Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Essentials

When I think about Jesus' prayer to the Father in John 17 that His followers would be one as He and the Father are one, I weep for the church today. In our unique American market-driven expression of the church, we have created more denominations that I could even list. Every group has ended up splitting from another group, claiming that their corner of Christianity was more pure, more "biblical", more faithful to the New Testament church. We have been divided against one another for too long. In the absence of strong unity, the church has hurt itself and its testimony in the world. How can we claim to be followers of Christ when we disobey His command to have unity within our ranks? We have become obsessed with our own egos and decided that we would rather have our own group than do the hard work of reconciliation. As a friend of mine said recently in church, "it is like we are all on the same team, but we are all too busy taking out our teammates to fight the opponent." And personally, I believe that the enemy of the church likes it this way. When local churches band together to pool their resources and talents, they can make an amazing impact on their communities. But most church leaders are not willing to take the initiative required to build the unity bridge. They would simply rather build their own kingdom than the kingdom.

How do we begin to tear down the walls that separate churches and work together for the good of Christ's kingdom here on earth? I believe the major challenge is for each church to decide on the essentials. What is it that we think someone must believe and affirm in order for us to work with them? Of course, the list of essentials may be longer within our own churches (like to screen teachers, elders, etc.), but I am talking about the list of essentials that should guide ecumenical work. How do we decide who we should partner with and who we shouldn't? It seems to me that the reason that we separate from each other into smaller and smaller segments rather than working together is because we make the essentials list too long. If I believe the KJV is essential to the faith, then I am going to separate myself from everyone who uses another translation. With me? So, what are the essentials that should guide us? Personally, I see my list getting smaller and smaller over the years. I would say now that my list of essentials includes the following: the Trinity, salvation by faith, the incarnation, the resurrection, and the authority of Scripture. If someone can come to the table with these beliefs, I really think that I could work with them. I am amazed how many things we fight about are not on this list - worship style, building style, spiritual gifts, end times theology, ecclesiology, etc. I could go on and on. Why are we so divided if we agree on the main things? What do think the essentials should include? What core beliefs do you think are necessary for us to be "Christian"?

I pray the church of the future will grow in unity as it continues to discuss the essentials to the faith.

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