Summary: How can we experience unity when we have differing beliefs?
In Ephesians 4:3-6, Paul lists seven “cords” that bind us together: a common community - “one body”; a common communion - “one Spirit”; a common confidence - “one hope”; a common commitment - “one Lord”; a common confession - “one faith”; a common conversion - “one baptism”; and a common connection - “one Father.”
Today, I want us to think about our common confession. Paul says we have “one faith.” What does he mean? Some say he’s referring to our common faith in Christ, while others say Paul is speaking of the things we believe, as in “the faith.” Actually, I think it is a little bit of both.
“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” - Jude 3 (NIV)
But some say doctrine has been a source of division, rather than unity among God’s people. Some believe miraculous gifts of the Spirit are still active today, while others believe they have ceased to exist. Some believe salvation is a matter of God’s choosing; while others believe it is a matter of the person’s choosing. Such differences have resulted in entire denominations being developed, and even groups who claim to be “non-denominational.” This was true, even in Paul’s day.
“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. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, ‘I am a follower of Paul.’ Others are saying, ‘I follow
Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Peter,’ or ‘I follow only Christ.’” - 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 (NLT)
Sadly, what Paul was dealing with in Corinth has developed even more in our day. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t still working in His church or that there can’t be unity, even across denominational lines.
Dr. Albert Mohler, in an article, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” points out the word “triage” comes from the French word “trier,” meaning “to sort,” and contends Christians need to understand some doctrines are more important than others.
Mohler suggests three levels of importance in doctrine.
First-order doctrines represent fundamentals of the faith, a denial of which represents an eventual denial of Christianity. He suggests that this would include the Trinity, the deity & humanity of Jesus, justification by faith, and authority of Scripture.
Second-order doctrines are different in that believing Christians may disagree on them. These disagreements are the reason for the formation of many denominations. Examples would be different views regarding the role of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will in salvation, the mode of baptism or the role of women in ministry. But even though there might be disagreement over these doctrines, each group can still affirm the other to be true believers.
Third-order doctrines are ones Christians may disagree over, yet remain in the same local congregation. Like differences on the 2nd coming. Some believe the church will be raptured before the great tribulation, while others believe the church will go through the great tribulation. Such disagreements can exist, and folks can remain in fellowship within the same local church.
Sadly, division occurs when we give more significance to doctrines of third or second level importance than to those of first level importance.
There is currently a great spirit of cooperation among the churches of our town. Do you know why? One reason is the pastors choose to focus on our common beliefs rather than on what we disagree about. We are in agreement about the fundamentals of the faith. When we make the second-level doctrines our focus, however, we have less unity.
Likewise, members of a local congregation, which often are formed around doctrines of first and second level importance, will find there is unity when we focus more on doctrines of first or even second level importance rather than doctrines of third-level importance.
Sometimes, we can also confuse our preferences with doctrine. Like what music we prefer, or how we prefer to participate in the Lord’s Supper, etc. Unity comes when we focus on beliefs of first-level importance.
Dr. Mohler suggests that first-level doctrines would be the Trinity, the uniqueness of Jesus as the God/man; justification by faith; and the
authority of Scripture. Dr. Adrian Rogers used to put it this way:
“We believe sin is black; judgment is sure; hell is hot; heaven is sweet; and Jesus saves.” - Dr. Adrian Rogers
A good suggestion on which doctrines are of first-level importance is to put them to the “thief on the cross” test (READ LUKE 23:39-43).