I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. [1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)]
Seeing a couple of first-timers at our church, I went over with programs and introduced myself. From the well-worn Bibles they carried, I surmised they weren’t new believers. The man explained that they’d been seeking a new church in our town since leaving their church five years previously. When he asked to see information about our church, I explained that our Scripture-based statement of beliefs and vision statement were on our web site. Responding that he had studied them but still had several questions, I assured him our pastor would be happy to speak with him after service. Asking me if the church had a formal statement of belief regarding the Rapture, he wanted to know whether it was pre, mid, or post-Tribulation. Never pausing for an answer, he added that he was a Calvinist, as well. Wondering if he was looking for a church or a theological debate, I was tempted to split hairs and ask if he was a four or five-point Calvinist or possibly a “hyper-Calvinist” but, fortunately, the service began. From his pointed questions, I understood why the couple had failed to find the “perfect” church in five years of searching!
In the past, Christians often settled their religious differences with bloodshed; nowadays, we just start another denomination! According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as of 2019, there were 45,000 Christian denominations in the world! For the most part, the major differences among them have to do with baptism, predestination, and the Eucharist. Other issues of contention include everything from the nature of Mary to the interpretation of Revelation.
Many doctrinal differences are inconsequential—not unimportant—but inconsequential when it comes to our saving belief in Christ. If we truly believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the questions of juice or wine, immersion or sprinkling, day of worship, type of music, women in the pulpit, marital status of clergy, and whether Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is actual, figurative, or symbolic, really have no bearing on our salvation!
The Bible doesn’t speak to every issue and several verses are open to a variety of interpretations. If knowing things like the timing of the Rapture or which Bible translation God wants us to use were essential to our salvation, our infinitely wise God would have made it crystal clear to His church. When it comes to the essentials, there’s no misunderstanding His meaning with Jesus’ words: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying,” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” [John 11:25,14:6] If the Apostle Paul managed to find common ground with unbelievers, surely we can find common ground with our brothers and sisters in Christ!
As for that couple—since they made a speedy exit after service, our church must not have met their dogmatic requirements and I suspect no church ever will. Whether we’re Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Calvinists, Orthodox, or independents, we’re not likely to agree on every theological point—not with the person sitting beside us at church or even the clergy conducting the service! Nevertheless, as brothers and sisters in Christ, let our focus remain on where we do agree—on loving God, loving others, and following Jesus.