“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
This is one of the teachings in our Crosswalk Starting Point class, and I believe it is a key for having a healthy and unified church family.
The above quote has been attributed to the early church father named Augustine, but it is hard to verify. The earliest known reference is from a man named Rupertus Meldenius, who was a relatively unknown German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century. He wrote a tract on Christian unity in during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) which was in part a result of religious tensions at the time. Today, at least two denominations have adopted it as a motto, and it is the guiding principle of a least a couple of evangelical megachurches.
“In essentials, unity” – this means there are beliefs, convictions, and doctrines that are central to the Christian faith. If you cease to hold to those beliefs, you cease to be Christian. The unity that we have is by the Spirit of Christ baptizing us into His body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). The unity we strive for is not washed down, but a unity of the truth “as the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). These beliefs are stated in the ancient Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. At Crosswalk, we have 7 essential statements about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, human beings, salvation and eternity. These are the basics, and the Scriptures encourage us to be of one heart and mind about these things.
“In non-essentials, liberty” – There are some things that good, thinking, devoted followers of Christ have disagreed on for nearly two thousand years. There are many honest debates we can have in the church in our pursuit of truth. Some are points of doctrine, others are lifestyle issues. For example, there are many views on the end times. These are of great interest to many and we are free to think and let think. The one essential is that the Lord is coming back to planet earth to judge the living and the dead, and to make all things new. The non-essentials are the many details about the rapture and tribulation and a host of other details. A lifestyle choice example is alcohol. Some favor total abstinence from alcohol and for others it is fine to consume alcohol but of course not to get drunk. Again, we promote liberty in these and many other matters.
In the NT church there was a contingent who were opposed to eating meat. This is discussed at length in Romans 14: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables” (v. 2). There was also a group who strongly believed in observing certain holy days. ”One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike…” (v. 5). How do we live with such differences among us? Paul says, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (v. 1). Of course, the big questions becomes, “How far can that liberty be extended?” Personally, it seems to be it should be extended quite far, up to but not beyond what the church as always considered essential beliefs and practices.
“In all things, charity” – Charity in this phrase is just another word for love. Guests at Crosswalk often comment about how much they appreciate our diversity. We are blessed with a multi-ethnic and multi-generational church family. We have believers and seekers from a wide variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds, and we invite everyone to seek the truth with us. But the key is everyone must experience, in the church family, the love of Jesus. Not only the love Jesus has for all, but the love we have for each other.
What is the weakness of this dictum? Where does it break down in practicality? The weakness is this: there will always be those who want to make essentials into non-essentials; and those who conversely want to make non-essentials into essentials. Those who want to do both of these usually, in my experience, add a combative attitude.
Here’s what the NT says:
Now regarding your question about (you can fill in the blank with your favorite issue)…Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes (I Corinthians 8:1-3 NLT).
Love not only covers a multitude of sins, but it helps us to see that there is a bucket of “essentials” that we must not trifle with, for the love of Jesus. And that there is a much larger tub of “non-essentials” than our prideful sense of knowledge may want to admit.
In either case, love for one another, acceptance of one another in Christ, will certainly win the day.
Love in Jesus,