Every January, Catholics and others take a week to celebrate Christian unity. It’s amazing how far we have come in building bridges to other faiths in the past several generations.
When I celebrate funerals for people who have lived a long life, it’s not unusual to hear a story of someone who was cut off from their family when they as a Catholic fell in love with a Protestant. The division between the different Christian denominations was stark and impassible.
This division all started with a first big split in the church over an argument about whether the real pope was the one in Rome or the patriarch in Turkey. That division formed the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. The later breaks occurred when first Martin Luther, and then other Reformers, found certain things the church practiced or taught to be unacceptable. In many cases, their critiques had merit; the church of that era needed reform. But their breaking away did not reform the church… it just broke some of the church off and “re-formed” it into another denomination with its own struggles and blind spots.
Today it’s estimated that there are 38,500 registered Christian denominations in the world. Some say the number is even higher. And that makes sense – the number surely grows higher all the time, because once you start breaking, where does the fracturing stop?
Every church has its problems and its faults. That’s a scandal to us Christians, but the cross was a scandal to us, too… and there are and will be many others. Part of maturing in our faith is recognizing that the Church doesn’t need to be perfect to be lovable, or to be Christ’s vehicle for the salvation of the world. Another part of maturing in faith is to see those 38,500 fragments of the Body of Christ as precious. When we break the consecrated host on the altar, we make sure to not lose a single tiny morsel or crumb of the fractured Body of Christ. Might we be willing to show the same reverence to our brothers and sisters – the Body of Christ – who have fractured from us?
Let’s celebrate the unity we have… and work for an even fuller unity.