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.