On Christian Unity: The Erasmus Tradition

With Easter, it is time for Christians to celebrate the anniversary of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, following his sacrificial crucifixion on Good Friday. While today may be one of the most powerful and spiritual days within the Christian community, it is important that we, as followers of Christ, continue to not only work on our own imperfections, but on the glaring imperfection within our religion.

This imperfection I speak of is the contamination of Christendom with opposing sects. For the past five centuries, Christianity has been fractured into camps which have showed hostility to each other and espoused contradicting theologies, beginning with Martin Luther’s publication of the Ninety-five Theses.

In search of the elusive “right” interpretation of the Bible, man has divided Christ’s children into camps that often go beyond mere theological differences and into pure hostility. As stated before, this pattern began in 1517, when Martin Luther, an educated priest, became fixated on his own salvation. In his quest to understand how to know, unequivocally, that he had been saved, Luther began to construct his own interpretation of the Bible–one that conflicted with the promulgated ideas of the Catholic Church. These differences surrounded divine presence within the bread and wine offered in Eucharist, the authority of the papacy, the necessity of the sacraments, and, most importantly, the efficacy of indulgences sold by the church. These differences culminated in the publication of the Ninety-five Theses, a document that outlined each of the grievances Luther had with the established church. This served as the impetus for the Reformation, in which an ideological schism transpired, fracturing Christianity into Catholicism and Protestantism (then known as Lutheranism). From here, several more denominations emerged. Calvinism was born out of John Calvin’s notion of predestination, Anglicanism out of King Henry VIII of England’s desire to expedite his divorce with Catherine of Aragon, Anabaptism through differences in beliefs surrounding baptism, and Puritanism out of opposition to ecclesiastical corruption. The common theme within this pattern is that each branch was born from man and their own interpretations of the Bible.

As a result, no longer are we Christians or followers of Christ, we have become followers of different denominations, pledging loyalty to a church, rather than our savior. It is for this reason I have become dedicated to the mission of Desiderius Erasmus as outlined in his Reformation-era work, The Handbook of the Christian Knight. In his work, of which is of paramount importance but terribly undervalued, Erasmus outlines his vision of Christendom: one in which Christianity is no longer divided by the theological conjecture and interpretations of man, but instead where all followers of Christ are united in their mission to live as Jesus would.

A contention of Erasmus was that Christianity has become complicated with the promotion of differing biblical interpretations as the “correct” understandings–and he is right. The theological speculation of man has undermined Christian unity, and distracted many from following in the footsteps of Christ. As Christians, we have equaled our allegiance to Christ to our insistence on the validity of our Scripture interpretation–and this is wrong. We, when we subscribe to denominations more adamantly than we follow Christ, pervert the Bible, and fail to follow Christ appropriately.

So this Easter, remember where our faith lies–in our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. We were not saved by the Roman papacy, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or any other separatist figure in Christian history. It is time that Christians abandon their divisions and unite, once again, in the following of Christ. Denominations are but mere distractions that only serve to divide Christians. Do not abandon your interest in the Christian holy text, but do recognize that on the most fundamental level, we are Christ’s children–and it’s time we started acting like it. We, as Christians, need to help improve each other and love one another–a duty as God’s children. But we can never move forward if we continue to bicker and squabble among ourselves over who is the most holy. Today, embrace Jesus, reject man-made divisions, and love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

In closing, I will leave everybody with 1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement.”

 

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