My apologies for this long post, but the subject matter is complicated. Bear with me and the complications will soon unfold.
I’n sure that many of you have heard this motto or guide, which has been attributed to Saint Augustine, but research indicates otherwise (see here), on how one is recommended to interact with others of like mind and also those who are not of like mind. Of course, the difficult part is defining or determining what is considered “essential” and what is considered “non-essential”.
Personally, I would initially have had a tendency to align the “essentials” with what is known as “The Apostles’ Creed” which was authored at an early Christian Synod, Milan, c. 390 A.D., which reads as follows:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
IN CONCERT WITH the Nicene Creed, which was first adopted at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. In 381, it was amended at the First Council of Constantinople. The amended form is also referred to as the Nicene Creed, or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed for disambiguation. They read as follows:
First Council of Nicaea (325)
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The First Council of Constantinople Nicene Creed of A.D. 381 reads as follows. The italicized paragraph indicates the change between A.D. 325 and A.D. 381.
We believe in one God, the father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, light from light, Very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made;
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; and suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.
And Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
If you are interested in having more background on the Nicene Creed, click here.
If one agrees or identifies with what is contained within The Apostles’ Creed and the amended Nicene Creed, as covering the “essentials”, one can easily see that there are a substantial number of additional doctrines and unmentioned practises that would accordingly fall into the “non-essential” category.
We also know from studying Christian history, that many disagreements within the non-essential category caused divisions and separation within the Christian Church, due to perceived excesses or differences of opinion, the Protestant Reformation being but one of these substantial disagreements in our Christian history.
The 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation were based on the clear teaching of the Scriptures that salvation is a gift of God.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Sola Fide” (Faith Alone)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
Are these 5 Solas also considered “essential”? I would have to say they are. So if these 5 Solas are “essential”, unity at the cost of compromising the clear teaching of Scripture, as in facilitating liberty towards a deemed non-essential teaching, would of necessity, have to be rejected.
As I indicated at the onset of this post, a lot depends on what is deemed as “essential” and “non-essential”. Matters that involve our conscience with regard to esteeming one day over another, or what we eat or drink etc, is indeed an area that can be given some liberty. Same thing applies when we are interacting with new Christians, as long as it does not involve a gross infraction of God’s moralistic related judgements, such as sexual related practises, as but one exampled area.
Should we extend “liberty” to others with whom we interact, whenever it is feasible, as long as it does not violate God’s clear teaching on a given subject? Yes, I think we should, in fact, we are called to do so in some specific instances, but not at the expense of violating or disregarding God’s truth. White washing sin, or a false doctrine, doesn’t really help anyone, not the one who does the white washing, nor the one who receives the white washed message. The danger, as in most things, is in the details. Jesus tells us that it is His wish that we are in unity with one another, but He also told us that His truth would cause division. We can’t all be in unity with one another by ignoring His truth. That is not unity, that is compromising truth until it becomes a lie.
The final aspect of this motto or guide indicates that in all things we should show charity (love and compassion). I don’t think there is a valid argument against this recommendation because the Scriptures clearly support that all things be done in love. This becomes a lot easier to do when we learn to disassociate the error in teaching or doctrine, from the individual who is propagating it. Bad choice of words. It’s never easy, but it is necessary. Don’t allow your distain for the error, to transfer to the individual stating it or respond in like manner when he or she associates his/her distain for the truth you are stating, directly to you.
The aforementioned motto or guide at the top of this post, sounds good, until you look at the practical ramifications of what it is most likely to produce. Advancing unity and liberty, at the expense of compromising God’s truth, is never what Jesus did, and we shouldn’t either.
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!