In an earlier post (found here), the issue of the supposed existence of 38,000 different Christian denominations was addressed, and why that number is demonstrably inflated. It was argued that the true number is probably less than 10, with a definite, historical, orthodox, “mere Christianity” able to be understood. With this in mind, some may still be asking, “so why do these differences exist regardless?” While not comprehensive, this is an attempt to show how many of these divisions are about points of emphasis, or good things taken to the extreme at the expense of other good things.
For this, I have adapted a couple of charts based on Thomas C. Oden’s amazing work, Classic Christianity (highly recommended), which systematizes what Christians have always generally agreed on, especially in the first 5-700 years of the church (based on scripture and the fathers). One of the easiest ways in which to see how these divisions exist is to look at how the church itself is viewed by differing Christian traditions:
Church Patterns Chart (note: these are not absolute columns, but general trends that often intersect. Also, please ask if you need a definition or explanation of any terms. Google is your friend.)
In the interest of disclosure, the present author was raised mostly in the first column on the left, and has enormous sympathies with and in some cases, has embraced the second column as well without leaving the first. The third when isolated tends to give birth to heresies and false teaching in the name of “love and inclusion” at the expense of truth and correct doctrine. However, there is truth in this view as well, which should naturally flow from the previous two views. So perhaps I am arguing that the first two views will give birth to the third, but that the third cannot be divorced from the others without the loss of historic Christian orthodoxy. Oden goes on to argue that all three views need each other, which I have difficulty disagreeing with. Interestingly enough, some young evangelicals are trying to marry the first and third (especially politically) while ignoring the second completely.
These divisions can also be seen in the doctrines of the atonement and humanity. It is asked, what did Christ accomplish through his life, death, and Resurrection, and how does that work itself out when it comes to the human condition? Again borrowing from Oden, these views can be broken down in a chart:
Atonement and Humanity Views Chart (like the first chart, these are not absolute categories with many crossovers)
Oden himself admits that the last two columns (Substitution/Sin and Victory/Bound Will) are the closest to a consensus within Christian history. Most western Christians will recognize much of the third column as “the gospel message” when it comes to “how does one become saved?” The fourth column has always existed in the west, but has been emphasized more fully in the east. These views are highly complementary, and taken together can be safely called the classical Christian view. This being said, there are truths in the first two columns as well, but these are not as well represented in the historical church and consented to by the majority of believers. Many churches of a more “liberal” or “modernist” mindset hold to the first column alone, with perhaps the second column thrown in for the sake of politics. Such a view however is at odds with the classical teachings of the church and what seems to be emphasized in scripture.
Any thoughts or comments on the charts or this post at all? Can you see why these divisions can exist while orthodoxy is still be found and promoted?