I have always found the question of Christian denominations to be exhausting.
I became a Christian as a Southern Baptist, and was raised in that tradition and remained in that tradition until, eventually, my husband and I began attending a United Methodist church in our area. In the interim, I attended several different churches with friends and acquaintances: Presbyterian, Pentecostal, nondenominational.
If you pay attention with any one denomination long enough, you’ll pick up on the undercurrents that exist: the subtle but assured sense that your particular denomination has it right while everyone else has it just a bit wrong. The Southern Baptists fear that all the other denominations are just a bit too fancy free with their interpretations of Scripture. The Methodists side-eye denominations that don’t permit women in the pulpit and don’t allow open communion. A good many Protestant denominations fret that Catholicism has taken a few completely wrong turns, while refusing to notice that a lot of Catholics fret that the Protestants are doing the same. The non-denominational churches like to feel that they’re above it all; many of my dear Pentecostal friends are worried that none of the rest of us are taking spiritual warfare seriously enough.
These disagreements can be strong and profound, and they can be enough to wreck the confidence of a believer who dares cross from one denomination to another. If you’ve ever disagreed with another believer over the presence of women in the pulpit, the open or closed nature of communion, what baptism should look like, what the Bible has to say about women and submission, how we should worship, or what form the confession of sin should take, then you get it.
I’ve been involved in these debates myself. And I know what it is to feel both attacked for a particular denominational interpretation of Scripture, and to feel defensive over it. I’ve witnessed fiery arguments and stony silences over these doctrinal differences. In the Christian faith, we take our tribalism seriously – and, I believe, perhaps more seriously than we should.
But that’s why I love the creed.
We recite it from time to time in my church, and it makes frequent appearances in my prayer app. You’re probably familiar with it, even if you don’t realize you are. It begins:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…
The creed is less than twenty lines and manages to incorporate, in its entirety, the core doctrinal beliefs of Christianity from top to bottom. It is simple and it is lovely, and it is for this reason that the creed has persisted largely unaltered from, as the Methodist Church holds, as early as 150 A.D.
And whenever I speak the creed, I marvel at how many believers could and would step forward and say it with me, wholeheartedly agreeing with every word and phrase. It is the core of all the truths of Christianity. When I speak it or I think on it, I remember anew the fundamental truths of the Gospel, and I remember that God allows a great deal of freedom within His kingdom – but I also remember that on some truths, we must all agree.
I think many of us, these days, equate “interpretations of Scripture” with “the truth of the Gospel.” So when we run into another believer who interprets Scripture differently than we do – on, say, the ordination of women – we start to question how they read any of it with any accuracy. “Well if they believe/don’t believe in the ordination of women,” we say, side-eyeing our brothers and sisters in Christ, “are they taking the Bible seriously at all? Do they believe in truth? Do they really believe the truth?”
But the creed is a reminder that believing or not believing in the ordination of women is not what is going to save us. And neither are many of the other side issues that believers like to debate and discuss. If even the New Testament church was not spared its doctrinal and theological disagreements, we’re not going to be either – and that’s okay. There is room, I think, to disagree…
…if we agree on what matters.
The judgment of God, the return of Christ, the resurrection of the body, the promise of eternal life and the forgiveness of sin, the church made to serve – the Creed touches on all these things, and on every defining aspect of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In times when divisions in the church run high and strong, it’s helpful to remember that ties that bind: the truths that all believers hold, that are irrevocable and worthy and good, that we can proclaim together loudly and with great joy.
More should unite us than divide us.