Circumstances May Matter

Along these lines, Christians have found that the circumstances of the occasion matter. If you live in an area where Christians are persecuted, there is more motivation to cooperate. The number of Christians may well be small and fellowship hard to find. Christians in these circumstances may find far more encouragement in sharing and using the gifts of thirty people than in six or seven each establishing their own separate assemblies. Circumstances like these have led many Christians to work with people of other denominations more than they would have back in the United States. In other words, Baptists and Presbyterians are more likely to meet regularly together in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia than in Raleigh, North Carolina!

As Christians in America become more and more of a "cognitive minority"—a group which thinks differently than the majority culture—we, too, may find ourselves becoming more aware of our commonalities with other Christians than previous generations of American Christians have been.

Still, different kinds of cooperation require different levels of agreement. The requirements for church membership are more comprehensive than the requirements for planning an evangelistic outreach. The level of agreement needed between fellow church planters is greater than what's needed for initiating college student fellowships together. We can recognize other people as Christians, in other words, even though we might not think it wise to plant a church with them.

Conferences and one-time events can be pulled off with even less agreement, and Bible translations with perhaps even less. (I can imagine that Bible translators are able to agree in matters of translation even when they don't agree on the content of the gospel.) And, of course, Christians can practice co-belligerency with non-Christians on some public issues involving law and moral standards.

Creeds & Confessions

Throughout church history, Christians have composed written creeds like the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed in order to state clearly what beliefs they hold in common. Confessions like the Westminster Confession or the New Hampshire Confession do the same. So, too, with the statements of faith of individual churches and parachurch ministries. All such creeds, confessions, and statements express the basic level of agreement necessary for pursuing a common goal.


So here's the million dollar question: what must Christians agree upon?

This is a dangerous question, and we must proceed very carefully. We don't want to be like the teenager who asks, "How far can I go with my girlfriend?" which is to say, "What can I get away with?" In our case, we are not asking, "What's the least that I need to believe and still be considered a Christian?" True Christians will find themselves growing in the desire to pursue God's truth over every matter in which he has revealed himself in his Word.

The Apostles Teaching

To begin with, Christian fellowship can only be shared with those who share the Christian faith, that is, that body of teaching which articulates what Christians believe. In Acts 2:42, Luke describes the fellowship between the first Christians by saying, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship…" Notice that Luke says they shared the apostles' teaching before it says they shared fellowship.

Doctrinal choices that destroy and damn are called "heresies." The word "heresies" comes from the Greek word for "choice," and though we today are accustomed to using the word "choice" in a positive context, the apostle Peter showed how it can be used in just the opposite: "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false prophets among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves" (2 Peter 2:1). A doctrinal heresy or choice is a departure from the accepted rule of faith. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is the right teaching of the Word of God.