Bubbles of Glass

The theological term “Bubbles” is not often used and in fact, this may be the first time. Yet, it may very well be one of the most important terms needed in an honest discussion of religion. The glass bubbles we live in whether large or small tint our own personal spiritual universe. We defend our religious beliefs as vigorously as we defend our family. In these modern times a “live and let live” attitude prevails…. to a point. As long as we are left alone in our glass bubbles, all is well. It doesn’t much matter to a Baptist if a Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal or Catholic exist, as long as they don’t criticize the Baptist.

Seventeen hundred years ago people were murdered if they believed in ek duo physeon instead of en duo physeon, i.e., Jesus has a human and divine nature or a single nature that is both divine and human. This subtle difference is usually ignored in the contemporary culture of our churches, unless someone pushes the point. Will you agree only Jesus the divine can save all of mankind from eternal damnation? If so, will you further agree that Jesus as a co-equal third of the Triune Godhead cannot suffer, and since God cannot suffer, the crucifixion is thereby made an ersatz show? Or, is Jesus an admixture of the divine and human and therefore not a co-equal One in Trinity? Ages ago these questions required deep theological thought, not to mention extreme coercion to the point of torture and murder. This man-made question and other deep ones are answered within our preferred bubble one way or another. To paraphrase one writer, “Orthodoxy is my doxy and heresy is the other guy’s doxy.”

We see clearly through our church bubbles that make complete sense to us. This sense depends on which questions are considered most important, which verses of Scripture are emphasized, and the logic of our man-made arguments. For instance, The Twelve Articles of Faith clearly lay out what it means to be a Catholic. Article 3 addresses the physeon issue in the previous paragraph. It was further addressed by Leo’s Tome as a major topic in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. Other sects may not have as long of a history as the Catholic Church, but they have equally sound arguments defending their stance on the Bible and their beliefs.

Analogous to the Twelve Articles, but longer, is the Lutheran Book of Concord. This collection of nine writings reacts to the Catholic faith as well as being expressions of doctrine, ecumenical creeds, and confessional writings. This book is the foundation for Lutheranism, but it leaves room for the franchised variations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Missouri Synod.

John Wesley in the latter 1700’s unintentionally broke away from the Church of England. Methodists emphasize Matthew 16:18 and the concepts of “My church,” “practical divinity,” acting on one’s faith, and being social among other believers. Interestingly, Wesley coined the phrase, “agree to disagree.”

It is impossible to explain any bubble in a sentence or two. Trotting out a list of Christian denominations would fill a long chronological book or could come from the perspective of mainstream to the fringe. Many consider Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and Seventh Day Adventists some of the more outlying flavors of Christianity. Nevertheless, once a believer accepts the tenets of a particular bubble, all makes good sense within that bubble, and all is well. How good it is to be accepted and approved by other folks who live in your own bubble!

The logical consistency of a Catholic bubble is certainly there, but that game is played and won only by those living within that rose-colored bubble. The practicing Catholic’s relationship to the church, to the social order, to marriage, and a host of other elements have that Catholic rose tint applied to everything. Unitarians see everything in the orange glow of a non-judgmental God and are concerned with the more worldly matters of human dignity, justice, and peace. Lutherans have a lovely blue bubble wherein the wretched sinner can be saved only thru grace reinforced by sacraments. Conversely, The Salvation Army has next to no sacraments in its green bubble. No one is really quite sure how the Pentecostals and Baptists color their bubbles.

The Catholic Church has the longest history of men defining and refining their belief system. Martin Luther obviously instigated a break therefrom and very quickly the Lutheran sect caught fire. Similarly about the same time, John Calvin and a dozen other malcontents constituted the Reformation Movement which evolved into the Episcopal, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches. Two hundred years later John Wesley began the Methodist church. In modern times William Booth broke from the Methodists to found the Salvation Army, and Charles Russel founded the Jehovah Witnesses. This list of churchmen also extends to volumes.

Glass bubbles are created by men. The tenets of the Bible have not changed in two thousand years, but along the way men built glass walls between themselves and other Christians. The Bible remained clearly laid out, but men said the Trinity must be this way or that, and Jesus must have two natures or a single nature with two elements. As soon as men defined God, Jesus, and how the Bible ought to be read, tinted bubbles were formed separating Christians from Christians. As yet another example, the Mennonites are from the Reformed Movement, but the Quakers were from the Anglican Movement.

A great and ironic example of a significantly tinted bubble is the Separatist Movement of the Pilgrims, the Puritans if you will. It is an inspiring but totally wrong notion to think the Pilgrims came to America for religious freedom. In 1608 a group moved from England to Holland for greater religious freedom. They found the “devil may care” attitude of liberal Amsterdam adversely affected their children with examples of licentious living. They packed up and came to American where they could enforce less religious freedom; where their children could be raised within stricter puritan boundaries.

My hometown was founded in later 1800 by French Catholic fur traders. Soon thereafter immigrants from Scandinavia settled to work the lumber mills in the northern forests of Minnesota. For a hundred years there were Catholics who divided into French and Polish churches and Lutherans separated into Swedish, Finnish, and Norwegian churches. Eventually Presbyterian and Episcopal churches were established. Even among the Lutherans subtle tints of blue separated the lighter shade of the Norwegians from the mid-range of the Swedes from the darker bubble of the Finns. The Finns considered the Norwegians wildly liberal and inappropriate. Even in a small town our glass bubbles separated neighbor from neighbor. We could clearly see the other denominations through our bubbles but not very easily relate to them.

A single Gospel message evolved, or is it devolved, into more than a hundred bubbles of different tints. What should Christians do about this? Does God intend to burst your bubble? In a word, yes! Christians ought to recognize that their bubble is a human construct rooted in how a man lobbied for this or that question and this or that answer. Nothing Biblical can separate one Christian from another. It is only man’s ideas and not God’s that separate us.

Does this mean there should be no bubbles whatsoever? In a word, yes. This, though, does not mean God’s church cannot react to society differently from one time or place to another. The great Gothic cathedrals were a glimpse of heaven on earth during very difficult times. Veritable shacks were the needed solace of exuberant worship on slave plantations. And, storefronts offer refuge to the homeless in inner cities.

Christians should be mindful of seeing the world through the tinted glass bubbles of men’s thoughts rather than God’s principles plainly laid out in Scripture. Is there room for discussion? Of course, but let us recognize that some things are secret to God. For example, men ought not ask nosy questions about His substance and the nature(s) of Jesus. Those questions only create bubbles separating Christians from Christians.