When Martin Luther broke with the Roman church his breaking point found expression in these famous words: “God help me. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” Yet he soon learned what was to be his own special problem—that no man can be a Christian and remain alone. There is no such thing as a one-man church, for it is not possible to be a member of a “body” without all the other members. Luther therefore discovered, as we all must, that in order to unite with someone else one must give up something of himself.

Imagine yourself at one end of a long straight line. You are walking this line in the direction of uniting spiritually with other people on the basis of theology or sound doctrine. Let us suppose that you are well adjusted to the congregation to which you belong. Your church in turn belongs to some division—presbytery, classis, conference, diocese—of a denomination. And for this denomination there is a confession or a statement of faith and probably also a catechism. To join the church you have made certain professions, as have the leaders of the church, and these professions are subsumed under the accepted body of doctrine.

Now the farther you move along that line and the larger the group with which you unite, the more absolute is the necessity of laying aside here and there and one by one certain of your own beliefs in order to be part of the whole. Depending on your theological sensitivity and the niceties of expression at the various points on which you agree to “go along,” you will necessarily reach some point where you dig in your heels and say, “This is as far as I can go.” So you finally take your position somewhere along that line, and this by definition is the “kind of Christian” you have decided to be. You ...

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