Given at the Morgan County Churches Lenten Luncheon Wednesday March 14, 2012
by Ian Grant Spong
I spent many years in a church that believed it was the one true church. To my surprise, as I grew beyond the boundaries of that Christian community, I found a number of other churches with similar ideas. Then I went to an ecumenical theological school and visited different churches. I found God speaking through dozens of different church contexts in many wonderful ways.
Let's explore a surprise today, that we Christians are actually unified on the essentials of the faith. Let's look at several areas of agreement and conclude with the most essential thing that Christians seem to agree upon.
I would like to create greater understanding between our denominations.
Christians are in remarkable agreement on the nature of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels, the nature of humanity, sin, the Bible, salvation, the Church and last things. We are unified when obeying Jesus' instruction to teach what he taught.
- Surprise 1: Christians Agree on the Nature of God — God is three in one, has a Plan (the Gospel), is Creator, Provider
- Surprise 2: Christians Agree on the Nature of Christ — Jesus was God with us, born of a virgin, that his death on the cross makes salvation, the Church and eternity possible for us.
- Surprise 3: Christians Agree on the Nature of Holy Spirit — The personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit, his work in the Church, comfort, power, gifts, teaching and fruit.
- Surprise 4: Christians Agree on Angels — The service of holy Angels, Satan and demons are fallen Angels, that our battle is not physical, but spiritual, with spiritual wickedness in high places.
- Surprise 5: Christians Agree on Humanity — Human kind was created, in two components (physical and spiritual), that human disobedience led to a troubled society, God had a plan in place to restore us through Jesus.
- Surprise 6: Christians Agree on Sin — Sin is to miss the mark, that we have all sinned, can be forgiven, must forgive others, that there is punishment for sin both temporary and eternal
- Surprise 7: Christians Agree on the Bible — the Bible was inspired by God, the canon is our measure of faith, the Holy Spirit illuminates the Bible to our understanding
- Surprise 8: Christians Agree on Salvation — salvation is rescue from sin, requires a Savior, is a process, and that there is no other name under heaven but Jesus whereby we are saved.
- Surprise 9: Christians Agree on the Church — church is an assembly of those who submit to Christ’s reign, love and worship God, taught to obey Christ, spread the Gospel and love our neighbors; we share water, bread and the cup; we baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"
- Surprise 10: Christians Agree on the Last Things — we agree on the nature of death, that Christ will return, believe in a millennium, a resurrection, judgment and both a good and bad eternal state, that these are mysteries only partly revealed.
- Final Surprise from Matthew 28:19-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (NRSV)
In my experience, most mainline churches actually obey Jesus' instruction to teach what he taught. We may be buried under layers of man-made rules, traditions and fads, but most churches I have visited teach from the Gospels. I enjoy many types of sermon, but none so much as those that expound upon and elevate the teachings of Jesus. We obey Jesus when we lift his teachings to the highest level in our Christian curriculum.
We are in remarkable agreement on the nature of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels, the nature of humanity, sin, the Bible, salvation, the Church and last things. We are unified when obeying Jesus' instruction to teach what he taught.
Though there are differences between our traditions, the great blessing for us is that we broadly agree upon what is important. Despite rumors to the contrary, we Christians are remarkably unified on the essentials of our common faith.
Surprise! We agree on what is perhaps most important of all, Jesus! There is no second class Christianity for those who follow Jesus Christ. A theology professor of mine once taught that all our dogmas and doctrinal differences are probably 80% wrong theologically. We human beings don’t understand God as well as our egos deceive us, but if we are in Jesus we are 100% saved. On that we agree.