In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.Rupertus Meldenius
Over the last 40 years I have often heard this quote. In the last week I heard in several times, each time attributed to someone different, from Augustine of Hippo to John Stott. All wise men, but I was curious about who actually penned it. Chat-GPT led me to a the article In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity. According to the article, this phrase with used in a pamphlet written by Rupertus Meldenius in the early 17th century.
The phrase is lofty, the circumstances which led to it were grim. The 30 year war was ranging. It terms of total deaths, it falls behind the world wars, but it terms of percent of total population, it was arguable the worse war in Europe ever. More than 500k people died directly in combat. Some estimates are 12 million people lost their lives as a result of war due to famine and disease. The heart breaking thing is that this wars was largely driven by leaders who were challenging how areas were divide up between different Christian beliefs / alliances.
Rupertus was calling on Christians to lay down their arms and stop killing each other, especially when the conflict was something that wasn’t even an essential truth. In the “modern” church we don’t have people killing each other with weapons, but we often try to kill each other with our words.
It’s important for a church to take the Bible seriously and to adhere to essential orthodoxy which was captured more than 1500 years ago in the Apostles and the Nicene creeds. Rejection of these doctrines would be a rejection of Jesus. I think it’s appropriate to say that denying these core beliefs could be called heresy from a biblical Christianity perspective.
Many, many churches embraces these essential truths. Whenever we find that we share these core truths, we should look for ways to work together and promote those things which are most important. We should not let other, less important issues distract us. We should focus on what we have in common.
I couldn’t in good conscience join a church which didn’t embrace the essentials of a theologically orthodox faith. I care too much about Jesus. It would be like spending time with people who are always badmouthing my wife or children. I would rather spend my time somewhere else. That said, if there were issues I wanted to invest my time into, and a church or individual had a similar interest, I would be happy to acknowledge what we share and see if there was a way we could work together.
I would also note that orthodoxy must flow into our practices. A good indications that a church practices the essentials of the orthodox faith is when people who aren’t valued by our culture, people who are poor, addicted, immigrants, widows, etc feel comfortable attending the church. After all, these were the people who were comfortable around Jesus. Warning signs of a church that has forgotten what it means to live out the gospel would focus on things you need to do without hearing about the peace, comfort, and rest that God provides. The teachers and members would be self-righteous, judgmental, lack humility and compassion for those would are struggling.
Every church typically will have a lot on “non-essential” beliefs. People should feel free to have opinions on these non essentials, even select a church based on them. Examples of non-essentials:
- Type of Worship
- Gender roles within the home and church
- Nature and Practice of Spiritual Gifts
- Nature of End Times
While it’s reasonable to focus you time with people who share your views on non-essentials, it’s wrong to use those differences as a weapon or a way to divide “us” from “them”. We should be happy to interact with people who different from us on the non essentials.
There is a risk of missing out when we gather around non-essentials. First, our cherished position is likely not 100% correct. If we only associate with like minded people we will never learn what we have missed. Secondly, I have found that when I interact with people who are different from me it provides opportunities for all of us to grow and mature, even when our positions don’t change.
This was first modeled for me by Doug Goins. In later years, Danny Hall, another pastor from PBC was a great example of granting this sort of freedom to others. We were talking after he gave a presentation about the work of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition. He said to me
When I just graduated from Bible college there were many things I was prepared to died for. These days, the list is quite short.
He went on to explain that it was crazy to not collaborate on important issues if there was agreement on what was essential for that endeavor.
If something isn’t essential, why not grant others the freedom to pursue those things. Does it hurt you in any way?
It’s always appropriate to be charitable to others. To care for them. To treat them with respect. This respect should be extended to all people, and even more so to those who we share the essentials of faith.
I find the lack of charity in the Christian community heartbreaking. I see it all the time in blogs, articles, and book reviews. People are regularly demonized.
In the last year I have heard the following men (and many others) be called “dangerous”, “apostate”, and several other names which are ridiculous. All of them hold tightly to the essentials of the Christian faith:
- Billy Graham
- John Stott
- Rick Waren
- Richard Foster
- Dallas Willard
- Tim Keller
We could all learn from the apostle Paul:
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.Philippians 1:15-18 (ESV)
Biblical Call for Unity
Here are some passages worth meditating on and a brief commentary provided by chat-gpt?!
- John 13:34-35: This passage indicates that the world can judge whether we are following Jesus based on our love (e.g. unity) for other followers.
- Ephesians 4:1-6: This passage urges believers to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It emphasizes that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God, highlighting the commonalities that bind Christians together.
- 1 Corinthians 1:10: Paul appeals to the Corinthians “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” This passage stresses the importance of agreement and unity in thought and belief.
- Romans 14:1-19: In this chapter, Paul addresses the issue of differing opinions on non-essential matters. He encourages believers to accept those who are weak in faith without quarreling over disputable matters and to make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.
- Galatians 3:28: This verse declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It underscores the idea that in Christ, traditional divisions and differences are overcome.
- John 17:20-23: In Jesus’ prayer, He prays not only for His immediate disciples but for all who will believe in Him through their message. He prays that they may all be one, just as He and the Father are one, so that the world may believe that the Father sent Him.
- Philippians 2:1-4: This passage encourages believers to be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. It advises looking not only to personal interests but also to the interests of others.
- Colossians 3:13-14: Here, believers are instructed to bear with each other and forgive one another if any has a grievance against someone. Love is emphasized as the perfect bond of unity.
These passages collectively emphasize the importance of unity in the Christian community, advocating for harmony, mutual respect, and love despite differences in opinions, backgrounds, or practices.Chat-GPT
For another time…
The article Of Mountains and Molehills discuss how to handle disagreements over doctrinal issues. While I appreciate several of the observations, I am troubled that the author is descriptive about “tier 2” issues – what separates churches, rather than prescriptive, e.g. what Jesus or the early church would have encouraged. A book which I haven’t read on a this topic is When Doctrine Divides People.
There are a number of things that are closely related to this topic, but I would never post anything if I followed those threads. For another time:
- Majority in the Majors: Being guided by what God emphasizes
- Humility: The taproot of a good life
- Culture Containment and Nationalism: Mistaking our culture for God’s
- Assume Pluralist World: Until Jesus returns we will be living in a pluralistic society, trying to change that through power will result in a mess and dishonor God.