John 17:20-21 (NIV) “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
One of the monumental distinctives that resonate about Christianity is the fact that in addition to its four main branches (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Protestant), that these have fractured into many sects. According to some estimates, there are over forty-thousand denominations within Protestantism alone.Obviously, if Christians loved each other there wouldn’t be so many denominations, right? If Christians cared about being like God the Father and the Son, they wouldn’t cling to their denominations, right? Well, I used to believe that…
But I’ve changed my mind.
Notice that in the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, Jesus prays that we may be “one,” as he and the Father are “one.” We have been conditioned to interpret this prayer request through the lens of our human experience. Since God is a unity in essence, we assume that Jesus is praying that we Christians unite under one administrative assembly, while subjecting our perspectives and thoughts by constraints of dogmas and creeds.
While it is true that God is one in essence, God is also a multiplicity. If this were not so, Jesus would not be conversing with the Father! The relationship within the divine of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, demonstrates that the divine unity does not constrain multiplicity of expression. In fact, it is normative within the one Holy Trinity, to communicate with itself through it’s divine persons, thoughts and intentions.
“Divine unity does not constrain multiplicity of expression.”
This multiplicity of expression (or persons) that emanate from within the divine is evident in all of creation. If God were a divine mono-person, he would only be able to create monolithic things. But since the divine is an essence that expresses itself through multiplicity, then creation must be diversified.
In other words, God is one in essence, but diversification is his mode of expression.
What if Church denominations are actually good things? Yes, it is true that there has been many ungodly squabbles that have led to schisms. But what if the multiplicity of denominations under the Cross is the manifestation (or image) of a multi-faceted God? And if this is so, to what ends would such a multiplicity serve?
St. Paul says in Ephesians 3:10 (NIV) “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If Christians through their day to day experiences are supposed to serve as living reflections of the Sovereign God, then our denominational differences must serve to be symbolic conduits of the diversity of perspective, opinion and personality within the essence of the divine.
With the exception of some, most Christians would agree that no denomination holds or understands the entirety of the whole revealed truth in Scripture. Even when talking about the Lutheran Confessions, the fundamentalist LCMS refers to them as, “a” true exposition, rather than “the” true exposition. This is so because there is a great difference between the articles: “a” and “the.”
As a convert to Lutheranism, I found it extremely interesting to see how many Lutheran Pastors are trained to interpret “a true exposition” as “THE true exposition.” In other words, many Lutheran Pastors are discouraged to explore the multi-faceted wisdom of God for the sake of guarding a monolithic (and very narrow) interpretation of Scripture.
Isn’t God’s point of view much broader, multi-faceted, and diverse than ours? He is a multiplicity in unity. All of His creation is replete with diversity. So then why not respect the fact that in this diverse creation, diverse perspectives can exist in harmony if love is at the root of every expression?
Jesus says, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
We live in an age of searching and asking questions. We spend our whole earthly lives seeking, discovering and sharing our self-awareness. We desire to know who we are in essence and where we belong. This is why as children we fantasize about taking certain roles in life. Through our manifold projections, we are trying to find ourselves within the caricatures we create.
In order to have a fulfilled sense of self-realization, we must first realize that we are distinct from others. When we become completely sure of who we are in essence, then we become assertive in our belief systems and preferences. Philosophical diversity is the offspring of personal and distinctive perspectives.
Once we become sure of who we are as a distinct individual, then it is important to know ourselves through the eyes of others. When I see myself through the eyes of others, then my self-realization of who I am is completed.
In John 17:3, salvation is defined as an intimate “knowledge” of the person of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. But how can we even begin to understand the intricacies of God if we don’t consider Him from every angle?
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
St. Paul captures the essence of what we’re trying to say. If our view of God is only that of being distinct from us, our knowledge of God would be monolithic, and therefore incomplete. But since the diverse God expresses himself through multiplicity, he desires for us to know Him as he is expressed through our diverse persons.
Colossians 1:27 (NIV) “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is CHRIST IS YOU, the hope of glory.”
Most Christians will readily assert that Christ is in them…but do they existentially see Him? If they did, would they not all be like Christ?
When we begin to see Christ in ourselves, then we will begin to recognize Christ in others, and that knowledge is what makes us one in essence. The unity that Jesus prayed for was one of knowledge and realization, not administration. The ultimate, divine purpose of our multiplicity of denominations, is so that we might know God as he truly is, and ultimately, know ourselves.
Human beings are not monolithic and neither is God. We need denominations in order to become acquainted with the manifold wisdom of God.