Christianity is my environment. It’s how I was raised, it serves as a lens through which I see the world and as a home I can rest in when the world makes little sense.
But Christianity makes little sense as well and has become as much a complex and difficult puzzle as it has a respite from a complicated world.
I grew up in the branch of Christianity known as Protestantism. Within Protestantism, I was part of a camp that would best be categorized as Evangelical. And beyond that I was part of a subsection of Evangelicalism known as Fundamentalism. (Both Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would likely take issue with my lumping them together, but if you look at the groups sociologically, they are compatible. One could hold to all of Evangelicalism’s “non-negotiables” and be quite at home within Fundamentalism. The differences lie in the additional “non-negotiables” in Fundamentalism and how the groups practice their beliefs.)
Side note: Interestingly, Evangelicalism as we know it today began as a response to Fundamentalism because, as Edward J. Carnell put it, Fundamentalism was “orthodoxy gone cultic.” But for the sake of this blog post, I’ll be treating Evangelicalism as the broader category that encompasses Fundamentalism, a decision I’ve based on the identifiers of the movements, not on which was formed first.
Fundamentalism in particular, along with the broader world of Evangelicalism and even, to some extent, the other branches of Protestantism, tends to assert “rightness” and “wrongness” as unmovable categories and often assumes that any disagreements between them and other branches of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy) are due to those other branches’ “wrongness.”
One of the problems I have with this attitude is that it’s counterproductive. Protestantism, and especially Evangelicalism, is based on a conversion system. These groups attempt to convert people to their way of thinking, often pointing out what they perceive is incorrect about another groups’ beliefs. An example of this is the fire that Evangelicals often hurl at Roman Catholicism. They are quick to point out the faults in the Catholic Church’s theology, never once taking a look at the fact that they’re so concerned with the correctness of their doctrines, they’ve neglected simple commands in the Bible to love our enemies, care for the widow and orphan, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry.
All the branches of Christianity believe that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated by King Jesus, and that we are his ambassadors, charged with heralding the news that the Kingdom of God is here. But instead of working towards that end, we’re busy calling other Christians heretics.
Another problem I have with this attitude is that it’s arrogant and dismissive of other people. And if there’s one thing that doesn’t belong in Christianity, it’s arrogance and a lack of care for others’ thoughts.
In the long history of Christianity (and by long, I mean ~1,950+ years long), the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church occupy around 960 years (or approximately 50% of Christianity’s history). The Anglican Communion occupies 481 years (approximately 25% of Christianity’s history). Protestantism occupies just 367 years (approximately 19% of Christianity’s history). Methodism occupies only 245 years (approximately 13% of Christianity’s history). Organized Fundamentalism occupies a mere 95 years (approximately 5% of Christianity’s history). Modern Evangelicalism occupies just 68 years (approximately 3% of Christianity’s history). For Fundamentalism to call Anglicanism wrong about something is brash and arrogant. They may or may not be correct, but that’s not the point. The older branches of Christianity didn’t come to their theological conclusions lightly; many of their schools of thought spent centuries studying theology and drawing up theses, creeds, and statements of faith.
I’m not advocating that all the various branches of Christianity set aside their differences and work together. That’s an impossible proposition, and the diversity and plurality within Christendom just shows me that God is so much bigger than we are, and no one person or group has him figured out.
What I am suggesting is that we humbly acknowledge that though we believe something, we might not be right in that belief. God is mysterious, and much of what we think we know about him could be completely different in reality. It would be foolish of us to dismiss someone else’s belief about God on the grounds that their belief contradicts ours.
In other words, the “I’m-right-you’re-wrong” ideology needs to go. Let’s try to be a little less arrogant and dismissive, shall we? I’ll work on that too. And when we talk about our disagreements with other Christians, it might be best to avoid calling them a heretic, no matter how different their beliefs might be from our own. (which leads me down a path towards another blog post entirely).