Among Christians, our divisions have caused problems. Tonight I am going to mention another angle that I sometimes use to view the problem. This does not look directly yet at questions of faithfulness to God and spiritual vitality, of charity and blessing, of love of God or neighbor. Those are key questions -- in many ways more so than these. Yet I think these other questions deserve a moment since they are so much a part of lived experience, so long as we have the perspective that these are, after all, side-effects of deeper issues.
Some groups are fragmented to the point that they cannot provide a connection to the joy of life, much less effective cultural leadership. They struggle to provide their people with meaning and guidance. Regardless of a group's persistence, there are other ways to discern if a group is self-sustaining and mature. Here are some criteria that help me gauge a group's viability:
Standing on its own two feet
A viable group has its own identity: it can explain its own views without the need to oppose others. A viable group seeks to add value to the world and enrich peoples' lives as a servant of God's blessings. A splinter group expresses itself in terms of finding fault with their opponent without seeing a need to present a fully-formed alternative. A splinter group exists to be another's nemesis, and expresses its reason for existing in terms of finding fault, or of being a living critique rather than an independent voice.
Love of life
A religious group, by its nature, produces a culture. A thriving culture will produce worthy art as a natural expression of love of life. We can see or hear how well a culture is doing by its art, by paying attention to things such as paintings, literature, music, and architecture. A group that produces no art, produces intentionally low-quality works, or produces only what promotes itself or attacks its opponents -- that is a sign of a group that lacks the joy of life that is part of Christianity's legitimate heritage.
Community and Fellowship
Love of life will also express itself in practices that bring people together, whether through songs or holidays, commemorations or celebrations. An enduring group puts a priority on building connections between people, and on maintaining harmonious relationships. It is a healthy sign when the group teaches people to live well in relationship with others. A less healthy sign is pursuing the outside appearance of harmony by hiding problems, or addressing problems without gentleness and respect.
Wisdom and scholarship
A mature culture seeks wisdom and pursues it, values it and treasures it. Here it is useful to distinguish between wisdom and its imitations such as quarreling or intellectual sparring.
Government and leadership
A religious group forms a culture; the most fully-developed faiths have led nations and have given birth to civilizations. Peaceful growth in a flourishing culture requires both stability and meaningful justice. Does the current religious climate produce equitable laws that guide the nation and endure across generations? Does the group have the maturity of thought and character to produce capable leaders? Many of the newer religious denominations have never led a nation, and lack the experience that would bring more breadth and depth to their views.
There are other criteria that I have also considered, though in our current environment those are seen as on the border between politics and religion. So these are a simplified set of criteria that are on my mind, and I will admit that if a religious group does not meet a certain threshold then I do not see it as fully viable.