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  What Do Our Neighbors Believe?  

CHRISTIANITY Islam | Judaism
What is the biggest challenge facing the religion today?

by Kendra Hotz

The unity of the Christian church is one of the most significant challenges that Christians face today. The Nicene Creed, one of the Church’s oldest confessions of faith, affirms that the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” The church, in other words, is the holy institution called to unity by God in all times (apostolic) and all places (catholic). Yet the church has also always encompassed vast diversity in belief and practice. Ideally, faithful diversity lends vitality to the church as Christians in different contexts learn from one another through respectful dialogue. A church with global scope and deep historical roots will inevitably find that its faith comes to expression in a wide variety of ways.

But diversity within Christianity has often led to strife, and Christians have been as likely to cast aspersions on those who practice their faith differently as they have been to celebrate and learn from them. Deep differences in belief and practice led to the schism between East and West as well as the fracturing of the Roman Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation, and in both cases Christians found little patience for developing resources to affirm unity in the midst of diversity.

The twentieth century, however, brought renewed interest in Christian unity. The ecumenical movement, which began to grow during the late nineteenth century, blossomed in the twentieth and found institutional expression in the World Council of Churches, founded in 1948. In its second Vatican council, the Roman Catholic Church expressed a deep commitment to Christian reconciliation. A number of Protestant denominations have sought to restore full communion among themselves. Most Eastern Orthodox communions participate in the World Council of Churches as it seeks ways for Christians to share ministries, worship, and evangelism.

Massive global poverty represents a second significant challenge to the Christian faith. As industrialized nations grow increasingly wealthy and developing nations struggle with poverty, illiteracy, and disease, faithfulness calls Christians to respond with compassion and even self-sacrifice. Jesus cared for and identified with outcasts in his healing and teaching ministries. Christians are called, in imitation of Christ, to seek the welfare of “the least of these.”

The fact that so many Christians live in wealthy, industrialized nations, whose wealth historically was built on the oppression of others, represents a crisis of faith and faithfulness if those Christians fail to exert strong, coordinated pressure on their governments to redress injustices globally. Christians are also called to organize ministries of the church to reach out to those in need. Preaching the gospel is only complete when it is accompanied by efforts to bring economic justice, education, and health care to those mired in poverty, illiteracy, and disease.

Emerging health care technologies represent a third significant challenge to Christian churches. Medical advances especially at the beginning and end of life pose serious moral questions, which Christian ethics struggles to respond to. New treatments are increasingly able to extend life and to continue life beyond what seems to be the time for a natural death. Artificial respirators and feeding tubes can maintain life even in those with virtually no brain function. These technologies leave Christians asking how to know when preserving life is a good to be pursued and when it represents a failure to trust in God.

Expensive therapies such as organ transplants also raise questions about the justice of access to health care and the distribution of health care resources. Advances in infertility treatments also raise significant challenges for Christian moral theology. As medical researchers discover new ways to assist the infertile with artificial means of conception and new ways to manipulate human DNA, questions are raised about what limits Christian faith might impose on our desire to modify our genetic makeup and to select for and against the characteristics parents wish for their children to have.


Copyright ©2006 Kendra Hotz


Kendra G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor (with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections (2006) and coauthor of Transforming Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).

Excerpts from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for purchase in December 2006.


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