Why Can’t Christians Agree?

By Daniel DeWitt

Why are Christians so divided? If Christianity were true, you’d expect a lot more solidarity, a ton of more unity, about what Christians believe.

You hear that a lot from skeptics. And they’re kind of right.

On a surface level, Christians are divided. We divide over silly things and important things. But not all division can or should be explained away.

Whenever I see a “Friendship Baptist Church” or “Unity Baptist Church,” I almost always assume that, at some point, there was a church split and the friendly folks went one way with their sign and the unity folks went the other. The split may or may not have involved friendliness or doctrinal unity. Sometimes church signs say more about the past than the future.

Christians also separate over important things. This doesn’t mean they are divided; it just means they disagree. Bible-believing Presbyterians and Bible-believing Baptists can love and respect each other and fellowship with with one another, but it makes good sense that they attend separate churches since they don’t agree on whether or not to baptize children. This doesn’t mean Christianity is divided; it just means there are important features about Christianity upon which civilized, thinking believers can agree to disagree.

But on a deeper level, Christians from all times and all places are unified. Take, for example, the Apostles’ Creed, which we know at least dates back to the 4th century. The Apostles’ Creed can be seen in detail or influence in almost any evangelical confession today. Here are the central points of the creed:

  • I believe in God almighty
  • And in Christ Jesus, his only son, our Lord
  • Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
  • Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried
  • And the third day rose from the dead
  • Who ascended into heaven
  • And sitteth on the right hand of the Father
  • Whence he cometh to judge the living and the dead
  • And in the Holy Ghost
  • The holy church
  • The remission of sins
  • The resurrection of the flesh
  • The life everlasting.

This confession is a foundational expression of what Christians believe. As G.K. Chesterton once noted: “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” Or consider an even earlier creed that was likely on the lips of the earliest believers, formed within a short time after the resurrection, and passed along to the Apostle Paul:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Cor. 15:1–7, ESV)

Are Christians divided? On a surface level, yes. On a deeper foundational level, absolutely not. We are founded upon our Lord Jesus Christ. Expressions of our common confession, which unites all Christians, can be traced back to those early days after the first Easter as believers summarized their beliefs in a short creed that Paul passed along to us.

It is a confession of Jesus, who died, was buried, and rose again, according to the Scripture. This we believe. This is our confession. We did not make it. It is making us.

Published October 15, 2018

Daniel DeWitt

Daniel DeWitt (Ph.D., Southern Seminary) is the director of the Center for Biblical Apologetics & Public Christianity at Cedarville University. He is the author of multiple books and posts regularly at his blog, Theolatte.com.