I like what Richard Phillips said in his book, The Church. He said:
Denominations allow us to have organizational unity where we have full agreement and allow us to have spiritual unity with other denominations, since we are not forced to argue our way to perfect agreement but can accept our differences of opinion on secondary matters.
His statement gets to the heart of the point I’ve tried to convey in previous posts regarding unity and tribalism. I’m not promoting organizational unity among all Christians. I’m talking about spiritual unity. I’m talking about discerning the difference between a disagreement over secondary points of doctrine and worshiping a different god.
For example, I spoke with a woman about someone she knows. She said to me, “I know this lady, and we cannot discuss biblical matters with one another.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, “This woman worships another god.”
“Another god?” I asked. “So she’s not a Christian?”
“Yes, she’s a Christian, but she doesn’t believe in the sovereignty of God. Her god is weak, begging people to be saved rather than saving them according to his sovereign purpose.”
I thought about it a minute and determined it might be a teachable moment, so I quoted a few passages.
First, I quoted 1 Timothy 2, where Paul says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Ti 2:3, 4).
Then, I quoted Romans 10, where Paul quotes Isaiah: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Ro 10:21).
Lastly, I quoted Jesus who said, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Lk 13:34).
Here we have just three examples of God expressing a desire to save people who were unwilling to come to Christ to be saved. God did not decree them to be saved, but he did desire their salvation. Why wouldn’t he? Through Ezekiel, he says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone so turn, and live” (Eze 18:32).
My friend, however, was seemingly trapped in her Calvinist tribe. She had grown to so severely reject anyone outside of her tribe that she was inclined to view them as worshiping another god altogether. She couldn’t find any merit in the views of her acquaintance.
After quoting these verses, I asked, “Do you believe this other woman is saved? Do you think that grace was given to her according to the measure of Christ’s gift? (Eph 4:7). Has she been made alive together with Christ? (Eph 2:5). Has she been created in Christ Jesus for good works? (Eph 2:10).
“Yes, I think so,” she said.
“If so,” I said, “she doesn’t worship a different god. Whether you like it or not, she is your sister in Christ. She may be wrong about some vital points of doctrine, precluding close fellowship between you in the same local church, but you are both members of the body of Christ for a reason. You are both striving to attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph 2:13). Rather than casting her off completely, perhaps you should teach her in meekness and with patience while also learning from her.”