It was a bold claim in that day and age. Justification. By grace. Through faith. The echo of Martin Luther’s 95 theses reverberated through Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517, and with the pound of a nail, the entire idea of God, man and the church was uprooted. What if what God wants is our surrendered hearts, not our futile “good” works? What if Christianity centers on this truth alone? For a moment, Luther had the world’s attention, with everyone’s eyes on the heart of the Gospel. But perhaps only for a moment.
I grew up in a Baptist church from a very early age until my senior year of high school. When I was ten or eleven, I remember asking my mom why we were Baptists and how we were different from the Methodist congregation that met half a mile down the road.
My mom calmly and matter-of-factly stated a reason or two, but both seemed insignificant to me. I wondered if I was wrong for thinking these issues weren’t important, but even as young as I was, I thought these were trivial reasons for division. If my best friend and I were the same in every way except that she didn’t believe it was right to play with the kind of dolls that I owned, would I decide to only play with other friends from then on?
My senior year of high school, I was accepted into Union University and knew I would soon be claiming the students as my family and the school as my home. A Baptist school. “There will be people like me,” a comforting thought to a girl who had never lived away from home. But there was also a part of me that longed for the unity and diversity that Scripture speaks of, a unity in which diverse believers are one body because they have the only thing that matters in common: Justification. By grace. Through faith.
A statistical report conducted last fall across Union’s three campuses showed that only a little over half of our student body identifies as “Baptist.” That still leaves nearly 1,000 full-time students unaccounted for, all claiming various other denominations (or non-denominations) as their own.
While Union as an institution is a Baptist school and many of their students are affiliated with this denomination, Union as a student body is beautifully diverse. I’ve seen this within my own friend groups: members of Methodist, Catholic and non-denominational churches, and so many others who have discipled me, come alongside me and are dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s apparent in chapel, watching the student body worship, some with their arms lifted high, some kneeling, some with their eyes gently closed, but all worshipping the same God in one voice. It’s evident walking through Barefoot’s Joe, overhearing the conversations between students, talking of how the Lord is teaching them each individually and personally, even despite their miniscule differences. In classrooms, as faculty teach through the lens of scripture, the learning environment is saturated with different views and backgrounds, yet one unifying relationship with God.
We aren’t perfect. Even on Union’s campus, we sometimes let our differences divide us. As we’re driving to our different churches throughout the week, we might begin to judge who goes where or worry that we are the victims of someone else’s judgment. There is certainly room for improvement, and steps toward greater unification must begin in students’ hearts and minds, remembering the center of what we believe as one body: Justification. By grace. Through faith.
Overall, I watch Union’s student and faculty daily “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). The unity and diversity I sought in high school, I found at Union. It’s a oneness that does not hide its diversity but acknowledges and celebrates it, even if we’re imperfect.
I think if Martin Luther could roam the halls of our campus, he would be proud. This 500th Reformation Day doesn’t only call us to remember Oct. 31, 1517; it calls us to remember our continued mission to live and proclaim the truth of the gospel to all people as one body of believers.