Reasons to Believe

The Problem of Christian Disunity Part 5

Throughout this series, I have pointed out that historic Christians enjoy a robust unity in terms of essential beliefs, values, and worldview orientation. (For the first three articles, see here, here, and here.) In the fourth installment I proposed two suggestions for promoting greater unity among Christ’s church.

This final article offers five points that I personally try to emphasize when interacting with people who come from different denominations or different branches of Christendom. It is my conviction that a principled promotion of unity among the various Christian traditions can significantly strengthen the integrity of the gospel message to an unbelieving world.

Emphasize Common Ground

Working at Reasons To Believe affords me many opportunities to speak on apologetic topics in churches of various denominations. Over the last couple of years I have spoken in Lutheran churches, Presbyterian churches, Methodist churches, Baptist churches, Assembly of God churches, Evangelical Free churches, Seventh-day Adventist churches, and various nondenominational churches.

When I speak with Christians of other theological flavors I try to find common ground with them. I often talk about what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity.” The Apostles’ Creed also makes a great topic of conversation because it does an excellent job of summarizing essential Christianity and churches of various denominations recite this creed in their services. Additionally, I focus on the person of Jesus Christ—emphasizing his life, death, and resurrection.

Before I will discuss controversial doctrinal differences, I insist on beginning with the doctrinal common ground that I share with other believers.

Acknowledge Leaders and Strengths

When speaking in Lutheran churches I always relay my respect and admiration for the German reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). Often I will emphasize that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone (noting the Latin solas of the Reformation). I will quote from the Formula of Concord or Luther’s Small Catechism.

In a Methodist church I mention John Wesley (1703-1791), an early leader in the Methodist movement and Arminian in theological orientation. And though I am a Calvinist by conviction, I like to convey to my Methodist friends that Wesley embraced a grace-oriented theology. Even Calvinists and Arminian Christians (historically theological competitors) can respect and complement one another.

Support Solid Ministry Endeavors

Some of the ministries that I give money to are outside of my own theological tradition. I support them because they are engaged in solid works of ministry. For example, I strongly admire the work of the Salvation Army. Even though some of the denomination’s theological distinctives are at odds with my personal doctrinal views, I support them because they are the best at what they do.

Similarly, I am impressed with the health organizations sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I differ strongly with Adventist theology at various points, but their emphasis upon health and wellness is hard to beat.

When I discover solid works of ministry in other theological branches within Christendom, I acknowledge them and support them.

Recognize Worldview Allies

As an evangelical Protestant, I have strong and enduring theological differences with Roman Catholicism. Yet when it comes to such ethical issues as abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research, I respect the “culture of life” that the Pope so eloquently speaks about and cogently defends.

I view theologically conservative Catholics as worldview allies when it comes to many of the controversial ethical issues of the day. Even Protestants and Catholics (once ardent enemies) can respect each other and engage in common causes.

Practice Graciousness

Christians from my tradition (Reformed or Calvinistic) are known for their strong convictions. A Reformed Christian often knows what he or she believes and why. However, sometimes Calvinists can come across as rather pugnacious or quarrelsome. However, my goal is to be a winsome and gracious Christian who holds to a Reformed theology. I take it as a complement when people say I am a “nice Calvinist.” And no, that’s not a contradiction in terms.

These are five suggestions based on my own experiences that can help promote unity among Christians of various traditions. That unity can help illustrate to the world that Christians treat each other with love and respect because God first loved us in Christ (1 John 4:19).

For a principled call for reunion among evangelical church bodies, see John M. Frame, Evangelical Reunion: Denominations and the Body of Christ.

For more on the essential beliefs, values, and worldview orientation of historic Christianity, see my two books

Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions and A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Subjects: General Apologetics

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.