So for those who have never heard the saying before, it goes like this: “In the essentials…unity. In the non-essentials…liberty. In all things…love.” This quote has become such a topic for debate among God’s people and in Christendom in general. But among fundamentalists, should it be adopted? I mean, at first glance it sounds great, but is it one of those things that is actually detrimental to true unity and the spiritual growth of individuals…families…and church congregations? Is it “building bridges” to ecumenism and the end time apostate church? One of the purported histories behind this quote should cause fundamental churches and their congregations to at least take a hard and serious look at what the quote is promoting.
A very brief and watered down Cliff Note version of the origin of the statement is this…Peter Meiderlin lived in the 17th Century and was deeply wounded by all of the fighting between Calvinists and Lutherans, and even fighting within the Lutheran church itself. This led Meiderlin to dream a dream after which he awoke to sound a rally cry to his Lutheran Church. That cry was to ask the elect within the church to “keep the peace.” This became something that caused unity to be valued over all else, including doctrines such as the absolute truth of Scripture. So right there, under such dubious beginnings, fundamentalists are ignorantly adopting this philosophy and beginning to put “peace keeping” above everything else, thus leading to compromising on many issues that used to separate differing denominations.
Let’s quickly look at each of the three components to this rallying cry, and see how it SHOULD be adopted!
Essentials are essentially this…core doctrines. These core doctrines display our individual unity with Christ and can foster unity amongst the brethren. One core doctrine, for example, that is plain and unequivocal is the command to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, especially in marriage. That is a plain command given under the inspiration of God to Paul in 2nd Corinthians 6:14. So…in this doctrine…marrying only a born again Christian…should be something that we are all unified in our agreement with.
Non-essential things are what we would call “matters of conviction.” But these convictions are BASED on CORE doctrines. These convictions, if truly based on core doctrines, are neither right nor wrong, and should not do anything to prevent the unity that the foundational core doctrines seek to establish. For instance, a matter of conviction may be the conviction that one should marry a person from their own home church. Again, unity is not destroyed, because whether you agree with the conviction or not, you both are in agreement on the core doctrine of not being unequally yoked. These matters of conviction are not explicitly stated in Scripture, but they can’t be argued against either.
In all things we need to love. This is because these things go beyond personal convictions and fall into the category of personal preference. These matters of preference are not rooted in Scripture, nor are they supported by Scripture, but they are not essentially wrong. For instance, you want to marry a Christian…great! You want to marry a Christian from any sound Bible preaching church…great! But you only want to marry a blonde with blue eyes…okay…fine!!!
I like redheads, but if my brother likes blondes (which I have no affinity for) then that’s fine with me. Why? Because I love him and want to support him, because after all, we agree on the ESSENTIAL core doctrine of 2nd Corinthians 6:14, and I also recognize the NON-ESSENTIAL fact that his future bride can come from any church, though I may lean toward finding your mate in your own church, but in the end, he likes blondes and I don’t…so who cares…good for him. All the while, we are preserving the unity between ourselves. That is how the principle of the saying SHOULD work…but alas…it doesn’t.
There is interdenominational fighting about core doctrines. Sadder still is the intra-denominational fighting over matters of personal conviction…even when people agree on core doctrines…and all that does is kill the unity in the church and weaken the church’s testimony in the community and its ability to effectively minister to the congregation and the community where it is based. Remember…core doctrines help establish unity and it’s our inability to conform to Christ that causes the wrong kind of diversity in the church. So this rally cry has become a free pass to end debates on matters that separate individuals, families, and churches…and puts a higher emphasis on just getting along.
There can be diversity in the church among the matters of non-essentials and matters of personal preference as evidenced by Romans 14:1-15:13. There is so much in these two chapters, but essentially, there are truths to be taken out of this portion of scripture. For instance, be patient with new converts while they learn and grow. They may not understand the core doctrines yet and thus their personal convictions may be unscriptural based on ignorance of the core doctrines. Even further, if their matters of personal preference are not in line with Scripture, it’s a cause for us to be patient and not a unity killer. Love them and be patient. An example of this would be a Catholic getting saved and still supporting infant baptism, while he is ignorant of the truth about baptism. We must have fellowship with this weaker new babe in Christ. This, of course, is different than a fundamental Baptist church “fellowshipping” with their Catholic “brethren.” That is wrong. That kind of “unity” with apostate churches is what some have called the bridge to ecumenism, while the first example leads to a brother growing in his knowledge of the Scriptures to change his heart on the matter.
Remember, Christ stated in Matthew 28:20 to “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Those things that Christ commands of us are the essentials…those are the core doctrines that are to be adopted and obeyed. Here’s one…you ought to be in church (Hebrews 10:25). That’s a standard that is found throughout the Old and New Testaments. God’s people should gather together to take part in corporate worship. Here’s where the fighting comes in within the ranks of Christians who are not considered babes in Christ. Some will say, “Be at every service.” Others will say, “You don’t have to be at EVERY service during the week.” To me…the way I understand it, if you have no other legitimate reason for being away, you ought to be in church EVERY service the church has…in other words…don’t forsake church whenever the church body assembles. That should be a core doctrine that we all agree on and can teach younger converts by example to not skip out on church.
But let’s say two brothers agree with each other, and each of their families attend church faithfully EVERY service, but they bicker and backbite on non-essential things such as how one should dress in church. That’s a poor testimony, and a confusing one to younger Christians. They’ll begin to wonder what’s more important…coming to church or dressing “appropriately,” and according to whose standards. My only conviction about dress in church is simply this: It ought to be different than how you would dress to go to lesser important activities like the beach or a ball game. Now I don’t allow my daughters to wear flip-flops to church, but there are many people who do not have the same conviction I have about flip-flops at church. But these flip-flop wearing Christians are in church every service, and I should be happy about that…not secretly tearing them down for what they wear. There is no itemized dress code in the Bible and thus, we should not “rewrite” Scripture by pushing our matters of personal conviction and personal preference on others, all the while breaking the unity we should be having with those who attend church faithfully in attire that is not immodest or obviously in error with Scripture…no matter how it conforms to our standards…or not.
So we’ll spend time fighting amongst ourselves over non-essentials and matters of personal preference, all the while not even noticing other issues out in the world far larger than the ones we fight about in our own churches. This rally cry has been so adopted, that now we have lady pastors, when the Bible clearly speaks against such things. Amazingly enough, in some denominations, you have openly gay female pastors being hailed as heroes and being lifted up as godly individuals. Again, the Bible is clear about women NOT being eligible to pastor a church and you also have the Bible speaking very plainly against homosexuality, yet somewhere along the line, these essential core doctrines were glossed over to promote unity within these denominations and now, it has trickled all the way down to many denominations embracing each other instead of deciding to have no fellowship with them.
Want to see where this saying has gotten us to today? The World Council of Churches (WCC) has this mission statement: “A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness, and Christian service.” (I added the emphasis). It was established in 1948 and began with about 147 denominations, mostly protestant. Today there are over 345 member denominations and that boasts as estimated 500 million “Christians.” The aim of the WCC is “to pursue the goal of the visible unity of the Church. This involves a process of renewal and change, in which member churches pray, worship, discuss, and work together.” See anything wrong with that? The goal is unity through a process of renewal and change. God is not changing, so the essential core doctrines God has laid out as a foundation for churches is not changing, so what is changing then? What’s changing is the attitude of churches toward promoting unity above all else. The last part of the statement says that these churches want to “work together.” The Bible plainly asks in Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” How else are you going to get 345 churches and 50 million “Christians” to work together without compromising each other’s beliefs for the sole purpose of unity above all else. I fail to see the point. Because now we’re left with an organization that is promoting some kind of Christianity, but it really has a loose and unstable foundation. So much so that I doubt anyone could really identify its core doctrines, or its identity.
That’s what can happen within a local New Testament church if we embrace the “Essentials” saying from Meiderlin. We cannot, as Christians, use that saying to promote unity above all else. We cannot over look other people’s willingness to believe, promote, and defend beliefs that go against core doctrines (essentials). Because once we compromise and allow core doctrines to be shredded in one area, it will be hard to pull in the reigns. In the New Testament, Paul told the Corinthian church that they needed to expel a member for not obeying a portion of the Scriptures and was engaging in sin…but the church had to be ready to take him back in once he repented. That’s what fosters unity in the church! Everyone having the same core beliefs (what is sin in this case) and being of one mind and in one accord over those things, and having the willingness to maintain an atmosphere that harbors unity at all costs, even if that means expelling the bad apples rather than fellowshipping with one that could ultimately destroy the church.
So if you like the “Essentials” saying, and want to adopt it, do so in the way I laid out for you in the beginning…the way it SHOULD be carried out, and NOT the way of the ecumenical World Council of Churches.