Have the Protestant Reformation and Democracy Harmed Christianity?


I enjoy reading Coffee with Jesus, one of those minimalist Comics 2.0 strips where the images don’t really matter but the text does.

While I normally nod my head in agreement, a recent strip bothered me:

Coffee with Jesus -

Is it naive to think that all you and I really need is Jesus? That He is the only one we should listen to?

I mean, Paul said to imitate him as he imitated Jesus. And we are a Church, which is meant to function as a Body, which means communication between the parts. And my spiritual gifts are not intended just for me alone.

The other day, I was considering whether two of history’s most respected events/institutions have actually amplified our confusion within the Western Church. Anyone who has a pair of eyes and ears can look and see that the Church is struggling in what seems to be a losing battle against a degenerating culture, while simultaneously drifting along with what that degenerating culture deems important, breaking down into 40,000 sects, schisms, and strains as a result.

The Protestant Reformation attacked the singular authority of the united Roman Catholic Church and deemed that each man and woman has been empowered to be his or her own priest. Reading the Bible for oneself and coming to a personal understanding of what it says was a hallmark of the Reformation. This idea broke the (genuine) stranglehold the RCC had on most of Christianity. It wrested power away from the controlling, organized clergy and put it back into the hands of the people.

Most would consider the Reformation an improvement.

In the New World years later, democracy took hold in the federal republic of the nascent United States of America. The idea that power rests in the will of the people mimics politically those spiritual concepts found in the Protestant Reformation. The two go hand in hand, and it’s hard to imagine America as a democracy without Martin Luther and his “rabble-rousing” kin.

Most would consider democracy an improvement.

But were the Protestant Reformation and democracy an improvement for the Church?

Reading that Coffee with Jesus above, one wonders. In turning every man and woman into his/her own spiritual authority, have we introduced too much confusion into the Christian faith?

If I am my own authority while I listen to the Redeemer, what happens when I encounter someone who thinks he is the authority while he listens to the Redeemer? What happens is that he drifts into a sect of his own leaning while I drift into another.

The comic above nails the problem. But does it only muddy the solution?

One of the most damning verses in the Bible:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
—Judges 17:6 ESV

While spiritual people will clearly note that this “right” was too often downright wicked, what happens when we in the Church get into a situation where the Good is the enemy of the Best?

Paul says that when a revelation is given, the spiritual will debate its veracity and usefulness so as to arrive at a united understanding. Does this happen, though? Or are we too quick to start another sect because we can’t reach unity because we have made everyone his own authority?

A joke many have heard, but it applies here:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! Which denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

The Coffee with Jesus strip above certainly had this joke in mind. Yet as much as the comic says the answer is to listen to Jesus alone, it seems doing so still resulted in 40,000 sects, schisms, and strains.

Makes you wonder sometimes about the Reformation and a democratic mentality.

42 thoughts on “Have the Protestant Reformation and Democracy Harmed Christianity?

  1. Modern individualism has done a lot to scupper the legacy of the Reformation, but although the two are connected, I don’t think the Reformation as such harmed Christianity.

    The problem with the Reformation was that it didn’t go far enough. What needed to happen ideally was for the church the reform as a united whole around a renewed understanding of the Gospel.

    Instead, we got a partial, divisive Reformation. Given the state of the church at the time, that was better than no reform at all, but still far from ideal. The incompletion of the Reformation continues to harm the church.

    • Caleb, good to hear from you again!

      How would you as a Modern Reformer address this issue of every man an authority as he hears from the Redeemer? And how does that work when what he hears differs slightly from what someone else (also an authority hearing from the Redeemer) claims?

      How does that work itself out in a contemporary Church that seems to place so much emphasis on what the individual thinks?

  2. linda

    Hi Dan,
    Here’s my thinking about your post today. The Holy Spirit resides in the believer. The Bible says that we individually (our bodies) are the temple of the Holy Spirit. How do divisions and factions occur if believers all have the same Spirit? Sin. Selfish desires, evil thoughts and plans, being overcome by the cares of this world, placing the authority of man (institutions),(personalities) above the word of God.

    The Reformation was a blessing in my mind. Someone else cannot be empowered as your ‘spiritual life’ so to speak. Belonging to the Catholic Church does not make a person ‘spiritual’. The work of the Holy Spirit in us makes a person ‘spiritual’.

    Democracy works well in a nation if there is no corruption. The problem is corruption is the normal in our day. I don’t think that democracy is meant for small Bible study groups or churches, unless its for things like ‘where and when do you want to meet?’ ‘should we add that addition now or later?’

    We all have the same Father the same Lord and the same Spirit. We should be (individually) in union with these in our thinking and deeds. If we aren’t in union at least on the whole of things with the Trinity, we have a personal problem that is not rectified by giving this ‘personal problem’ to someone else or giving this ‘personal problem’ to a large ‘church’ organization or government.

    So, in my mind there is not a problem with the Reformation or with democracy but rather a problem within individuals that has created the situation we have in the church today. Individuals have become worldly in the church. This makes a bad church. The risk of error is great within these churches. Leaders are many times worldly. In this condition they cannot follow the Spirit. They are relying on ‘polls’ and statistics and other peoples’ books and other people’s ‘authoritative’ insights to try and guide the church they are leading.

    This is the blind leading the blind, and unfortunately, they will all fall into the ditch. Maybe forever.

    • Linda,

      Paul himself noted that believers should hash out “revelations” to arrive at unity. He and Barnabas differed over John Mark, eventually splitting and going separate ways. Was this split caused by sin? Selfish desires? If so, who was in the wrong?

      Peter and Paul clashed over the Judaizers. Is that kind of clash inevitable?

      is there a place for people of authority within the Church? Or have the Reformation and democracy leveled the entire playing field. And if they have, do you think this is for the better or for the worse?

      • linda

        I think that there is a place for authority within the church. The early church had elders. Jerusalem was the place where James set out his decisions for the early church. Peter had testimony, Paul had testimony of what God was doing among the gentiles. Scripture was looked at and found to agree with what was happening to the gentiles. In fact scripture had foretold that God was going to give mercy and salvation to the gentiles also, and not only to the Jewish nation. James made the final decision about what to charge the gentiles to do about keeping the laws and commandments that the Jews followed. James made four points to be followed by the gentiles in order to satisfy the Jewish believers being converted to belief and faith in Christ. The Jews could not make a complete departure from their tradition and their lifestyle under Jewish law when they came to Christ. I think maybe it was too much transition at once. So James set out these four directives for the gentiles. Abstain from sexual sins, abstain from blood and strangled things, and to keep themselves from idols.

        When Peter and Paul clashed, Peter was in error. He was separating himself from the gentile believers when the Jews arrived from Jerusalem. I think that this happened at Antioch. Peter didn’t want to offend the Jews. Paul corrected Peter right in front of the group. Paul was very angry with Peter. Peter was teaching and doing one thing when the Jews were not present, and doing something else when the Jews arrived.

        With Paul and Barnabas I think there is room for differences of opinion. Paul did not want to continue on with Mark because Mark had proved himself unreliable during the last missionary trip. Barnabas was wanting to give Mark another opportunity. I think that this is ok. This is not detrimental to the body of Christ. Mark ended up proving himself a valuable asset on his second trip with Barnabas, and Paul accepted him and appreciated Mark’s value later on in his own ministry.

        Unity does not mean ‘conformity’. It does not mean ‘everyone is the same’. It does not mean that we can’t have differences. We don’t all have to dot the same ‘i’ and cross the same ‘t’, but we do all have to have the Spirit of God. We do all have to have an individual relationship with Jesus Christ, (born again through God’s Spirit). We do all have to have the fruit of the Spirit. We do all have to have knowledge of God and his ways, we must understand God’s ways.

        Biblical unity is through the Spirit and not attained in the flesh. We’re not soldiers marching in rhythm and time. We’re not brainwashed, which I think is what happens to the flesh in order to bring about unity. This is a false unity. A worldly unity.

        Believers are not asked to hash out revelations from prophets by Paul. Believers are to hear the prophecy and then judge it. If it doesn’t seem right to the hearer, he/she is not obligated to follow or receive it. The leaders should be judging and then making decisions if the prophecy has merit for the body of Believers.

        In Paul’s case a prophecy was given that he would find himself bound if he went to Jerusalem. Paul was ready to go to Jerusalem in spite of this prophecy. Paul recognized this prophecy’s truth and merit. But, he felt that Jerusalem was where he needed to be on the day of Pentecost that year. Paul was jailed within 2 or 3 days after his arrival at Jerusalem.

  3. Chris Baumgart

    Excellent point. And now with the Internet we could be adding up to another 40,000 sects… But let’s hope that the “undertow” of sites like yours, at least, help others reflect and question those who they may be serving in their churches with offerings and itchie ears. Our first duty is to go to our Redeemer and the only place we can initiate that is through reading the Word of God and through prayer. And from what I’ve heard “reading the bible” isn’t as easy as it seems here in the 21st century… Along with the average prayer dropping to about 30 seconds in length… Possibly we could learn at least one thing from the Muslim sects, that building towers with loud horns to signal prayer time, reading time, may be best for us Christians to establish some much needed signals for ourselves…. Let’s get those church bells ringing again!

    • Chris,

      I think you’re right in that too few Christians seek unity in response through prayer, Scripture, and working through differences. If more Christians thought for the sake of our being One, we must find common ground, I think many things would change in the Church–for the better. But then, humility is essential, and we are not a humble people. In some ways, I see the Reformation and democracy, as they have played out, as unhelpful in contributing to humility among Christians who defend both tooth and nail.

  4. StevenS

    Dan – I agree with your point but not with a piece of your argument.

    You say “This idea broke the (genuine) stranglehold the RCC had on most of Christianity”.

    I just want to point out that Orthodox Christians would differ with that assessment.

    In fact, Orthodox Christians make *exactly* the point you are making here. Their common phrase is that the Protestant Reformation simply traded having one Pope who claimed the authority to determine doctrine with having a multitude of Popes each determining doctrine for themselves. They do not view this as an improvement.

    Their alternative is that doctrine is determined by the consensus in church councils by bishops who can trace apostolic succession. They would argue that Church Councils gave us the Nicene Creed (which almost all Protestants affirm) and ratified the set of books that are considered Scripture in the New Testament. If you trust the Councils to do that, why won’t you trust them for everything else?

    (Note, I am not currently Orthodox; but am running out of excuses why I am not. If I do become Orthodox, I’ll certainly be in good company – there have been a LOT of high profile defections from Evangelical Protestantism to Orthodoxy over the last couple decades, including the congregation of a local Vineyard church).

    • Steve,

      The most there was my intentional nod to the Orthodox.

      I have no huge beef against the Orthodox, but I feel that they traded one regimen for another. I don’t think that’s an improvement.

      • linda

        Steve says,
        “Their alternative is that doctrine is determined by the consensus in church councils by bishops who can trace apostolic succession”.

        What this is, is trying to establish a priesthood like Aarons of the OT. The Aaronic priesthood was followed by fleshly succession. In Aaron’s priesthood it was his sons and his sons’ sons that took over the priesthood when Aaron died.

        What Steve is saying here is that if a person could trace their heritage back to apostles then they would be a part of church counsels and ‘concession making’ to determine doctrine.
        Doctrine is not determinded by ‘concession’ amongst people. It is determined by scripture and by testimony, and by the Spirit of God.

        The proposal by the Othodox christians promoting this idea is to go back to an Aaronic priesthood. Hebrews speaks about the believer having an eternal High Priest. He makes supplication for us in heaven. We have no more need of a high priest here on earth. No need for a Pope. Jesus Christ is the head and no one else. What James did for the early church was based on his knowledge of Scripture, his spiritual maturity, his place through prayer, fasting, and the study of scripture. Not on his fleshly genealogy. Whose family we belonged to in the flesh meant nothing in the early church. Jesus himself did not come from the Aaronic priesthood (family of Levi). He was from Judah. No priest could come from Judah according to the Law. Yet Jesus did. He came by the Order of Melchisedek. The eternal priesthood lineage. That’s our priestly lineage as well when we are in Christ.

        • StevenS

          Dan – As noted I am not (?yet?) Orthodox, so I likely share some of your reservations. I do however know enough about Orthodoxy to get bothered whenever I perceive (correctly or not) Protestants who view church history as merely the progression of Apostles to Roman Catholics to Protestants and ignore the existence of Orthodoxy.

          Linda – Orthodox would not disagree with the statement “Doctrine is not determinded by ‘concession’ amongst people. It is determined by scripture and by testimony, and by the Spirit of God.” The question is: who do you trust to hear God’s Spirit clearly? Who do you trust to interpret scripture correctly? The Orthodox answer is that you trust the apostles first (and what they wrote about Jesus). Then you trust the people that the Apostles appointed to lead the church (and what they wrote), and then you trust the people appointed by the people that the Apostles appointed and so on. The assumption is that at each stage the current leaders were careful to choose new leaders according to their ability to hear God and interpret scripture, and that when one leader made a mistake and appointed someone incorrectly, the collection of all of the other leaders would correct that (the most extreme case of this was when the Orthodox church effectively excommunicated the Bishop or Rome (the Pope) and all those who he appointed for their refusal to submit to the consensus view on doctrine).

          My question is: is that necessarily worse than individuals looking at all of the competing interpretations in the Protestant churches and deciding for themselves which “sounds right”? That seems to imply that individual Christians (most of whom are unable to study the scripture in original languages, etc. so their ability to truly test someone’s teaching is limited) are better at picking leaders than the apostles were.

          • linda

            There are no Protestants and there are no Catholics in Christ. There is a ‘new creation’ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is who is missing in this discussion. Gifts are distributed to the believers as God wills, not as man wills. The Bible says that when Jesus ascended on high he gave gifts to men, ‘apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors’ Eph 4:8 to build up the body of Christ ‘until’ we we all reach unity in the faith…in the knowledge of God… attaining to the whole measure of Christ’.

            Today in many churches the idea is that there are no more individuals gifted by God for this purpose. Evangelists, almost all churches agree with this gift still abiding in our day. Pastors, all churches agree with, except maybe the Orthodox churches. Teachers, we have so many teachers we can’t keep track of them all. Apostles, no, apparently this gift left the church after the apostles died, (except for those churches who want to ressurrect the flesh and try to reach spiritual maturity through their own merit and fleshly lineage). Prophets, no. Some churches accept this gift but on the whole prophets are rejected in today’s churches.

            We (the church) are trying to come to maturity and ‘unity’, (unity requires spiritual maturity) with resources and giftings missing from God. God has provided these gifts to men, but we have rejected them according to ‘our own wisdom’.

            We say “We must be the ones to decide who is an apostle, who is a prophet, who is a pastor, etc. in the church”. The Bible is clear, God decides who these people are, and he is no respector of persons, rank, family lineage, education, etc. Look at who God chose to be apostles in the NT. Unlearned fishermen. What made these men qualified for leadership? They had spent time with Jesus the Bible says.

            God can choose anyone and really anything he likes to encourage, instruct, lead, direct, the church. And men reject this concept today. Worldly men want control of the leadership, control of the church, control of people. The apostles and prophets did not control. Teachers did not control the church. Elders guided the church, they provided some leadership. Not necessarily over the people, but perhaps in other matters that had to be attended to, such as, the order when people gathered together. Maybe who was to speak first that day of gathering. Also, arranging for the practical aspects and needs of gathering together, etc. These men read the letters from Paul and Peter and from others to the congregation in their community, then these letters were sent on to other churches (in Christ) in other locations.

            How do believers know the truth when they hear it? The Holy Spirit gives confirmation to them. They wittness to it by the Spirit of God within them.
            Jesus says, “My people know my voice, and another they will not follow”.

            • linda

              Men in the flesh cannot follow Jesus in the Spirit, and this is what is driving them crazy. Men must be ‘born again’ into the kingdom of God. There is no trickery allowed by the cunning and evil planning of men in Christ. This drives men crazy.

              Right now the church is trying to come to maturity under the leadership and strength of ‘men’. It can’t be done. A measure of ‘unity’ can be accomplished by ‘brainwashing’ and psycological training of people, but this is a false unity. It will fail as we have already seen in churches today.

              That’s the beauty of Christ. Righteousness, holiness, loveliness, truth, hope, joy, peace, love, knowledge, insight that the world has no way of reaching or understanding. Hallelujah!!!

              • StevenS

                Linda – your observations would be more compelling if there weren’t 40,000 different denominations in the US with major disagreements on issues that would seem to be of importance (granted, some of those differences are in issues that are trivial)

                Yes, God is the only authority on doctrine; but there doesn’t appear to be agreement on what He is saying. Letting everyone follow their own perception of how God’s Spirit is leading them would seem to be how we got into this mess. How would you propose to achieve unity?

                It is easy to say “there is only one church, one truth.” and that all of our divisions are a result of humans inserting themselves into the process. Not sure anyone disagrees with that. Just not sure what you are suggesting as an alternative.

                I would agree with you that God chooses who to give gifts to; but in the case of the role of Overseer (however your translation renders the Greek word “episcopos”), how does a community of Christians know who God has in fact called to be overseer for their community? You certainly don’t want to trust someone who simply declares that they have been called to that. The Biblical model would appear to be that someone who is already trusted “lays hands on them” and appoint them to be overseers of a given community. There are many examples of this in Acts and in the Epistles.

                (BTW – for the record, Orthodox Christians believe in the gift/role of pastor (a.k.a. shepherd). They use the word “priest”; but are explicit in saying that those things that the Bible teaches about the roles, responsibilities and requirements for shepherds are what they expect from “priests”).

    • linda

      Hey Steve,
      I want to make a reply to your last post July 25 @ 1:25pm. The 40,000 denominations according to Dan’s post July 25 @ 8:58 am “I have no doubt that worldwide there may be 40,000 subdivisions of Christianity, especially when all the one-church “denominations” are counted in the developing world.”

      Many of these 40,000 are not denominations as such, they are separate churches with some differences from their neighbors. They are independeant, autonomous Christian churches with no denominational affiliation in the USA, Canada, and the developing countries of the world. Such as in Africa, South America, Central America, Asia, Russia, etc. So, the likelihood is that there are only a limited number of Christian denominations. If the USA and Canada are representative of these, there is likely less than a couple of hundred denominations, and probably many less than 200 denominations. I can only think of a few of the more visible denominations. Probably no more than 10 or 15 denominations. Some of these can be eliminated because they do not acknowledge Jesus as part of the Godhead (the Trinity). They acknowledge Jesus as an angel, one of several sons of God, or a good man, a prophet, etc. We can eliminate these denominations as being in the body of Christ. Without Christ, the church has nothing, not even salvation. We do not want to partner with ‘darkness’ the Bible says. Without Christ, there is no true light. They have scripture but for them scripture must be followed by the letter. The Bible says God’s church follows the Spirit of the Law in Christ Jesus. These are different ways of following Scripture. One is merciful, the other is legalistic.

      Paul lays out some criteria for a bishop in 1 Tim 3:2; and Titus 1:6. “The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkeness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of ‘money’. The Bible says that a lover of money is an ‘idolator’ in the book of Ephesions. What we have for much leadership in the church today is ‘idolators’. They have no portion in the inheritance in Christ. Ephesians says that these men and women can be sure of that. Their benefit stops at their death. They’ve exchanged Christ for money, fame, power, and false authority in the church. They will receive greater damnation for taking on these roles themselves in the church. We need a little of Ananias and Sapphira events in the church to put a stop to these ‘brute beasts’. (not my words, these are the Bible’s words for these arrogant and prideful men and women).

      Is Timothy and Titus the only criteria for elders and bishops? I don’t think so. In the case of serving the Greek widows with food the group of leaders who were praying and fasting and studying the scriptures asked the people to pick out 12 men filled with the Holy Spirit. How could they pick these men out? They used some criteria for sure, but these men had reputations of power in Christ. Not worldly power, dictatorships, violent power as is being shown to us today by the governments of countries. The USA and Canada being a part of this military police style powermongering.

      • StevenS

        Actually I used to own the two-volume set “Handbook of American Denominations” that attempted to catalog all denominations in the US. They did NOT count independent and unaffiliated churches, only those organizations that had at least 2 affiliates. I recall they had 20,000 entries, and that was just for those operating in the US (I have often regretted selling those books).

        However your point is well taken on how many of those are “real Christian churches” as opposed to heretical. But that’s kind of the point – none of those churches think that they themselves are heretical, so on what standard do we decide which are? Are there doctrines that are essential, and others that you can disagree on? How do you decide which are essential? Is the distinction between using musical instruments in church vs singing acapella critical? Is the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from only the Father vs the Father and the Son essential? Is the question of whether Jesus was God incarnate in Mary’s Womb vs becoming God incarnate when he was baptized essential? Is a belief in the penal substitution model of atonement essential? Or is the Christus Victor model also acceptable? How about free will vs determination? and so on and so on…

        I used to take as my standard the Nicene Creed; but even that gets fuzzy when you consider the filoque clause and what *exactly* does it mean to believe in “one … apostolic church” (depending on what you mean by “apostolic”, you include/exclude certain groups).

        I’m sure you personally have a standard that you would apply. But is it obviously identical to mine or Dan’s? And if we disagree, how do we come into agreement? I am assuming all 3 of us are listening as best we can to the Holy Spirit (I know Dan well enough to trust that he is, and while I don’t know you beyond what you have posted here, I am willing to assume you are). If we were each asked independently to write down what standard we would apply to determine what “denominations are legitimately Christian”, do you think we’d all come up with the same thing? And if not, could we even agree on a basis to resolve our differences? I’ll grant you that The Holy Spirit knows and wants us to know; but if that’s true, what does it mean if it isn’t obvious that we would come up with the same criteria?

        • StevenS

          And to be clear, I am assuming not just that the 3 of us are listening to the Holy Spirit; but are also studying the Bible to make our evaluation of what churches are really Christian and not; but I still doubt that even any 2 of us would independently come up with the same criteria (and if we did, I predict that the criteria would be sufficiently ambiguous or untestable that it isn’t useful). Either that or I could come up with examples of churches that meet the criteria and you would not want to include.

          • linda

            I think that one way that we can tell a ‘true church’ is that good fruit is coming from it (the people). The Bible says ‘we will know them by their fruit’. I don’t think that denominations are really involved in this. Can we tell the fruit of a denomination? Does a denomination have a spirit, soul and body?

            The members must be ‘born again’ and they must have experienced the new birth in Christ. Without this, people (churches) are not saved. They are then not in the body of Christ, and because of this these individuals (churches) will not go into eternity. Eternity is for those in Christ only. We can’t get to eternity some other way, no matter how much people deny this.

            We see in the NT that the early church was not perfect. Was Antioch one denomination and Jerusalem another denomination? Were the Jews one denomination and the Gentiles another denomination? No. They were believers. People who had faith, hope, and certainty in Christ to save them from wickedness and from death.

            People in the church must live good lives. If they dabble in the world they are playing with fire. They may end up getting burned in the lake of fire at the end. Why do we tempt ourselves? Because we are not fighting against sin, we are trying to accommodate sin. We are trying to have Christ and trying to have the desires of our flesh. The problem is, the deeds of the flesh are wicked. The Bible says ‘crucify the ‘old man’, and put on the ‘new man’ in Christ.

            We need to be disciples of Christ. We should have growth in our lives. Our ability to trust God should be increasing. This is faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. We are saved by grace through faith.

            At the point that the church is presently in, if we do these things we should be on the same path so to speak. We have divisions among us the Bible says in I Cor. chp.1, because we are still worldly. So, denominations are a sign of worldliness in a sense. Do we really have to debate the worldly church’s practices and traditions? Do we have to come into some kind of agreement with these churches? I think not.

              • linda

                We only have to read the account of the two wittnesses in the book of Revelation to get a picture of how much the world hates God. The ‘fruit’ these two display is a little bit different kind from what we think of as ‘fruit’ to prove and manifest the truth.

                Obviously, the ‘truth’ these two displayed about God made little or no difference to people. I think that we are coming into a time like this. Any idea that being ‘free labor’ and ‘free love’ shown to the world will bring the world to Christ is faulty thinking. It’s deception by leaders to encourage believers to be a resource of ‘Christian labor’ to the world.

                This seems to be where leaders have been trying to take the church today at least in some of their faulty thinking. They call this ‘free labor of love’ to the world ‘a commandment of God’. “Love your enemy, do good works, etc. is used for the ‘group’ instead of the individual discernment of a person. This creates ‘slavery’ of masses of Christian believers. This is no better than selfish individualism of a believer in a church. Does God intend for believers to be slaves of the world? No. Not in your wildest dreams. Where do leaders get these ideas from? They’re not functioning in the Spirit, they’re functioning in the ‘flesh’. Wicked flesh at that.

  5. rory

    I’m no religious scholor, but I remember from my history classes that pre-reformation and all the rabble-rousing of Martin Luther, the plebs weren’t allowed to even own a bible or have it translated into thier own language. As such, we got the word of God from some guy in a suit, influenced by some king, and had to take it on faith that what we were being told was accurate. Oh, and if you speak French and not Latin, too bad for you.

    Is the reformation and ‘every man an authority’ an improvement over that? You bet your sweet bippy! Our clergy can be corrupt, but we can read the truth ourselves, and teach it, undilluted, straight from the book, to our children.

    You say Paul and Barnabus argued over this or that, I say ‘why does it matter?’ Love God first and then your neighbor, and if you can’t do that right, don’t worry about Paul v. Barnabus.’

    Does that make me my own authority? I don’t like the connotation, because my authority comes from what is written in red ink in the Holy Bible. That’s the authority.

    You say people in the church might be better off finding common ground, I can give examples of when a schism or simply agreeing to disagree (lovingly) and walking away are appropriate. Less than loving speech toward democrats, single mothers, Muslims, and gays come to mind, and I could give a speech on each. Suffice to say that ‘church authorities’ weren’t speaking from a place of love, weren’t forgiving, weren’t ‘going with them two miles,’ weren’t showing mercy, weren’t freely giving as they have freely recieved, and weren’t praying for their enemies.

    As to what role authoritiy should play in the chuch, I am skeptical that anyone should be an authority in the church. Jesus himself said to humble yourself, or be humbled. Its hard to imagine a humble, meek authority figure.

    • StevenS

      Rory – as per my previous comment, you are ignoring Orthodox Christianity which has always supported translation of scripture (and the Liturgy) into local languages and teaching people to read.

      You know the “Cyrillic Alphabet” (used in Russia) – it is named after Cyril who was an Orthodox missionary to Slavic nations who translated the Bible into a Slavic language so that the converts could read it. While up until recently, the Roman church insisted on doing the liturgy in Latin (regardless of what the locals spoke), Orthodox missionaries historically translated the liturgy into the local language so everyone could understand it. The anomaly being modern America where Orthodox churches often serve ethnic groups and do the Liturgy in the language of their home country and not in English – although there are a growing number that use English now.

      • Connie

        My own son converted to Orthodox Christianity precisely because of the things listed in this post.

        However there are beliefs he now holds that just do not correspond to the Bible-such as, he now tells me no one can know they are saved till they go before the Lord at the final judgement. And then, those icons…..I have to believe the Lord allowed denominations to happen precisely because flawed humans just can’t get it totally right and He wanted all His truth out there. Eventually we will get it!

    • Rory,

      The early Church definitely held apostles and elders in a higher honor.

      As for authority, credo- or paedobaptism? Substitutionary atonement or Christus Victor? Contemporary charismata or cessationism?

      The number of dividing points over the authoritative portions of the Scriptures seems almost endless.

      • rory

        The early church did held apostles and elders in a higher honor, ok, fine. Did Jesus? From what I recall he said that the least among you would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. That the exalted would be humbled. That if you couldn’t accept faith like a young child you would by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

        I ask you, with love and humbleness (because I certainly don’t know), what part of that sounds like debating substitutionary atonement or contemporary charismata?

        I feel as though my point is being glossed over – that of simple obedience to simple instructions from the words of Jesus. My point moves on to say that debating issues like substitionary atonement may perhaps be akin to straining at gnats while swollowing camels, especially if it pulls a person away from doing simple things like actively loving your neighbor, giving freely, practicing the golden rule, etc.

        I just think that there is a lot of wisdom in simplicity, especially in the message from God. And in turn there is a lot of wisdom in accepting it all like children and not getting bogged down in the minutia.

        I would love to hear a more learned man’s opinion of that, especially someone further along in thier walk with Christ.

        • rory

          Sorry, a few more thoughts as I sit here:

          Deferring to those with authority, or ‘teachers of the law’: – “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God…”

          And one of my favorites: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Matt 23:5

          • Rory,

            I’m not interested in the authoritative distinction between the Pharisees (or anyone like them) and the people. That’s a given.

            The more troubling thing is what I noted immediately below. Jesus seemed to flatten hierarchy, for the most part, but people led by the Spirit in the early Church seemed to unflatten it.

            Is that merely the pride of man operating in the lives of early Church leaders? Were they attempting to be the “Pharisees” within the new Church hierarchy? Honestly, I doubt those are the case.

            Whatever the case, I lack solid understanding of this issue. I would like to see the Church operating more as brother to brother, yet that is not how it operates. If anything, we have an Orwellian Animal Farm perspective: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

        • Rory,

          The words of Jesus seem to abolish all distinctions of rank, except that the 12 would have some higher reward in heaven. While the Gospels mention several teachings on avoiding issues of rank and flattening natural hierarchies, the Spirit-filled leaders of the early Church seemed to draw them or to unflatten hierarchy, even if just a little. In truth, for me at least, I do struggle to reconcile that. Personally, I lean toward the flat understanding, which I think remains in the minority.

          I switched gears on you when I went to the comparisons.

          “Whose authoritative interpretation of Scripture?” is the reason we have so many divisions. I have yet to meet two Christians who have identical religious beliefs. While there may be many who are close to me in what I believe is authoritative, I’m not sure anyone is an exact match. It’s why the “we should all be one” argument is such a tough one. Why IS the Church so fractured and on so many issues, both big and small? And why is it that our culture is like a jackhammer operating on the Church? Should it not be the other way around, with the Church putting the hammer to culture?

          Even within the ranks of the Young, Restless, and Reformed, one of the largest blocs of Christians active on the Web, their heroes include John Piper and John MacArthur, who could not be farther apart on major points of Christian doctrine. How is that reconciled in the minds of the YRR? Throw Mark Driscoll into that mix and it gets even weirder.

          To say, “I listen to the Redeemer only!” is puzzling when many Christians say that, yet they agree on so very little.

          • rory

            I think anyone reading the bible would agree that Jesus wanted to abolish all distictions of rank. I forgot another big quote to that effect:

            “You are not to be called Rabbi, teacher, instructor, or father, as you have only one father/instructor, and that is the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled…” Matt 23:11 (paraphrased, obviously).

            The fact that spirit-filled apostles started to create a hierarchy is meaningless to me… I don’t worship men, or apostles, regardless of how spirit-filled they are. I worship God through Jesus.

            Hierarchies, in my opinion, obstruct the path to Jesus. Authorities also obstruct, and Jesus preached specifically against them. Phooey on authorities!

            As to John Piper and John MacArthur, I don’t know who these people are. I’ll read about them on my lunch hour and see what a few of thier major disagreements are. I’ll bet my salary that thier disagreements can be rendered irrelevant through the words of Jesus. I’ll further bet that I don’t have to look beyond the Sermon on the Mount.

            As to why Christians disagree when everyone claims that ‘I listen to the Redeemer only,’ I’ll submit that they are making it to complicated. Perhaps they and trying to be authorities. Perhaps they are discouraged at what Jesus asks of them, and are instead straining gnats instead of focusing on the core message, which shakes them to the core. It sure shakes me to the core and makes me meek and humble to think just how far I am from what Jesus asks of me.

            Simplify. Accept a simple message from Jesus like a child. Love your neighbors. Treat others like you would want to be treated. Give freely. Pray for enemies. Forgive and show mercy. Humble yourself, and be like a servant to everyone.

            While I hope to be wrong, I just can’t imagine what these two men could be writing about that will save my soul more than the words above.

            • StevenS

              rory – there was a time when I would have agreed with you completely. I even had experience with 2 communities of believers that practiced the non-hierarchial non-authority model of Christianity, and both were great experiences for me.

              The problem is that in Acts, one of the first things you see the apostles do is replace Judas among the 12. They saw a need for someone in that *position*. This is only a short time after Jesus left. You then see Paul appointing elders in the churches he planted, and later write to people about appointing “overseers” and “shepherds” and “servers” in churches, even giving criteria for their selections. What’s more, in Acts, when there was a dispute in the church, people traveled from their home church in Antioch to Jerusalem to consult the leaders in that church for a decision because the people in Jerusalem were considered more authoritative, and note that the person who spoke for the decision (James) was not one of the 12.

              My point is that if you say that “true Christianity” is non-hierarchial, authority figure free, then you need to toss out most of the New Testament to get there. It’s one thing to reject “innovations” that came about in 2nd century and beyond as being a result of a failing church; but when the people who knew Jesus personally did them and it is recorded in the Bible, it is hard for *me* to say that it isn’t Christianity.

              • rory

                I’m far from a religious scholor, so perhaps I’m looking at things ignorantly, or nievely. If so, tell me.

                Lets first start with whatever Jesus said being the truth. For example, when he rebukes prior teachings like ‘eye for an eye’ and says turn the other cheek. If we do that, I have to assume that any conflict between what Jesus did or said versus what any other man says or does, Jesus wins.

                To that, I say “You are not to be called Rabbi, teacher, instructor, or father, as you have only one father/instructor, and that is the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled…” Matt 23:11 (paraphrased, obviously).

                The ‘Jesus wins’ arguement shouldn’t stop at the 12, should it? How about when, in Matt 16:23, Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

                This would be the first Pope, right? And one of the 12, creating ‘positions,’ ‘hierarchies,’ and ‘authorities.’ The fact that people, who want leadership, flock to them should be irrelevant.

                The fact that ‘people who knew Jesus’ did this or that should also be irrelevant, shouldn’t it? Aren’t they still men? Can’t they still sin, and error? Should I mimic those traits?

                And how would I know the difference?

  6. The 40,000 figure is bogus. It comes from research that counts every congregationalist church in the US as a different denomination.

    In terms of working for practical unity, what we need is a lot of humility and a lot of patience in listening to others, and working together on things we can agree on. I’m going to a meeting today of all the clergy in our suburb (population about 20k); we listen to each other, pray for each other and find things we can work together on.

    • John,

      A few years back, for a post, I tried to pin down the number of churches in the United States. The total number ranged from about 170,000 to 450,000. Somewhere around 300,000 was the number most felt comfortable claiming. Still, that’s a pretty wide variance, so accuracy IS questionable.

      I have no doubt that worldwide there may be 40,000 subdivisions of Christianity, especially when all the one-church “denominations” are counted in the developing world. I don’t see that the comic claims to be America only.

      Further, 1,000 or 100,000 subdivisions, the point is made: Christianity is highly fractured. Jesus’ prayer that we would all be one seems to be going ignored by the Church as a whole. We like our divisions too much, and while we all laugh at the joke I included in the post, it is, sadly, not far from the truth.

  7. linda

    hey Dan,

    I read this today.
    “Last year, the summer ice shrank to its lowest point since satellite observations started in 1979, raising concerns about the impact on the climate. The effect the European researchers have focused on is the way warmer Arctic waters are expected to hasten thawing of the permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea off northern Russia that is believed to contain vast deposits of methane. This is a greenhouse gas some 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, though it does not last as long in the atmosphere. There is much debate about how long it might take to release these methane deposits, and what impact it would eventually have. But some scientists say there is already evidence of large plumes of methane escaping and others fear this could happen fast enough to accelerate global warming and eventually speed up other changes such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which contains enough frozen water to push up global sea levels by 7 meters. That is why the group felt it was important to assess the possible economic impact of such changes, said Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at Cambridge who believes the Arctic sea ice could completely vanish in summers as early as 2015. –CNBC”

    We’re not playing anymore, folks. Men’s plans are coming to an end. God’s plans are being fulfilled. Time to get on board. Better the Bible says to be saved as a cripple with ‘one eye’ or ‘one hand’, then to perish.

    We can spool off a hundred thousand words a day that sound really intelligent and knowledgable, and reasonable according to the reasoning of ‘fleshly men’. It isn’t going to change squat. Anyone who is willing to debate his life away is foolish. The problem is… faith only comes to a man when God allows it. Salvation is precarious in our day. It’s not a given.

    There are major things happening with volcanoes throughout the world right now. Major erruptions could happen at any time. Erruptions that would essentially detroy most if not all of the earth. ‘Fire, sulfer and brimstone, is what God talks about in the Bible. Hailstones weighing a hundred pounds raining down on us? Can this be a reality for today, for tomorrow? Yes, you bet. The timing is all in the hands of God.

    • Linda, we missed a record low temp this morning by a degree.

      I don’t think you can make anything of global warming. If anything, some are noting global cooling. Maybe the ice pack will start enlarging again.

      • linda

        Hi Dan,
        The effects of global warming from what I understand create exaggerated weather. For example, an area of the world that normally is warmmer in the summer will have increased temperatures in the summer. Heatwaves, 40-50+ degrees of celcius heat, etc. (I’m not sure what this is in Farenheit.) Hot, hotter than people can stand. Areas that normally are cooler will have exaggerated coolness at times. Weather becomes more severe and unfriendly. This is what is happening in the world today.

        Some rainstorms are dumping nearly a year’s worth of rain in some areas of the world in two or three days. This is what is causing the landslides and mudslides throughout the world. Many people are losing their lives and possessions because of ferocious weather. Flooding, tornados.

        Calgary and Toronto had major flooding in Canada this year. One town close to Calgary was completely destroyed by flooding. House and business insurance does not cover overland flooding in Canada. The little creek (and I mean little )that runs through the town overflowed this year and water rose 3 to 4 feet inside the buildings and houses in the town. Is this normal? No, its never happened like this before. What happened? Rain melted the snow too fast in the mountains this year and it all came down through the rivers and creeks. Water had to be let out of dams as well. Infastructure was damaged severely. Several bridges washed out, roads unuseable, sewer backups all over the place.

        Hoodoos are happening in Arizona at an increasing rate. These are huge dust storms. As much as flooding is occuring in the USA and Canada, drought is occuring as well. Water that is the support of millions of people in the western USA is drying up. The Colorado river is low and getting lower fast apparently. This is the thing about what is happening in the world. It’s happening fast. Kyoto Protocol for nations? What’s the point? By the time things get put together it’s more than too late. I’m wondering if this is why Canada opted out of the Kyoto Protocol recently. It’s a losing battle.

        This may not be global warming, but whatever we want to call it, it is happening at increasing rates, threatening more and more people in the USA and Canada as well as throughout the world.

  8. Tim

    “Christianity is highly fractured.”

    If one considers history, one should consider the possibility that the prince of this world is leading everyone into a global collective (probably because he desires to leverage his influence over the whole world). To this end he has made effective use of Christian collectives such as the RCC and the Orthodox church.

    The reformation was not the cure to the evils of the collectivized RCC, but the next phase in the program of collectivization. We see the limits of the RCC as a tool to collectivize the world in the Spanish colonial period. Just after the reformation, we begin to see the transfer of colonialization from mostly church and state to the merchant class. It is almost as if the RCC was tried and found wanting as a tool to collectivize the whole world.

    The key to understanding collective human behavior is to look behind the “curtain”. The reformation may have has some doctrines by individuals saying “every man a priest”, but in reality while most paid lip service to the doctrines and expectations of their neighbors, every man did what was right in his own eyes.

    One can question the desirability of democracy because in almost every non-Christian environment it has been tried, it introduces anarchy. This has been the core of the human problem, without the indwelling of God, humans will act to devour each other.

    Democracy has a good reputation because it was introduced in an environment where a high number of people were actually Christian. In this way “democracy” could be given credit for what Christ had done.

    The reformation was not about what was true, it was about the transfer of control from the church to “society”. A replacement religion was needed to effect this transfer. Humanism as a theory predates the reformation, but it didn’t find a good way to express itself until the enlightenment. Here people like Thomas Jefferson could be seen as ‘Chruistian” even when they wrote their own Bible to take out the “embarrassing” parts.

    The enlightenment brought forth the new religion of secularism. Many say that secularism is just the absence of religion, I would suggest that secularism is the worship of man in general and self in particular. In the US it has replaced Christianity as the state religion and it is defended with all vigor.

    1. People will choose for themselves what they want to do.
    2. People will be controlled by the collective and be told what to do.
    3. People will surrender themselves to Jesus and allow Him to work through them.

    Christianity was supposed to be #3. It quickly became #2. The illusion of “democracy” appears to offer #1. Satan uses the illusion of #1 to bring everyone into #2.

    The early church is the history of people getting scared by “error” and asking the smartest guy in town to tell them what to do. To fight or prevent error, you need a collective to apply coercive force. The priest would direct the collective to drive out the error. This is an exact replica of how a tribe would fight off an invader.

    In Galatia, the temptation was to use the flesh to become sort of “extra credit” Christians. However, the use of the flesh to “defend against error” is so predicatable that it should not be surprising to see it employed over and over again.

    The Orthodox and RCC are just examples of how the desire to “be right” takes us away from truth and leads us into the leaven of the Pharisees.

    The reformation just gave us thousands of small collectives following the same pattern of conformance to doctrine and compliance to tradition. The Greek word peitho? is translated “obey” instead of “be persuaded” because even in the reformation there is little allowance for the engagement of the individual.

    In Ephesians four we see the purpose of the church is that we all grow to the full image of Christ. By this standard what institutional church can claim any “success”.

    The institutional church has always been a failure from Laodicea to the present because Jesus did not come to establish an institution. For those of us who still seek to follow Jesus and be like him, we need to seek out and find others with whom we can try to follow where He would lead. To this end I am trying to set up a free web site where like-minded Christians can connect with each other.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *