If I were an atheist, and wanted to land a right hook on the chin of Christianity, I would aim first at its disunity. If one took serious inventory of the differences between Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformists, Pentecostals and the endless myriad of non-denominational churches (some estimate such churches to be numbered in the 10,000 range worldwide) one would find more disagreement in thought and practice than in nearly any other “ism” on the planet (granted, its “Christianity” and not “Christianism,” but you get the point).
One will find that the average Christian who engages in debates with atheists will often lack concern for such things. Those on the outside can’t help but see the overwhelming disunity among Christians; but often, those on the inside never see it, or they see it but simply don’t care. Regardless, it is a serious problem. The early Christian apologists hung their hats on the fact that there was one unified Church; for Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch, Church unity was the ultimate apologetic trump card for Christianity among the pagan religions of the day. Today the situation is exactly reverse, Church disunity is the ultimate trump card for atheists against the faith.
Very simply put, Christ promised that He would build His Church and the gates of hell would never prevail against it. Christ also said, “A house divided cannot stand.” Popular modern day Christianity is the epitome of a house divided.
Many in the various Protestant faiths would openly and proudly proclaim that the apostolic faith ceased from the earth soon after the death of the Apostles and was miraculously revived when their particular establishment was created. For example, the Pentecostal movement could not be more proud of the fact that authentic, Spirit-filled Christianity was revived in a tiny mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century. In other words, the gates of hell had apparently prevailed against Christ’s Church for nearly 1800 years. And the irony of ironies is that this authentic movement of the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit which united the Church at Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts—resulted in literally 1000’s of schismatic splits within its first hundred years.
But the same could be said for Protestantism in general. According to the Protestant worldview, the early Roman Catholic Church was a fraudulent Church that had been corrupting the faith for who knows how long (the precise period in which the Church had been corrupted is a matter of opinion depending on which Protestant you happen to be talking to). The true faith was finally restored by Martin Luther and the Reformers in the 16th century, which makes the gates of hell victor over the Church for, potentially, more than a thousand years. Remarkable!
If I were an atheist there would be no need for me to attack Christianity head on with topics such as evolution, or what have you. Christianity has done a fine job of attacking itself for generations. I would feel under qualified to attack the faith when it had so many internal experts attacking it for me. My job would rest in simply reminding Christians of their schismatic track record in the West for the last 500 years and counting. If they cannot agree with each other, why should society at large agree with any of them on anything?
So, why am I still a Christian?
Indeed, if anyone should be convinced that Christianity is a sham it should be someone who is writing an article to give atheists tips for debating Christians. In truth, a few years ago I was on the edge in my relationship with modern, popular Christianity. I was ready to declare the whole thing a fraud. The fact that there was not a Church, in the sense described in Scripture and in the Nicene Creed, present in the world (or at least in my little world) was enough to finally push me to the brink after almost 20 years of participating in the independent, Evangelical movement. Then, during my studies in a private Evangelical seminary, I found the Church that was there and had been there since the day of Pentecost right in front of my nose. After some time of inquiry and prayerful soul searching, my wife and I were baptized into the Orthodox Church on Easter of 2010.
Someone once said that if counterfeit coins are discovered in circulation, it does not follow that authentic coins do not exist. The same is true with the myriad of churches within Christianity. Their incredible disunity is not, for me, a sign that the whole thing is a gigantic parlor trick played on society for two millennium. If I went shopping and while unpacking my groceries I discovered orange peels in every bag I would not resolve that because I did not find a full orange that an orange did not exist. It would be just the opposite. The abundance of evidence that an orange did exist would be found in the fact that it’s peels were everywhere. The true Church does exist, and the evidence is contained in the fact that there are so many copycats. But I digress.
I guess what I’m saying is, this argument will work on “almost” all Christians.
Good luck, and thanks for reading.