39,000 and 1

According to the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 39,000 Christian demoninations in the world.  Today, that number increased by 1, as estranged members from the Episcopal Church formed a new church, the Anglican Church in North America.  To anyone following the long-smoldering drama over the ordination of gays and women within the Episcopal Church, the move comes as no surprise.  A significant minority of Episcopalians stongly objected to the reformist direction their church has taken, sparking a drive to divorce themselves from the larger body that is finally coming to fruition.  In times past, such schism would almost certainly have led to bloodshed, a prospect today annulled by the separation of church and state, a weakening of which the conservative Episcopalians ironically favor.

The ceaseless splintering of “the body of Christ” must be disconcerting among Christians, when they actually stop to consider it.  After all, their own scripture requests unity,

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10)

Paul was clearly referring to an issue that bedeviled Christianity even in his day.  Yet given that Paul’s plea is no more closer to reality than it ever was, what else is there but for the Christian to paradoxically conclude that God desires division, for whatever mysterious reason he has?  Over 39,000 Christian denominations!  The number doesn’t even include all those that once existed!

For those who believe every religion is a purely man-made invention, facts like this are easily explained.  Just as we all have different tastes in food, clothing, mates, etc., so do we have different tastes in religion.  When competition for believers is allowed in a relatively free and open market, “specialization and differentiation” inevitably result, just as for any other good.  I also tend to believe that much of the basis for schism is shared with the basis of religion itself: faith.  Beliefs held in spite of reason or evidence are extremely resistant to conciliation.  In fact, they tend to encourage humanity’s in-bred tribalism, leading occassionally to violence.  In contrast, when was the last time you saw scientists waging war over a scientific theory?

Despite 2,000 years of existence, the cacophony of Christian voices each proclaiming “the Truth” is only growing louder.  Who among you is right?  When you finally agree, please let me know.  Perhaps then I’ll take your religion seriously.

6 thoughts on “39,000 and 1

  1. Thanks Nate. I picked on Christians here, but really the problem is endemic to all religious faiths. I chuckle when they accuse non-believers of failing to see the “obvious” evidence for their gods or beliefs, yet cannot even come to a consensus among themselves as to what those beliefs are. They compound the problem by modifying beliefs, not to mention failing to adhere to them.

  2. Hello again, Robert. The 39,000 figure gives a misleading picture. Of the 2.1 billion adherents to Christianity, over 60 percent are in just 2 groups — Catholicism and Orthodoxy — which have very similar practices and few doctrinal disputes between them. Also, even though Christians are splintered on many issues, they are generally united on most fundamental aspects of the faith. Don't let the disagreements on about the 5% or 10% or even 25% of beliefs be an excuse not to “take seriously” the common beliefs on the most important stuff — the other 95%, 90%, or 75%. If I told you that I am not going to take seriously the work of biologists until they finally agree on everything (even though they agree on the vast majority of issues already), you would rightly reject my reasoning. I would strongly recommend C.S. Lewis's “Mere Christianity,” which is a great read and which presents the core set of beliefs of Christianity in a way that, I would estimate, over 95% of Christians would endorse.

  3. I would strongly recommend C.S. Lewis's “Mere Christianity,” which is a great read and which presents the core set of beliefs of Christianity in a way that, I would estimate, over 95% of Christians would endorse.

    Perhaps today. But tomorrow?

    Is truth determined by what the majority believe?

    I suppose the biggest issue I have with the ever-increasing number of Christian denominations is that the trend runs counter to what one would expect if they possessed the truth. Contrast it with evolution. The differences among scientists over it grow narrower and narrower. This is one of the reasons the theory possesses such credibility. But differences among Christians remain as unresolvable as ever, and are growing.

    Anon, why do you believe there are so many Christian denominations, a fact that runs afoul of Paul's plea?

  4. Hi Robert,
    Thanks for encouraging dialogue on this issue, keeping it clean and refraining from the arrogant “hate” language and name calling that most non christians and liberals seem to like to engage in.

    “Is truth determined by what the majority believe?”

    I don’t see a consensus in the scientific community on Darwinism or evolution. Have you had a chance to see Ben Stein’s (not a christian) new movie: “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”?? In it, he rejects the notion that “the case is closed,” and exposes the widespread persecution of scientists and educators who are pursuing legitimate, opposing scientific views to the reigning orthodoxy of evolution. Many Universities and the Scientific community as a whole have used the same “Church Disipline” to get rid of tenured professors and dry up their funding. If you even mention “Intelligent Design” you can be excommunicated from the “faith” of the scientific community. At the mere mention of Intelligent Design, some scientists get visibly upset and start screaming all kinds of hate language.

    I don’t see a consensus in the scientific community in the area of quantum mechanics and string theory either. Lots of heated arguments here too.

    Do you know why they call them “theories?” Because that’s all they are . . . . theories. When they are finally proven, you can stop calling them theories. Until then, it seems to me that believing in a theory requires a lot of faith. It seems kind of dogmatic and arrogant (to me) for the scientific community to excommunicate some of their own because they dare to propose a theory that is contrary to the orthodox way of thinking. Remember when the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth?

    There seem to be schisms in every community (politics, athletics,
    science, philosophy). Could it be that christians are humans? Just like scientists? What do they all have in common? Huge egos, greed for money, greed for power? Are we concentrating too much on “Who” is right instead of “What” is right? Have we spent too much time teaching our children about the importance of mental intelligence instead of “Emotional Intelligence?”

    Maybe if we raised our children to be better at resolving conflict in a mature manner, we would have fewer schisms and wars. These are the skills of love. Theory is one thing and skills are another. The apostle Paul said,

    “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
    It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
    It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

    Your criticism of the church is valid. I have felt the sting and remorse of it’s divisive behaviour. You can sit in your armchair and point fingers at the church. That will not change anything. If you did become a christian or join the church, I don’t see how your presence would make it a more loving place. We already have enough finger pointers and not enough peacemakers. It is so much more comfortable to be a finger pointer. You don’t really have to get involved or take any responsibility. Pointing fingers takes so little energy too and it takes the focus off of your own failings so you can preach about the failings of others. Jesus once said, “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?”

  5. Hi Jeff, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I try to keep things pretty cordial around here, but it’s not always easy 🙂 You wrote,

    I don’t see a consensus in the scientific community on Darwinism or evolution.

    Oh, there definitely is a consensus. What some scientists may disagree about is the precise mechanisms utilized under evolution, but not about the general thrust of the theory itself.

    Have you had a chance to see Ben Stein’s (not a christian) new movie: “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”?? In it, he rejects the notion that “the case is closed,” and exposes the widespread persecution of scientists and educators who are pursuing legitimate, opposing scientific views to the reigning orthodoxy of evolution.

    No, I didn’t regard Stein’s movie as remotely truthful; in fact, it resembled more the conspiracy-mongering of Michael Moore than anything else. The website Expelled Exposed shows why the The New York Times called it “One of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time”. Stein didn’t help his case with some truly bizarre comments like this one:

    Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

    Crouch: That’s right.

    Stein: Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

    Crouch: Good word, good word.

    Do you know why they call them “theories?” Because that’s all they are . . . . theories. When they are finally proven, you can stop calling them theories. Until then, it seems to me that believing in a theory requires a lot of faith.

    I think it would help if you understood what scientists mean by a theory.

    There seem to be schisms in every community (politics, athletics,
    science, philosophy). Could it be that christians are humans? Just like scientists? What do they all have in common? Huge egos, greed for money, greed for power? Are we concentrating too much on “Who” is right instead of “What” is right? Have we spent too much time teaching our children about the importance of mental intelligence instead of “Emotional Intelligence?”

    I’m more than willing to agree with you, but I think you concede more than you intend. When Christianity looks and behaves no different than any other human institution, what is to mark it as God’s revealed religion? Can He do no better than what we humans already do?

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