He [Jesus] said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly [church], and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:15-18)It is God's purpose for all believer's to "attain to the unity of the faith." With many Christians, and especially with evangelicals, there has been a tendency to confuse faith and doctrine. We need to recognize those who are truly accepted by the Lord. Faith is not doctrine, but obedience to the Lord. It is through faith that we are saved, and not by correct teaching (Eph. 2:8; James 1:22-25; 2:14-26; Heb. 3:12-19; Matt. 7:21-23).
".... Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. .... Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me." (John 17:11, 20-23)
Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," "I follow Apollos," "I follow Cephas," and, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13)
.... insofar as there is jealousy, strife, and factions among you, aren't you fleshly, and don't you walk in the ways of men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," aren't you fleshly? Who then is Apollos, and who is Paul, but servants through whom you believed; and each as the Lord gave to him? I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. (1 Cor. 3:3-7)
Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. (1 Cor. 3:21-23)
Walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and humility, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love; being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3).
He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God ... (Eph. 4:11-13)
Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Tim. 2:22).
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:
Now I declare to you, brothers, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold firmly the word which I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures ...Contained in that brief statement is the "gospel" in which we stand, and by which we are saved, by which one becomes "a believer", or, "a Christian."
It is through believing the facts in these statements of Scripture, and in the love of God, shown and commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ, and exercised in our love for each other as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, that Christians have "unity of the Spirit" and can "attain to the unity of the faith." With "unity of the Spirit" based on this, there is room for diversity of beliefs in other doctrines. There can be unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Although differences of beliefs, doctrine, interpretation, and opinion may be held and expressed among believers, they should be expressed in love and fellowship with those who may differ.This is the essence of true Biblical Christianity, based upon the freedom that is in Christ, as it was instituted in the very beginning.
Hans Kung, a Swiss Theologian wrote in "Theology for the Third Millennium", pages 62-63:
Christian truth is covered up or forgotten by the church authorities themselves, and their own errors and half-truths are ignored, denied, or even widely disseminated. The theologian here will continually call attention everywhere and with every means available to the main point, the "hierarchy of truths," the "center of Scripture," and in this way will try to raise the subject of the message of Jesus Christ in a way that is both comprehensive and discriminating. This will not bury the authority of the Church, but present it in a new, credible form.He also wrote in wrote in "Christianity and the World Religions", page 121:
What Christians Believe In
What, then, do Christians actually believe in? What is the basis of Christian faith? Is it the Church, Tradition, or the Bible? Answer: It is neither the Church nor Tradition nor the Bible:
The unconditionally reliable reality, to which men and women can hold fast for all time and eternity, is not the Bible texts and not the Fathers of the Church, nor the Churchs magisterium, but God himself as he spoke for believers through Jesus Christ. The texts of the Bible, the sayings of the Fathers and church authorities mean to be - with varying degrees of importance - no more and no less than an expression of this belief.
- Even the Protestant Christian does not believe in the Bible, but in the one to whom the Bible bears witness.
- Even the Orthodox Christian does not believe in Tradition, but in the one whom Tradition hands down.
- Even the Catholic Christian does not believe in the Church, but in the one whom the Church proclaims.
Thus Jesus as God's Christ remains Lord over the Church's authority, over Tradition, and the Scriptures. The Bible itself, however, insofar as it bears witness to Jesus Christ, is the source and measure of faith and theology in the Church: norma normans non normata. It is Jesus Christ himself who constitutes the spiritual power of Scripture, which can again and again win respect and recognition for itself: for all the limitations and liability to error of our exegesis, theology, and preaching, of decisions by the councils and pronouncements by the magisterium. Therefore Christians do not believe, so to speak, first in the authority of the Church, of Tradition, or of Scripture, and then in the truth of the Gospel, in Jesus Christ, and in God, his Father. Christians believe rather in the Jesus originally attested to in Scripture, in the Christ, in God himself. Anyone who experiences Scripture this way, as the Gospel in faith, becomes certain that the Bible is interpenetrated and filled with the Spirit, that it is truly "inspired." Jesus, the Christ of God, and through him God himself, is the basis of faith.
In this sense we can also speak of the truth in the Church. Ultimately truth in the Church means, above and beyond all true propositions, the truth as it is regarded in the Old and New Testament, where the term "truth" (Hebrew emeth, Greek aletheia) means fidelity, constancy, reliability. The fidelity, that is, of the God of the covenant to his word and to his promise. There is not a single passage in Scripture that says Scripture contains no errors. No where is the Churchs magisterium or a council guaranteed that it could be or remain without error. But on the strength of the witness of Scripture Christians can be sure of the fidelity of their God, who will never become a liar, who remains true to himself and his word and so to the human race as well, who in the end made his word definitively true by fulfilling all God's words in the one Word: in him who is "the Word" and "the truth" (John 1:1-2; 14:6).
"The criterion for being a Christian is not the doctrine of the Trinity, gradually elaborated by the Church, but belief in the one and only God, the practical imitation of Christ, trusting the power of God's Spirit, that Spirit who in dialogue with non-Christians, as in other matters, works wherever he wishes, and will lead us wherever he sees fit.The late Adolph. E. Knoch, the founder of the Concordant Publishing Concern and the editor of "Unsearchable Riches" magazine, and the "Concordant Literal New Testament," wrote in Unsearchable Riches", volume 56, number 3, the following:
This much should serve to provide an unambiguous account of what is the specifically Christian element in Christianity -- God's revelation in Jesus Christ through the Spirit."
The highest evidence of a close communing with God is not a haughty holding of the truth and a separation from all who do not see it as we do. We are to endeavor to correctly partition the word of truth, but we are also to endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the tie of peace. Truth, too often, has been held in hate. Truth in love is the key to the approval of God and to the hearts of His saints.....He also wrote in "Ecclesial Administration":
Truth, in love, is sometimes silent, for fear of offending. It is often grieved, but does not retaliate. Above all it does not, like Peter, cut off the ears of those who oppose, for it is patiently waiting for the time when the ears will be healed, not hurt.
Let us, who believe in ultimate reconciliation and present conciliation complement our belief by a most gracious and loving exercise of the grace we have received in our contact with the world and with His beloved saints!
"It is especially desirable that those who come together out of the various divisions and denominations of Christendom should make an earnest effort to dispense with their previous prejudices and peculiarities. They should not confine their fellowship to former associates. They should seek to clear away the barriers which have been broken down. They should cultivate association with those who have come from different denominations. There is far more profit in considering words and ways which differ from our own than in rehearsing what we have been taught. Let us make an earnest effort to realize the absolute unity of all, in Christ. All who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart, whatever their creed or communion, are candidates for our fellowship.He also wrote in the article "One, One, One:"
Another point is of prime importance. Fellowship should not be confined to those who agree with us in doctrine or who attend our ecclesia (church). That is the basis of sectarianism. Service, of necessity, must be largely with those with whom we are in close agreement, yet we should sedulously seek to reach out to all who are members of the body of Christ. Let us not form another division. If we must differ from others, let it be that we refuse to disown any who are Christ's, even though they disown us. Let us hold the truth in love and urge it with grace, but never allow it to severe the bond, of peace which unites us to all who are hallowed by God's holy spirit."
A very simple test will enable each one of us to judge whether we believe the "mystery," or know God's will in this current administration. Is its foremost fruit found in our lives and teaching? Do we really endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit? Have we severed from any saints who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart? Do we really realize that we are not in some privileged class, but that grace has overthrown all barriers, and we are one with every saint, even though some seem uncomely members of the body of Christ? This is true humility, and is the fruit of Ephesians. Let no one of us claim to know the "mystery" while denying its power in practice. We will be simply deceiving ourselves.Charles T. Russell wrote in "The New Creation", pages 239-241:
In his letter to the Ephesians (4:1-16) the Apostle reiterates this lesson of the oneness of the Church as one body of many members, under one Head, Christ Jesus, and united by one spirit--the spirit of love. He exhorts all such members to walk worthy of their calling in lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In this chapter the Apostle sets forth the various members of the body appointed to special services in it, and tells us the object of the service; saying: "he gave some [to be] apostles and some prophets and some evangelists and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry [preparing them for the glorious ministry or service of the Millennial Kingdom], for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we,...speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth... maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph. 4:11-16)One may ask how Christians with different beliefs, doctrines, or theologies can claim equal trust in the same Scriptures, or how they can fellowship and work together when so many Christians have divided and fought over those very issues through the centuries. The answer is found by understanding that while Christians are united, or have unity of the Spirit based on faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, each individual Christian is given a gift of the Spirit, a ministry that may differ from the gift given to another. But, even though the gifts, or ministries, may differ, they are all for the good of, and the upbuilding of the entire body of Christ, that is, His church.
We note the picture which the Apostle draws for us--that of a human body, but small and undeveloped. He informs us that it is the divine will that all of the various members should grow to full development, full strength and power-- "the full stature of manhood" is the picture which represents the Church in its proper, complete condition. Carrying the figure down through the age to the present time, we see that member after member fell asleep to await the grand organization of the Millennial morning in the First Resurrection, and that the places of these were being continually supplied, so that the Church was never without a full organization, although at times there might be greater weaknesses in one member and greater strength in another. However, the endeavor of each member at all times must be to do everything in his power for the upbuilding of the body, for the strengthening of the members and for their perfection in the graces of the Spirit--"till we all come to the unity of the faith."
Unity of faith is desirable; it is to be striven for--yet not the kind of unity that is generally aimed at. Unity is to be along the lines of "the faith once delivered unto the saints" in its purity and simplicity, and with full liberty to each member to take different views of minor points, and with no instruction whatever in respect to human speculations, theories, etc. The Scriptural idea of unity is upon the foundation principles of the Gospel.(1) Our redemption through the precious blood, and our justification by demonstrated faith therein.Thus each member of the body of Christ, maintaining his own personal liberty, is so thoroughly devoted to the Head and to all the members that it will be his pleasure to lay down all, even life itself, on their behalf.
(2) Our sanctification, setting apart to the Lord, the Truth and their service--including the service of the brethren.
(3) Aside from these essentials, upon which unity must be demanded, there can be no Scriptural fellowship; upon every other point fullest liberty is to be accorded, with, however, a desire to see, and to help others to see, the divine plan in its every feature and detail.
We have already considered the special work of the apostles, and the fact that their number was limited, and that they are still performing their service in the Church, speaking as the Lord's mouthpieces to his people through his Word. Let us now examine something respecting these other services of the Church to which the Apostle refers as the Lord's gifts to the general body, or Ecclesia.
The Lord provides the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, for the blessing of the general body, as respects both their present and their everlasting welfare. It is for those who are earnestly relying upon the Lord as the Head, the Instructor, the Guide of the Church, his body, to expect, look for and notice his gifts in all these particulars; and to accept and to use them--if they would have the promised blessing. These gifts are not forced upon the Church, and those who neglect them, when offered, experience a corresponding loss. The Lord set these in the Church at the beginning and thus gave us the ideal Church arrangement, leaving it to his people to follow the pattern thus set them and to have proportionate blessings; or to ignore the pattern and to have corresponding difficulties and disappointments. Let us, as those who desire to be led and taught of the Lord, seek to learn how he set the various members originally, and what gifts of this kind he has been bestowing upon his people since, that we may thus appreciate whatever gifts of this character are at our disposal, and may the more zealously avail ourselves of them for the future.
The Apostle declares that it is the Lord's pleasure that there be no schism in the body--no splits, no divisions. With human methods divisions are unavoidable--except as in Papacy's period of triumph, when the nominal system became powerful and used drastic methods of persecution in dealing with all not fully in accord with itself. That, however, was a unity of force, of compulsion--an outward unity, and not a unity of the heart. Those whom the Son makes free can never participate heartily in such unions, in which personal liberty is utterly destroyed. The difficulty with the Protestant denominations is not that they are too liberal and, therefore, have separated into many fragments, but rather that they still have much of the spirit of the mother institution, without possessing the power which she at one time exercised for quelling and suppressing liberty of thought. We will, doubtless, surprise many by saying, that instead of having too many divisions or splits of the kind we now see on every hand, the real need of the Church of Christ is still more liberty--until each individual member shall stand free and independent of all human bonds, creeds, confessions, etc. With each individual Christian standing fast in the liberty wherewith he was made free by the Lord (Gal. 5:1; John 8:32), and each individual Christian united in loyalty to the Lord and to his Word, very quickly the original unity which the Scriptures inculcated would be discerned and all true children of God, all members of the New Creation, would find themselves drawn to each other member similarly free, and bound each to the other by the cords of love far more strongly than are men bound in earthly systems and societies. "The love of Christ constraineth us" [holds us together--Young's Concordance]. (2 Cor. 5:14)
"Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord. There are various kinds of workings, but the saqme God, who works all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all. .... For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12. See the entire chapter)With these things in mind, we can begin to see that not all the differences in denominations are wrong or should be discarded. Usually the differences are simply a matter of the various gifts of the Spirit having special emphasis by the members of that particular denomination.
Lewis Fisher wrote in 1921 in "Which Way," Chapter XIV. "The Way of the Ages," the following concerning the concepts of "applied Christianity":
Christians may never agree on what applied Christianity really is. Perhaps it is well that they do not agree, since there must be endless fields that need workers, and each type of mind should have the field that its faculties fit it to cultivate.
Maybe the great thing, after all, is that every Christian be in the Way of human service, according to his own best vision.
A great need of to-day is some reorganizing of the Christian forces of the world. In many communities the spectacle of many weak but warring sects, each supporting its own against all the others, is a crime. An increasing number of communities are seeing this, and some very hopeful movements exist looking to the cure of these painful distracting divisions. .....
But, after all, denominations correspond to companies in an army. It is not likely that the efficiency of any army would be increased by abolishing the regiments that compose it. Rightly functioning, the divisions greatly add to efficiency. The evil arises when they shoot into each other, instead of at a common enemy.
Denominations, in growing communities, are not an evil, unless mistaken men make them so. They allow for certain very wholesome expressions of varying points of view. Modern attempts at creedless creeds, or vague and indefinite groupings, in an effort to make a world faith to abolish all faiths, are not ideal ways to reorganize human society. Chesterton thought that he had observed "that every sectarian was more sectarian in his unsectarianism than he was in his sect." So far most efforts to abolish sects have simply resulted in one more sect, more sectarian than any was that it tried to displace.
There is gain in cultivating likeness, but unlikeness is far more interesting. God made all men of one blood, but yet found a way to prevent any two of them from being alike. ...
There is a fellowship of the spirit, fathoms deeper than differences of opinion. It is the fellowship of those who love the Way of the Ages. [John 14:6; Acts 9:2; 16:17; 18:25-26]
"Religion is the relationship between a person and their God, but denomination is simply a preference, like the car you drive."
The following is from the introduction to the book "The Pitts-Street Chapel Lectures," pages IV - VI. This book consists of sermons delivered at Pitts-Street Chapel by six clergymen of six different denominations, during the winter of 1858.
"Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you
a reason of the hope that is in you."
(1 Pet. 3:15)
There is in the world a Christian Church. It is composed, not of theologians, but of the faithful. In this Christian Church are many families, such as Episcopalian, Trinitarian, Unitarian, and the like. Each of these families demands that the whole heart shall be given to God, and entireness of faith be had in the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet they do not agree in matters of doctrine, church organization, or ritual. How shall true Christian fellowship pervade all these many families of the Church? Simply by letting the holy spirit fill every member of the whole body, making all one in Christ. Not at all, on the one hand, by lightly esteeming what we understand to be the Master's command; nor, on the other, by underestimating in the least another's intelligence, morality, faith or piety. That which is and which remains the same through all ages, in all branches of the church, in each pious heart, is not dogma, but faith. Out of that rather than out of his theological head can one discern a brother in Christ. The Pitts-Street Chapel easily finds brethren grouped in other buildings and under other names. The spirit of Christ is in them -- "the tree is known by its fruit." It therefore gives them fellowship. Not by pulpit exchanges altogether; not by sitting with them at the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper altogether; but by uniting with them in the love and service of the same God and Lord; in receiving from them knowledge and wisdom; in being quickened by their devotion, and as far as it is able, by not only reciprocating the same, but uniting with them in every good word and work
Let us throw aside the special case, and say, -- if Christian brethren of all these various families, we would unite the whole household of faith, it must be done upon the basis of not only union in diversity, but -- communion while we are separated. ....
... If an outward union be essential, let such as deem baptism, or any rite, Episcopacy, or any form of church organization non-essential, go into union with those who deem them essential. that will make quite a change. But is this outward union at all necessary? No one temple, at Jerusalem or anywhere else, will hold the whole Christian family. We must have many temples, and many congregations. That is just what we now have. This being so, let those who most nearly agree worship together, -- and so they do. Let us also be kind and true, seeking for each other not the worst possible, but rather the best name, which generally will be the truest; Trinitarian or Unitarian, if you will; but not Infidel, if one's whole faith is in the Lord, nor Bigot, when another is loyal to his Lord's commands, even though neither may be an infallible interpreter. Moreover, let differing views be fairly represented. Who so well as an Episcopalian can truly represent Episcopacy? And so of all other denominations. Justice demands that each shall be heard in its own defence. What is still more important, let divers doctrines be held as the interpretations of various fallible men, but not all as conclusive proofs of religious character. Let faith in the Lord, let piety alone, be recognized as the test of true discipleship. Christian fellowship would then follow. No pulpit exchanges need be made between ministers of the many various sects, any more than between teachers of various schools. Nor every Christian sit at the same communion table, any more than all relatives at one domestic board. Each, as in so many Catholic churches, might go to his chosen place, to be taught and to worship, yet all be recognized, loved and labored with as members of "the household of faith." This is a union which may be. Is it not one which God demands? Is it not this alone what man needs?
Jesus and the Trinity (Part 1) - By Mark M. Mattison: The purpose of this article is to explain objectively what the different views are and why. Identifying the historical basis for each position helps us to understand today's theological landscape and to appreciate where others are coming from.
Jesus and the Trinity (Part 2) - By Mark M. Mattison: Whereas Jesus and the Trinity (Part 1) was primarily historical and theological, this article is primarily practical and Scriptural. Some Bible students may be more interested in the different positions, or concerned to determine the most accurate view, or uncertain how Christians of the various theological positions can get along. All of these questions will be addressed in the form of a fictional short story based on personal experiences.