What we find in the beginning is the Word, who we know was with God and is God, was made Incarnate for us men, and for our salvation by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. We know that there was a Rock upon which He founded ‘My Church’. From Nebo the Promised Land was visible to Moses – though he could not go there. What is visible from the Nebo reached after this journey? A scene that looks like chaos?
Over there in the far corners of the East are churches which trace their origin to St. Thomas, St. Mark and St. Peter, and which have endured many centuries of persecution; there is also the Assyrian Church of the East, which has been persecuted for longer than any other. Less far (despite the adjectival noun) are the Eastern Orthodox Churches, of which the Russian and the Greek are best known, but by no means the only ones; they too claim Apostolicity. For those of us of Western European heritage they are both exotic (which makes them attractive) and relatively unknown (which also makes them attractive).
By far the largest Christian Church is the one most familiar in the West – the Roman Catholic Church. Its head, the Bishop of Rome, traces his line back to St. Peter and his commission to Christ’s words to him at Caesarea Philippi. Whatever cultural/linguistic/political differences helped divide the Chalcedonians from the non-Chalcedonians, and then the Chalcedonians from each other after 1054, until the sixteenth century Western Europe was securely Catholic and acknowledged Rome’s primacy. With Luther’s protests in 1530, that unity was fragmented. The Lutherans and the Calvinists were the precursors to a series of reformed churches, to the making of which there seems no end. My own Church of England owes its origin to this movement. If we wished to add to the list, we could, some even say there are more than 35000 denominations.
Is this land which lies before us ‘so various, so beautiful, so new’? Too often it has been:
Is it, as some would say, a scandal of disunity, where millions who think they follow Christ are actually in crucial respects being misled? Or is it a natural result of the human preference for diversity and choice?
With such a choice before us, the result is that we all make a choice. At one level we are all born into a tradition – even an atheist one. In some ethnic communities it can be difficult to make any other choice than the Tradition into which one was born; in all, inaction is always easier than action. We can elect to stay where we are because it suits us in some way that has nothing to do with Christ.
Some choose to prove Eliot wrong when he wrote:
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
The desire to conserve can become the desire to restore; but can we step into the same stream twice? I wonder what the camping facilities are like on Mt. Nebo?