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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Denominations as Evidence of God's Presence

I read about a man who was re-establishing a forest on land that had been stripped of vegetation by a passing African war. He began by planting pine trees. Once those were established, he began introducing insects that fed on pine needles. The insects added nutrients to the soil and soon they were able to add plants along the forest floor to balance the pines. Soon animals and birds were re-established and more complex plant forms took root.

In the early stages of the project, crews had to work very hard to keep the forest balanced and move the emerging eco-system forward more quickly than nature usually does on its own hook. What they discovered is that the simpler the forest, the harder it was to keep alive. Conversely, the more complex the system became, the more stable it was.

What I got from that was this apparent law of nature. Complex eco-systems are more stable than simple ones. Why is that?

It's because complex systems have more redundancies in which more than one member of the system helps deliver key functions that make the system healthy. Our forester found that the less he was in control of the forest and the more God was in control, the stronger the forest became.

Human eco-systems always get into trouble when they follow the seductive path of simplification. Look at the monumental disasters in human government throughout history. Whenever we've tried to centralize all of government into one monolithic system, great misery and instability has been the result. Stalinism, Naziism brutal monarchies have all destroyed the very countries that these systems sought to stabilize with powerful central authorities and institutionalized uniformity. Grim black or gray or drab looking uniforms and goose-stepping soldiers tend to be harbingers of instability wherever they appear.

Rome expanded rapidly under the Republic and even managed to thrive for some centuries so long as authority and actual working power was decentralized and more capitalist. The harder the Caesars tried to consolidate power, reduce individuality and discourage individual achievement through social "bread & circuses" programs, the faster the empire slipped from their fingers.

So many people today point to Christianity as though Christ's church were the root of all evil in the world. They point to the thousands of denominations as proof that God couldn't possibly exist for surely he wouldn't allow his church to be such a confusing rabble.

If Christianity is seen as nothing more than another power mad quasi-government created solely to control people, we have no one to blame but ourselves as Christians. We are constantly struggling to get everyone into one single church, to believe exactly as we do and to obey the same church authority. We have fallen prey to the notion that simplification of our religious institutions will somehow make them stronger and more stable. If there was only one denomination, the thinking goes, everything would be as it should be.

Quite the opposite is true. In no other country of the world has true Christianity taken hold so strongly as in the United States. Why? Because this country was founded on the principle of religious freedom. As a result faiths of every stripe have thrived in peace here and, if not always in harmony, then with at least with a modicum of polite tolerance.

Why do you suppose the Middle East is in such a turmoil? A single monolithic faith has rooted itself there and adopted the principle that because it is the "one true faith" all other religions must be surpressed. The fruit of this "simplification" process has not resulted in a single harmonious congregation of Muslims, but has created inevitable striving for power amongst violent sects, each seeking to wipe each other out and take their rightful place as the "one true way" to Allah.

Our problem as persons of faith, no matter of what ilk, is that we fall prey to the Satanic lie that we can and should "control" human systems. But like nature, human systems thrive on complexity. The more complex and less top-heavy a society becomes, the more stable it becomes. If we are all so utterly inter-connected that no one can afford to go to war against his neighbor because he will hurt himself, then war will cease. It becomes no longer profitable. It would be unthinkable to go to war against Canada or even Mexico any more because North America is such an entertwined economic system that any such war would hurt the attacker as much as it would the attacked.

After the war of 1812, America and Britain became such powerful trading partners that war between us became unthinkable. It was barely possible in 1812. The American Civil War taught us the folly of attacking yourself and set the United States back a half century before it recovered and began to take its place on the world stage. After World War II, American business became so entwined with Japanese business that war with them is now unthinkable. It would hurt us both severely. The Chinese are pretty much there with us now.

I believe God permits his children to create so many denominations of churches because his people begin their journey toward heaven from so many different places. By having so many routes to salvation available, God sweeps up the maximum possible number of his lost children.

Our problem is that we don't trust Him to be able to save us. We think we need to make everything uniform so that all of us know exactly how to execute our Christian walk. How is it we give lip service to the idea that it is Jesus who saves us and then we fight so bitterly among ourselves about how we ought to go about saving ourselves by having the "right" religion. Having faith means letting things get out of our control and into His.

The complexity of Christianity parallels that of nature. The more complex the structure of what C.S. Lewis called "The Church Triumphant", the more stable Christianity becomes. What other religious persuasion offers so many variants of itself to its adherants? If you believe a church is a hospital for sinners rather than a museum for saints, you could view church denominations as a variety of clinics, hospitals and aid stations scattered across the face of the Earth. And because there are so many kinds of places to go to for help, no matter what your need, God seems to have a place for you to go to get that need met.

No other religion is quite as resilient as Christianity and none is quite as complex. This fact reassures me that the same God who created the natural world is the same one behind the "Church Triumphant" as glorious and as terrible as an army with banners....

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

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