“Ours is the one true church,” so say some in Baltimore, but does it stack up to history? Some claim this exclusive franchise because of Peter. Others claim it because of what they believe is “right” teaching, orthodoxy. Still others claim this exclusive franchise because they worship on the day that Jesus did, the Jewish Sabbath. The list of reasons why one church is right and another wrong is very long indeed, including such mundane things as black cars, steel tractor wheels as opposed to tires, claims to being “spirit-filled” while focusing on material weath and physical health, tee-totaling as opposed to moderation, immersion-style baptism when even the children of Israel were baptized to Moses and did not even get wet, and so on. We witness this all over Baltimore and the rest of the world.
How did some Christians develop such an exclusive view of themselves? When the Christian church began, the church scattered to places as far apart as Britain, Ethiopia, India, Armenia and China. Without modern forms of communication, regular contact with the entire church was next to impossible and at times contact was even lost. There is no history of a central administration that controlled the entire church once it had scattered far and wide. Rather, within the Roman Empire there were five administrative headquarters: Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria and Rome. Areas outside of the Roman Empire also existed independently without subordination to either Rome or Constantinople. Only in the Roman Empire did the Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking churches have a large measure of communication.
In Mark 9:38-50 the disciples stopped a man preaching in Jesus’ name, as they said, “because he was not following us.” This problem of us and them has continued for two millennia. The church grew large in the Greek and Latin-speaking worlds. After a thousand years of disagreement, they divided, each vilifying the other because they were “not following us.” In recent centuries Rome and Constantinople have only slightly modified their exclusive claims because of these Jesus’ words. The many churches outside the Roman Empire had little or no part in the Great East-West Schism and have probably wondered since what the fuss was all about. It was human politics as bad as any modern election.
When Portugese Christians first began trading with India, they discovered churches already there, established by the Apostle Thomas long ago. They disrespected the work and descendants of Thomas by persecting them and forcing many to join the church headquartered at Rome. Despite this, some remain in the original church founded by Thomas to this day, having claimed their original independence in much the same manner as Anglicans do. Other Thomas churches have found grace in Eastern Orthodoxy. The despicable conduct from Portugese traders was not the first such episode of Christian persecuting Christian over an exclusive franchise, one-true-church mentality. It has plagued the church for its entire history and only serves to blacken the name of its founder, Jesus Christ.
When we Christians point people to us instead of Jesus, we are just as bad as the nasty, worldly politics of this election season. We are carnal rather than spiritual. In recent centuries there has been an explosion of churches following the teachings of Jesus. They are like the many churches which were established all over the ancient world by Jesus’ apostles, not in any great communication with other churches, yet believing in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. There is no need to offend them or point them to us as if we have exclusive rights to Christian faith. Our only responsibility is to point them to Jesus and be at peace with each other.