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In Non-Essentials…Revisited

July 4, 2009

It should not surprise me, that while the majority will agree to the famous quote, “In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Charity. We do not all agree what the essentials are. To reassure the ninja lurkers and those that have made sporadic comments, I want to revisit Unity, Liberty, and Charity.

Before I dig in, I do want to make one clarification. The Bible does not separate it’s teaching into essential and non essential teaching. It separates truth from error. Yet, nor is it a theological text book or a technical commentary. I find that most seem to operate as if the Bible is a text book and throw around the terms apostasy and heretic with an irreverent attitude. Certainly there are such, and we should bring the force of those accusations where needed, but these terms have become theological swear words against each other.

Unity: is where we must be the most solid in conviction and loyalty but not without some flexibility. Flexibility here is applied with more restriction than in non-essentials, and has to do more with maturity. Specifically, while the Trinity and Duel Nature of Jesus are unwavering essentials, the newly saved rarely comprehend these doctrines. Our flexibility comes formed as patience and instruction not theological apathy.

    Unity is loyalty to the Gospel.

Liberty: is where we get in trouble. We can be to libertarian and endorse ecumenical ties with those that are clearly outside the essentials. We can also be to restrictive and deny fellowship with those that are clearly among us in the essentials. We tend to find these extremes in Liberals and Fundamentalists camps throughout various denominations in the world today. 1 Liberty is where we need to extend flexibility on a broader context. It usually has more to do with orthodox theological traditions (historical denominations).
In trying to define which teachings we need to show liberty to and allow us to agree to disagree,
I ask myself if it is a doctrine that effects my salvation, or offers a false salvation as presented to the world. Non-essentials can be divided into two main categories. 1.) Teaching that does not affect the work or usefulness of those that believe them, and 2.) Teachings that DO affect our usefulness for the Kingdom. An example of #1 could be eschatology. Does one millennial view give way to greater sanctification and maturity than the other? Where as denial of evangelism does have a negative effect. Neither of these examples redeems the believer, and therefor are not essential for the faith, while they may be essential for growth, maturity, and usefulness.

    Liberty is loyalty to those saved by the Gospel.

Charity: is where we can really fail if we do not watch our own hearts. Charity does not force us to combine denominations that are at odds on government, baptism, what have you. Charity does not force us to ignore or downplay our arguments on those non-essential issues, especially on the ones that are damaging to the Christian and the Church.
Charity comes from the Latin, caritas. Which is in itself the Latin translation of agape. Love does not always come in the form of hugs and handshakes, there are times when love is expressed through confrontation; Jesus to Peter, Paul to Peter, God to us. Love is patient, wants to restore, seeks to forgive.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13.

    Charity is loyalty to God’s image as experienced and presented in the Gospel.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2009 12:53 pm


    It sounds like your solution to the problem of the Bible not explicitly distinguishing between essentials and non-essentials, is simply to stipulate to us all what the essentials are [e.g. Trinity and dual nature of Jesus]. So is it essential that we listen to you? If so, why? If not, then why do *your* stipulations matter? And if your stipulations don’t matter, then the question remains entirely unanswered, because you haven’t provided a principled basis for distinguishing essentials from non-essentials.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. Josh permalink
    July 4, 2009 1:15 pm

    Hi Bryan,

    I made some basic presumptions on that post. Since most readers or people I interact with are within the Protestant faith. Even then that is in itself tricky. I recognize there are unregenerate “Christians” as well as those truly saved in and outside the strict Protestant formulation of theology. In the end it is Christ who saves. That is not to say that one group or the other is more or less accurate and precise or that we cannot be saved with a distorted or misguided view of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit illuminates and instructs, we just do the planting and watering.

    So, to answer your comment. I was preaching to the outer choir (relatively speaking). I did not list in this post the essentials or fundamentals, which will follow in a series to come. Should prove interesting, since I am a former R.C. turned Protestant. :0)

    I am not sure of the intention of your comment, is it a plea to dialog the essentials or a bait to dialog about Catholicism? Either way, I appreciate your time and comment.

    Grace to you,


  3. July 4, 2009 1:43 pm


    Thanks for your reply. I wasn’t looking for a list of essentials. Lots of people give different lists. I’m trying to understand the principled basis (in your mind) for distinguishing essentials from non-essentials. If you intend to address that in a future post, I’ll just wait for it then. I’m not trying to “bait” a dialogue about Catholicism, though obviously that’s not entirely unrelated to the question I’m asking, because Catholicism has a way to answer this question, while Protestantism seemingly does not.

    Enjoy the 4th!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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