Three-Branch Unity: Reflecting the Heart of God

I’m a three-branch guy.

What I mean by this is that I’m a Christian in the Protestant tradition that believes wholeheartedly that I share the same faith as my Orthodox and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. There are three branches of Christianity: Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. All three branches share allegiance to the cross and the Trinitarian faith expressed in the Apostle’s Creed.

Yes, salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), but the legitimacy of that faith will show up in works (Phil. 2:12). Centuries of debate has centered on the struggle to unify around truth that exists between two tensions: faith and works (Rom. 5:1-2; James 2:24).

Of course, there are great errors in the big three-branch tent. It’s like the seven churches in Revelation. Some of the magnificent seven tolerated the error of Jezebel (Rev. 2:20), or held to the false teaching of Balaam or the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14-15). Still, Jesus walked in their midst (Rev. 1:12) and, bottom-line: I want to live where Jesus walked.

In his high-priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus said:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21, NIV).

Jesus’ prayer for unity here is tied directly to our apologetic to the world.  The severe divisions within Christianity do nothing to help our witness to millions that disbelieve or have no interest in God.  As the song says, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love” and, as John 17:20-21 adds, our unity.

The late Chuck Colson believed in three-branch unity and gave a grand vision of it in his book The Body. Three-branch unity and the place of denominations is also reflected in C.S. Lewis’ famous illustration of the great hall of Christianity:

“I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions — as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.

It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall, I have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into the room you will find that the long wait has done some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.

In plain language, the question should never be: “Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?”

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. This is one of the rules common to the whole house.”

How about you?

  • Are you kind to those who have chosen other denominational (or non-denominational) doors? Do you pray for those in error? Are you humble enough to realize that when you see Jesus face-to-face, you will find out areas that you were in error?
  • If you’re still in the hall and haven’t found a room that fits well yet—that is, a local church or parish to join—are you camping or waiting?
  • On the topic of unity, does your heart reflect the heart of God or are you isolated in your own “enlightened” state?




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Carpenter | Theologian (cover photo by Ken Larter)