G4G: The Church
BY CARLEY ESCHLIMAN
Christians are united by core common beliefs centered on Jesus Christ, a core which Jesus himself passed on to his disciples (e.g., John 14:6; 6:35, 45-48; 11:25-26; Mark 8:31-32, 9:30-31). That core was taught, proclaimed, and passed on by those disciples (Acts 2:22-23, 31, 36; Romans 1:1-6; I Corinthians 15:1-6; I Timothy 1:3-4; II Timothy 1:13-14); echoed by the earliest Christians in the ancient creeds of the church; and confessed by the universal Christian church in every age and place. Theological differences among the main branches and denominations of the church are typically peripheral matters not essential to salvation (baptism and church governance being the most notable). The primary reason Christians self-organize into different denominations is largely practical; for example, a difference of conviction over who may be baptized requires different practices and, hence, different organizing bodies. But on the essentials, all Christians agree. Most notably, they believe: Jesus is the Christ, the long-promised Messiah, the Lord and Giver of Life, who is both fully God and man.
Christians, however, are deeply imperfect people who have sometimes let peripheral differences become divisive. We need to repent and remember Jesus’ promise that we are one in Christ (Ephesians 4:4-6). Christians are genuinely one (John 17:22-23), fully united to one another because jointly and severally we are united to the Lord, who is the head of the body, or the church (Colossians 1:18, I Corinthians 12:27). And, at the same time, we are called to express that oneness in service to and love for one another (Galatians 5:13, I Peter 4:10, Romans 12:13). Parachurch organizations have played a vital ministry role for centuries. Christian hospitals, welfare programs, missionary and relief organizations, and even college campus fellowships like Christian Union continue to support the ministry of the church. Parachurch ministries and the local church serve complementary purposes. The church is the people of God gathered in a specific geographic location for worship, service, and witness. Parachurch ministries typically play a narrower part; in the case of Christian Union, that part is to equip and train college students for a lifetime of service.
- Every Christian in every age and in every place is united in commitment to the same core, central cluster of truths: that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate who lived, died, and was resurrected from the dead to save and renew sinners and to renew the entire cosmos.
- Secondary issues are just that—differences in opinion among brothers and sisters in Christ about important issues, but ones second (or third or fourth) to the gospel.
- Denominations are a practical manifestation of the real differences Christians have over secondary matters; but in no way should they obscure the real unity Christians have in Jesus Christ.