Last week we began a very important conversation on when and where there needs to be unity and diversity in Christian circles. If you read the article, we outlined three levels of theological division and unity. Level one issues are those that are essential and necessary for Christianity, level two issues are those where denominations and local churches have traditionally divided, and level three issues are those where Christians can disagree, but can still join in the same church or denomination of churches. Over the next several weeks, I am going to be talking about these levels of disagreement one by one and will hopefully explain why Christians are divided, and where and how we can all unite.
Level one issues, or issues that are essential to being called a Christian, can be discussed under three headings: God, Revelation and Salvation. As Christians we believe in God, we believe there is only one God, and we believe that God exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Christians also believe that God created and rules over the entire universe. He is eternal, omniscient and omnipotent and there is nothing outside of his command. This understanding of the person and nature of God is essential to our faith as Christians.
Christians must understand who we are worshiping. God is not a mysterious force; he has revealed Himself throughout human history to be transcendent and immanent. A belief in multiple gods, a denial of God's trinitarian nature, or a denial of his sovereign rule over the universe is a denial of Christianity.
The second "Level One" issue is Revelation. Not only do Christians believe in God, Christians also believe that God has spoken and that He has revealed himself to us.
Christians believe that God's revelation has been known generally through creation and moral law; and specifically, through his own voice, the incarnation of Christ, and through God's written word, the Bible. Christians believe that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by the hands of men. Christians believe that without this rule of faith and practice our faith quickly falls apart.
A third "Level One" issue is Salvation. Christians believe that men are saved by the grace of God through faith in the saving work of Christ Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus who lived on earth is the son of God, and that he is God. Christians believe that Jesus took on the guilt of the world and died for the sin of humanity and it is by faith in him that Christians are forgiven before a just God for our sin. Christians also believe that Jesus Christ defeated death, being bodily raised from the dead three days after his crucifixion. In his resurrection He secured the promise of eternal life for all who believe in him.
Now, I certainly believe much more than this, but I certainly believe no less. It is not wrong for Christians to have different level two and three beliefs. Things like the meaning and mode baptism, an understanding of the order of salvation, and an interpretation of end times prophecy are important and we are wrong to say that they are not. They are just not at the same level of importance as God, Revelation and Salvation. As a Baptist my worship would not be complete in a church that never immersed, and my world view would not fit together without the doctrine of original sin. However, I do not believe these things to be level one issues and it is to this second level that will turn next week.
In the meantime, let's be praying that our churches can unite for things such as prayer for the community, defense of Christian morality, and social justice for the needy under "level one unity." While we may disciple, worship, and take communion in different ways there are some things wherein we must be open and eager to join together for the glory of Jesus Christ in all the earth.
Jason Dees is a grateful follower of Jesus Christ, the husband of Paige and the father of Emery Anna. He is also the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington and a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.