“If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples.” (Nehemiah 1:8)
“…it’s time for judgment to begin with God’s own household.” (1Peter 4:17)
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The first recorded question a human being asked was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). In case you are wondering, Cain was saying, “I am not.” Building on this mindset and attitude, not only did he compete with his brother, get angry with his brother, and hold a grudge against his brother, but he murdered his brother.
When people seek wisdom apart from God (the original sin of Adam and Eve), one of its first manifestations is division and contention in the human community. Cut off from communion with God, we find ourselves at odds with each other.
Which makes me wonder. Is it possible?…
Is it conceivable that the Church is under God’s judgment for our disunity?
It has been estimated that there are 41,000 Christian denominations in the world. Does our radically divided condition perhaps indicate that God has “scattered us among the peoples,” as he did Cain, as he did Israel; that he has sent us into exile where we have settled in our own isolated communities, cut off from one another, pursuing our own lives and agendas?
Are we Cain — condemned to wander the earth until we find our own little cities of refuge in which to hunker down?
The story of the Bible indicates that God’s preferred method of judging his people is to scatter them from good places where God is central and the community is unified around him, causing them to wander in a diaspora.
In other words, he boots Adam and Eve out of the garden. He sends Cain packing. He scatters the nations at Babel over the earth. He sends the murmuring children of Israel walking in circles around the desert. He allows the folks in the days of Judges, each one, to do what his right in his own eyes. He sets even the members of King David’s own household against him. Like Israel under the kings, there is division, contention, and disintegration until the day of dispersion and destruction comes.
How can we not constantly pray, as Ezra did:
“My God, I’m too ashamed to lift up my face to you. Our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day, we’ve been deep in guilt. On account of our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case.” (Ezra 9:6-7)
For where is the “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church” that we confess? Where is “His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way,” united around “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”?
Where is the company of disciples for whom Jesus prayed, asking,
“I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23, CEB)?
It seems to me we’ve given up on the idea of unity so long ago that maybe God has said, “OK, you don’t want to be unified — I get it. You each want your own way. Well, have at it. Scatter and scatter and scatter until there is no more Church, just a multitude of individual believers on the earth. Plant more and more new churches in areas where there are already congregations. Call it devotion to mission, or call it my blessing, or something cool like ‘catching the next wave.’ You have the truth, after all, and you can rescue those who just call themselves Christians but don’t really know what it means like you do.
“Oh yes, and don’t ever pray for the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Pentecostals, the Mennonites or the non-denominational churches in town. Don’t ever mention their names except to describe what you disagree with them about. For heaven’s sake, don’t ever join with them in mission to relieve suffering in your communities in my name. In fact, it’s probably better if you simply ignore them altogether. They may not be real Christians after all.”
Maybe God said one day, “Hey, I have an idea. Since you don’t like each other and don’t think that other so-called Christians really understand the truth, why don’t you forbid each other from taking Communion at your tables? You can back it up with Scripture. I have given all of you plenty of room to interpret things differently in the Bible. Whenever you can, magnify those differences and make them matters for separation. Build your walls high. Just disregard all those passages about love and acceptance and unity. Consider them optional. Pretend your brethren don’t even exist.”
Perhaps God just got fed up with us taking natural differences and cultural variety — things that he loves — and turning them into parochialism. So he’s scattered us like the nations from Babel into our own little enclaves.
Maybe all the power plays and self-advancement that has gone on in the name of Christ finally got to him and he gave us up to our own devices and let us put our own rulers on the throne.
Maybe the “scattering” of the Church, the schisms, the divisions, the contentions, the wars, the nationalism, the parochialism, the territorialism, the dogmatism and separatism is the result of God abandoning us to our selfish and short-sighted ways.
Maybe God has judged us. Perhaps we have been under his judgment for so long we don’t even recognize it any longer.
Is there any other explanation for why we just keep on going down the same path of disintegration and disunity?
Do we even know to whom we are praying when we say, “Our Father…”?