"In Essentials Unity, In Non- Essentials liberty"
...but what ARE the non-essentials? This was the question that came up this past weekend as I taught the Bethany Foundations class at our church, a class devoted to the history, mission, vision, and beliefs of the church I pastor. There's that famous quote hanging above the door as you enter the sanctuary which reads: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." The origin of the quote is actually the subject of some debate as seen here. But more important than the quote's origin, is the question of its meaning and application in particular situations.
It's easy to declare some elements as essentials: our common commitment to the authority of Scripture as the basis for life, our commitment to the person and work of Christ, and a few other 'apostles creed' based doctrines.
But the question that comes up is in other matters. If our church, which has a heavy disposition towards adult baptism is approached by someone from the Reformed tradition who wants their child baptized, understands that such baptism isn't an impartation of salvation, and defends their view with a careful, though different hermeneutic than mine, what should the conclusion be?
I'm thinking that for many such matters the issue is this: Is our umbrella large enough to encompass convictions that are derived from careful, though different, Bible interpretation? Of course, it must be, at least at some level. The pacifist and the Christian soldier worship together at Bethany. So does the one who thinks women can teach and lead in the church and the one who doesn't. In these two examples, both sides of the issue are carefully studied in their views, and I'd suggest that both sides need each other, and that to divide over such matters creates a fractured, caricatured body of Christ. Can the same tolerance be granted over differing views of divorce, sexual orientation, eternal security or lack thereof, etc. etc. If so why? If not why not?
The question is this: In living out the essentials unity, non-essential liberty piece, what's the criteria for determining essentials? And finally, perhaps most important, how do we practice charity among those with whom we disagree on essentials? This is vital because if we fail here, we fail utterly, in that we begin to embody the arrogance and hatred that completely misrepresents Christ.
We need to wrestle with this, and learn to express truth with the blend of conviction and humility that enables us to stand firm, while continuing to listen. The "essentials, non-essentials" saying casts a good vision towards this end.