THE GROUND OF UNITY
It's interesting to me that in 1 Corinthians where the people were so divided over who had been their best pastor, [Paul, Peter, Apollos] and were so divided that they couldn't settle personal issues except in the courts of law, that Paul reminded them that it was only Christ and Him crucified, buried, and raised from the dead that was their ground of unity.
So unity begins with a common ground and then continues with a right attitude toward those things we don't have in common. That common ground, for them and for us, was the gospel of Christ. Who had been their best pastor, or as in our day, what are the lesser held beliefs, are not divisive with a correct attitude in place toward such things.
The reason this is so important is because Paul recognized that what unites you will ultimately divide you. So be careful about that which you unite around. An illustration that is silly but sound, if I form a "baldheaded men's club" some of you could be charter members. But some of you don't have a chance of fellowshipping with me, IF my fellowship is around said club with no respect for those who are differently weird ie those who have a full head of hair. How weird that person is and may not even know it. Sad sad that some have hair. And if I develop a mantra such as "oh the blessedness of baldheadedness" and even worse, a belief, " baldheadedness is spirituality" we're in trouble. [It is of course.] :)
But if my unity with people is based on the gospel, I can start such a club, membership would be restricted by the very nature of the club, but the spirit of unity is not lost. I'd love and respect and even relate to others while all the time enjoying that special club. I think that's the way Southern Baptist life use to be. It is only when our attitude over such things becomes one that is less than respectful and "our's is the ONLY true interpretation" mentality that control becomes a real problem. [Which is what happened to the Corinthians.]
The list of differences could become long. Whether to have a Sunday School or not, whether to have a seeker service or not, whether to have a contemporary AND a traditional service or not, whether to use choruses or a hymnal, whether a prayer language is real or not, whether to home school or not, and the beat goes on. Our debate should be vigorous and lively but unity will NOT be lost for two reasons...One, our ground of unity is the gospel. Two, our attitude is respectful toward all concerning other issues. Absent those two things unity will not be maintained.
We can then group together with various people as Baptists, Bible Fellowship, Assemblies of God, etc., or around differing positions on Landmarkism, Home Schooling, Tongues or other Gifts, Reformed Faith, Elders, Women Deacons, and a host of other issues hammered out and not loose unity because our common ground is the gospel. We could even form a denomination around a mission program and have differing positions on those minor theological points without loosing unity. But our ground of unity must be clear and our attitude must be in check.
Finally, it seems to me that the battle for the nature of the Scriptures is essential to come to a true understanding of the gospel. "They are they which speak of me." And the nature of scripture is best described, it seems to me again, by several needed words. Words such as inspired, infallible, inerrant, all of these refering to the original manuscripts, are needed in order to maintain our confidence in the integrity of those words that tell us of the Word and His Gospel.
Our interpretation of lesser Truths [compared to the gospel] will grow and enlarge under the unction of the Holy Spirit. And, if we can maintain a right attitude, unity will not be lost over these.
Maybe I'm too idealistic or maybe I'm just being foolish to think we can. Or maybe I just have a confidence in the God who has loved us with an everlasting love and is working things to our good and His Glory.