By Tim Simmons
There is one Moslem temple in Carbondale, Illinois. A small town of 26,000, the town is also home to one Jewish synagogue and two Catholic churches. The number of Protestant churches?
With three main streets and probably 150 smaller residential streets, there really is a church on every corner. But Carbondale isn't the exception when it comes to the number of Christian churches it boasts, but rather, it seems to be the norm. Take any small town of roughly 30,000 to 40,000 residents, anywhere in the southern half of the United States, and you'll find a similar pattern. Here's three I picked at random.
Carlsbad New Mexico (pop 26,000)
54 Protestant churches
West Memphis, Arkansas (pop 28,000)
55 Protestant churches
Gainesville, Georgia (pop 26,000)
71 Protestant churches
With such seeming consistency, one might conclude that having a church on every corner is normal. But just because something happens frequently or is considered normal, it doesn't make it good or right, necessarily.
Prior to around 1960, the world lost hundreds of thousands of people each year to polio. It was normal that diseases claimed lives but a few people concluded that it wasn't proper. Jonas Salk was one of them. Forty years after the polio vaccine was created, the disease has been almost completely eradicated from the planet.
In the 1980s, it was normal for anyone with the HIV virus to die from the disease but would anyone conclude that because it was normal it was also correct or desirable? (Okay, excluding certain Christians who feel that it's God's punishment for their wicked ways) Thanks to new drugs and research, people with HIV can live much longer lives and stay relatively healthy in the process.
In any large, random group of people in the United States, there's going to be about 80% Christians. Based solely on this, you would expect there to be 80% Christian churches and the remaining 20% composed of other beliefs. Using Carbondale as an example, the percentage of Protestant Christian churches is 94.7%. The ratio of Christian churches to non-Christian is 18 to 1. But assuming no other religions existed, I still find it shocking that a small town of 25,000 people needs to have 50 churches - not to mention the two dozen different denominations within that set. Apparently, every time someone with the money to do so and impetus for doing so, splits from the current congregation and forms his or her own church, in order to preach the "true" message of Christ. With so many denominations and flavors to choose from, how can anyone be sure they've chosen the correct one? Christians will argue that many of the denominations simply disagree on nonessential matters. This, then, begs the question of why Christians can't consolidate these denominations in a show of unity and let these nonessential disagreements be…nonessential?
It seems, however, that one thing has not changed since the days of Jesus. There is no unity among believers. From the very first cries of a newly born Christianity, Paul the apostle could hardly pen a letter to one of his churches without admonishing them for turning from the gospel he had personally delivered to them. While his back was turned, other gospels were being circulated - and believed. There was no unity even among the apostles. Paul, Peter and James couldn’t agree on whether Gentiles should be circumcised in order to be “in” the new club. There was no unity among the canonical gospel writings. Each one offered a different and often contradictory view of what happened during Jesus ministry and crucifixion. There was no perfect unity between the writings of Paul and the writings of James. Paul taught that the law had been abrogated with Jesus’ sacrifice while James taught that faith without works was dead faith and no faith at all while Jesus himself said that until heaven and Earth passed away, the law was still in effect.
With disunity as its heritage and with disunity throughout its founding documents, is it any wonder that the Christian community remains divided to this day?
Even its own precepts prophesy against it: a house divided against itself cannot stand.
We, as nonreligious people, do not have to sound the call of unity because our ideals and beliefs unite us rather than divide us. We do not seek to follow a set of contradictory dogma or an aloof phantom in the sky. We seek to follow what is true. This fact alone is all that is needed to unite us.
A house divided against itself can stand - for a while. But its days are numbered. A house divided against itself, eventually, will fall. We may just need to give it a little push first. ; )