Rev. Steve Bateman|
When Christians disagree about non-essentials
Does disagreement among Christians argue against the validity of Christianity?
Augustine is often (and possibly erroneously) credited with advising Christians: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”
Non-essentials exist. The Apostle Paul said so himself when he defended his decision to “become all things to all men” for the sake of the gospel. Christians have disagreed on meat eating, wine drinking, hair length, hem length, the order of end-time events, music in worship, how to best serve the poor, the use of force in the restraint of evil and how much water to use in a baptism.
Scriptures seems to give Christians a lot of room for individual conscience on these issues. Not surprisingly, that has resulted in a lot of diversity — and disagreement — within the church.
But essentials are important to historic Christianity, a solid core that forms the “sine qua non,” the “without which not,” of the Christian faith. In other words, if the belief system does not have these essentials, it is not Christianity.
From the beginning, that core was built around the person of Jesus Christ. He is, in the words of Thomas upon seeing the risen Jesus, “Lord” and “God.” The supreme authority and full deity of Jesus, authenticated by his bodily resurrection, have always been essential elements of Christianity. If the belief system does not have this, it has historically not been considered to be genuine Christian faith.
This biblical truth is affirmed again in the ancient Apostle’s Creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord ... conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” The creed leaves no doubt as to what historic Christianity believes about Jesus.
In fact, this affirmation is found in all the founding creeds and confessions of the major Christian denominations. I serve Christ with my Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assembly of God (and so on) friends because, with all our differences, we hold this truth in common. That is, we do if they all actually believe what their own denominations have historically affirmed.
Will we Christians have lively discussions about the various viable interpretations of difficult passages of the Bible? Will we seek substantive and civil debate on the ordination of women, the proper application of the just-war theory and the relationship of church and state? Will we continue our dialogue on the church’s response to illegal immigration and the interaction of science and faith? Definitely yes, and hopefully with charity.
So while some choose to focus on the many and often public disagreements within the church, it might be refreshing to celebrate the extraordinary agreement that exists among the 2 billion people on this planet who call themselves Christians.
The Rev. Steve Bateman, pastor of First Bible Church, Decatur, is one of several local ministers writing religion columns for The Daily. For more information, call Melanie Smith at 340-2468.