I hope to always remember an illustration I heard from a speaker delivering the main talk one Sunday afternoon. He brought out an ordinary ball, held it up and asked the audience what color the ball was. Being a tennis ball, it was Wilson yellow, of course, and we responded with our answer.
He paused a moment, looking at the ball himself, then back out at us, “Are you sure?”
We re-affirmed our answer. After all, the ball was plainly yellow.
He waited a moment, then turned the ball to show that he had been looking at a red ball the whole time.
Both audience and speaker had been looking at the same object from two different perspectives, resulting in our arriving at diverse conclusions beyond the commonality of the ball for both sides.
Had we entertained the real possibility that he was looking at something different from what we were seeing…? No, we hadn’t. We saw Wilson yellow, and that’s what color it was.
No questions asked.
And in the half-century I’ve been allowed to draw breath by the sovereign will of my Creator, I’ve seen many, many similar situations.
And nowhere is this more self-evident than when it comes to the multitude of Christian sects of Protestantism of my generation, most of which have been around for longer than I’ve been alive.
If a Baptist and a Methodist are both worshipping God, why don’t they worship God alongside one another? Why the division of the body of Christ into this diverse array of denominations (read: sects)? Sure, the Baptist won’t outright say that the Methodists aren’t Christians— but neither are either the Baptist or the Methodist attending each other’s places of worship and inculcation.
Because it’s a matter of perspective. The Baptist looks at the canonized writings of Gentile Christianity and sees what they see, and the Methodist looks at the same writings and arrives at a different conclusion based on what they’re seeing.
Which one’s right? Which one should I join in worship? Does it even matter, as long as they both hold enough common conclusions about the canonized writings of Gentile Christianity as it’s come down to my generation?
Apparently so, given touchstone doctrines including Trinitarianism to be considered a real Christian by the majority of Gentile Christians of my generation. Unless one accepts that our Creator is a triune God, we’re not a Christian.
This in spite of the easily-obtainable evidence that the doctrine didn’t even exist until the third century, when a group of men considering themselves the arbitrators of everything Christian decided for every man, woman, and child alive and to be born that God is a divinity that exists in three individualities, a Trinity.
They looked at the ball and saw red.
And then they killed everyone who tried to say that the ball was yellow.
The man was Athanasius, and he was the sort of Christian who was willing to kill anyone who tried to tell him the ball he was looking at was any other color than red.
Ask Arius how that worked out for him.
For the record, I think Arius has the better argument— but we’re still talking about a ball.
Or are we?
Mainstream Christians take the matter of the triune divinity pretty seriously— Baptist and Methodist may not worship alongside one another while they both claim to be brothers in Christ, but both will have nothing to do with you if you don’t hold to the Athanasian Creed that some guy came up with some 3 centuries after Jesus said he would come back.
Others who, like me, see what Arius saw up until the day he drew his final breath, more often than not assume the same attitude as the Athanasians of my generation, ridiculing the Athanasian Christians and their “three-faced God” just as Athanasians Christians mock and declare false Christians who see Wilson yellow.
Why should I join any of them to worship, much less join their club?
And it doesn’t stop there. There’s at least one for every sect— some perspective that became so emphatic that the group decided to form their own sect, taking with them the rest of the things that do agree with.
They just happened to disagree with this doctrine or that one. The rest, they’d been just fine with.
Gentile Christianity as it existed under catholicism 700 years after Athanasius went around killing people who disagreed with his perspective, found another reason to impose perspective on the masses, birthing the Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church in 1084.
Five hundred years later, a man named Martin Luther nailed his perspective to a door, and the Roman Catholic Church saw a portion of its adherents form the sect of Lutheranism.
The year was 1517. A millennium and a half since Jesus said he would come back.
The Roman Catholic Church saw a pretty difficult time after that, with Protestantism continuing to empower others to form their own sects that called themselves legitimate Christians… “not like those Catholics with their popes and idols and pomp.”
Jump ahead another millennium and now, in 2019, there are a myriad of perspectives with their respective supporters.
Each convinced that they’re right.
And from their perspective, they are.
They see a red ball.
I just happen to see one that’s Wilson yellow.
What an irony that the illustration that I appreciated so much that day as I gathered to worship with the Christian group would one day lead to me being “put to death” by the same Christian group for suggesting that the ball was any other color except the one that the sect’s authorities said the ball was.
Some 14 years later, I’ve attended a couple local Baptist churches once, since I did enjoy certain aspects of that group when I was a child and youth and it was at least familiar to me, although I had reservations that would be either allayed or confirmed by the degree of emphasis on Trinitarianism— after all, I’d enjoyed listening to podcasts from Charles Stanley and Adrian Rogers to fill the gap often felt from associating with other believers. While both adhere to the Athanasian Creed of Trinitarianism, neither made it central to their sermons— although there were times when I’d be enjoying a great topic when one or the other inserted a Trinitarian thought in there, and I have to remind myself that there’s plenty more to appreciate about a ball’s detail besides its color— and as long as they aren’t out to kill me because I don’t see the red on their side of the ball.
Needless to say, I was less than impressed with what I saw when I attended each Baptist church. It was very different from the Baptist churches of my youth, more concert than content.
Then there’s the problem that I have come to learn too much for my own good about you’ll hear me refer to as “Gentile Christianity.”
Discouraged, I’ve continued to listen to Adrian’s podcasts and those of Charles Stanley, both encouraging and appropriate to my present needs as a person who sure would like to do a better job at showing myself a follower of Jesus. They do still drop those Trinity-centric statements and assertions in at points, but in comparison with the abundance of counsel and insight I’ve appreciated from their audio programs, the instances are few and far between unless the particular podcast is addressing a matter Trinitarian in nature and I have the freedom to skip it.
There was a long time when a person didn’t have that option, and that certainly provides some perspective, too. We don’t see people burned at the stake any longer— but plenty of people were burned alive because when someone looked at a ball, they insisted that their color was the color— at the hands of Christians who were convinced their perspective was the right one.
Today, we just excommunicate them and declare them dead.
Or get declared an “apostate of God,” like I was 14 years ago, for simply suggestion that there might be any other possibility apart from the one determined as “orthodoxy.”
I’ll admit that many of my conclusions about God, Jesus, and the Bible will fail to fall into that strange classification of “orthodoxy” where a ball is only one color and only that color— no questions asked.
But after seeing what I’ve seen of Gentile Christians who live by “orthodoxy,” and the lengths they are willing to go to impose it, I can’t say that I’m moved to sign up.
Then again, that’s probably a matter of perspective.
—Timothy B. Kline, September 23, 2019