October 31 is the anniversary date of Martin Luther’s nailing of his Ninety Five Theses on the Church door at Wittenberg, Germany.
Martin Luther had hoped that he would be able to reform and purify the Church. Instead, the Church split into a Catholic branch and a Protestant branch. Then came religious wars, with millions of Catholic and Protestant martyrs. Peace and some level of tolerance finally prevailed, but the division continues.
Nor was it the first such division. The Jewish Church was driven out at Nicea, the Nestorian Church at Ephesus, and the Copic Church at Chalcedon. The Orthodox East and the Roman Catholic West formally split in 1054. And throughout Church history, beginning with Clovis, Kings were sent to destroy Heretical groups. The Scandal of Division has stalked the Church from the beginning.
Today there are thousands of Christian denominations, each with its own unique set of beliefs and practices. All of them know that Christ prayed “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (John 17:23 b), but they do not know how to get past their doctrinal and governmental differences. So the Scandal has been allowed to continue, even at the cost of casting doubt on Jesus and the Church.
Finally, in the latter 20th Century, things began to change when Christians began to take a fresh look at Christ’s prayer for unity. Jesus prayed that, just as He was in the Father and the Father was in Him, the believers would be in Christ and thus be brought to complete unity (John 17:20-23). Our unity is in Christ, not in our doctrines, traditions or Church government. The Apostle Paul also recognized this, and urged the believers not to look down on their “weaker” brothers who had different doctrines (Ro 14:1-23).
Let no one be judged for their doctrines so long as they are in Christ. Rather let us become friends of God by keeping Christ’s command to love each other (John 15:12-14) and focus on God’s business (John 15:15)
We thank God for the outreach of Pope Francis to the Evangelical Church earlier this year (See our Blog of 3/5/14 “Pope’s Unity Message Goes Viral”) And the response of many Evangelical Leaders seeking reconciliation.
Let us end the Scandal of Division so the world will know that God sent Christ to save us.