There’s no question that the variety of churches can be a bit dizzying. How did we get so many denominations? It’s a long story!
What’s easy to miss is the amazing unity that exists on the most important doctrines of the faith. There is a surprising amount of unity on what the Bible teaches about who God is, who man is, what his problem is, and how he comes to eternal salvation.
One of the key points of agreement is in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. What this means is that whatever we have done or however much we have failed, God forgives us and accepts us a free gift received by faith alone without any of our obedience, merits, or works. We also teach that good works are the fruit of this justification, but we always emphasize that our free acceptance is the root and the good works are fruit of that acceptance.
Here are a few examples from some of the historic documents of evangelical churches for your edification:
Wesleyan: We believe that justification is the judicial act of God whereby a person is accounted righteous, granted full pardon of all sin, delivered from guilt, completely released from the penalty of sins committed, by the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by faith alone, not on the basis of works.
Augsburg (Lutheran): Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. . . . Furthermore, it is taught on our part that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them, but because it is the will of God. It is only by faith that forgiveness of sins is apprehended, and that, for nothing. And because through faith the Holy Ghost is received, hearts are renewed and endowed with new affections, so as to be able to bring forth good works (Art. 20).
The Mennonites: “Ques. 3—Do you then hope to be justified and saved by your good works in keeping the commandments of Christ? Ans.—No; by our good works we cannot gain heaven, or merit eternal life; but it is by grace that we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).”
Episcopal Church (The 39 Articles) in Art. 11: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. . . .”
The Moravian Brethren in Art. 6: “They further teach, that men are justified before God by faith, or trust on Jesus Christ alone, without any strivings, merits, and works of their own. . . .”