The heart has its reasons, says Pascal, and sometimes those reasons have a long history. Recently I signed a card for a friend, a devout Baptist, who was raised to have a suspicion of Catholics. It’s something he still struggles with; but don’t we all? History eventually infects our DNA. Who of us is entirely free from suspicion of what’s religiously different from us? And what’s the cure?
Personal contact, friendship and theological dialogue with those of other denominations and other faiths does help open our minds and hearts. But the fruit of centuries of bitter misunderstanding doesn’t disappear so easily, especially when it’s institutionally entrenched and nurtured as a prophetic protection of God and truth. And so in regard to Christians of other denominations there remains in most of us an emotional dis-ease, an inability to see the other fully as one of our own.
And so in signing this card for my separated Christian friend, I wrote: “To a fellow Christian, a brother in the Body of Christ, a good friend, from whom I’m separated by 500 years of misunderstanding.”
Five hundred years of misunderstanding, of separation, of suspicion, of defensiveness: that’s not something that’s easily overcome, especially when at its core there sit issues about God, truth and religion. Granted, there has been much positive progress made in the past 50 years and many of the original, more blatant misunderstandings have been overcome. But the effects of the historical break with Christianity and the reaction to it are present today and are still seen everywhere, from high Church offices, to debates within the academy of theology, to suspicions inside the popular mind.
It’s sad how we’ve focused so much on our differences, when at the centre, at the heart, we share the same essential faith, the same essential beliefs, the same basic moral codes, the same Scriptures, the same belief in afterlife, and the same fundamental tenet that intimacy with Jesus Christ is the aim of our faith. As well, not insignificantly, today we also share the same prejudices and biases against us, whether these come from fundamentalists within other religions or whether these come from over-zealous, over-secularised, post-Christians within our own society.
To someone looking at us from the outside, we, all the different Christian denominations, look like a monolith, one faith, one Church, a single religion, our differences far overshadowed by our commonality. Sadly, we tend not to see ourselves like this from within, where our differences, more often than not based upon a misunderstanding, are seen to dwarf our common discipleship. Yet the Epistle to the Ephesians tells us that, as Christians, we share one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all of us. At its most essential level, that’s true of all of us as Christians, despite our denominational differences. We are one at our core.
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