A Light in the darkness

There is a traditional enmity between Catholic and Protestant, which has given rise to much conflict - from verbal to violent and every stage in between. I find, increasingly, that I don't understand this conflict, but I think I understand how it arises - largely from suspicion of the 'other', born of ignorance.

I confess, despite belonging to a church which I would describe as 'only partly reformed' (i.e. not really considering itself to be fully Protestant, yet clearly not entirely 'Roman Catholic' either) to not understanding some of the tenets of Roman Catholicism - such as the reverence for the Virgin Mary and the saints. I suspect there is probably just as much about the Protestant churches which seems equally alien to the Roman Catholic believer.

The church in which I was converted to Christianity was Pentecostal - as far removed, in most ways, from Roman Catholicism as it is possible to get. And yet, when, as a student, I spent some of my spare time involved in 'social action' alongside Catholics, my Pentecostal pastor (a wise old bird) pointed out that we probably had more in common with Roman Catholics than with most other Protestants - a ready belief in the miraculous, for one thing - most Protestant churches at the time being of the opinion that 'that sort of thing' ceased with the death of the apostles. This probably accounts, at least partly, for my own openness & lack of enmity for Roman Catholicism.

The church I attend now is (perhaps) out on the lunatic fringe of the Anglican church - charismatic and evangelical. There is a tendency, in charismatic evangelical circles (not to mention Pentecostal), to a sort of 'spiritual arrogance' - if you don't believe the same things as us, you can't be a Christian. I've always been slightly uneasy with this, increasingly so as the years have rolled by.

Recently, two significant things have happened. The first was spending a week, on holiday in Rome to celebrate my forthcoming fiftieth birthday, staying in a 'religious house' run by a Roman Catholic religious order - the 'Resurrectionists'. I think what struck me most was their inclusivity - welcoming, and serving, all those who fall within their sphere; the emphasis/outworking of their faith seemingly being the fostering of community. For the first time ever, I felt that Roman Catholics were treating me as equal - simply fellow-believers in the redemptive, healing, power of Jesus Christ. They included us in their Mass - inviting Linda and I to take part by reading lessons, and allowing us to partake of the eucharist. Always, previously, on attending Mass in Roman Catholic churches, it has been a case of 'sit quietly at the back and don't cause trouble.' What a refreshing change!

Yes, there are certainly differences... But oughtn't we to be celebrating the similarities, and rejoicing together, instead of falling out over differences? After all, in terms of the fundamentals, we believe the same - that Jesus Christ came into the world to save mankind from its sins. We express that, and seek to work it out in practice, differently - but that should be a strength, not a weakness.

The second was a revelation which came to me, whilst I was pondering a couple of verses from scripture.

Matthew 5:14
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden."

John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

To aid me in my meditations, I sat in semi-darkness with a lit candle. What struck me whilst sitting there, gazing at the candle-flame, was that, whilst we think of white light as being pure, it actually consists of a complete spectrum of colours of light - if any colour is missing, the 'white' light loses its purity, and becomes coloured. Odd, that something so 'pure' should actually have to consist of a 'complete mixture' in order to appear pure. And that, in turn, made me wonder about how I view God... Do I see Him clearly, or as if through the coloured 'spectacles' of the only version of Christianity I know? Is, perhaps, the only way to get anything approaching a true picture of Him to see Him as others see Him? If that is the case, then we christians really need each other, and each other's vision of God, merely to get a clear vision of Him.

Perhaps those differences, which have inspired such bitter conflict (and, sadly, continue to do so), are necessary to gain a fuller, truer, vision of God, and of His redemptive plan for us and our world. Each of us is finite; our minds, whilst amazingly complex, are finite, and can only take in so much... So it's hardly surprising that we each see God differently, and imperfectly. In light of this, perhaps we should be celebrating the differences, and learning from one another, rather than fighting over who is wrong and who is right. Undoubtedly, as experience of life surely tells us, each of us is partly right, and partly wrong - none of us has a monopoly on truth.

We should admit that we don't understand some things; humbly confess our ignorance of the other, and seek to learn, hoping thereby to get a clearer vision of Him who is above all created things.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022