We Must Always Confirm Our Vast Common Ground Before Discussing Our Differences

Go to the Beginning of this Book Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura? (The Bible Alone or the Bible First?) – What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality

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Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura?

Christian Unity in Diversity in the Early Church and How Much Still Exists Today:

Acknowledging the Vast Common Christian Faith Shared by (Western) Protestant/Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox and (Eastern and Western) Catholic Christians Before Discussing this Area of Difference, for the Sake of the Loving Christian Witness to the Unbelieving World (John 13:35, John 17:21-23)

“By this all men will know that you are [Christians], if you love one another (John 13:35). Jesus prayed to His Father that all [Christians] may be one. . . so that the world may believe that you have sent me. . . May [Christians] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

Jesus’ Prayer for Christians Obligates Us to Seek Unity in Love with Each Other So That the World May See Jesus in Us, and to This End We Must Always Acknowledge Our Vast Common Ground Before Discussing Our Differences

Jesus’ prayer obligates all of us as Christians to seek unity in love with each other so that the world who does not yet know Jesus can see Him in our love for one another, so that we do not obscure the world’s view of Jesus by acting towards each other instead as if we were Satan, the accuser of the brothers (Revelation 12:10). Thus Catholic and Orthodox Christians and (conservative) Protestant/ and Evangelical Christians should never discuss their differences until they first acknowledge their great common faith including the following traditional common core of orthodox, fundamental Christian beliefs which will put their many lesser order differences in proper perspective, allowing the discussion of differences to be done in the appropriate brotherly Christian love, by which the world will see Jesus’ love in us even as long as we remain divided.

The Traditional Fundamentals of Christian Orthodoxy in Which We Are Already United

We all believe that the One God, Creator of the Universe, who is Love, exists as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We all believe in the Incarnation (enfleshment) of God the Son in Jesus Christ through Mary’s Virgin Birth, making Jesus fully God and fully man, able to make Atonement for the sins of all humanity, which He did by dying on the Cross so that humanity can be saved (and find human fulfilment) through Him. We all agree that we acquire this forgiveness from sin and salvation unto eternal life through, drawn and empowered by God’s Grace, our turning away from sin (anti-love), accepting what Jesus has done for us and coming into loving, saving relationship with Him (and His Father and Holy Spirit) through belief and baptism, as He taught (Mark 16:16), which makes all of us members of the one Body of Christ the Church. We all believe in Jesus literal Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, His future return in glory and judgement and the bodily resurrection of all the dead, and in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures which testify to all these things. We share the same tenets of traditional Christian morality derived from the Scriptures, encapsulated in the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

Thus I went from being (conservative, not liberal [1] Mainline Protestant to Evangelical Protestant to (Western) Roman Catholic to (Eastern) Byzantine Catholic without changing any of my dearly held and life-changing fundamental Christian beliefs and moral code which brought me into loving, saving relationship with God, because of the tremendous majority of common faith in what God has revealed which still unites all the major branches of today’s divided Christian churches.

The Nature of Christian Unity of Faith in Diversity of Faith Expressions in the Undivided Early Christian Church of the 1st Millennium

This common core of saving Christian faith is our common heritage from the Undivided Early Christian Church, which was not a single monolithic uniform Church but a “unity of faith in diversity of faith expressions,” a union of different Sister Churches or Rites of the one Universal (Greek katholikos, or Catholic) Christian Church which had developed, thanks to the Apostles testimony of Jesus, in every corner of the Roman Empire and beyond it (The Antiochene, Alexandrian, Roman, and Byzantine Sister Churches or Rites, and the daughter Rites or Churches which grew out of their own missionary endeavors, as well as the initially Jewish Jerusalem Sister Church which started it all). The leaders of all these different but united Christian Sister Churches met together in the Early Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils of the Christian Church (patterned after the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council) and together clearly defined and expressed the above fundamental tenets of traditional Christian orthodoxy as we know them today against the many early heretical interpretations of the Bible which had caused major disputes over the content of the Christian faith among Christians. Early professed Christians belonged either to this union of traditional, orthodox churches known collectively as the Catholic (Universal) Church, or to the constant stream of usually small and usually short-lived heretical sects sectioned off of this early Catholic Church. The heretics had widely divergent interpretations of the Bible which usually did not preserve aspects of the above fundamentals; the Catholic (Universal) union of Sister Churches was united in the above common faith, Sacraments, and Church overseership (and in love for one another in Christ Jesus), despite a great many differences in the theological language and practical worship customs and devotions they used to express and celebrate this common faith.

The Early 2nd Millennium Challenges to Christian Unity in Diversity Which Were Overcome in the 1439 17th Ecumenical Council

Near the end of the First Millennium (of Christian Unity in Diversity!) the Eastern and Western Sister Churches started to drift apart because of less contact thanks to the fall of the Western Roman Empire, gradually increasing differences and cultural prejudice against each other for being different, [2] and because of concerns that their Christian faith was no longer the same because of the different theological language and approaches (leading to some different secondary doctrines and practices) each Sister Church had taken in its loving theological reflection upon the common faith (theology is not faith, it is faith seeking understanding, the science of human reason applied to the data of the Divine Revelation, arranging its diverse elements in attempts to better intellectually understand what God has revealed which must be accepted in faith). The ancient Catholic (Universal Christian) Communion of Eastern and Western Sister Churches was reaffirmed at the 14th Ecumenical Council (Lyons II) in 1274, and powerfully and joyfully reaffirmed at the 17th Ecumenical Council at Florence in 1439, wherein the Eastern and Western Christian leaders and theologians very specifically hashed out all their differences and concluded that once their different theological expressions were fully explained, they did indeed share the identical ancient Christian faith, merely aiming at the same meaning in different words, and their different practical and ritual expressions of this faith were equally valid! The differences between Eastern and Western Christianity in all their various Rites or Sister Churches were all complementary not contradictory, each Rite of the One Christian Church having different theological and doctrinal insights into their common Christian faith in what had been revealed by God!

The 1453 Muslim Conquest of the East and the 1472 Forced Separation of East and West, Ultimately Destroying the 1st Millennium Christian Unity in Diversity

Sadly, it was not long after this reaffirmation of the 1st Millennium Christian Unity in Diversity that Islam conquered most of the Christian East which it had not already destroyed in the 1st Millennium [3] and in 1472 forced the separation of most of the remaining (mostly Byzantine) Eastern Sister Churches from the ancient Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion. [4] Only a few (like the Antiochene Maronite Rite and the Malabar Rite) remained in Universal Christian (Catholic) Communion with the Western Rites. Portions of all of the separated Sister Churches came back into Universal Christian (Catholic) Communion as soon as they were able including the Eastern, Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Sister Church I now belong to but sadly they still left the ancient Catholic (Universal) Church overwhelmingly Western and Roman in its membership, most Roman Catholic Christians gradually losing awareness of the Eastern Sister Churches with which they were and are still in communion. Once the Christian East and West were mostly separated and independent, it became very easy for both sides to associate the Christian Faith with their particular Rite’s particular expression of the Christian Faith in theology, secondary doctrines, worship practices and rituals, as the previous cultural prejudice problem had already inclined them to meaning that any non-fundamental differences were no longer looked on as part of an enriching unity in diversity, but rather as cause for the existing Christian division of East and West! Eastern Orthodox Christians frequently get offended over mere differences in practices expressing common faith, never mind different theology! Roman Catholic Christians from time to time have pressured Eastern Catholic Christians to Romanize their ways in order to prove they are really Catholic, making the Eastern Orthodox Churches all the more distrustful and disinclined to return to the ancient Catholic Communion which has come to be so over-Romanized since the separation of the bulk of the East. The Protestant Reformation Churches which separated from the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church in the 16th Century inherited the Western, Roman loss of the sense of the Church’s universality and unity of faith in diversity of faith expressions, and so the many different Protestant Churches judged each other very harshly for any differences even when they remained committed to the same ancient Christian fundamentals which they still shared with (and had taken from) the Roman Catholic Church. Today’s 35,000 registered Protestant/Evangelical Christian denominations are frequently divided from each other purely on the basis of different theology (different intellectual approaches to what God has revealed which must be accepted in faith) which was not a cause for division in the Early Christian Church! Interestingly, from an Eastern Christian perspective, it is easy to regard the Protestant Reformation Churches as Roman Rite daughter rites in similar though not identical fashion as the Ukrainian Rite is a daughter rite of the ancient Byzantine Rite of the One Christian Church the Western, Protestant Reformation Churches retained a distinctly Western, Roman Christian flavor even as they separated from the Roman Rite of the ancient Catholic (Universal) Christian Church, one that is very easy for Eastern Rite Christians to see.

The Early Church-like Christian Unity in Diversity Which Still Exists Today Despite Our 2nd Millennium Divisions and the Importance of Developing it Further

So the above traditional Christian fundamentals and New Testament Canon (list of Sacred Books) which were declared by the Early Church Councils against the many early heretics are still shared today by: the ancient Eastern (mostly Byzantine) Catholic Sister Churches/Rites and the ancient Western (mostly Roman) Catholic Sister Churches/Rites [5] which participated together in the Early Church Councils and still share Catholic Communion with each other; still shared today by the Eastern Orthodox Sister Churches/Rites which (shortly after the 1439 reestablishment of loving Communion previously wounded by cultural prejudice) were initially forced to separate from the ancient Catholic Christian Communion by their Muslim Conquerors in 1472; and still shared today by at least the conservative and Evangelical and Fundamentalist portions of the Protestant churches descended from those who protested against and left the Roman Rite of the Catholic (Universal) Church in the 16th Century (though not necessarily shared, at least not with certainty, by the liberal Protestant Mainline churches). Among those who conserve the above fundamentals, most of our differences are complimentary not contradictory, and thus I have been enriched as a Christian by my experience of all the major branches of today s divided Christianity, and I still worship God regularly in all of them. Today’s divided “doctrinally conservative” Christians,

1) Protestant/Evangelical,

2) Eastern Orthodox, and

3) Catholic (Western [Roman Catholic] and Eastern [Byzantine Catholic etc, like me], which already share full communion),

are fundamentally united in vast common faith despite their denominational differences in a way very similar to the undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity.

It is important for Christians to consciously recognize this high level of Christian unity in diversity which still exists today and work at developing it further for the sake of the effectiveness of Christian witness to the non-Christian world. Jesus said the world would know His disciples by their LOVE for one another and we obscure the world s view of Jesus in us when we exalt our differences above our vast common core of saving Christian faith. See Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium [http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/evangelicals–catholics-together-the-christian-mission-in-the-third-millennium-2], produced or signed by many major Evangelical and Catholic leaders and scholars (including Cardinals), for more on this theme. I am not the only one to have realized this! Interested readers can also request the latest version of my work-in-progress, Understanding the Nature of Christian Unity in Diversity in the First Christian Millennium of the Undivided Early Church, As a Guide Towards Renewing Christian Unity in Diversity and Therefore Increasing Christian Witness and Missionary Effectiveness in the Third Christian Millennium . The Early Christian Church was also, like us today, a number of different churches united (against many heretics) around this same (above) common core of saving Christian faith and moral code and Holy Scriptures, despite a great many differences theological and practical, but without the formal divisions which exist today.

This Essay on One of Our Few Significant Differences is Offered to Aid Mutual Understanding in Christian Brotherly Love

Thus this essay is offered in the spirit of Christians who share mostly common faith despite our sad 2nd Millennium Christian divisions discussing our differences and sharing them with each other in brotherly love so that we can better understand each other’s different perspectives on our common faith, so that we are not tempted by the Devil (the Hebrew Satan and Greek Diabolos or Devil literally mean accuser) to accuse each other and become witnesses of Satan the accuser of the brothers (Revelation 12:10) instead of witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world who needs to know and love Him in order to be saved and to reach their human fulfilment. We need to understand each other’s differences, seeing how the other side sees their different position in the light of the same fundamentals and as supporting those fundamentals we share (even if we still do not agree with the position), if we are to love and not uncharitably judge and accuse each other and so present ourselves to the world as One Body in Christ Jesus united in love, as Jesus wished, for the salvation of the world who does not know Him and can only see Him today in us.

© 2006, 2011 Peter William John Baptiste, SFO

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Endnotes

[1] Liberal Protestant Christian Churches are “liberal” because they do not necessarily “conserve” the traditional fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy, and thus they do not necessarily share the close unity in diversity, very similar to Early Church Unity in Diversity, which conservative Protestant and Evangelical Christian Churches share with the Orthodox and Catholic Christian Churches. I think the bulk of Liberal Protestant Christian Churches are not so much committed to positions against orthodoxy (imitating the early heretics) as uncertain about orthodoxy, so it is likely they can be converted to certainty about traditional Christian faith if conservative Christians reach out to them in love and explain why they can be certain about what they currently doubt – which this essay aims to do.

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