My wife and I live in a small city, or actually more of a small to medium sized town with a population just slightly in excess of 29,500. No matter where we drive in town we can find a few Christian churches – some large, some small, and some tiny storefronts. Out of curiosity, I did a very unofficial web search of the number of churches in town. The results came back that there are 79 Christian churches in town. Of those, only one is Catholic, 40 are Baptist, 2 Lutheran, and a couple of this, a few of that and one or two of the other.
The Vatican of the Southern Baptist Convention, that is, Nashville, is only a bit over 200 miles away. So, it is easy to understand that the bulk of the churches in our town are Baptist. However, in averaging the population and the number of churches, if each had a uniform congregation, each congregation would have only 375 members. Clearly, a few of the churches in town are huge (relatively speaking ), a few are large, and the bulk appear to be modest.
My mind then posed the next question. If there are that many Christian churches in town, and there are several denominations represented, how many denominations are there? The Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has indicated that there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world.
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Even prior to Jesus’ ministry, there were pseudo-messiahs who had attempted to splinter Jewish rites and beliefs. As an example, in the Book of Acts, Luke records the attempts of one of the members of the Sanhedrin to leave the apostles alone, we read:
“But a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up, ordered the men to be put outside for a short time,m 35and said to them, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. 36* Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. 7After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. 38So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. 9But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him.” Acts 5:34
Christian era examples?
Both Jesus and Paul spent time trying to keep the flock tight and headed in the same direction.
Jesus Himself spent some time in trying to keep His people together and in the parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10, we find Him saying,
“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
In the 17th chapter of John, Christ is praying to His Father and says,
“And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.”
In the 6th chapter of John, we find the “Bread of Life Discourse” in which Jesus calls Himself the bread of life. Bread is usually made of flour and other ingredients. Flour, in turn, is made of myriad pieces of grain which are ground together into substance.
Paul spent a fair amount of his teaching and writing keeping the flock unified and having them look for the same goals. A few examples could be useful here, so, with a bit or condensation or paraphrasing, we have the following:
Eph 4:3-6 one Lord, one faith
Phil 2:2 be of the same mind, unified in heart
Rom 12:5 we, though many, are one Body with Christ, and several other of his letters contain similar pleas to keep one view, one focus, one goal.
Then what happened?
For the better part of the first 1500 or 1600 years, if you were Christian, you were Catholic. Then the Protestant Reformation made greater strides in discounting one doctrine, another doctrine, then belief in one element, and on and on. The result was a period of turmoil within the Church. For example:
Martin Luther an ex-monk of the Catholic Church and what became Lutherans.
Henry VIII and his desire for a divorce which became the Church of England.
Robert Brown in Holland who founded Congregationalists.
John Smyth in Amsterdam who founded the Baptists, and many other denominations.
It appeared that a person could start a new denomination with nothing more than a resentment, a coffee pot and a bible, with at least two of those being optional.
So where to from here?
With one billion Catholics in the world, one billion others who belong to one of the Christin denominations and 5 to 6 billion who belong to another religion or none at all, it is unlikely that we are going to change the entire world in a very short time.
We are not called to change the entire world, just be there for one person, then the next and so forth.
Engage non-Catholics at work, at the gym, at the Chamber of Commerce, let them know that most of us have given up animal sacrifices during the new moon and we have long since stopped cannibalism.
If they ask a question answer it completely and accurately, if you can. If you cannot answer a particular question you can say something like, “That is a great question, but to be certain I do not mislead you at all, please give me a few minutes to do some research for you.”
USCCB, EWTN, Catholic Answers, and dozens and dozens of other well-respected sites exist to answer the question. Simply do your homework and use those sites known to you, and which you take as accurate, to get the answer.
During my time with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, for example, I never made any distinction between Catholic or any other denomination. I simply tried to meet the needs of the person who called, whether “churched” or not. During the home visit one or two questions may have been posed along the lines of, “Why do Catholics …” A simple, straightforward response was all that was sought and all I provided. However, over the passage of time, at least two of the clients I served went on to join RICA and became Catholic.
Back to one shepherd, one church
In the gospel of Matthew, 7th chapter, Jesus is teaching and tells us that there is more to getting to Heaven than saying, “Yup, Jesus is my Lord…”
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,* but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.n22Many will say to me on that day,o ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’p23Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’q 24* “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.r
So, to bring everyone back, or to at the very least get ourselves to Heaven, we must certainly acknowledge Jesus as our Lord, but we must also act, that is, do, be, share, help, pray, assist, feed, clothe, council, pray, and if nothing else seems to work, pray some more.