Don’t We All Worship the Same God?

This is a fairly common occurrence. The person you meet who has been in about 5 different denominations tells you that all those denominations worship the same God. The implication (stated or unstated) is that we should stop fighting anything, since we all worship the same God. To them, no other doctrines seem to matter except the doctrine of God. Now, there is a grain of truth to this plea. We should never ignore common ground that we have with people from other denominations, as that is usually a good place to start, and shows good will. However, the unity that is usually (and rightly!) desired by people who believe in the same God cannot be achieved by simply stifling debates and lowering other doctrinal matters to the status of insignificance. This unity cannot happen by simple fiat. It is in fact naive to think this way. In fact, the emphasis really ought to be in focusing on our differences, so that the Biblical record can be examined once again to see if these things be so. A book I read fairly recently by a Roman Catholic author quite convincingly argues that ecumenical endeavors that focus entirely on common ground will inevitably stall. Instead, our attention should rather focus on the areas of disagreement. People these days seem to be allergic to disagreement. Folks, disagreement does not equal hatred!

It is not true that the doctrine of God is the only doctrine of importance. It is quite obviously of central importance. However, we cannot reduce Christianity to our doctrine of God. What about our doctrines of Scripture, Christ, man, salvation, Holy Spirit, church, and sacraments? Are they now to be completely ignored in the interests of ecumenicity? Honestly, many of the early heretics of the church would have claimed to worship the same God we do. And some of them would have been correct. Just because one is correct in one’s doctrine of God (posit, for instance, that a person is orthodox in his doctrine of the Trinity) does not mean that one is orthodox in all other areas. One could have a correct view of God, but a heretical view of Christ’s natures, for instance.

Lastly, it is not always true that these denominations have the same view of God as the other denominations. We have said before that it is not enough to state the truth in a positive way. The wrong views must also be refuted and denied. Many mainline denominations may have correct statements about the doctrine of God. However, functionally speaking, they will not discipline a minister who holds to a heretical view of God. If a denomination states an orthodox view of God, but then does not discipline their ministers for heretical views of God, then that denomination is not holding to an orthodox view of God. The reasoning for this is simple: the denomination, by failing to discipline heretical views, is stating that a variety of views on God’s person is acceptable. That is their functional position. People have forgotten just how important the denial of errors is (especially in today’s theological climate!). Of course, this also underlines the importance of church discipline for the church. I would argue against those who exclude discipline from the definition of the true church. Without discipline, the church stands for nothing. Without discipline, the church is like parents who never spank their children: they are abusing their children! It is, in effect, not parenting at all.

We really need to think much more carefully about this ecumenical business. It does need to be done. However, we need to be wise in how we do it. We can never shove differences under the rug. Otherwise, a superficial unity will result that pleases no one, least of all God, who wants a church unity that is characterized by the truth.

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21 Comments

  1. Robin said,

    July 23, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Reblogged this on A Sidekick's Blog and commented:
    One Baptist minister I know called for the hospital chaplain before his surgery. An Orthodox Rabbi responded and the Baptist pastor asked for prayer. “After all,” he said, “we worship the same God.”

    Really? Christians worship the Man, Jesus of Nazareth AS GOD, so we not? The Second member of the one Triune God. Orthodox Jews do not worship the Christian Triune God at all. Nor do Mormons. Do these differences matter? My Presbyterian friend Greenbaggins explores the importance of exploring our differences and why they matter:

  2. Mark G said,

    July 23, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Another fallacy of the “we all worship the same God” position is that it considers other doctrines as unrelated to the doctrine of God when in reality they are interconnected. Different understandings of Christology, justification, providence, revelation, etc. betray differences in the understanding of God.

  3. MichaelColvard said,

    July 24, 2014 at 11:58 am

    To Mark G’s point, I’ve always found the interconnectedness of other Christian doctrines with the identity of God as helpful from an apologetic standpoint. I have had many students tell me they don’t believe in God, and when asked ‘which God’, the God they describe is a far cry from the God revealed in Scripture (e.g. He doesn’t care about the evil in this world). I often reply ‘I don’t believe in that God either!’

  4. Frank Aderholdt said,

    July 24, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Well, this is interesting. The ad for “2014 NBA Cheerleaders” directly under “Don’t We All Worship the Same God?” I’m tempted to answer “Yes” for the culture at large, and “I certainly hope not!” for Christians.

  5. Frank Aderholdt said,

    July 24, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    The ad just disappeared! Strange happenings here in The Shire.

  6. July 25, 2014 at 12:05 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  7. Alan D. Strange said,

    July 25, 2014 at 10:28 am

    “Strange” happenings? I didn’t say, or do, anything, Frank, though guys like us have to resist obeisance to St. Cecilia (I am still waiting for you to come up and go to the CSO for some Mahler or Shostakovich!).

  8. Frank Aderholdt said,

    July 25, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Alan,

    What an excellent “Strange” memory you have! You and I, along with Derek Thomas, seem to be the leading “Reformed nerds” of classical music.

    If the Metropolitan Opera’s season goes bust due to a strike, we might just meet you next at the CSO and the Lyric Opera.

  9. Alan D. Strange said,

    July 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Oh, don’t even say that (about the Met)! I know that Gelb is in tough contract negotiations. Here’s hoping all goes well. I saw a fantastic Norma there last season with Angela Meade (who sang both the D at the end of Act 1 and the Eb in the Pollione Duet in Act 2) and Jamie Barton. Sandra Radvanovsky earlier starred in the same production to rave reviews.

    This season at Lyric, Miss Radvanovsky will join Miss Barton in Anna Bolena (we got Dress Circle tickets for that one!). There are many other gems, including Johan Botha as Tannhauser. And at the CSO, Muti is conducting all the Tchaikovsky symphonies and lots of other great stuff. Let me know if you come.

  10. rfwhite said,

    July 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    8-9 Gotta love it! … “Green Baggins: Your one-stop Paleo-Orthodox Classical Social Network.”

  11. Frank Aderholdt said,

    July 26, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Re #9: Please, Lane, moderate this discussion and make Alan stop!

    Here’s Dr. Strange, practically within walking distance of downtown Chicago, dropping names of divas that any opera fan would travel thousands of miles to hear. And here’s little ole me, with a 2 1/4 hour trek to reach the security line at the New Orleans airport.

    Just when I thought I was making real progress with the Tenth Commandment . . .

    Guess I’ll have to console myself today with the Blu-ray of Anna Bolena starring Anna Netrebko as the doomed one and Elina Garanca as Jane Seymour. Or anything with Natalie Dessay.

  12. Alan D. Strange said,

    July 26, 2014 at 9:33 am

    I saw Miss Netrebeko last year here in Boheme with Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo. Magnificent. And she and Miss Garanca are great in those Donizetti vehicles. I also agree about the great French coloratura. She and Juan Diego Florez were incomparable in La Fille du Regiment.

    I’ll stop, but that these are called “divas” highlights the idolatry problem, no? Enjoy them as we may, we must give religious worship only to Him who gifted them and all others. I always think when I hear great music and great performers: Thanks be to God for such gifts that do glorify and magnify Him!

  13. Alan D. Strange said,

    July 26, 2014 at 9:49 am

    And, Frank, don’t poormouth your situation too much. Remember, I was born in Hattiesburg (and dearly love it): you get to live there while I am here from November-April (especially this last wretched season!), though I always flee South a time or two in the winter, and you get all the great regional food–your New Orleans is pretty great in that respect, as well as all the wonderful Southern and gulf food of that region.

    And, back to music for a bit: the tortured Norman Treigle was from there. He had relatives in Petal next door to us when I was a boy and, when he visited, one could occasionally hear him vocalizing. My parents said that he was a great opera singer. I realized years later who he was and that they were not exaggerating. He’s on youtube doing the Lord’s Prayer and some other sacred pieces (in addition to opera). Truly, one of our great bass-baritones.

  14. Frank Aderholdt said,

    July 26, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Alan,

    Please write me at faderholdt AT gmail DOT com. We’ll continue our conversation.

    Speaking of idolatry, I corresponded with Derek Thomas about his wonderful sermon on Galatians 6:14 at the PCA General Assembly last month. He challenged me to consider the one thing that would keep me from exalting Christ above all. (You know about good preaching. You feel as if he’s speaking only to you.) I have to admit that, for me, it’s great music. I have to put this potential idol in its place every day. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also . . .

    Thanks, Green Baggins, for your indulgence!

  15. greenbaggins said,

    July 30, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Frank, I edited your email address so as to help you avoid spammers.

  16. greenbaggins said,

    July 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    BTW, the “Green” of “Green Baggins” stands for the green glove that Franz Liszt used to throw out to the fainting ladies at his performances. Music is (not quite) half my life.

  17. Alan D. Strange said,

    July 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Liszt (or as Victor Borge would say, “Fliszt), was our first rockstar–who wasn’t a rock star!

  18. Alan D. Strange said,

    July 30, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Back to the half-life thing, Lane? I thought that we’d moved on from the discussion on evolution…:-)

  19. John Bugay said,

    August 1, 2014 at 6:03 am

    It’s good to see all this brain power on this thread devoted to the “Doctrine of God” really setting themselves to the task of helping people to understand who the God of the Bible really is.

  20. August 2, 2014 at 8:22 am

    Yes, the thread is avoiding the OP. But then that post is an uncommonly honest probe of the limits of cerebral religion for a perennial, “right-hemispheric” human temperament. The “gut-checkers” are indifferent to evidences, axioms, distinctions, theorems, etc that do not correspond to anything interior. The “brain power” here is understandably cautious in speculating about a temperament that is, culturally speaking, not very Reformed.

    Personally, I do not hear “ecumenism” in that sort of comment from “persons who have been in about five denominations.” In religion, they are too devoutly sceptical of anything organized, institutional, traditional, etc. If they felt the loyalty to care how religious officials get along, they would not have skipped from church to church like pebbles across a pond. But they may well go to church, silently discounting much of what they hear there as the tribal happy talk of “group truthers” who lock arms, march on, and never consult their own guts.

    Rather, I hear the last glimmer of fading “belief in belief” before the speaker finally opts for the “spiritual, not religious” meme in the next phase of life. Apologetic efforts that ground belief outside the self not only do not slow the slide, but even slicken the slope. Which is slippery ;-)

    [corrected]

  21. Alan D. Strange said,

    August 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    As for me, I just picked up on a little something in this thread and took the opportunity for some diversion. My life consists of quite serious, ongoing theological/historical engagement. It seems to me that a little fun reflection on some other things (and being aware of our host’s musical interests and abilities) is not so bad. I trust that this did not give offense to anyone (though I may have gone on longer than I should).

    That having been said, I did not add anything substantive to the original post because, as I often do, I agreed with it and found it well-expressed.


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