If one Christian is right on a matter of doctrine and this contradicts what another denomination believes on that same doctrine, then one is right and one is wrong. Not a radical notion, but we see the same response from the atheists. They sarcastically say that the one who thinks he’s right must have found True Christianity™ and that he believes every other Christian will burn because believers are all that arrogant.
Is there such a thing as True Christianity™, in the sense of something that one Christian denomination has and all of the others lack? Are only the Methodists going to heaven, leaving the poor Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, and countless house churches in the clutches of hell next to unbelievers?
Well, no. I don’t think there is. Christianity is believing Jesus is the Lord, and then acting out that belief.
Simple as that sounds, there is some complexity to it. There are non-negotiable beliefs and practices, and there are negotiable beliefs and practices. It is in these non-negotiables that we see the unity of Christianity:
- Existence of God as a Trinity
- Preeminence of Christ over his creation
- Mankind fell into sin, and is now utterly enslaved to it
- Death of Jesus making atonement for the sins of mankind
- Resurrection of Jesus on the third day
- Future return of Christ to judge the living and the dead
Unfortunately, many Christians make too big a deal out of the negotiables.
For example, a hot topic is how and when to baptize. Some say that we should be baptized when we accept the free gift of salvation through God’s grace. Others say that baptism in intended to replace circumcision, meaning that believers should baptize their children soon after birth.
As to method, some practice full immersion. Some practice sprinkling. Some use baptismal pools. Some go outside to a nearby body of water.
The Bible is clear that baptism is important — it’s more than a sign or a symbol, as the Lord’s Supper is more than a sign or a symbol. So I don’t want to minimize the importance of finding some common ground in this debate. Rather, I want to emphasize I think the important thing is that we receive a baptism. Quibbling over the method or time of the baptism shouldn’t divide us to the point where we refuse to recognize someone as a Christian because they were sprinkled as an infant instead of immersed as a believer.
Unity in the non-negotiables, grace in the negotiables, and charity to all.
If the church, in some way, holds to the beliefs above and tries to make sense of biblical principles of life through exegesis of Scripture, then they’re probably okay. The challenge of living such principles daily should be given to the congregation, and the New Testament offices of bishop (elder) and deacon should be present and supporting the congregation in living out their faith.
Faith should be not just belief, but should be obedience as well — in other words, “faith” is properly thought of as “loyalty.”
Not every church does this; some emphasize faith as mere “belief” and never questions how its congregants live nor do they condemn clear sins. Of course, there’s the opposite extreme, such as the churches that condemn trivialities like drinking alcohol even though no clear Scripture exists by which they could do that. This creates disunity, then new denominations. Paul had this to say of being hung up on particulars that don’t exist:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14:1-12)
“Agree to disagree” is the crux of this passage, but not everything that this passage says. Paul says that the abstainer is the weaker of the two Christians. It means that the person who must abstain from alcohol is weaker than the person who can enjoy alcohol. The stronger brother should never judge the weaker one.
Paul also urged the Corinthian church to unite, and not let trivialities divide them:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.. . . For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1:10-17)
So, here, we see that the Corinthian church was divided about doctrine. Some said they followed Paul, some said Apollos, and some said Cephas (Simon Peter). And Paul admonished them, asking if he died for their sins.
So he is imploring them to be unified and to only follow Christ, for it is to Christ that we (his bride) are betrothed. Not to Paul, not to Apollos, not to Peter.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Rom 14:13-19)
We are not to cause a brother to stumble. When we encounter a weaker, legalistic brother, then we shouldn’t fight. Let him have his way of thinking; it might help him. In other words, don’t destroy God’s church because you just have to be right.
Does that mean that we should always bow to everyone’s particular interpretation of the Bible? Of course not. Next, let’s discuss a helpful category system of theological errors. After that, we can decide when and how to fight for the faith.