“ ‘You have to learn how to love people different than you.’ That’s the core belief for Thompson and a small band of Sacramento-area followers, who are quietly experimenting with a faith that takes ecumenical to the extreme.”… “The Sunday gathering is called an ‘ecumenical forum,’ not a worship service. There are no church members, but ‘friends.’” Sacramento Bee
“The visit follows the resignations of five Anglican bishops who converted to the Roman Catholic Church.”
Anglican Head to Visit Vatican for Unity Celebration
Related somewhat to one’s understanding of church history is one’s viewpoint of ultimate authority as quotations above suggest. From the Catholic side there is the general sentiment that since Christ formed the church (a single church) it inherently carries His authority. Perhaps the general Catholic thought is summed up with these words: “They [Protestants] are not clear-headed enough to perceive that a proper notion of the Church is a necessary stage before we argue from the authority of Christ to any other theological doctrine whatever.”1 Adding some intensity, the same writer goes on to claim that “the Protestant had no conceivable right to base any arguments on the inspiration of the Bible, for the inspiration of the Bible was a doctrine which had been believed, before the Reformation, on the mere authority of the Church; it rested on exactly the same basis as the doctrine of Transubstantiation.”2 Karl Rahner, the famous Catholic theologian, says the same truth in a different way. He speaks of the two aspects of the faith of a Christian. Those two aspects are faith in Christ and faith in the church, not faith in God’s Word:
It makes no difference…whether he believes in the Church first and then in the rest of matters proposed for his belief because these come from the Church, or whether he first attains to belief in Christ and his word, and goes on from there to belief in the Church as founded by Christ…On the basis of faith in Christ the believer includes the Church too in his faith in such a way that it immediately becomes the direct medium and rule of faith as such.3
“If the Bible is true, why are there so many denominations?” What Christian has not fielded this question? Yet there is an unspoken assumption behind this objection, namely, that having one denomination is somehow a good thing. I suggest that the opposite is true. Bigger is not always better.
“But didn’t the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, teach that there should be just one denomination? Wouldn’t the church be more effective if we had one central voice?”
Before we explore these valid concerns, let me prime your mind by asking a few questions of my own. When most of Christendom was part of one denomination, how ideal were things? Before 1054 AD (when the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the old Western Catholic Church), the overwhelming majority of Christendom considered itself Catholic and somewhat loyal to Rome. Both forms of Christianity had wandered far from the simplicity of Scripture centuries before the split. Were Christian laymen mighty in the Scriptures? Was the gospel of salvation by grace through faith spreading throughout the world?