CEDARVILLE, Ohio — Why are Christians so divided? If Christianity were true, you’d expect a lot more solidarity and unity about what Christians believe. That’s what you hear a lot from skeptics.
And they’re kind of right. On a surface level, Christians are divided. We divide over silly things and important things.
Not all division can or should be explained away. Whenever I see a “Friendship Baptist Church” or “Unity Baptist Church,” I almost always wonder whether there was a church split at some point and the friendly folks went one way with their sign and the unity folks went the other. The split may or may not have involved friendliness or doctrinal unity. Sometimes church signs say more about the past than the future.
When Christians separate over important things, it doesn’t mean they are divided. While Christians can agree on the Gospel and how a person is made right with God, they can disagree on issues related to the Christian life. Sometimes those disagreements are significant enough that it requires them to worship in different churches. For example, Bible-believing Baptists and Bible-believing Presbyterians can love and respect each other, fellowship with one another, but it makes good sense that they attend separate churches since they don’t agree on whether to baptize children.
This doesn’t mean Christianity is divided, it just means there are important features about Christianity upon which civilized thinking believers can agree to disagree.
On a deeper level Christians from all times and all places are unified. Take, for example, the Apostles’ Creed which we know dates back to at least the fourth century. The Apostles’ Creed can be seen in detail or influence in almost any evangelical confession today.
In voicing the Apostles Creed, followers of Christ affirm:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church [i.e., the church of all times and places],
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
This confession is a foundational expression of what Christians believe. As the late G.K. Chesterton once noted, “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.”
Or consider an even earlier creed that was likely on the lips of the earliest believers within a short time after the resurrection, which also reflects the revelation received by the apostle Paul:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7, ESV)
Are Christians divided? On a surface level, yes. On a deeper foundational level, absolutely not. We are founded upon our Lord Jesus Christ. Expressions of our common confession that unite all Christians can be traced back to those early days after the first Easter as believers summarized their beliefs in a short creed that Paul passed along to us.
It is a confession of Jesus, who died, was buried, and rose again, according to the Scriptures. This we believe. This is our confession. We did not make it. It is making us.