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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Why are Christians still so divided?

By Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

Tuesday, October 31, was the 500th anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther's 95 Theses in Wittenberg.

I was a university chaplain in West Berlin before the Wall came down.

Back then it was not possible to jump on a train and travel to Wittenberg, as Wittenberg was in the territory of the German Democratic Republic.

Years later, in a united Germany I was back living in the city for a few weeks. I'm a rail anorak so I notice things to do with the railways. One day I was travelling on a train out of Berlin and spotted that its terminus was Lutherstadt Wittenberg. The birthplace of Protestantism.

And that's the official name of the city, though everyone calls it Wittenberg.

I'm not a historian nor an expert on Martin Luther but all of what I have read recently tells me that this great German did not start out to divide the church.

The Irish Times commented in an editorial in recent days: 'With the bitterness that accrued from divisions in Christianity almost completely dissipated, it seems likely that the churches will see more value in working together to promote spiritual values and social solidarity in societies which have become more materialistic and narcissistic.'

In last Sunday's Gospel reading in both Catholic and Anglican churches we read: 'Do to others as you would have them do to you'.

Human beings are social animals who live in community. Could there be Christianity on an island inhabited by one single person? I think not. Christianity is all about community, all about communion. People living in communion with one another and with God. The two great commandments - loving God and loving our neighbour.

It's a great idea. Indeed, in the world in which we live, which seems to be splintering and breaking, a world that appears to have a voracious appetite to hate and despise, there is a crying need for the message of Jesus Christ - to love God and our neighbour - the two great commandments.

And look at us Christians. Is it not an oxymoron to talk about different Christian denominations?

To make it even more nonsensical, the theological language that divided us has so little meaning in the vocabulary of today's world.

Has it all more to do with power and control and the scars of history than anything to do with Grace, Scripture, Sacraments, God? I'm inclined to think so and say yes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, attended a commemoration service in Wittenberg on October 31 to mark the 500th anniversary.

She said: 'Whoever values diversity has to practise tolerance, that is the historical experience of our continent,' she said. 'Tolerance is the soul of Europe.'

Some weeks ago in a Dublin parish there was a prayer service to mark issues concerning the environment. It was great to see people from different Christian communities and the Jewish faith worshipping together. Uplifting and prayerful too. We need more of that.

Every time I saw those German trains heading for Lutherstadt Wittenberg I wondered why in heaven's name are we so divided. I can't get that line of the Gospel out of my head: 'Do to others as you would have them do to you.' It's interesting that Wittenberg is not far from Torgau on the great river Elbe, where a Soviet soldier and an American GI shook hands on April 25, 1945. It was in Torgau where the two armies met.

Some days later Nazi Germany collapsed. And it happened by people working together, working in communion with one another.

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