“AS TO ALL OPINIONS WHICH DO NOT STRIKE AT THE ROOT OF CHRISTIANITY, WE THINK AND LET THINK” (John Wesley, The Book of Discipline 50). I spent the first half of my life in a Christian belief and practice that I was just sure was entirely right. What came as a real surprise to me, when I stepped outside of that denomination I’d followed for decades, was that other Christian denominations are not the solid front that I had always thought they were. They not only disagree with each other, but within each denomination there are always factions.
The conservative, “hold-to-principle and tradition” folks are in a constant tug-of-war with the more liberal, “let’s be inclusive and less dogmatic” folks. While starting or “planting” a church, both groups are needed, and they set aside their differences and work together for the greater good. But, when the difficult challenges have been overcome, these natural points of disagreement begin to surface.
What we all need to see is that Christianity is greater than these natural tendencies of conservatism or liberalism. Jesus Christ wisely and adroitly kept himself separate from the social, moral, and civil divisiveness of his time, and we need to maintain that separation—which is why John Wesley’s statement about the “root of Christianity” is so practical. He knew (perhaps from his experience with the Moravians) that there are some essentials, some beliefs at the core of Christianity, and that these are separate from denominational and social differences.
Using this perspective, it is rather easy to see today that it is not the essentials that are dividing the Christian churches but, rather, the political and cultural interpretations, the externals of faith. And this is occurring at a time when Christianity most needs to be at peace with itself. For unity to happen, though, each Christian must allow Christ to change his or her heart. The living Saviour will dissolve our political leanings and our cultural biases if we want him to—if we would yield them to him. (Driving into the Dawn, chapter 26)
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