by Burk Parsons
We have all heard it said, and some of you have even said it: “Let’s just agree to disagree.” If memory serves me, I have never used that expression, primarily because I don’t think it makes much sense and because I think people who use the expression don’t make much sense when they use it in their attempt to end disagreements. Nevertheless, I think I know what people mean by the expression.
As Christians, we agree that we disagree on certain biblical, doctrinal, and ecclesiastical matters. And while we all agree that the Bible is our only infallible rule for faith and life, we disagree (more or less) on how to interpret the Bible and on how to interpret our interpretations.
As I consider the denominations represented by those writing for this issue of Tabletalk, my mind is immediately flooded with denominational initialisms: ARP, LCMS, PCA, SBC, URC. Yet it is not the initials in these denominations that fundamentally define us, even though they do indeed distinguish us. Although we all agree that we disagree on various matters, we certainly don’t agree that those disagreements are irrelevant. We are not united because of a loose affiliation to our respective confessions. On the contrary, we are united by our mutual respect for each other’s faithful adherence to his confessional standards. We are united precisely because we each heartily affirm our various confessions, all of which affirm the essentials of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Fundamentally, at the foundation of our confessional standards, there exists the same doctrinal thread, namely, the gospel of God. In its most simple form, the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, and in its most comprehensive form it is the Word of God. The gospel unites all people without distinction of race, ancestry, or socioeconomic status through one Lord, one faith, and one baptism in one body, the church. However, the gospel also divides. It erects walls, it builds barriers, it cuts narrow paths-, and it sets forth a gauntlet for sin — all of which we overcome through our one substitute and mediator, Christ Jesus, who has broken down the middle wall of separation — the enmity between God and His people, between our sin and His salvation, all by God’s grace and all for His glory.