Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, October 15, 2007

"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.


At 16/10/07 04:48, Blogger Meepsie-dom said...

What are the criteria for determining the essentials? What has helped me with the many different Christian views in my own family: 1. Did Jesus Christ talk about it in the Bible, and how often? For example, his views and actions on money and the poor are well documented. Christians can unite around these essentials. 2. Is the essential a call to unity, community? This is not to say we should dilute the essentials of faith because they can be devisive or unpopular. But all my family's "versions" of Christianity stand firmly in unity about Jesus' real life, death to save us, resurrection, and promise of eternal life to us.
The more we are open to many interpretations that don't mess with the very short list of essentials, the more likely we are to grow in faith together and share it with others through words and actions. If the essentials are too hard to explain or too long, someone like the guy on the next cross over from Jesus may not have believed. Let's keep the essentials to something we can all memorize!

At 16/10/07 10:03, Anonymous donte said...

The Pharisees asked Jesus a similar question regarding essentials, non-negotiables or ‘the most important:’

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:36-40

Forgive me if this answer is far too simple. We’ve all heard this since we were toddlers in Sunday school. Yet somehow I feel like adding anything else to it is exactly what causes divisions, chasms, and walls between Christians around the world. Once one group adds another essential, they break off into a different sect, denomination, or faction. A different group adds another essential, causing divisions to continue to perpetuate.

Of course even if we all agree upon loving God and others as the only essential we will still argue over how love should or should not be expressed! LOL!!!

At 17/10/07 14:06, Anonymous Lisa said...

Thanks for giving us the space and freedom to wrestle with these difficult questions. Too often simply asking brands us an "unChristian" or "lacking in faith". I think agreeing on what the essentials are could be just as difficult as agreeing the individual issues themselves.


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