Sermon Different Ways of Faith
A few weeks ago I asked if anyone had a suggestion for a sermon topic One of the responses was “Why are there so many different denominations in the Christian faith? Shouldn’t they all be one”. So that is the topic for today.
There was a time when the differences were much more pronounced. There was a much greater rivalry. Things have changed but here is a joke from a few years ago which highlights what I am saying.
There was a small town where there were just two churches. Let’s say an Anglican and a Methodist. There was a lot of rivalry between the two. One day the Anglican minister died and the Methodist preacher was the only other minister for many kilometers. The Anglicans asked the Methodist if he would perform the Anglican funeral. The Methodist preacher was unsure of protocol so he phoned his Bishop. The Bishop responded by saying “Well yes of course. Bury as many Anglican priests as you can”
Ministers do get along. We have a ministerial in town where we meet for lunch every so often. We don’t talk about theology because each of us knows that all the other ones are wrong. So we talk about lunch and some of the odd people we work with. Just kidding.
Suggesting that everyone should believe the same thing is not realistic. It is why we have so many different religions and so many different denominations
A religion is a belief system. The major religions in the world are Christianity with 2.1 billion, Islam with 1.3 billion, Hinduism with 900 million. Buddhism with 376 million, Sikhism with 23 million and Judaism with 14 million. Within each religion there are many denominations.
I worked at a hospital with a Hindu priest and he told me that there was a new Temple being built in Mississauga where he lived. I said it was great that he would have anew temple and he replied “Oh no that is a completely different denomination from us”. Suddenly I realised that every religion has smaller divisions within it. There are thousands and thousands of Christian denominations.
The church is one of the only places in the world where people think everyone should be the same. The common line is “Well you all worship the same God why can’t you all be together?” Whether it is the same God or not, is debatable but even if it is, we express our beliefs in different ways.
In other areas of life differences are accepted and expected. We all have different likes and dislikes. Can you imagine if we all had to drive the identical vehicle? After all we are just trying to get transportation. (we would never get out of a parking lot because we would never find which one was ours) Or if you went to a ice-cream parlour and they only served one flavour because everyone should just like ice-cream.
In every aspect of life we have variety which gives us choices. It’s OK if we are not the same as others. Winston Churchill says “A kite rises against the wind, not with it”
Where would the fashion industry be if everyone wore the same outfit? Not everyone likes the same colour. Not everyone likes the same food or drink. Not everyone likes the same style of house and so on. When I do weddings I realise that not everyone likes the same type of person to live with. (Fortunately for most of us!)
There are reasons for our different likes. Both inside and outside the church.
One big reason is culture.
What is normal in one church is considered strange I another. I remember a woman who explained that her Christian baptism was done in a Coptic Church using cow’s urine. Some people apparently find that odd. For some, walking into a church with statues of saints and candles at their feet is peculiar. Still others find the apparel of the congregants, whether it’s bonnets or suits is extraordinary. I helped out in a Native congregation and it was very important to have space for a drumming circle at the front. Culture contributes to differences. So we have a assortment of rituals particular to that culture
Some of the differences are based on traditions and dogma. Some people like organization and structure while some people like spontaneous and unsystematic. Some people like pomp and regalia while some people like simple. The difference of the inside of a high Roman Catholic Church to a Primitive Methodist church is staggering. When it comes to theology, some people like to be told what to think others like to think for themselves. Some like to follow a very conservative interpretation while others prefer a liberal bent. Each one of these differences usually leads to a new congregation or denominations.
Another contributing factor is history. Over the years there have been many many splits and often those splits don’t heal so you are left with two or more groups. One of the largest splits, as I mentioned last week was the reformation. People left the Roman Catholic church and followed a leader, like Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Luther and many more. Each leader developed their own following, creating many different denominations. In 1925 some of those separate denominations came together and became the United Church.
The history of the world is significant but also your own personal history. If you were raised by a restrictive faith you may have revolted and will never go back. On the other hand you may be entrenched in the church of your youth. Much depends on your own personality. If you are a risk-taker you respond to that style of denomination and vise-versa.
Finally your personal experiences factor in. Were you judged or rejected; accepted or loved by a particular group of Christians.
Everyone believes their faith is the right denomination and everyone is right. It’s like everyone believes their dog is the best – and they are all right. If you didn’t believe that then you would change.
The problem arises when someone thinks that their faith is the right one for everyone else. There has been a lot of coercion and judgement. There has been a lot of torture and fear. There has been a lot of indoctrination and guilt. Criss Jami says “When you’re the only sane person, you look like the only insane person. Some churches try to make you feel insane if you disagree with them
Some people have difficulty understanding that others can believe differently than they can. We see that in the political world to a certain extent. We see it in the sports world, especially when it comes to soccer, to the point of destruction and chaos.
In the last 50 years there has been a tremendous effort to close the gap between denominations. It’s called Ecumenism Many groups are working together especially in the area of Social justice, the work is more important than the differences.
The Scripture today is about giving a cup of cold water to someone in need. There is nothing about dogma or traditions or any other divisive issue. There is nothing about what the cup looks like or where it was made. It is the action of caring that is the crucial point.
If your faith is causing harm to yourself or others, then you should change it. But just because it is different than someone else’s should not be a point of shame or guilt.
We shouldn’t care what car others drive or what they wear or what their favourite colour is or how they express their faith. Or even if they wear socks in their sandals. We are unique. We are in this together but we are not identical, and that is OK.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
There are different denominations because people are different and that’s OK.
God you have created each flower with its own distinct characteristics and they all give a beauty to the garden they are in. The different trees grow together in the same forest. We are all in this world. No two identical, each one different yet we are all together. You have given us our own creative ideas and gifts; our own skills and talents. We bring our own understandings and interpretations which brings depth and beauty to this world. Help us to see the full fabric of life. Help us to experience the differences and adventures and opportunities.
Open our hearts and minds to see the beauty of Christ in everyone and everything.
We pray now for people who are close to us, We pray for others who especially need pray at this time.
Now we pray in the way Jesus taught us.
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever Amen
SERVICE June 28
Hymn – 580 Faith of our Fathers
Scripture Matthew 10: 40-42
Hymn 579 The Church is Wherever God’s People
Go now in Peace
Go now in peace, Never be afraid
God will go with you, each hour of every day
Go now in faith, steadfast strong and true
Know God will guide you in all you do,
Go now in love and show you believe
Reach out to others so all the world can see
God will be there, watching from above
Go now in peace, in faith and in love
Amen, Amen, Amen
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