An observation on things that divide the church but shouldn't.
I think most church leaders would agree with the statement "In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity" (attributed Augustine circa 500 AD - I wasn't able to confirm that.) But the issue then is "what are the essentials?" Every denomination, every church, every group, has their own ideas as to what the essentials are and will tell you, basically, "I believe in unity, as long as everyone agrees with me."
Recently I got in to what I thought would be a friendly debate with an old friend regarding Bible translations (KJV-only v. 'modern' translations). While I thought this would be a scholarly discussion, and it started out that way, it soon became pretty heated and got so far as a question of faith and salvation.
With the utmost respect for my friend and the KJV, his position was that using only the KJV was an essential. I respectfully disagreed and believe that while the Bible shows us what the essentials are, and as such is essential in itself, there is no perfect English translation and a good student will use many different translations. I knew there was no way one of us would "convert" the other, but the friendly part of the debate broke down as passion for our respective positions took over.
My point here is that if we are ever going to achieve Christian unity, we need to find some common ground that we can all agree on. Then, once we have that, then we can debate the other issues.
The early church made such an attempt with the Nicene Creed. In 325 AD, this is what the leaders of the church came up with:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Seems pretty straight forward, right? But even though they may agree with what the creed says, there are many churches that throw it out - because it is a "creed". And even churches that would agree with what it says disagree on what some parts of the creed mean, like "baptism".
Why do we keep finding excuses to divide instead of looking for ways to unify? The "denominational tradition" I belong to (we're the denomination that doesn't like to be called a denomination) has probably set the worst example over the last 200 years or so. Large groups have divided into smaller groups, smaller groups have divided into polarized factions, and even individual churches have split over the dumbest things that really have no bearing on who God is or what He has done for us. If we can't get along on Earth, how are we going to live together forever in Heaven? (Well, some would say, only "we" are going to Heaven, because "they" don't agree with "us". *sigh*)
Can we at least agree on one thing? Just one? Jesus died for us to give us life, and he rose to give us hope. Let's start there and figure out the rest as we go along, OK?