Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is there a Christianity?

I teach a course at the university of Guelph/Humber called informatively 'Judaism, Christianity,Islam'. Recently I ended the component on Christianity rather unsatisfactorally. On the drive home that evening I thought about how I should and could have summarized my lectures on christian history. The thought occurred to me that there did not seem to be one religion, but rather many operating under a very loose label called Christianity.

Does anything tie the ultra Calvinist 'everyone but us is going to Hell' churches (plural even here), with the Anglican 'I will give communion to your dog' church?

I suppose a belief in Christ - but none of these many thousands of separate organizations seem to view, or understand Christ in the same way. There is an old saying among Jews that a room with seven Jews will produce eight opinions - but hard history has kept a sense of 'nation' alive in a real sense. Muslims have the Qur'an which is authoritative only in classical Arabic to centre their Ummah or sense of oneness in community. But Christians have thousands of translations of the Bible in thousands of languages. Christians of the main churches also venerate two thousand years of differing interpretations of the main language translations. Orthodox and Catholic Christians also venerate 'Holy Tradition' - the guidance of the third person of the Trinity.

I will leave this here as I certainly do not have the answer, but would love comments!


  1. It isn't as much opinion or really interpretation but rather political differences. The Anglican split happened because of King Henry, who wanted less influence from the Catholic church in his court, as well as of course, his divorce. The main protestant split happened because Luther disliked the sales of indulgences, and wanted the Clergy to be seen less as businessmen and more as the ultimate word of God. The only reason he survived was because of the various German princes who opposed the interferences of the Holy Roman Empire. Each little split is different just enough from each other to be deemed a different sect, but the differences are cosmetic at best.

  2. Henry is an interesting character. There is ongoing debate over his motives. Certainly concern for the survival of his dynasty was important, but his religious opinions are unclear. There is one school of thought seeing him as 'catholic without the Pope', and another which sees him as theologically reformed. He did retain his dislike of Luther, but came to reject the papacy for theological as well as political reasons. Most telling for me, was his decision to raise his son in the reformed faith - and not that so much Luther as Calvin.

  3. On the last part of your statement, I would not classify the differences as cosmetic. Ulrich Zwingli and Jean Calvin had profound differences with Luther and Melanchthon. The so-called Anabaptists were very different from all the others. Their main commonality was an acceptance of sola scriptura. The problem here was each sect interpreted scripture differently. Things got really wild later with Socinians who rejected the Trinity, and much later Mormons, with their added scriptures.

  4. The added scriptures, as well as the rejection of the Trinity are all individually changes which overall affected the very practice of religion in these different sects, but each sect still saw the Bible as the premiere religious text (interpretations of course were different), and the ten commandments were followed. The European sects (Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, etc)tended to have a differential interpretation, as well as a rejection of the Vatican Papacy as the center of religious leadership. The reasons for the above differences are theological as well as political in most instances. But the American sects tend to be more varied in their differences, especially with the emergence of sects which have changes due to social situations at the time. (Such as the Churches formed by slaves and freed slaves.) The tendency seems to be, the geographically closer churches tended to have more of a political motivation as well as theological, where as the further away the sects were, the more social they were based. It depends on what the individual defines as "major differences". Each sect acknowledges the bible as the premiere religious scripture (Mormons added to, but did not reject the existing scripture.) To me at least, each individual changes are cosmetic in the sense that they aren't different enough to be considered not "Christian" And Christianity has always been categorized by the use of the bible, the ten commandments, the belief in Jesus Christ and God.