Why the Divisions?
THE underlying cause for religious divisions, or schisms, is outlined in one encyclopedia of religion as being threefold: doctrinal, organizational, and political. Let us see if this analysis fits the situation in the Catholic Church.
Theology or Bible Truth?
In his own analysis of the reason for the current divisions in the Catholic Church, priest René Laurentin wrote: “The determining cause seems clear to me. It is different ideologies.” He speaks of progressive ideology. This is opposed to tradition, that is, the conservatism personified by Archbishop Lefebvre. Dominican prior Jean-Pierre Lintanf states: “The faith is one, theologies are diverse.”
Different ideologies, responsible for divisions within the church, could be avoided if the church adhered to the Bible as the source of its teachings. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council decreed: “The sacred Word is a precious instrument in the mighty hand of God for attaining to that unity which the Saviour holds out to all men.” Yet, undermining the unifying value of the Bible, that same Vatican Council stated: “The Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.” And again: “Sacred theology relies on the written Word of God, taken together with sacred Tradition.”
Jesus’ words to the Pharisees might well be applied to the magisterium of the Catholic Church: “You have made God’s word ineffective by means of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6, The New Jerusalem Bible) A sincere Catholic woman wrote to a Catholic periodical in France: “If the clergy are no longer motivated to preach the Good Word, is it surprising that the faithful are fewer in numbers, or seek elsewhere? (As for Jehovah’s Witnesses and the traditionalists, their faith makes them different.)”
A Divided Hierarchy
Consider now the organizational cause for divisions within the church. The schism brought about by Archbishop Lefebvre was directly related to the Catholic dogmas of “Apostolic Succession” and the primacy of the pope. Lefebvre claims that the “power to teach, rule, and sanctify that Christ conferred on His Apostles is . . . perpetuated in the Church’s college of bishops.” On the other hand, it is claimed that the bishop of Rome, the pope, is the “first of all the bishops, not only in rank or dignity, but in pastoral authority.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia.
But are these dogmas based on the Bible? This same Catholic encyclopedia admits that “one does not find in the New Testament any words of Christ indicating how the apostolic mandate was to be handed on.” And it also confesses that “papal primacy” was not “clearly understood or explicitly professed” in the “Western [Latin] Church” until the fifth century C.E.
At present the hierarchical system of the Catholic Church is being challenged from top to bottom. It is a factor in the divisions, as bishops, theologians, priests, and laymen openly express their disagreement with the pope on matters of faith, morals, and church government. The “Cologne Declaration” stated: “If the pope does what does not belong to his office, he cannot demand obedience in the name of Catholicism.”
Britain’s Economist wrote: “As Lefebvrists see it, their church has fallen victim to a conspiracy which has delivered it into the hands of Marxists, modernists and Protestants. Monsignor Lefebvre believes the French Revolution introduced lamentable modernism and liberalism into the world, and that Vatican II introduced the French Revolution . . . into the church.” Many right-wing Catholics share this view. On the other hand, left-wing Catholics are for social reforms, some going so far as to accept the principle of armed revolution. Thus, politics is another divisive factor among Catholics.
Concluding his article on “Why These Divisions Among Christians?” priest Laurentin stated that the credibility of the Catholic Church would depend on its conforming to Jesus’ words: “It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognise you as my disciples.”—John 13:35, NJB.
Using that touchstone, many sincere Catholics all over the world have come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one true church is not credible. Realizing, as Jesus also stated, that “no household divided against itself can last,” many have “tiptoed” out of the church.—Matthew 12:25, NJB.
Quite a number of Catholics are now seeking a “household” made up of true Christians, who are united by real brotherly love and who are not divided either by unbiblical dogmas, a disunited hierarchy, or by opposing political opinions. Thousands have found what they were seeking when they began to associate with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Jesus condemned the Pharisees for putting their traditions above God’s Word