Matthew LaPlante provides readers with a fascinating look into the religious landscape–both ecumenical and interfaith–of Ethiopia in his article, “Growing in the Word,” from Christianity Today. The competition and antipathy (I can’t think of a softer word) between evangelicals and the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia encapsulates my frustration with the rank denominationalism that we Americans have exported to other parts of the world.
Don’t get me wrong: the rise of Bible-based evangelical Protestants has been very good to challenge the Orthodox Church and rouse it from its slumber. And the Orthodox Church has been good for “Pentays” (as they are called) to consider their relationship with ancient Christian doctrine and worship.
And maybe I’m just idealistic, but why does there have to be competition between the two groups? LaPlante tells the story of Orthodox believers who have made a clear break with the Orthodox Church to become evangelicals. But why do Christians have to choose and commit to one or the other–a group that emphasizes the Word to the poverty of sacramental life or a group the emphasizes the sacramental life to the poverty of the Word? Why do both groups (apparently) tell their adherents that the other group is illegitimate and that they must sever all ties with them? Why can’t Christians have the Word and the sacraments?
I don’t mean to gloss over important doctrinal differences between evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Christians (especially when the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is even at odds with Eastern Orthodoxy at large), but wouldn’t it be great if Christians of different stripes could get along with each other and cooperate, especially in lands where they are minorities? Wouldn’t it be great if believers could participate in the sacramental and ecclesiastical life of the Church as well as feasting on the Word through strong Bible teaching? In case I missed something, those things are not exclusive of each other.