Historic Schisms and Divisions Among Christians

The division of the church between East and West is rooted deep in church history.  A difference of language and cultures between the West (Latin) and the East (Greek) was a factor. More troubling were their many doctrinal disputes which today seem trivial. One split was over the date of Easter.  At the Council of Nicea in 325AD, Western leaders, who celebrated Easter on Sunday, condemned the Eastern practice of celebrating it on Passover. Another was over who sent the Holy Spirit. Greek theologians argued the Father did while scholars in the West said, no, the Father and the Son did.

The Reformation was fraught with doctrinal disputes among its leaders, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the Anabaptists. A major issue centered on the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper). Issues included matters such as how frequent it should be celebrated; is Christ present or not present; if he is present, how is he present?  Others argued it isn’t a sacrament at all. It is symbolic.

Why Can’t We All Get Along? Don’t you find it tragic that Jesus’ single most important doctrine:  loving each other, has taken a back seat to matters about which, Jesus and the Apostles had little or nothing to say? In fact, his command has been and continues to be, virtually ignored. I have witnessed many doctrinal disputes among believers over the years, such as the battle over how the Bible was inspired in the 70’s. The 4th century fought over who sent the Holy Spirit; the Reformers fought over the Lord’s Supper.  This last controversy is most troubling. Wasn’t it at the Lord’s Supper that Jesus ushered in his new covenant with his single command: “Love one another?” 

Rank and file believers are not guilty of dividing the body of Christ. It has always been theologians, church leaders and even political rulers who have led the charge.  While Scripture is often silent or incomplete regarding many of these doctrinal arguments, the doctrine of loving one another, is very clear. Yet, it gets cast aside in order for one leader or another to argue a favorite propositional truth. They don’t seem to grasp that by doing so, they undermine the higher truth of right relationships with God and others. Could St. Paul have made this any clearer?  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will be witnesseses, blameless and innocent,,,appearing as lights to the world.” (Phil. 2: 13, 14)

When John the Apostle was asked by his disciples why his message was always, “Love one another as Christ loved you, he answered, “Because, if you obey His one command to love each other, all else will follow.” St. Paul confirmed this (See I Corinthians 13; Romans 13:9).

The consequences of disobeying Jesus’ new order for a new order, (recorded often in John’s gospel and letters), is a tragedy of Church history, working against accomplishing Christ’s mission. After all, it was the force of their unity and mutual love that enabled early believers to bring Christ’s light to the pagan Roman world and transform it. Isn’t the church of Jesus Christ in the West, in all its forms, suffering today, in part due to our many controversies with one another? Lately we have even taken on the secular world by vigorous political involvement.

When Jesus declared, “You are the light of the world,” did he mean we are to be the world’s moral policemen or did he intend we are to model the Kingdom of God’s among ourselves and be his witnesses of love and harmony?

I have been saddened to see how we have lost the respect of the secular world. Worse, we have failed to reach three generations with Christ’s redemption. Yet, reaching the lost was very much on Jesus’ mind when he prayed urgently to the Father, “May they be one…that the world will believe.”

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