During a 1961 address to the Canadian Parliament, President John F. Kennedy said, “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. Necessity has made us allies. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”
The last sentence has been used as a rallying cry at various points in history. The words were given in Boston after the bombing at the Marathon. Politicians in Orlando repeated the words after senseless killings at an area nightclub. The sentiment was repeated in the coverage of the shootings at a music concert in Las Vegas. Without question, it was echoed during the days following the tragedy of 9-11.
It takes a crisis to bring us together.
George Barna founded the Barna Research Group and helped it become a leading marketing research firm that focused on faith and culture. His work is frequently cited as an authoritative source in various forms of media. He is considered to be the most quoted person in the Christian Church today. His recent surveys show that millennials are leaving the church in groves, that fewer adults have a biblical worldview today than even two years ago, that American Christians are redefining morality and the family, that fewer Christians are sharing their faith, and that most Christians are confused about their feelings on hot topics like abortion, homosexuality and marijuana usage.
If it takes a crisis to bring us together, can’t we define our times as a crisis?
A crisis may bring us together, but what we believe gives us a platform upon which to stand and stay together. From Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr., church leaders have dreamed of the day when the church could agree upon the beliefs that would bring us together.
In his classic book, “Grace Awakening,” Charles Swindoll writes, “My encouragement for you today is that each one of us pursue what unites us with others rather than the few things that separate us. There was a time in my life when I had answers to questions no one was asking. I had a position that life was so rigid I would fight for every jot and tittle. I mean, I couldn’t list enough things that I would die for. The older I get, the shorter than list gets.”
Beloved preacher and author Max Lucado writes, “On the last night of his life, Jesus prayed a prayer that stands as a citadel for all Christians. Knowing the end is near, Jesus prays one final time for his followers. Striking that he prayed not for their success, their safety, or their happiness. He prayed for their unity. He prayed that they would love each other.”
The church hasn’t been too successful with the “united” part, have we? Denomination and division seemed to be as much a part of Christianity as communion and stained glass windows. What are the things that should unite us? It seems to be the things we believe and how we behave. Unity matters to God because “all people will know that you are my disciples if you love each other” (John 13:35 NCV).
In his letter to Titus, Paul encourages the younger minister, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). While most translations render that final Greek word with the explanation “doctrine,” this may not be a faithful rendering of the text. We tend to view a doctrine with a narrow definition that touches our theology. The word carries a broader meaning of “teaching to live.”
The verses that follow encourage Titus to instruct older men and women how to live so that their lives can be an example for the younger men and women. Beliefs mean very little if they aren’t accompanied by integrity and character.
The Message ends this paragraph with the clear reason we teach with such depth, “We don’t want anyone looking down on God’s Message because of their behavior.”
What you believe matters because beliefs dictate behavior. If I believe in a God who is loving, gracious and forgiving, I am more likely to demonstrate those characteristics in my own behavior. In the beliefs that are essential to the Christian faith, we need to be united. In areas that are matters of opinion, we need to express liberty.
In order for us to understand the importance of sound doctrine, we need to rely on our understanding of truth. If the application of a truth seems to be fluid, it is because a larger principle is at work. We must determine the underlying principle.
An absolute truth is that God created the heavens and the earth. The Bible affirms this truth on several occasions. How did God do the creation? Did it take place in seven literal days? Did it occur over a longer period of time? Did God use forms of evolution to have the creation take place?
How God created is a matter of opinion. We may have pieces of evidence that lead us to a particular conclusion, but the Bible is not specific in its doctrine or its application.
An absolute truth is that Jesus is coming again. The Bible affirms this truth on several occasions. Will the return follow a millennial pattern? Is this part of the Bible to be taken literally or symbolically? Are there prophecies that help us make a particular conclusion?
How Jesus will return is a matter of opinion. When He will return is a matter of opinion. The Bible is not specific in its doctrine or its application.
Over the next several weeks, we will look at those essentials of faith that unite us. We will consider the beliefs that we really cannot negotiate. These are the items that make us Christian. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.
— Tom May is a freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.