In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

Emmaus Christian Fellowship is almost eleven months old (born June 5, 2011). In some ways it feels as if we have been together for a long time, but in other ways it feels like we have just begun. The past eleven months have been filled with a lot of hard work for the Elders and Leadership core here at Emmaus; lots of study, lots of meetings, lots of writing.

In particular, we have been working hard on the Foundation Documents of Emmaus Christian Fellowship. These documents will include things such as our statement of faith, confession, bylaws, membership process, mission statement, as well as other core documents which will bring clarity to the beliefs, policies, and vision of ECF.

These documents are important and I’m looking forward to the day when we will give them to the people of Emmaus for review and feedback (I have a date in mind as a goal but I rather not say given that rushing these documents for the sake of meeting a deadline would be foolish and potentially harmful to the decades of ministry that await us).

I write this post because we are approaching a time when the beliefs of Emmaus Christian Fellowship will be stated with great specificity. My concern, as we grow in our understanding of the scriptures, is that we maintain a disposition of heart where we are able to, one, stand firm upon our convictions and, two, be humble and gracious towards those who might disagree with us on the non-essentials of the Christian faith.

Maintaining this balance is no simple task. Christians have struggled throughout the ages with this interplay between standing for truth and loving those who might disagree. It has been a struggle because it is a complicated endeavor.

I think the motto, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”, is potentially helpful for three reasons.

First of all, the motto acknowledges that there are essentials to the Christian faith that all must agree upon in order to be a Christian. As a result, there are some things worth fighting for. Consider Paul’s words to Titus concerning the qualification of an Elder within the church: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9, ESV)

Second, the motto acknowledges that within the church we must leave room for liberty in the areas that are non-essential to the Christian faith. Consider Paul’s words to the Romans concerning the diversity which existed within the church of Rome: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:5–6, ESV)

Third, the motto encourages us to do all things with charity, which I take to mean, humility, graciousness, and out of a heart of love. Paul encouraged the church in Colossae in the same way saying, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14, ESV)

We must be careful at this point given that we have made a mess of this “love” concept in our modern day supposing that it means that we are never to disagree, confront, or rebuke. To those who hold the view that love is being perpetually passive I would ask the question, have you ever read about Jesus in the gospels or Paul’s writings to the churches? These men confronted boldly from time to time and yet they did so out of love.

Consider the contrast concerning Paul’s dealings with the church of the Thessalonians. First he says, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, ESV) And then a few verses later he says, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12, ESV) Paul uses the imagery of a nursing mother and an exhorting father to illustrate his care for the believers. Both tenderness and exhortation can and should emanate from a heart of love.

In regard to the charity principle, the point is this – we must be sure that whether we are encouraging or exhorting that our hearts are truly humble and filled with love, even for our enemies. To be perpetually passive or constantly confrontational will not do. It is possible to be passive out of a heart of hatred just as it is possible to confront in love.

The issue is the heart. This is my prayer for Emmaus Christian Fellowship, that our hearts would be pure. We must stand for the truth of the gospel and do so because we possess a true love for God and our fellow man.

Click here for more thoughts on the motto, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church