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Protestantism/similarities of denominations and New Age changes in Christianity


QUESTION: It's been about two years since I've asked you a question, so here goes again. I see where you're interested in similarities in denominations. I'm interested in getting these together to spread the message of Jesus in festival and other settings. It has been hard to get them together. Do you know why? Then, I see you are interested in the New Age movement. Do you think the dramatically quick rise of acceptance of homosexuality (same sex marriage and the like) is part of this age?

ANSWER: Barney,

Thanks for the question.  Your observation of how difficult it is for denominations to get together for common work is a common one.  We would all like to be able to worship jointly and gather around what we have in common as Christians.  However, this is a complex thing, because we do not agree.  If our differences were merely about language, style, or human traditions, they could be easily overcome, but the differences go much deeper.  

For example, some Christians believe that salvation is a gift of God, while others believe it is achieved as a cooperation between God and humans, while others believe that God gives us a push and we do the rest ourselves.  Even though all Christians believe that God is Tri-une and Jesus is fully God and fully human (or else they wouldn't be Christians), they can differ dramatically on whether Jesus human body possesses the attributes of divinity or not.  Similarly, they differ regarding the sacraments - whether there are 2, 7, more, or none at all - as well as whether the sacraments (or even worship in general) are a gift from God to man or an offering from man to God, or mere symbols.  

As a result, not only is it difficult for Christians of different denominations to worship jointly, it is probably premature.  For example, a married couple does not fully exercise their marital union during times of conflict, but instead, they first resolve their conflict, then come together again.  So it is for denominations.  If we merely sweep our differences under the rug, we will never resolve them.  We might give the appearance of unity, but will never achieve the true "one mind" unity that Paul speaks of in Philippians or the just-like-the-Trinity unity that Jesus prays for in John 17.  Instead, if we desire to come together, we need to first be honest about our differences and seek to resolve them based on common study and discussion of the Scriptures.  If this would occur, we could truly celebrate the work that God has done among us.  Until then, we will continue to struggle against division and disagreement in the Church - probably until Jesus comes again on the Last Day.  

These differences were not God's intention, but are caused by the sinful tendency of humans to shape church teaching to fit their desires rather than modify their desires to be consistent with Scripture. As long as this still exists, we recognize that as Paul told the Corinthians "it is necessary that there be divisions among you, so that those who are genuine may be evident."  We live in a broken world, inhabited by broken people, and those same sinful humans lead and attend the earthly manifestations of God's Church.  While we are invisibly united in Christ, we bear the burden that our visible unity is broken by sin, and although we desire and attempt to overcome this, it is only the Lord Himself who will ultimately achieve victory and bring about unity.  

I honestly don't pay much attention to the New Age movement, so I am afraid I can't offer much on the second topic in your question.  (Perhaps I need to check for a mistake in the interests section of my profile?)  However, I think that all departures from our Lord's truth--whether as visible as homosexual advocacy or as invisible as lust, greed, and hatred--have a common root in what Luther calls the "unholy Trinity" of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  These three fight against the truth and will do so as long as the world endures.  That's why church history has often called living Christians "The Church Militant" - because as long as we remain here in this life, we are confronted by these enemies.  The topics and symptoms may vary from age to age and generation to generation, but the cause remains the same - idolatry to sin, as opposed to trust in Jesus.  

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Your answer was very interesting about unity of churches. I agree with lots of your answers, but I'd like to know your answer to what you think salvation involves as you mentioned several thoughts. The differences you otherwise mentioned about why denominations stay away from each other seem very inconsequential to me. We still could come together for the main thing-which is to celebrate Jesus! Also, you and i are very similar on this category of Protestantism- in that we both started there as experts a few years ago, and we both have had few questions asked. Please feel to ask me one on there too. I think if we got more questions, they'd promote us more.

Thanks for the follow-up post.  To be brief...

Salvation = forgiveness of sins resulting in eternal, resurrected life.  

Ultimately, it really does matter what we believe, and not just how sincerely we believe it.  While the Trinity and that Jesus is fully God and fully human are the boundaries of what constitutes a Christian, the rest does impact real people in real ways, which I have witnessed.  

For example, when human works or human decisions are added to God's grace as necessary for salvation, it often causes doubt or despair on the part of those who wonder if they have been good enough or decided sincerely enough.  

Another example would be the Word-Faith teaching that insists that if a person just believes strongly enough, they will never be poor or sick or depressed again.  Then when they find themselves suffering, they conclude that they have failed and begin to doubt God's love, God's goodness, or whether they are even forgiven of their sins.  

Likewise, what the Sacraments are and what they do matters.  If one church teaches that Baptism forgives sins and the Lord's Supper really is Jesus' body and blood, while another teaches that they are mere symbolism which does not deliver any grace to the Christian, the two can never really act in unity because they will be like two horses pulling in opposite directions on the same plow.  

Disregarding differences between churches would be like a husband and wife who never resolve their disagreements but just ignore them instead.  They will have a tremendously unhealthy marriage, filled with resentment, and with little hope of longevity.  On the other hand, if they acknowledge and address their differences, they will build a strong and healthy marriage which will stand the test of time and bring great joy and blessing to both.  

Similarly, if churches merely ignore their differences, they will never have true unity, but merely a shallow appearance of it which actually serves to teach people that truth is unimportant.  However, if they acknowledge and address their differences on the basis of Scripture, there is hope for a true agreement which will bless the Church and draw its members closer to their Lord.  

I understand your concerns about question volume, and I think there is a minimum threshold before an expert achieves full visibility.  I am an expert in 7 categories on the site, so I don't always notice which category a question is coming from, and as a result never noticed until now that my volume was so low in this particular category.  I will consider what you propose of time allows.  


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Rev. Jason P. Peterson


I welcome the opportunity to answer questions regarding the similarities and differences between the various denominations of Christianity, especially those which involve the Reformation Traditions of Christianity (Lutheran, Calvinist, etc). I also take a great interest in examining new Christian movements and popular trends in Christianity from a Reformation perspective. I have particular expertise in the original Greek text of the New Testament and its meaning, as well as questions regarding liturgy, evangelism, and preaching.


I have been a pastor in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod for the past six years at St. John's Lutheran Church in Burt, IA. I currently serve as chairman of the Commission on Ministerial Growth & Support of the Missouri Synod's Iowa District West and as Track Chaplain at Algona Raceway in Algona, IA. I also write as a religion columnist for two local newspapers.

Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

B.A. Concordia University - Ann Arbor, MI (Biblical Languages) M.Div. Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (Exegetical Theology, Pastoral Ministry & Missions)

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Zion Lutheran Church (Columbia City, IN) Zion Lutheran Church (Altamont, IL) St. John's Lutheran Church (Burt, IA) Zion Lutheran Church (Lu Verne, IA) Algona Raceway (IA) Fairmont Raceway (MN) Hancock County Speedway (Britt, IA) Clay County Fairgrounds Raceway (Spencer, IA)

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