Protestants who have even a basic knowledge of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century know that the Catholic Church vigorously persecuted Protestants all over Europe. At one point the Pope put a bounty on Martin Luther's head condemning him to death, and a century prior a priest by the name of John Hus was burned at the stake for preaching, among other things, that all persons should read the Bible, not just the clergy, and that the Scriptures were the standard for doctrinal truth. For Protestant seminary students with such rudimentary knowledge, this is not a surprise.
But the bewilderment comes when it is learned that once the Protestant movement came to a position of influence, many of its leaders persecuted other Christian movements as well. Martin Luther and John Calvin approved of the imprisonment and execution of Anabaptist Christians. In sixteenth and seventeenth century England, Protestants killed Catholics when a Protestant monarch was on the throne, and the Catholics returned the favor when the newly ascended king or queen was Catholic. Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England because the pope would not grant him a divorce and proceeded to imprison and execute loyal Catholics. When his daughter, Mary Tudor ascended to the throne, she, a devout Catholic, did the same things to the Protestants to such an extreme she became known as "Bloody Mary."
How unfortunate it is that throughout the history of the church, when the Bible states that the battle is against the principalities and powers that govern this world, when the struggle is against those who refuse to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we have chosen instead to battle against one another. How often in the church it has been "us versus us."
Many years ago I had a discussion with a parishioner in another church. I had been the associate pastor there for about five years and had never met the man, simply because he was never in worship and was not involved in anything. I do not know where he was on Sunday during the winter months, but when the whether was warm, he was out on the golf course. He came to talk to me because he was extremely upset; his Methodist son was going to marry a Catholic girl. He was attending church with her every weekend and he was sure that his boy was going to be corrupted. He actually spoke of his son betraying everything that he had taught him about religion.
In response, I simply suggested to him that instead of accusing his son of rejecting the faith, he ought to use the events of the moment to examine his own life before God. Perhaps God could do more with a Catholic in church on the weekend, than with a Methodist who spent his Sundays on the eighteenth hole.
There are places in this world where Christians are truly being persecuted for their faith. It seems somewhat irrational then for Christians: Protestants and Catholics, Methodist and Mennonites, Baptists and Brethren to act as if the conflict is one labeled as "Us Versus Us." To be sure, Christians disagree on important issues and they are issues that cannot be ignored, but they are not matters that should divide us from uniting together to be the people of God in this world, to be the light of the world Jesus calls us to be.
I know many persons pray for their own church. Do they also pray for the other churches in their community? Do they pray for the Baptists and the Lutherans and the Mennonites and the Brethren and the Catholics and the Methodists? I know many pray for their pastor. Do they pray for the other pastors of the other churches in town? Do they pray for their success in their ministries? Do they pray that Spirit of God will lead and guide the other congregations as they seek to be faithful? Do they understand that all followers of Jesus, whether Methodist or Mennonite, Baptist or Brethren, Catholic or Orthodox, are all on the same side?
We must recognize that God's mission in the world is bigger than we are and we are all called to be in that mission together.
You're right. I greatly appreciate the common Episcopal / Anglican practice of praying by name for specific Christian bodies and their leaders during the prayers of the people. There are good reasons why I cannot in good conscience be administratively united to some Christian bodies, but our differences don't make them the enemy.
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