The one thing that we all share in common is hope. It doesn't matter whether someone is a legalist or biblical revisionist, a dogmatician or a snake-handler, a bishop or recently born-again, we all share one thing in common. We all hope that Jesus is our salvation.

For some Christians, Jesus is ahead of them. He's waiting at the end of their life's journey, ready to make them all they'd hoped to become with all the things they wanted in life but couldn't get. For others, Jesus is with them in their vulnerability. He's a very real presence for them today. Tomorrow, they don't know what will happen, but Jesus will be with them in the grime. He knows their dreams and desires. He's as close to them as their next breath. For them, Jesus lives in their hearts, sharing their troubles and sorrows. Still, others believe Jesus shows up for them firsthand, hiding behind the faces of people near and dear to them.

Ask a Christian for an explanation of why they hope that Jesus is their salvation and we're likely to get as many answers as there are Christians. But, what they all share in common is hope that wherever Jesus is, He's there waiting to save us from sin, death, and damnation (however we define them).

But, that's the rub. As we define where Jesus is, and what sin is, or what death means, and how these add up to our hope, we split up. Each person locates a group of like-minded Christians. Then they start a church. If others join they eventually become an institution with rules and bylaws. Eventually, some groups grow into world-wide organizations with millions of members who join because they agree in some way with the founder's or church's original teachings. Jesus is then located wherever people who agree with you are located. Now the group, or the church, or the institution is responsible for our hope.

How many of us share a common hope that Jesus is institutionally loyal? How many of us hope our membership in a group, or church, or institution will save us? How many well-meaning Christians ignorantly act as institutional gate-keepers, condemning anyone who asks these questions?

God's Word teaches us who Jesus is, what we can expect from Him, where He locates Himself for us and the consequences of His death for sinners and resurrection for our justification. These are teachings worth defending because our hope hangs on whether or not we believe and confess them. The Bible as God's published will reveals Jesus as Savior for us. Every page of Scripture preaches Christ.

That's why it's imperative that we not judge other Christians by the sign that hangs on their church-front. Whether we baptize in a font or in a lake is irrelevant. Kneeling at the rail or standing stage left is inconsequential. Standing in a pulpit or wandering the dais doesn't matter. Vestments or suburban casual is an optical illusion. The only thing that matters is our confession. Do we preach Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins, or don't we?

As the hymn confesses, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." This is our one, true hope. How much water is used for baptism, whether we stand or kneel to receive Jesus' body and blood, whether we preach in one place or pace, and how we dress will all be conditioned by God's Word? Instead of, "How does this make us look," we will ask, "How does this preach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sin?"

We are constantly confronted, by other Christians and the world, with demands that we compromise. And in matters of love, for the sake of our neighbor, we can give ground. When we're asked to sing hymns instead of praise songs, or worship in the park rather than the church building or move bible study from before worship to afterward we can, for the sake of love, compromise.

But, in relation to Jesus, who is our only hope for salvation from sin, death, and damnation, there can be no compromise. We cannot compromise our confession of what God's Word teaches us about our Savior and how He gives us forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation through His gifts.

As Jesus said, "The one who is not against you is for you.” But, how difficult is it for us to not side with the disciples when they urged Jesus to shut down the exorcists because they didn't meet the disciples' criteria for membership in their Jesus Club?

The one thing that we all share in common is hope. It's the same hope of the disciples, who got it wrong, betrayed Jesus, and had to be "shalomed" into the kingdom in the power of Jesus' resurrection. The hope that converted Augustine, drove Martin Luther out of the monastery and calls horrible sinners to new life every day cannot be caged by by-laws and membership dues.

However, in His grace and mercy, He has chosen to work through sinners to make His Church. In this Church, His Spirit daily and abundantly sends Gospel preachers to forgive our sin, create faith, enlighten us with His gifts, and keep in the true faith until we're raised from the dead on the last day and given eternal life along with all believers in Jesus Christ.

It doesn't matter whether someone is a legalist or biblical revisionist, a dogmatician or a snake-handler, a bishop or recently born-again, so long as they confess the saving name of Jesus and trust in His works for them for their salvation. That is, "We believe that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone."