It should be obvious to anyone living in the American south that Christians are divided. The sheer number of denominations and churches in my particular city demonstrates the vast and varied thoughts of contemporary Christians. These nuanced positions are seen as so vital, they lead to broad canopy denominations like Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, UCC, Pentecostal, et al. Furthermore these broad denominations are split into several smaller denominations like Free Methodist, United Methodist, various types of Weslyans, etc. Seemingly, more autonomy equates to more intra-denominational varieties (e.g. Baptists).
I find the vast array of denominations unfortunate; yet I also understand the sociopolitical reasons for the majority of sects. [However, I do not think that the denominations are based from theological hermeneutics necessarily; although that is how it is usually framed by Christians leaders and devotees.] Historically, denominational identities have fueled violence of Christian against Christian. Violent actions are not typically the norm today; yet in many of the interviews that I have conducted in my research, I have found that interdenominational competition still exists. This leads to mistrust and social barriers. Moreover, in large churches with multiple services, I have even discovered “rivalry” between those who attend a certain “o’clock” service versus another “o’clock” service.
These competing claims leads to questions of authenticity: Who is most like Jesus? Or who is following the Bible most closely? Which church has practices most like that of the New Testament? Sometimes, who is filled more with the spirit? And this leads to an attempt to restore a contemporary version of a two thousand year old belief system. [Or maybe this leads to textual mimicking?]
I was reminded this week that Christianity is not unique in this aspect. I met a devotee of a particular sect of Islam known as Ahmadiyya. It was interesting to hear her perspective of not officially being recognized as Muslim by other sects of Islam. In our nation where a head covering and darker skin leads to automatic association with Islam, she struggles to be a particular kind of Muslim. And again, the belief system is about authenticity and a restoration of an original concept.
What is it about our current society that compels people to search for meaning through journeys of restoration, intra-religious distinctions, and authenticity?