Nearly all the world’s great religions appear to have become riven by splits and divisions which seriously affect the way their message is spread, often resulting in accusations of heresy, followed up with deadly attacks and punishment of those who hold a different view of doctrine and organisation.
In Islam, which came into being about six centuries after Christianity we find it divided into sects like Sunni, Shia, Wahabi, Alawite and Druze etc. – some of which hold extreme fundamentalist doctrines about dress, gender and cultural practices; others based on disagreement of the succession to the Caliphate after Mahomet’s death.
Today in the Middle East we see vicious and deadly conflict between the more numerous Sunni followers and the smaller Shia sect, but with nearly all dedicated to the destruction of Israel and Western culture. In addition to this there has appeared a political strand in The Muslim Brotherhood.
In the older faith, Judaism, we again find division between Orthodox, Reform or Zionist groups all following their own individualistic expression of their beliefs, although perhaps without the violence of their Islamic neighbours.
In the Orient, Buddhism is the main religion, mainly a belief in passing through several improving lives by re-incarnation. Again, we see different practices – one which is totally based on meditation, with no supernatural deity involved; and another, which worships several deities and uses ritual and meditation together.
And then, our own Christian religion based on Biblical texts and the teachings of Jesus; a faith plainly derived from His teachings seems to have become splintered and fractured by numerous different interpretations of that message. It is not all that long since we saw Catholics and Protestants violently killing and burning each other at the stake. Today we have become less violent, but a lot of that enmity and division remains with the separation of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches.
In the UK there a many denominations of the Protestant faith all following their narrow understanding of Christ’s teachings, and in the United States there are about 35 different denominations.
In the main, most of our differences are about doctrine, authority and organisation, and attention focussed on these things distracts us from concentrating on the basic message of the Christian faith.
Wouldn’t it be great if, when asked what religion we follow, as when joining the Armed Forces, to state whether we are R. C., C. of E., or Other Denominations, we need only declare to be Christian.
To use a modern expression, our duty to spread the Gospel would be “fit for purpose.”