Church Unity...an idea that never seems to come...
or Why is it that God’s upgrade of the Old Testament failed
to bring us to a common Judeo-Christian understanding?
by Richard R. Tryon
To an impartial observer, or if you prefer, an innocent being wondering if something exists that is more important than man, the world and its history must seem very confusing. If you were somehow sufficiently intelligent to move on to a search of the history of this subject, you would find that most of the input available is tied up in the sagas of many different ideologies that are all lumped together under the general heading of religion. Some would argue that a lot of philosophers can contend that their branch of ‘science’ is the only one that can objectively consider the questions of the meaning and purpose of life, and therefore how we can relate or if we have anything of greater importance than ourselves, to which we can relate!
Many books have been written on the history of various philosophical ways of thinking about life, its origins and meaning. As many more have been written to cover the history of many of the world’s religions- some no longer found in practice among any organized followers and others, of great age, still being practiced in various parts of the world, with a great many levels of activity or adherence to whatever passes as a system of thought and religious practice. A study of those still of greater or lesser significance in the Middle East, the Far East or many interior corners of continents other than Europe or North America, is an adventure in learning in itself of great magnitude. However, for this purpose, it is being assumed that all of these have roots that fail to accomdodate THE BULK OF MANKIND in the current age of reason, who search for answers to the great questions of life- why are we here? What happens to us when we die?
Imagine that 95% of the Chinese have no religion and they provide more than one sixth of the world’s population. Realize that more than half of all of mankind has no better answer to the above questions than do these Chinese. Yet, if we think of a mythical person as one to represent all of such, do we have any hope of educating any sizable portion to a common understanding? Why not? Our mythical student might study and come to the conclusion that after the world has been in existence for a very long time- a period of geological consideration of far greater duration than recognized by literature created between two and five thousand years ago simply because no science existed then to help anyone understand.
Nothing has been more illusive or divisive in the history of the Christian religion, than the problems that have related to the fact that when the Son of God left this earth about 2,000 years ago, he left the impression that the earth should have a church that relates to the teachings given to the people by Christ.
Considering that Christ came down from Heaven and was incarnate with help from the Holy Ghost as the Son of God in the womb of a special woman to be forever known as the blessed Virgin Mary,
and that this fact was in no way scientifically documented or even known at the time; and that Christ did not write anything in his own hand, but only performed deeds and gave numerous messages to the throngs of people that either followed him in a literal sense, or heard him because they attended an encounter; is it any wonder that the unspecified call to create a church has resulted in a cacophony of confusion, misunderstandings, and mis-trust? Has any religion managed to discover sufficient new Revelation to help our mythical student come to a reasoned sense of faith in a unified type of church?
It took apparently some sixty years after Christ rose from the dead after being crucified for anyone to put together a written assemblage of the words, stories and history of the three years of the most remarkable ministry ever known to all mankind. No other of the world’s known history of religions ever produced a similar evidence of divine connection to a single living God of the Universe except the one directly connected to it- Judaism!
Of the early Christian church, we seem to have acquired more than a little evidence that it existed. We also have a clear picture that the early Christians were persecuted by other Jews and that it was probably true that St. Paul, more than any of the original Apostles, made the difference needed to establish the ideas of Christianity in a way that has left the institutional church in its many forms with us...and he had been a leading persecutor of the earliest Christians as Saul, a Jewish Rabbi!
We also seem to know and understand why the first major split came after the Romans had taken on the religion as their own to replace the ancient Greek-Roman traditions of dealing with many Gods, while calling their Emperors deities in their own right. That this lead to the division between the Eastern Orthodox and the Western wing had to relate more to political power over territory than to any real division over theological substance. Not that such divisions have not occurred!
The spread of Christianity as a state religion of the Roman Empire is so well documented as to make it an unnecessary statement. That this spreading also lead to the Reformation that included the birth of the Protestant versions of Christianity with encouragement of Luther and Calvin is equally well understood. Not nearly as well understood is the cleavage that happened when King Henry VIII took England out of the Roman Church’s religious control.
English history is full of the resulting battles, wars and divisions between the Anglican Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church as represented by the Bishop of Rome. This division has been evident during a period of further fragmentation of Christianity as almost all of the main branches further divided over a multitude of ‘schisms’ and discords of every conceivable type.
With literally hundreds, if not thousands of different churches today claiming to be the champions of the one true Christian faith, it is no surprise that church unification is an idea that has been around for almost as long a time as the first division, if not before at one or more of the ancient Councils of Church leaders. No real accomplishments or evidences of voluntary union have been recorded save those that relate to either fiscal necessity to merge; or physical force as, for example, was used in the Spanish Inquisition.
Of course there have been many attempts, failures, and some successes at bringing different parts of the Christian tradition back together. Even in modern times we have seen evidences of some significant efforts and a few successes. For example, the recent acts to signal cooperation between part of the Lutheran and Anglican traditions in America are typical of the evidence that ecumenical thinking has been encouraged probably from the times of the first divisions.
Now upon the world stage we have witnessed the third meeting of the Queen of England and the Roman Catholic Pope. When provided with information of this meeting by a good friend and ordained priest of both the Episcopal and Methodist churches, I was moved to respond:
“How interesting that the Queen and the Pope may possibly seem to be involved in an insidious plot. I wonder which is the greater attraction to the other? It is virtually impossible to imagine that this or any Pope could find a way to waver over the greatest division in Christiandom brought on by the urge of the early Roman Empire's embracing of Christianity.
How interesting that the historian Paul Johnson, when writing to comment on the current meeting, reflectively sees the Anglican Church as an instrument of keeping the people under the control of the state. I would assume that he does not say the same about the Vatican, or any Roman controlled governnment!
I attended an Anglican service in Stratford, Ontario recently and found it to be anything but an instrument of the government, which is no longer under any finger of the Queen of England. As to a sense of spirituality, I must concede that Roman authority tries hard to convince the faithful that it does so under the umbrella of the idea that only its 'experts' can fully understand the mysteries of the theology that keeps Romans pure and free of Protestant error. The Rev. Glenda Meakin conducted the service and gave the homily on the Gospel of Mark about giving all to the poor and following Christ. I think she 'ducked' the issue or chose not to explain that Christ was talking directly to men who could be his immediate disciples and come to depend upon a life in the church to feed themselves and their families. For them, as indeed for you, it is important to give up a life of depending upon your work in industry to earn your daily bread, in exchange for an expectation that the flock of a parish will provide for such amenities as are necessary. As you also know, sometimes that flock is not big enough or able to support a priest and family.
It would be asking a bit much to ask the clergy to consider what kind of economic system we would have today, if everyone gave their all to the poor? First, it would immediately make the poor the rich! The new rich might not learn quickly the skills needed to continue to feed the new poor by providing jobs out of their creative genius. I would like to hear a sermon that tried to point out the difference between the local meaning of the words 2,000 years ago, and the message to be heard today.
Of course, in reality, it is rather doubtful that any man has ever fully understood the mysteries of the efforts of God the Father or the Son or of the Holy Ghost; or of the efforts of any or all of the above to correctly communicate with mankind at any point in the history of the evolution of this world. Considering our profound ignorance, since our evolution caused us to depart from the genetic lines of the animals that preceeded our development, we have failed. It is a good thing that God is in no hurry!
It may take a while to get to the point where any of us has come to a sufficient understanding even to gain the 'ear' of a few more of us, in a way that leaves a lasting evidence of progress down the road of history that we believe leads to an ultimate stage of life. One where man can be at one or enjoy atonement with God. If it is to happen to one of us here on Earth soon, I don't expect it to be well known!
It is kind of you to attach the word 'prophet' to my father's words. I am not sure what he would have said about the Queen and the Pope other than to note that neither institutional church can claim a correct understanding of the facts that underline our mutual claim to be followers of Christ! I do believe that
shows in his writing that he had a strong reason for tolerance of the need for churches as a natural vehicle by which people can find God and a reasoned sense of faith and understanding. However, he would contend that many articles of dogma are flawed by lack of a willingness to add scientific understandings to Holy mysteries. He would add that we may well have some articles of faith in need of repair to make them consistent with a world of a new millenium. It is generally now know to be round- not flat!
Most theologians are scholars who are able to ‘split hairs’ on the meaning of words in ancient languages, and they work hard to try to find the limit of understanding that was possible 2,000 or more years ago. What may be far more important is to try to gain a modern understanding that lets us address the pressing political, social, and economic questions of our time.
I am currently reading Balint Vazsonyi, an escapee of Hungary in 1965, who wrote "America's 30 Years War". It is an amazing documentary of the war for the control of mankind via a system of socialism that can only turn into one of a dictatorship by those who climb to the top spots in a communist party, that will lead the slaves to 'social justice' or any of another 160 nouns modified by the prefix 'social'. He experienced the dictatorship of the other end of socialism as lead by the Nazi party of Germany, and writes eloquently of man's ability to seek slavery so someone else can 'save us from ourselves'. I hope my new book is complimenary.
The ancient jews were certainly chosen to show us how a brilliant people can still make such errors as to fall into slavery. It is rather well documented in the Bible, which of course, fails to tell of the modern experiences of the 'chosen' people.
One wonders if peace in the middle east is not part of God's plan? Does He drive the crazies to make war just to keep alive the examples of human failure in Israel, Ireland, and elsewhere? Or can we see further progress for freedom and peace in Belgrade, Belfast, Jerusalem, and Bagdad?
Finally, I will comment on the difference between the news story of the Queen's visit as contrasted to the commentary by the Vatican inspired historian Paul Johnson. You and I have known of many disenchanted Roman Catholics who have found freedom to think and peace in the Episcopal Churches in both Puerto Rico and on the US mainland. I wonder if this happens in Canada and I hope that Glenda Meakin will respond to this question.
My visits to England have included experiences as a visitor among the congregation of services in large and small churches. My partner’s wife is an established lay-priest, who has frequently preached at her parish. I should think that more than a few RCs have joined the Anglican church in England as well. However, it is somewhat apparent that in England the church suffers from more than its share of fiscal problems that relate to the age and size of its ancient church buildings!
In Canada, the church is under attack by Indians, who have apparently been able to show that some perverted church helpers did violence in the past to those who were being forcefully assimilated into a new culture! These sins, like a few others like Bishops to Vieques, Crusaders, or even those who lead to the Inquisition that forced my relatives to leave France in 1550, all make for evidences to show how easy it is for the church to fail in its genuine effort to take up the challenge of the Lord's words attributed to Him about making a church to follow his life here on Earth. At least one Anglican is prepared to give whatever the church has to the aged victims or descendants just to give the church an incontrovertable evidence of having cleansed itself of having sinned against a PC defined minority.
It is not a secret that many men (and soon perhaps, a few women) have managed to 'muck-up' well intended efforts aimed at bringing us a vision of 'Peace on Earth' and 'good will among men'. To avoid some errors, I want to think that my father and I have both promoted the idea that Vatican II opened a window a crack or two before the Curia did its best to slam it back down, when they should have been more daring.
It is human nature, however, for all of us to want to conserve that which we think we have and not risk it to exposure to new ideas that may leave us wandering back in the wilderness. Moses spent 40 years doing that while he tried to teach former slaves or sons of slaves to learn to think for themselves, so that they could lead and fight to control that 'promised land'. What have the Jewish people accomplished since? Besides the Crucifixtion?
Now you can see why my web essays on Compassionate Conservatism show that I am rather liberal in the sense of being willing to consider new ideas albeit with great care not to upset the principles that are well proven. Many such are worth conserving!”
SO, IS CHURCH UNITY EVER GOING TO BE POSSIBLE?
Will we ever find the basis for real church unity? Well, here is a list of items that must be resolved, understood and accepted by all participants. It is a list that may live a long time without any evidence of accomplishment.
1. The first accomplishment is essential to all of the rest. Like the first of the great Commandments, it is correct to say that church unity, at least of a voluntary kind, can not happen until all agree that the Lord never intended to have us generate a world full of institutional churches full of buildings, temples, Cathedrals, property and organizations required to keep all such functioning as per man made rules and control. This is not to say that we need to destroy all such! No, we only need to put all such into the proper perspective and realize that no one place, thing, or institution has any monopoly claim to truth, or divine ordination. Again, this is not to say that Holy orders and ordination are wrong as evidences of commitment- they are only wrong if they are presented as absolute evidences of special connection or favor in the eyes of God.
2. Next we need to recognize that there is more to search for about our relationship to one another and to God than to limit our searching to what Scripture captured 2,000 or more years ago. Even more importantly we must work together to find how science can help us understand the relationship of all of mankind to its eternal God.
3. Finally we need to search for the links between God of all and the socio-poliitical-economic system that permits every individual to develop his or her own understanding of and relationship to God, while living as a free person able to relate properly to all others. To do this, we must renounce slavery, statism, and any system aimed at forcing control on individual freedom that coerces and steals property from the individuals in the name of any notion of ‘social’ something. We, on the other hand, must recognize that we can not have any unity until all accept not only the concepts and tenants above; but we must also find the way to embrace all of the other people of the world who either subscribe to no religion or to one of the others that have no link to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
How can this be achieved? Obviously it is the most daunting intellectual challenge that can be conceived! In my opinion, it can only happen if and when it becomes generally understood and known that all existing churches and religions can adopt a position that shows that their faithful enjoy a particular loyalty and faithfulness to their liturgical or worship practices; but understand that a larger commonality of mankind must relate on a level that is inclusive and compatible with all others because each has come to recognize that such does not destroy their own position, but shows that it relates to the true and universally accepted truths yet to be discovered.
Can such happen with a demonstration of a universal power’s presence? Of course, if Christ the Son of God were to clearly come back to life on Earth and demonstrate and repeat his miracles for all to see on CNN...live before almost all of the eyes of the world, with scientific explanations for such actions as walking on water, ascending bodily above the land, healing many types of victims of illnesses, disease, as was reported 2,000 years ago, then it is not hard to imagine a universal acceptance. Unfortunately, it would also provide an instant termination of mankind’s ability to exercise free-will as the operative way to respond. It would not even require any physical violence to be meted out to any who could not immediately accept the words of the Lord as being controlling in an absolute sense.
But, we should not think,or pray for such a demonstration. Why? Because it is abundantly evident that God, the Father or omnipotent and omniscient ruler of the Universe, has never tried to encourage on Earth a loss of free-will. We can not be expected to learn to be more like God, if we surrender our free-will and thinking to anyone. But we can have faith via a free-will decision.
This means that for this to happen, we must find the way to learn enough and be able to show it well enough that the convincing argument is too persuasive to resist. That book has not yet been written, but it is possible to think that such might be done and be acceptable in the eyes of the Lord! How to do it and be able to maintain a sense of free-will decision for obedience to the resulting set of guidelines aimed in a way to help all live a proper life is a seemingly impossible task. Perhaps that is what God wants or has expected of mankind for thousands of years. But, is it not true that we know now more about God’s universe than we did 5,000 years ago? Does that suggest that someday we may know enough more to reach the time for the above understanding to lead to a new kind of church or religious unity that will be global? Logic seems to say that the answer is yes, the only unknown is when?
As we struggle to achieve such a noble goal, is it possible that we can put some parts of the Christian egg back into the original shell? If so, will it become more acceptable to the mythical but real students of the world who want the answers to the big questions, not the one that deals with the competition among men for the kind of recognition that the brothers James and John sought from Christ when they asked for his Divine blessing to be anointed as the two to sit with God’s Son on the left and right and failed to understand as a result why that was not a good idea.
Yes, it will take a new kind of understanding to comprehend what the Christian tradition was meant to bring to all of mankind- not just the chosen of the chosen! It may well take a new approach that helps most, if not all, find the proper role of the institutional church- one which may well include a thousand variations in spiritual practice but with a common denominator that relates to knowledge of God, not to allegiance to any man made institution and its leaders.