Unity In The Midst Of Diversity
“There is a Law that man should love his neighbor as himself. In a few hundred years it should be as natural to mankind as breathing or the upright gait; but if he does not learn it he must perish.”
I was thinking today about all of the diverse denominations that comprise the body we refer to collectively as the Protestant family of churches! And even when we consider there are but a handful of major denominations including Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, when you extend to scope to include Brethren, Friends (Quakers), Pentecostal, Charismatic, Restoration, Apostolic and the African initiated churches, to name but a few, the list begins to become mind-boggling. (For the purposes of this blog, I am not even considering the non-trinitarian groups.)
Did you know that it is believed there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 33,000 denominations? All of these faiths, different in not just their applications but in some of their doctrines as well, and yet all united against recognizing the universal authority of Rome and the Papacy. And when you consider that the very definition of Protestantism, and the fact that the root foundation for the word is from the Latin, protestantem, meaning one who publicly declares or protests, you must come to the conclusion that those of us who are of this branch of faith, are most probably the first group of organized protestors known to the world! Now I don’t know about you, but the picture of Martin Luther in a tie-dyed t-shirt suddenly comes to mind.
It could not have been easy breaking away from the absolutes of Roman Catholicism, but tied together by a desire to make matters of faith make sense to a people, a group of men emerged as the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. Suddenly, people began following the teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and John Knox, as they sought to remove some of the mysteries of faith espoused by the Papacy. In other words, people were beginning to question Rome’s unique authority to interpret scripture and to establish doctrine as well as the claim of Papal infallibility when speaking “ex cathedra” or in the exercise of his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians. And so, armed with plans for the things that they believed needed to be amended, the five essential doctrines of the Protestant Reformation were drafted. They are:
- “Sola Scriptura,” or Scripture Alone: This affirms the Biblical doctrine that the Bible alone is the sole authority for all matters of faith and practice. Scripture and Scripture alone is the standard by which all teachings and doctrines of the church must be measured. As Martin Luther so eloquently stated when asked to recant on his teachings, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
- “Sola Gratia,” Salvation by Grace Alone: This affirms the Biblical doctrine that salvation is by God’s grace alone and that we are rescued from His wrath by His grace alone. God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary, but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. This grace is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
- “Sola Fide,” Salvation by Faith Alone: This affirms the Biblical doctrine that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. It is by faith in Christ that His righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.
- “Solus Christus,” In Christ Alone: This affirms the Biblical doctrine that salvation is found in Christ alone and that His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to God the Father. The gospel has not been preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared, and if faith in Christ and His work is not solicited.
- “Soli Deo Gloria, For the Glory of God Alone: This affirms the Biblical doctrine that salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God for His glory alone. It affirms that as Christians we must glorify Him always, and must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God, and for His glory alone.
Now I am Protestant. I also happen to be married to a Roman Catholic who, interestingly, once attended Cathedral College in Manhattan, which is a Roman Catholic seminary. When we married, we made sure our marriage was recognized by both the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches. We underwent classes with Dan’s Parish priest, the Marriage Banns were read, and I promised to raise my children as Roman Catholics. We obtained the dispensations of faith and of canonical form. I only returned to my Protestant roots when my husband decided to abstain from involvement in matters of faith for the children, allowing me to make the final the decision regarding what doctrines we would teach them.
Given this diversity of our family, I am just as comfortable attending mass as I am attending services. But in my heart, even today, I question many of the teachings of Roman Catholicism, preferring the doctrines I was reared to believe in. I come by this honestly enough. My family, more generations ago than I can count, was part of the first settlers to emigrate to the New World, having fled Mother England, in search of a place where they could practice their Protestant beliefs freely and openly, without fear of reprisal or censure. I am the product of a lineage of religious refugees and protestors who asked only that they be allowed to freely worship the way that their heart, their mind and their spirit led them to!
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 NIV
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