There are three ways of looking at the common ground that exists in all Christian churches, congregations, denominations, and individuals that are part of the one Christian Religion, and these three ways are naturally nearly identical, although viewed from slightly different perspectives.
One perspective is the common ground that will unite the vast throng in Heaven, that individual total submission to God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, that results in an eternally growing love relationship with God and lets His love flow through to all around, the topic of last week’s column.
Another perspective, the one I want to develop in this column, is the consideration of what defines whether or not an institution, group, or individual is or is not Christian. From this perspective, the word “Christian” is a term of neither approval or disapproval, but simply the name given to a particular set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions, some of which form an essential core, some of which occur with divergence and variety, and some of which involve growth and development. The essential core is the common ground which unites all Christians as the family of God and provides the belief foundation for eternal life.
Firstly, the root of the word “Christian” is “Christ,” so obviously Christian belief centres around the person, teaching, understanding, and life of Jesus Christ. As God incarnate, He was born, lived a sinless life perfectly in tune with God the Father`s will, was crucified in our place as the sinless and innocent sacrifice for our sin, rose again as verification of the truth of all He taught and claimed, and returned to His eternal heavenly home to prepare a place for us. In His final, very important teaching session with His disciples after the Last Supper, He clearly spoke (John 14:9-11; 17:26) of the unity of Himself, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, taught the triune unity of God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, which is the meaning of the one word Trinity. The acceptance of Jesus Christ as divine and of the Trinity as the triune unity of God is absolutely essential to being Christian. The essential elements of belief necessary to Christian faith were carefully and briefly defined in the creeds of the early church, the Apostles Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Nicene Creed. Any departure from this understanding is a departure from genuine Christianity.
Frequently throughout history, Christianity has been called the religion of the Book, the Book being the Bible, and appropriately so. Christians regard the Bible as the inspired written Word of God, teaching us all that we need to know in order to be forgiven and enter into a relationship with God through God the Son Jesus Christ, and thus enter into the Kingdom of God, the Family of God, and have eternal life. It also tells us how we are to live as we grow in our new life of obedience to God as He remakes us more like Jesus, re-creates us as the image of Himself that He created us to be. The best way to grow in Him includes regular prayerful reading and study of the Bible.
The common ground of the churches is the understanding of God and Jesus Christ as expressed above and in the early creeds, and in the acceptance of the Bible as the inspired Word of God. This basic faith is what we have in common in the universal church made up of all believers in all institutionally organized churches and congregations and those individual believers separate from organized churches. This basic faith expresses what we understand God to rigidly require of us. However, through the ages, individuals and groups they attracted around them, have understood or interpreted various Biblical teaching and aspects of the Gospel in a variety of ways. These differing interpretations and practices do not affect whether or not we are Christians, whether or not we are part of the church or of the Family of God, whether or not we have eternal life leading to eternity in Heaven. They do make up the distinctives which separate one church denomination from another and thereby appear more important and more divisive than they really need to be. We need to recognize that if we are to be obedient to Jesus command to love one another so that the world may recognize that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35), we must major on the essentials and minimize the differences. There is only one church, one Bride of Christ, and all that really matters is that we are in it and love each other.