Throughout history men have appeared who would become famous for seeking peace at any price. Perhaps the greatest twentieth-century example of such a figure is the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who in 1938 proclaimed that he had achieved “peace in our time” with Adolf Hitler even as he was preparing to unleash his blitzkrieg on Europe. Chamberlain’s aversion to hostility was so great that Hitler played him for a fool.
Conflict is something that most people, when given the opportunity, try to avoid. Peace is so desirable that significant differences between individuals and groups are often ignored, and unity is sought under the lowest common denominator. When peace is sought under these auspices, it can be easy to ignore the importance of truth altogether. The modern heirs of nineteenth-century Christian liberalism reveal such tendencies. In the drive to live peaceably with other professing believers and even other non-Christian religions, liberalism has tended to redefine Christianity as “the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man,” or some other innocuous definition. Ironically, liberals tend to tolerate any kind of belief system unless it happens to represent orthodox, biblical faith.
We cannot, however, judge mainline Protestantism without recognizing that these problems are increasingly evident within evangelicalism. Even though many different denominations were born out of the Protestant Reformation, evangelicals have traditionally confessed the inerrancy of Scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone whether they were Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and so on. Today, unfortunately, the desire for unity means that such essential doctrines are often diminished so that Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox can all get along. Professing evangelicals no longer necessarily believe that justification by faith alone is an essential doctrine — even though without it there is no Gospel (Gal. 1:6–9; 2:15–16).
If Christian unity is to mean anything, it must be a unity of faith grounded in the truth. To sacrifice conviction for “peace” is to have no conviction at all.
Christians have often divided over matters not essential to Christian orthodoxy and lobbed charges of heresy at one another. Such actions have created a distaste for theology in the minds of many people, and there is now a tendency to downplay any essential differences within the visible church because of all the vitriol shown over the less important points of doctrine. Let us be passionate for the truth, but let us not divide unless Christian orthodoxy is at stake.