It's estimated that there are about 4200* religions on earth today. No-one knows exactly, and that number increases as the earth's "sands of time" trickle through the hourglass.
The top four general religious groups (by number) account for more than 4.5 billion of the world's population: Christianity 28 per cent, Islam 18 per cent, Hinduism 12 per cent and Buddhism 5 per cent. That leaves about 37 per cent of "other" belief groups. Within Christianity there are about 41,000 different church groups or off-shoots*. When all branches of religious belief are taken into account there is an incalculable number to consider.
Whether a single congregation or a planet-wide established religious group, all have at least one difference in their charter, mindset or practice that keeps them from worshipping under the same banner. Such differences include: doctrine; interpretation; preaching style; Scripture version; social class; ethnicity; and heritage.
But we should never let what divides us theologically divide us as human beings. We are, after all, all children of the same God. But it isn’t easy. We are all subject to the attitudes in our society but sometimes it’s good to remember how wrong those attitudes can be.
We recently sold our home to an Islamic couple and their six children. Barriers of ingrained attitudes raised themselves as we went through the contract negotiation period and eventual sale. How often we were weighed down by preconceived notions.
After a while it finally dawned on us that this family was the epitome of generosity and friendship. The six children (aged from four to 14) could not have been more respectful or delightful. We have established a lasting friendship with them. It sobered us to think that our attitudes to the hijab or burqa and other cultural and religious symbols used by others, had been so misdirected.
The current widespread hateful attitudes across the globe toward followers of Islam may have its causes. But as in all levels of family and society, we should not use a blanket mindset regarding matters of individuality. In all families and in all religious groups there will be a range of thought spread between opposite extremes.
Satan has developed conflict as an art form. Not only has he managed to have tens of thousands of religious disciplines through Christianity and other faiths, all at tension with one another, but he manages to create dissension within church organisations, sectors and local churches. Satan in his endeavour to capture every soul on earth in his web of deceit uses the method of "divide and conquer" and effectively destroys anything that points to God.
How is your family—your church family—in this divisive, subversive, satanic attack we see daily? Is he succeeding through division when he may have failed with doctrine? Is he holding up our carriage of the gospel commission because we are too tied up in relatively unimportant issues within our church?
There's a simple strategy for combating Satan's divisive techniques within the Church and in our society as a whole. It's so simple yet so passed over in our complicated world. Jesus said, "Love God with all your heart" and "Love your neighbour as yourself". That's it. When we keep these two commands uppermost in our thinking, the colour choice of the church carpet; the style of our pastor's preaching; the version of Scripture used; or the host of other relatively unimportant things that sideline our focus, no longer become distractions to the real issues of life. In addition, we won’t let how others dress or pray distract us from our duty to love them.
It comes down to "you" and "me" to make love a reality. We are the ones who can make the change in our lives through the strength provided by the Holy Spirit. Of course, as the Spirit takes control of our lives, new characteristics blossom and fruit in full view of our neighbour. And the Father begins to see Jesus in us! "God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways" (Galatians 5:22, 23). We live in a complex, fractured world. But there is a solution. And we’ve had it all along: the love of God.
* Statistics from Wikipedia and other internet sources. Numbers are indicative only.
Phillip Lomman writes from Lynne, New South Wales.