10 Words From Augustine to Make Talking About God Enjoyable

Posted on April 27, 2011


This is a continuation of my previous post on Discerning the Truth.

“In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Written by the church father Augustine, oft quoted by John Westley, re-quoted recently by Hank Hanegraaff. The Christian world is rife with religious debate and schism. These ten words can turn talking to other Christians from navigating a minefield of debate to an enjoyable time of genuine fellowship. To escape the minefield, we should know the difference between essentials and non-essentials.

The Essentials

There is a short set of doctrines that a Christian can not compromise on. “The common faith,” Paul called it. The “essentials” Augustine called it. It is a set of basic things in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God. God is triune. Christ, the God-man, uniquely accomplished redemption for us. Things like those are essentials. If you believe it, you’re a believer. If not, you’re not. As Christians, this is our unity.

The Non-Essentials

But then there’s the thousands of other topics in the Bible. How to be baptized, how to interpret the book of Revelation, etc. One can have widely different views on these items, yet still be a genuine believer. These, according to Augustine, are the non-essentials. In these things, we must exercise liberty. What does “liberty” mean?

Don’t insist on it. Someone has been baptized by sprinkling? Don’t insist on his being immersed. Just receive him as a brother. Someone believes in the pre-tribulation rapture of the believers? Don’t insist on your view. Those are non-essentials. They are not part of the common faith. To insist that others believe or practice anything other than the essentials is to invite division in the Body of Christ. That’s something I don’t want to do. In non-essentials, we must exercise liberty toward others.

It sounds basic, right? But groups of Christians split over these kinds of things, over non-essentials. It’s tragic. It decapitates the Body of Christ.

What if someone else insists on a non-essential?

I’ve thought about this question for a while. I’ve had other Christians insist that I believe in something like young earth creationism. Its definitely not an essential, yet they insist on it. I don’t want to create a division in the body of Christ over it. What do I do?

Under the Lord’s light, this is the conclusion I’ve come to. “In all things, charity.” I need to care for this dear brother or sister in a spirit of love. 1 Corinthians 8 illustrates my point. Here’s some select verses (Recovery Version).

4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is no God but one.

7 But this knowledge is not in all men; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat the food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

9 But beware lest somehow this right of yours become a stumbling block to the weak ones.

13 Therefore if food stumbles my brother, I shall by no means eat meat forever, that I may not stumble my brother.

So I know that he’s insisting on a non-essential. Because I love my brother, I don’t want to stumble him. I can’t insist on his not insisting. If he insists on something, what can I do but just give up my freedom of opinion for the sake of my brother. That doesn’t mean I have to change my opinion to match his. It means that I do not express my opinion to him for fear of stumbling him. While I am with him, I love him and join him. This preserves the oneness of the Body of Christ.

Practical Application

Okay, so I see this in the word of God, but as I think about it, I suspect that to apply it is not possible for my flesh. My suspicion is that the application of this wonderful quote by Augustine is only possible through the application of the cross to me by the power of resurrection. To hold to the common faith, to not insist on my own views, and to love my brothers must be through the cross by the power of resurrection.

“In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Lord make this word my experience and my testimony.

Note: For an awesome discussion of this topic of essentials vs. non-essentials vs. practical application, you have got to read this book. I’ve read it at least 3 times. It makes talking to any Christan the most precious opportunity.

The Speciality, Generality, and Practicality of the Church Life, by Witness Lee

A must-read for anyone that has trouble fellowshipping with other Christians

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