As a Catholic, I find the subject of denominational diversity a complexly challenging one. Here’s one consideration.
On the one hand, I think about two sets of Jesus’ words from the Gospel of St. John and three from the Synoptic Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke [emphases mine]:
“I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must lead them too, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” John 10:16
“Holy Father, keep them [His followers] in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. …I pray not only for them [His followers], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” John 17 :11; 20-21
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.” Matt. 12: 25
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Mark 3:24-25
“ But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.” Luke 11:17
These words suggest to me that Jesus desires that there be one “church”—one living Body of His on Earth, not multiple Christian “churches.” In deference to the wishes of the Lord, I wish that, too. So, my heart is saddened by the existence of different Christian denominations.
On the other hand, I think about Jesus’ words from the Gospel of St. Mark:
“At that time, John said to Jesus,
‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’
Jesus replied, ‘Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.’” Mark 9: 38-40
When I hear these words of Jesus’, in comparison with the others, I come to this conclusion.
Whereas Jesus’ Heart’s desire is unity—one fold; one Shepherd, He accepts our free will; therefore, some choose different denominations, and He respects that, counts them as still being under His de facto Shepherding, if you will.
Speaking of wills, I’m thinking this. God’s Ordaining Will (what would be if humans did not have free will or if their free wills were in perfect conformity with His Ordaining Will) is unity; no denominations; His Permitting Will (what He allows in deference to our free wills) is a multiplicity of denominations.
And since God promises to bring good out of all circumstances for His believers, I have come along in my spiritual journey to appreciate the gift of denominational diversity. Here are the blessings I have found in my own faith journey.
Years ago, having our preschoolers attend a summer Protestant Bible program (after seeking counsel of our pastor) was revolutionary for me. The fellowship of a close-knit community, the inspirational music worship in which all enthusiastically participated, the emphasis on Scripture—all those things moved my heart—at first to become Protestant, and then to seek those things in my Catholic Faith. Truly, coming into contact with my Protestant brothers and sisters strengthened and enhanced my Catholic Faith. I am forever grateful.
Once I was more open to praying with and sharing Scripture reflections with non-Catholics, I had the great Grace to have weekly workplace lunchtime “Scripture Sharing” with colleagues from a number of different denominations. What a grace that experience was, not only in a spiritual sense, but in the sense that I felt I had prayer support in the secular work setting. How many times I relied on the support and counsel of colleagues whom I could count on–who shared my moral compass.
Within the last number of years, the more firm and knowledgeable I have become in the tenets of my own faith, the more I can be open to Protestant televangelists, to be able to distinguish “Catholic beliefs” from “Protestant beliefs,” and to know, love, and serve the Lord more through our common Christian beliefs–reflected, as if through the same Light shining freely through the different glass mosaics that comprise beautiful multi-colored stained glass windows. . ..Again, I honestly can attribute so much of my spirituality being strengthened and deepened by believers from other denominations.
Where am I now, as I share these thoughts?
Despite all the blessings I have experienced through interacting with believers from other denominations, and the peace I have made with the existence of other denominations– despite the Lord’s call for unity in His High Priestly Prayer the night before He died–in view of international events in which Christians are being persecuted, I think that the Lord’s admonition in the Synoptic Gospels about a divided house (denominations) is for our own survival– our individual and collective good.
For me, now, it is not a matter of whether denominations are fruitful in the Lord’s plan, but whether, as a matter of practicality, we can afford to have denominations—to provide anything less than a united front against the radical forces that seek to destroy Christians. I think about what the Holy Father said, during his recent visit when he addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations:
“El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside.” [Highlight mine.]
Jesus said it first. I will give Him the last word. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Mark 3:24-25
Given the world circumstances, my prayer –despite all the good that diversity in denominations potentially bring–is that all Christians unite.
As our Nation’s first motto states “E Pluribus Unum“–from the many, one. With all our denominational diversity, in the end, may we find strength and protection as members of one flock under one Shepherd.
Jesus asked, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8
Please, God, if we stand together united as Christians–despite the threats against the Christian Faith–He will.