Baptist, Presbyterian, Holiness, Catholic, Pentecostal, Methodist, Amish, Episcopal, Lutheran, Quaker, Anglican. Orthodox and Charismatic. Can’t we all just get along?
In a sense, we do. Perhaps in the very best sense.
Looking at it from the inside, Christians can be easily frustrated by the apparent division, disagreement, sometimes infighting, that leads to countless denominations and an almost infinite variety even among supposedly similar churches. Perhaps too much of our time and energy are spent teaching our adherents and converts the dangers of the doctrines of “those other churches.” Certainly, among ourselves, we believe we are safeguarding the correct understanding of all sacred truth.
But looking at it from the outside, there actually is a great deal of unity about the things that really matter.
When someone who is antagonistic to Christian faith disparagingly accuses a person of being a Christian, the accusation is not about whether he holds to sprinkling or dunking; the charge is that he is a follower of Jesus Christ. And around that charge, every person in all those disparate groups with all their conflicting doctrine and contradictory practices would eagerly rally. We might spat and feud amongst ourselves, but we stand united when the family is threatened.
Disagreements are a luxury of the contended. Solidarity is the essential of the threatened. And a focus on the essentials demonstrates our unity even while we enjoy our variety.
“Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor,” wrote William Cowper. And you know it’s true. You certainly wouldn’t be comfortable in that church down the road, where they do everything different, and sing those strange songs. They probably read a different translation of the Bible, and who knows what they teach those kids in class.
A friend once shared with me his vision of God smiling as he looked over the infinite variety of His people in their various churches and groups, as a gardener enjoys the color and fragrance of each unique plant that makes up his delightful garden. A Sunday School teacher years ago, in a class for young married couples, always emphasized, “If you both think alike, one of you is unnecessary.” If our spiritual journeys were all the same, we would still be separated in understanding by our years in the journey. But we each come with different backgrounds, experiences, talents, abilities, and on and on. And all that variety is a good thing.
For centuries, Christians have known the essentials of our faith. The Apostles’ Creed is probably as good a statement of the core beliefs as possible:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic [universal] Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Let’s delight in our differences. Let’s rally around our common focus. Jesus Christ.
…"that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me". John 17:21