So That the World May Believe

“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.” John 17:20-21, NIV~

I once had a conversation with a Chinese dissident, a man who had been a leader at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, who was arrested and imprisoned, and who later made a dramatic escape to America.  

In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was a Buddhist, nominally, and that Christianity, “because there are so many kinds,” was confusing.

That’s a difficult criticism to answer.  There are real differences among our traditions.  Take, for example, communion, confession of sins, and the role of Mary and other saints in our lives. Christians from different traditions view these issues differently.  

Many of us have some view of why other traditions teach what they do.  Sometimes, these views are accurate; many times, what we think we know about each other’s beliefs is actually a distortion, an out-of-focus picture that keeps us from understanding where we might actually agree.

It’s ironic that our confusion began with actual confusion.  In 451 AD, the eastern part of Christianity in the Middle East and the western part of Europe were trying to discern where they agreed and where they disagreed.  They got stuck on a point about the nature of Christ.  Was He truly God and truly man?  Was He always both all at the same time?  

Our Eastern brothers were working hard to explain that Christ’s two natures were inseparable, that He was ALWAYS God and ALWAYS man.

The biggest obstacle in the discussion was language.  The two sides did not speak the same language.  In such a situation, comprehension is only as good as the best translator in the room at the time.

For much of the last 1,500 years, most Christians in the West have known very little about the doctrines of Eastern believers. Those who knew even a little operated largely under the misunderstanding that those in the East believed that Christ had two natures but never had them both at the same time.  We in the West thought that those in the East believed that Christ was God only sometimes and man only sometimes.

We were wrong.

The translator, perhaps tired and overworked, gave us a distorted view of Eastern faith.  This distortion led many in the West to decree that Christians in the East, with their supposed view of the dual natures of Christ, were not true believers.  Our distortion of their faith separated them from our faith communities.  We became distinct groups, not because we actually disagreed about the nature of Christ, but because of a bad translation in an area of agreement.  How creatively the evil one employs confusion.

And our misunderstanding was not the end of his creativity.  Because of our misunderstandings, we have spent these last 1,500 years splitting into smaller and smaller communities, each presuming to be more right than all the others, many of us pointing to each other with disdain rather than showing the love Christ commanded us to pour out for each other.

A unified Church can seek genuine understanding and show love within herself even in the face of real differences.  A discerning Church seeks to determine the foundation for our differences and to overcome our misunderstandings.  Let’s be that Church today.

So that the world may believe.

Photo Credit: Gethsemane, Pixabay

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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23 Replies to “So That the World May Believe”

  1. Another insightful post, Ms. Nancy. I may not always agree with the doctrinal theology of other Christians, but I have come to accept that I don’t know what I don’t know, and this very fact leaves room for others who may believe differently. As your post points out, much of what is questioned is man-made (denominations, methods, ordinances, etc.) and who am I to question what one believes over another. As long as we can agree that Jesus Christ is the God-man, who came to earth to pay the price to reconcile mankind with God. That He gave His life for us, was buried, rose again on the third day, sits enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, and is coming again, then there is enough commonality in our faith that grace can bridge any chasm of difference that may exist. It is all those who are married to religion but have no personal relationship with God through the Son that breaks my heart. As with all manmade doctrines, etc,, religion is by its very nature of being interpreted by man must be flawed to some degree. But God, my friend.

  2. So what was the misunderstanding in the translation? I have studied a little bit about church history, and I feel like the biggest split happened 500 years ago, during the reformation of the Catholic Church. That’s when we really start a splintering into various denominations and practices primarily because people got a hold of the Scriptures and began to read the Bible for themselves, with the advent of the printing press. From what I’ve seen, without understanding the Bible from scholars who have studied the ancient cultures, and what the authors were intending when they wrote those things to a specific audience, people can pull things out of the Bible and misinterpret it all the time. So yeah… that’s a huge problem. Today, many people do not understand the ancient culture in which the Bible was written and therefore, they don’t understand how to apply those general principles to our modern culture. We still have a lot of work to do! But with God, nothing is impossible. Great, thoughtful and interesting post, Nancy!

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I agree that the biggest split was the Reformation. But the 451 split was the crack that became the fissure of Reformation. It was about the nature of Christ. Is He God and man all the time or does He inhabit only one nature at a time? The Latin church thought the Greek church said, no. The Latin church misinterpreted the Greek speaker explaining that Christ is God and man continuously. Thanks for all your hard work on apologetics. God bless!

  3. This insightful post reminds me of the quote from the 17th century German theologian, Rupertus Meldenius: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

  4. The split between east and west 1500 years ago gave us Catholicism with a western leaning, centered in Rome, and Eastern Orthodoxy centered in Constantinople on the eastern side. Protestantism was an off shoot from Catholicism, founded by various groups who put aside many Catholic ways of worshiping that Protestants believed were unnecessary or idolatrous.

    Christ is the One and Only begotten Son of God. Salvation is only available by placing our faith in Him, believing in His words, and entrusting our lives and our eternity to Him. Christians believe this to be the essence of the Christian faith tradition, regardless of all of the various rituals or ways of worshiping that are observed even if they differ in each church type.

  5. Amen: “A unified Church can seek genuine understanding and show love within herself even in the face of real differences.” Difference is always OK, and so is misunderstanding. What is important is that we respect each other and disagree in love. God will make His truth known, and we humans cannot twist it in a way that overshadows that. Some people DO try to twist God’s truth, but in the end, God prevails.

  6. Your post reminded me of historical information I studied about church history that I had forgotten. Thank you for this informative post and the reminder that we are called to love one another, even if we don’t always agree or understand the others’ viewpoint. It’s only through love that we can lead others to Christ.

  7. This is a message I’ve heard several time recently. It these times, the Christian church needs to be unified to stand up against the ways of the world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Nancy

  8. Nancy, agree with other commenters of your great insight here. Thanks for clarifying what has been many misunderstandings over the years. This is a powerful reminder, “A unified Church can seek genuine understanding and show love within herself even in the face of real differences.”

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