Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pan-Arabism compared to Christian Ecumenicity

I have been interested in a great number of nations and peoples, but never to any extent in the Arab and non-Arab Middle-Eastern nations. Why be interested in such a squabbling violent lot? They can’t quit fighting amongst themselves long enough to establish viable nations and they certainly can’t measure up in any way to a Western nation. I did become interested in Middle-Eastern history after 9/11, but my prejudice didn’t change. A fanatical group (Islamists) was engaged in asymmetric warfare against Arab and non-Arab nations. They sought to inspire a popular Jihad against Muslim apostates and all non-Muslims. They drew some spectacular attention to themselves, inspiring the Bush administration to engage in a world-wide manhunt to destroy their most visible organization, Al-Quaeda, and while they have by no means been vanquished, they haven’t grown as they hoped.

Modern Christianity bears a striking resemblance to the squabbling Middle-Easterners. Pick any denomination and question someone in authority about why his denomination doesn’t merge with the denomination that is most like it, and you will very likely be surprised at the hostility. There is a list of offenses that the other denomination has committed, and the individual you are questioning knows them all.

This sort of thing is true throughout Christianity, down to the lowest levels of the smallest differences. You might read a denomination’s “statement of faith” and think it sounds very like some other denomination. Not so. They hate each other’s denominations. Merging shall occur right shortly Hell freezes over.

Just as the Middle Eastern Nations can’t leave off squabbling long enough to develop into major nations; so the Christian denominations can’t leave off squabbling long enough to advance Christ’s cause in the world. The “Great Commission” (found in Matthew 28) includes the words, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” All Christians accept that injunction, but try moving into the details of what Christ “commanded,” and the acceptance falls apart.

I have been reading about Albrecht Ritschl. He was a Lutheran Theologian whose focus was Church History. I am only on page 61 of Hefner’s commentary on Ritschl (Faith and the Vitalities of History) when I encountered, “Before Ritschl can answer the question of how Luther’s Reformation became the Lutheran church, he must demolish the opinion that the Lutheran church represents a ‘fall’ from Luther. More specifically, he rejects the judgment of the nineteenth-century German historian, Heinrich Heppe (1820-1879), that this ‘fall’ was personified in Melanchthon’s deviation from Luther.”

Notice that Hefner describes Ritschl as needing to “demolish” a certain opinion of Heppe. I am a Presbyterian and not a Lutheran, but we do that too – “demolish” the opinions of those we disagree with. And the same could be said for any Christian denomination. The Peace of Westphalia (in 1648) ended the “demolishing” of opposing religious opinions with wars that shed blood. We do it now with pen rather than sword and no one actually dies from our modern confrontations -- as far as we know.

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