced opinion, which subsequently acknowledges that a personal opinion is just a view and may potentially be skewed, weak, or wrong because an opinion is not equal to truth, it is informed by truth from grasping the truth. Otherwise, Paul would be advocating the sin of presumption! Therefore, we ought not to teach a fully convinced opinion like it is true or “more” Christian—Paul certainly doesn’t. He emphasizes sanctification in togetherness over personal opinion of faith, because these opinions only have value if they are for the Lord. He makes this point clear near the end of the chapter when he says, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (vv.21-23) In other words, even if you hold to these opinions of faith, which can be useful to bring unbelievers to Christ given a person’s immediate context or situation, do not make them public, crucial, necessary, indispensable, essential, or dogmatic for others to hold—say, a defining doctrine of a church, as if it’s the law of Christ. Keep it to yourself, pray it through with God, and fully listen to your conscience because God is guiding, growing, and strengthening you and everyone’s faith through “peace and for mutual upbuilding” (v.18). Public unity is integral to the faith.
Furthermore, Paul is not arguing for doctrinal relativity, ‘all things being equal’ or ‘to each his own conscience’, as it were; he is not arguing that we identify as these secondary doctrines, opinions, or beliefs that develop within the Church, nor is he arguing that these beliefs are salvific or foundational to the faith. On the contrary. Paul identifies the one of weaker faith with the one who will not eat meat and eats only vegetables (Romans 14:1-2). Again, Paul teaches just the opposite. He argues that one person does, in fact, have a stronger faith over the other, and that the weak in faith is not condemned for their personal belief, rather it is simply recognized as weak by the strong in faith. Therefore, he tells all who are faithful not to condemn the person who has any kind of faith in Christ but leave that to Christ (v.4). But to be sure, recognize that a fully convinced opinion is not what qualifies proper strong faith lest we not “live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus” (15:5). For this reason, Paul teaches that we, of stronger faith, ought to go the extra mile for those of weaker faith so that we do not put stumbling blocks in their way.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble [to be hindered or weakened]. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves…. We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.... May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
– Romans 14:20-23, 15:1-2,5-7
This is telling. Are we not called to the least advantaged, to the weak, fatherless, widowed, needy, and sick of both spiritual and physical ailment? How can we help our brother or sister in Christ, the poor in spirit, or the weak of faith, the doubter or skeptic, if we distance ourselves from them? ‘You worship there, I’ll worship here’. Whilst we say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” because “I believe the Bible!” But what does Paul urge, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions…. for God has welcomed him.... Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 14:1-3) We are called and tasked to help one another grow in Christ together for Christ through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in mutual upbuilding and edification (v.19), and that cannot happen if we prioritize our personal belief—private opinions—over brotherhood. We must persevere “with one voice”, as Paul advocates, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another... that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (vv.5-6)
Paul accurately dichotomizes a fully convinced opinion from firm belief in true doctrine by establishing a clear priority structure: Unity over personal belief. He even uses himself as an example when he says, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” (v.14) And then goes on to advise people to think about other’s faith first, because the kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking or new moons and festivals but of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22-23).
Public Unity Matters
For these reasons, Paul is not advocating that we each start a new denomination to serve our doctrinal opinions about proper worship, so that my denomination is strong in faith while other denominations remain weak in faith. He says very plainly, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” (v.22) What part of keeping your opinion between you and God entitles you the liberty or pleasure to start a new denomination? Paul says keep it private, not make it public. In doing so, do we, then, not stimulate a culture that presumes our denominational beliefs—the defining doctrines of secondary value—are superior to other denomination’s secondary doctrines even though they are all mere opinions? Does this also not stimulate a culture that judges their brother and sister for their weak faith opinions, such as that rigid ‘Reformed Truth’ view mentioned earlier? Does this also not require us to publicly defend our opinions against others who come against the defining doctrines of our denomination above the truth of Christ, thereby putting our Christian witness to doubters and unbelievers as a second priority? All to justify our strong opinion to others who also have a strong opinion, none of which encourages mutual edification, nor showcases a strong faith to the weak in faith? In turn, we end up airing out other people’s dirty laundry for the world to witness and folding our own clean laundry in the public square. The contrast looks combative.
Now one could argue that by having denominations and separate worship institutions today, given that these personal disagreements are already in the public eye, helps the weak in faith not stumble in their convictions. I admit, there seems to be an air of truth to this, practically speaking. Sunday service must go on. But that does not mean there shouldn’t be a consistent public push toward unity, and it does not mean the defining doctrines and denominational distinctions are permanent structures and true, either. Separate institutions does not help a person realize that their fully convinced opinion is truly of secondary importance, and Paul teaches we keep opinions private, so we should aim for that.
Public beliefs ought to be objective (independent of opinion) and obligatory for everyone, whereas private beliefs are subjective and optional (not obligatory). So, by pinning private beliefs to the public square, that is to form a new denomination, we inadvertently declare these private beliefs of secondary value as religious facts—public, objective, obligatory—worthy to ascend to sacred certainty, as opposed to values—private, subjective, opinions. One cannot be certain of their opinion, lest it no longer be an opinion, but they can be “fully convinced” or “persuaded”, as Paul says. In this sense, then, a public belief ought to properly ascend to sacred certainty, but a private belief or opinion ought not to. Nevertheless, sacred the opinion is, if it lives and dies for the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-14,16).
Granted, denominational differences and doctrinal discrepancies are in some sense, as I said before, a superficial concern for those of strong faith—those who are called to sustain unity in the Church (15:1). It is not overly difficult to look passed our personal differences, to balance priorities and distinguish primary from secondary concerns, and to seek unity for the greater kingdom. Those of strong faith must aim to support the weaker. But that greater trajectory is precisely what we have lost sight of, as far as I can tell. The Protestant ethos seems to encourage institutional division over solving doctrinal issues from within, and history is pretty darn clear that it was hardly kumbaya, even though it is precisely the institution, the universal dogmatics and public objective beliefs obligatory for everyone not subject to personal degradation or sanctifying growth, that we ought not be divided on. There should be no institutional divisions or denominations given such a hard stance on unity—just personal discrepancies.
That is also not to advocate a social unity at the expense of true doctrine; superficial ecumenism and irenic ploys can sow discord, pushing truth aside for an optimist club and good vibes. False doctrine is often discouraged from all sides, to varying degrees of theological tolerance. But it’s tolerance with no clear borders. Doctrines of primary and secondary importance are nominally claimed across denominations with allusive or little substantive agreement on which one is which. Yet is not self-deception the communion bread of false doctrine? Creating new denominations only seems to encourage the proliferation of false doctrine and self-deception by offering no counterviews or challenges or refinement within the denomination itself. To do so would be to start a new denomination! The divisional distinctions appear irreconcilable unless institutional unity is sought.
Denying a Stronger Faith for Personal Belief
Should we, then, believe in an opinion, as if it is true doctrine, despite Paul’s clear priority structure? Should we teach opinions, say, “eat only vegetables” or “Sabbath is a requirement” or whatever the opinion may be, as true doctrine? Should we then divide ourselves by these opinions when such opinions are not institutionalized or pursued mutually? Should we institutionalize and teach, say, pretribulation rapture only from the pulpit as true when it cannot be verified Scripturally, prophetically, or historically and is, therefore, a personal and private opinion? The answer should be impulsive.
Consider for yourself. Look around you. When we conflate normative doctrine with denominational distinctions that are not supposedly considered of primary importance pertaining to salvation but of secondary importance pertaining to subjective individual/communal spiritual growth—Pentecostal pastors must affirm a pretribulation rapture and reject a post-tribulation rapture, Baptist preachers must affirm congregational polity and credobaptism and reject presbyterian polity and pedobaptism, Lutheran ministers must affirm Real ‘Mystical’ Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and reject Anglican’s Real ‘Spiritual’ Presence of consubstantiation, Reformed/Presbyterians must affirm eternal security and reject Lutherans/Charismatics forfeiture of salvation, et cetera—we inadvertently liken the so-called secondary doctrines to a type of low dogma. Hence, why it is worth dividing over to advocates of such esteem, even worth killing over to some. But by dividing over such theological disparities without a real continual, persevering push for institutional/doctrinal unity, as if the other denominations may be denying some of the teachings of Christ or may only know about Christ nominally and not know him personally (Matthew 7:21-23), we ignore the apostolic teachings to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-6) by pedestalling our belief above other co-essential doctrine—unity—as if preserving secondary belief is the one true Church’s priority.
For instance, many Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics think it is deeply misguided, wrong, confused, disconcerting, unspiritual, legalistic, or even repugnant to not believe in a pretribulation rapture. A pretribulation rapture has ascended to the marks of sacred certainty in the low church milieu. Salvation may not be denied to those who deny a pretrib rapture, but their spiritual integrity is. And if spiritual integrity is denied, what does that say about the necessity of growing spiritual strength (sanctification) in a Christian’s life and worship for salvation? Strong faith comes across as optional or subjective to the weak in faith, with no trajectory for growth, which only encourages an anemic, bare bones, thief-on-a-cross kind of faith—a weak faith. Unity in diversity, some will say, but broken and scattered is more like it. Truth by necessity is unified, it cannot be divided, if indeed truth can be obtained in communion with one another and ratified in a single institution—which I believe is possible, but not presently. The point is that a single Christian institution would be, and is, a beacon and witness of Christian unity to non-believers and the weak in faith and to the next generation raised in the Church, as a single source of firmly established primary doctrines, which in turn would help deter the weak in faith from falling into idolatrous snares and faithlessness caused by public rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and schisms (Hebrews 6:4-6; 1 Timothy 3:6, 6:3-5; Jude 1:19; Titus 3:10-11; 1 Corinthians 1:10, 3:1-4, 12:21-26).
As it is, there is little to no spiritual perseverance looking out for the one of weaker faith across denominational borders, very little progressive strengthening or encouragement of maturation or patience in sanctification to avoid stumbling (Romans 14:13,19,21-22; 16:17-20). And so, we let this right of ours, the Law of Liberty we possess, becomes a stumbling block to the weak (1 Corinthians 8:9; Romans 14:21-22). Even if I concede the wild notion that those held at gunpoint were not of the Church but heretics deserving of death—such as the Anabaptists—do I not fail to see at one point that they stumbled out of the Church and that I, or we, might be guilty at some level of putting blocks in the way of their sanctification, and, in doing, be charged in wounding their conscience when it was weak, thereby sinning against Christ? (1 Corinthians 8:12) Or is a denomination of greater importance than self-evaluation? (cf. James 1:23-25) Is humiliation of little significance in the grand scheme of things? Of course not! It is the basis of the institution. Why not rather suffer through wrongdoing? Why not rather be wronged? If we preserve righteousness through wrongdoing, are we not the lawbreakers? Wouldn’t it be better to stay together, endure hardship, embrace difficulties, and slowly ratify our discrepancies over time, generations even? Why are we so quick to divide and embrace our own teachings? All this division does is put the meaning of “orthodox” into question, and it has for centuries: ‘Who truly has right belief? Who ought to determine it?’ And for many, no answer is an answer in itself; its silence speaks volumes. And for others, silence is no option at all.
Disunity, in the truest sense, is not God’s will. So why on earth is it permissible on the institutional front if institutional division still profoundly communicates the importance of the institution and the doctrinal unification within the institution/denomination itself? The doctrinal value/priority structure of Christianity is inextricably tied to the public witness of Christ’s atoning crucifixion to the world. If the Truth was crucified in the public square, should we abandon his public works for private belief? To be the ones who were ‘right all along’, when we know it is possible that we may very well be wrong in other areas of our life? The Christian faith is a public institution—it is a kingdom. If it isn’t unified, it will not stand.
If we cannot unite in peaceful times, under minimal persecution, what does that say to the world about us? Do they think we possess the truth? That we are the light of the world? What does it tell our congregants? Who are in the world, but are not supposed to be of it? We would do well to push for a unified institutional church for the weak in faith, doubter, skeptic and to be a good witness to non-believers everywhere.
Christian unity does not begin with an olive branch, it begins with the plank in your eye. Take the plank out of your eye first and you’ll find it is the olive branch you’re looking for.
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Matlock Bobechko | February 22, 2023 – 9:00 AM EST
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 Unless, of course, you consciously believe the doctrine is a mystery first and foremost like, say, Christ’s return because “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36), in which case the belief should properly amount to speculation and probabilities at most, given human limitation. Even so, people still believe they can predict this date, too!
 The definition of Indulgences evolved quite significantly over millennia, say, from the 4th to 14th Century. Penance went from encouraging true contrition and heartfelt repentance to a transactional or fiscal exercise. By the medieval era, its abuses reached its full measure. Indulgences became a remission of sins credit system, a debt forgiveness program if you will, that withdrew penance points out of the Treasury of Merit to pay off spiritual debt. The more penance points you earned or money you gave toward a Church project (say, a military venture such as a crusade against the Waldensians in 1487, sanctioned by Pope Innocent VIII), the less time in Purgatory you, or a loved one, would receive. When Pope Leo X permitted payments toward the construction of St Peter’s Basilica, it spurred on the Reformation of 1517. Now it should be said that some of the abuses did cease under the direction of Pope Pius V fifty years later in 1567, including the sale of indulgences, but the Council of Trent deemed the indulgence system theologically necessary and remains intact till this day where to reject indulgences is to be anathema (Council of Trent, Section 25, Third Decree).
 It is an extremely narrow-eyed statement, which reeks of divine irony and discredits their own position, in my mind, because “Reformed Truth” can also mean that “the Truth has been purified”. How can that be so?
 Anon. “Pope Francis apologizes that Amazon synod 'Pachamama' was thrown into Tiber River.” Catholic News Agency. Vatican City. Published on October 25, 2019. https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/42636/pope-francis-apologizes-that-amazon-synod-pachamama-was-thrown-into-tiber-river
 Nicole Winfield, “Pope doubles down on quashing old Latin Mass with new limits”. AP News. Published on December 18, 2021. https://www.ncronline.org/vatican/francis-comic-strip/francis-chronicles/pope-joins-interreligious-prayer-begging-god-end#:~:text=%22We%20are%20all%20united%20as,God%2C%22%20the%20pope%20said.
 Cindy Wooden, “Pope joins interreligious prayer, begging God to end pandemic”. National Catholic Reporter. Vatican City. Published on May 14, 2020. https://apnews.com/article/pope-francis-latin-mass-restrictions-827cf0b06354413c424ec276ea744bab
 Justin McLellan, “Pope Francis: Long homilies are ‘a disaster’—keep it under 10 minutes”. Catholic News Service. Published on January 23, 2023. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2023/01/23/long-homilies-pope-francis-244580
 Jurisdictionalism in Eastern Orthodox of America (EOA) is only getting worse. That is churches within Orthodoxy are teaching exclusive doctrine to their own area. Unity is far from a doctrinal priority.
Father Josiah Trenham, “Orthodox Reunion | Overcoming the Curse of Jurisdictionalism”. PatristicNectarFilms (YouTube channel). Published on October 13, 2022.
 Jeffrey Mankoff, “The Orthodox Schism in the Shadow of Empire”. CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies). Published October 19, 2018. https://www.csis.org/analysis/orthodox-schism-shadow-empire
 The Assumption of Mary, for instance, is not only historically untenable but it is also not in Scripture at all, and yet it is taught by Roman Catholicism alone to be an incontrovertible saving truth. A person necessarily, then, relies on their unwavering faith and loyalty in Roman dogmatism for truth and salvation, because, again, there is no Scriptural basis or clear-cut historical evidence to conclude the bodily assumption of Mary is the infallible saving truth of God—necessarily equal to Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Not that it isn’t true, but that it isn’t saving truth—there is a big difference. How to reconcile this across Christian sects, I do not know, but in my understanding, it would require sincere repentance of the dogma. For a quick overview and well-crafted criticism of this dogma, please watch Gavin Ortlund’s The Assumption of Mary: Protestant Critique on his YouTube channel, Truth Unites (published on June 27, 2022).
 Unlike the prerequisite of institutional perfection of the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodox Church, which hold that the Church is and always be perfect and will never err. Yet, this view seems to forget, from what I can tell, that the perfection of Christ’s Church, His body, comes from our repentance through Christ, not by our own merit or moral perfection.
 Joshua (Anon.), “Are There Really 45,000 Christian Denominations?”. Ready to Harvest (YouTube channel). Published on May 29, 2022.
 Joshua (Anon.), “Christianity: 50 Denominations Compared”. Ready to Harvest (YouTube channel). Published on June 20, 2021.
 Hentschel, Jason A., “Whose Bible? As American Christians have prayed, worshiped with, and studied the Bible, they have often wrestled over how to interpret it” Christian History, Issue 143: America’s Book: How the Bible helped shape the church, p 6-8.
 Ironically, while the South held to a more legal and hyper-literalistic approach to Biblical interpretation (believing that because slavery was in the Bible, therefore it condoned it), it was inadequate and contradictory. On the one hand, they willing to accept particular OT Laws that permitted slaves, which would be more akin to a long-term servitude or labour contract, and yet they denied other aspects of the Law which were the basis and most crucial aspects of the Laws they accepted. Because Israel were slaves in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15), God made provisions in the Law so that Israel would not be hypocritical and build an economy around slavery like the Egyptians (Deuteronomy 23:15, 24:7). Slaves were treated as fully human and integrated into society as profitable members of the community (Genesis 17:12), they were to have weekly rest (Sabbath) and partake in religious holidays just as non-slaves did (Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14-15, 12:12), they were to be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness and were granted protective measures such as if the owner acted abusive it would result in immediate freedom (Exodus 21:7, 26-27), and more importantly, the Sabbatical (and Jubilee) years enforced that all slaves be set free every seven years (Exodus 21:2; Jeremiah 34:14). For further clarity of God’s abhor concerning the hypocritical relationship of slavery, I recommend reading Jeremiah 34:8-20. Lastly, Paul even condemns slave traders or enslavers in his epistle 1 Timothy 1:10, marking them among the liars and sexually immoral.
 Please note, it is not the Bible that formed this Protestant ethos/framework, it is the American way of life, the pioneer mindset and subsequential traditions that have done that, which is now showing its true colours amidst globalization, online forums, YouTube videos, et cetera.
 This ought not to be confused with vegetarianism. It was that many meats purchased in the markets or given as food to eat were, at some point, offered to idols beforehand. In response, some people abstained from eating the meat and others just ate vegetables because they feared powers of darkness.
 Yet the keener ears know by hearing, the faith we possess is preserving truth. Truth is not merely propositional as to amount to affirmation alone, it is ontological by which belief can grasp. The debate is whether or not belief can be epistemically understood, truly grasped in an absolute sense, as to be functional. Otherwise, why believe in something you cannot understand? To that, we turn to and rest on the Proverbs, “Trust [or have faith] in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.... A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 3:5; 20:24).
 And cannot the same be argued for the entire Reformation, Protestant and Catholic alike?
Wow! There is much to process in this writing.
We certainly are influenced by our own experiences and interpretations.
However, the differences fall away when our core is Jesus: His life, His death, His resurrection and His accession. We are left with His actions, His words, His teachings, especially His Sermon on the Mountain.
I believe the different denominations serve many outlooks, but Jesus must be our center.
Personally, I call myself a Pentecostal Episcopalian Mennonite. I’ve been a part of each of these denominations. They are all a part of my belief. Each are important to me.
For example, when I’m deeply concerned about my son and I can’t put it into words, I find myself praying in “tongues”. The Holy Spirit provides the words and comforting relief.
Peaceful response with action is important to me.
The Eucharist, coming to the altar for communion “to be fed, our Lord feeds us from His very self”moves me to tears.
All of these teachings are part of me.
God bless your ministry and how it pushes me “to consider and to think in new ways.”
Peace and Love, JoyDawn Sutter
Years ago, there was an ecumenical initiative in our town where pastors from different churches surprised their congregants with a switcheroo. The baptist minister was speaking at the Presbyterian church, let’s say. And the Presbyterian pasted would be speaking at maybe the Alliance church. And it wasn’t announced ahead of time so that people couldn’t just follow their pastor around town. It was a surprise with the clear intention of promoting unity and brotherhood between churches. This initiative seems like a practical application of what you’re saying here.