Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question: “Dear Dave and T.A., what do you think of the saying, ‘in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity’?”
Tom: Dave, before you get after this…
Dave: What do you mean, “get after it?”
Tom: Yeah, I know you want to wrestle this thing right to the mat!
Dave: (chuckles) No…
Tom: Sure you do. But I did a little background research.
Dave: You did, okay.
Tom: Sometimes I do that, and it’s interesting to note that this saying…that both Catholics and Protestants take credit for this. Catholics like to say—which is not true—but they like to say that Augustine—this is a quote from Augustine, and the Protestants give people credit like Richard Baxter, you know, the Anglican—I think he lived in the, what, 16…1700s?
Dave: Somewhere around there.
Tom: Herman Witsius would be another name that they would say this is where this saying came from. However, I did find out who, indeed, said it. It was actually coined by a 17th century German theologian named Peter Meiderlin and was also known as Rupertus Meldenius. He did, in part, by the way—he came up with this saying, do you know why? (Chuckles) This is what I find fascinating about it—he was trying to make peace between the Lutherans and the Calvinists because they were going after each other because of theological ideas, teachings, and so on. Well, what do you say? Let me repeat it again: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things charity.”
Dave: Well, Tom, I guess by “in essentials, unity,” he means that we have to be united on essentials, or you cannot compromise. I presume that’s what he means. So…
Tom: The basics of the faith, the fundamentals of the faith, which we can get after this, but who decides? (Laughter) What are the fundamentals? But go ahead…
Dave: Right, so there is no guarantee that there will be unity. Now of course, Christ prayed for unity in John 17, “that they all may be one as thou art in me and I in thee, that they all may be one in us.” So we know that the only unity is in Christ, and if you really know Christ, you belong to Him, and you’ve received Christ as your Savior, your Lord, you’re born again through faith in Christ—you don’t have to have dialogue about it, you don’t have to try to reach unity—you are united in Him. If you are not united in Christ, that is, in Christ where our salvation is, then you can’t have unity. Now, it’s a very succinct saying, “In essentials, unity,” but I presume that the saying is, well, you can’t disagree on essentials. The only way we could have unity is in the essentials of the faith and I would agree with that. What’s the rest of it now, what is the next point?
Tom: “In nonessentials, liberty.”
Dave: Okay, so if it’s not an essential of the faith—by essential, I’m sure he means it has to do with our salvation, whether you’re going to get to heaven or not—we can’t compromise on that…
Tom: And on what basis?
Dave: Right, but if it’s not essential, then let’s give them some liberty—I suppose in some ways. But, Tom, on the other hand, you could say well, whether you murder somebody or not, you might still get to heaven because God can forgive anything, or whatever kind of a life you live, you can still be forgiven, so liberty, to what extent? I don’t know.
Tom: Well, I’ll give you an example from our research—historically, this part of the saying was used to reconcile those who were a-millennial with those who were premillennial because there were some problems among those groups. Would that be a nonessential?
Dave: Well, it’s certainly a nonessential for salvation, and so I would certainly agree. I’m not going to, as you would say, wrestle somebody to the mat! (Chuckles) I’m not going to cut off fellowship with them if they don’t believe in the Rapture and I do, a pre-tribulation rapture, and they don’t—well, they’re still Christians. I’m not going to say, “Well, I can’t have fellowship with you.”
Of course, Tom, that’s one of the things that has shocked me by the response we’ve gotten to what we’ve said about Calvinism. There are many Calvinist pastors and others around the world who have just cut us off—they will not have anything to do with us anymore because they say we’ve attacked Calvinism. I don’t think that’s proper either, although that’s a big subject that we don’t have time to discuss. So, I would agree to some extent with this statement. And what’s the third part of it?
Tom: “And in all things, charity.” Or love.
Dave: Well, I would certainly agree with that, Tom, but then we would have to decide what does it mean to love? Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” And, you know, we were talking about homosexuals—they would say, “Well, just accept me, no matter what I do, just accept me in all things.”
Tom: Unconditionally, is the phrase.
Dave: Yeah, “just accept me.” Well, but if I love a person, I’m going to correct them. If I love them, and what they’re doing is wrong, I’m going to warn them, and I would have to warn a homosexual that this lifestyle has its dangers. I mean, it cuts your life, basically, in half; it spreads disease and so forth—so love wouldn’t mean that I wouldn’t tell them they were wrong, that I would just accept them, so [it] depends on what you mean by love.
Tom: Of course, whatever we do, we need to please the Lord, and certainly, loving people—why would we say anything to them if we didn’t love them? If we weren’t concerned about them?
Dave: And the Scripture says we are to speak the truth in love.
Dave: So if I love someone, I will speak the truth and I would be like this pastor in Sweden. I would tell the truth from the pulpit.
Tom: Dave, are we going to end up in jail? Down the line? If the Lord tarries?
Dave: Could very well be. Then we’ll have to decide—are we going to compromise? I don’t see how we can compromise. Tom, again, it involves the eternal destiny of souls. It involves what God has said, and we cannot let human opinions or what seems to be the vogue of the day, or the threats of the courts, or whatever, we cannot let them change what God has said, and that’s where we stand.