Unity Because of Essentials

Exalting Christ in community and mission

Unity Because of Essentials

I studied math all the way through grad school.  I wanted to get a PhD and teach, but then I realized that my advisor historically had his students for about 8-10 years. At that point, I could have gone to med school and gotten a doctorate faster that way. I also feared losing the cool factor that I had while doing triathlons by being viewed as a nerdy mathematician who teaches by writing equations with one hand and erasing them with the other.  I got out. But I still lost. My children say I’m nerdy now and on top of that, I’ve forgotten 98.7% of any of the math I studied. Honestly. But I do remember enough to point out one little dilemma with all the division taking place in many churches.

A little combinatorics can be helpful to highlight the issue. There are divisions between those who say that your church clearly should advocate for political issues that align with party (A) or party (B). Furthermore, you’re either saying too much about racial issues (C) or not enough (D). And for sure, everyone has clearly figured out whether mask wearing should be required (E) or it’s the biggest farce since Milli Vanilli (F).  (Got to reference a band like that for the illustration in order to maintain the minimal level of coolness.) But when you do the combinations, you quickly come up with 8 different factions (ACE, ADE, …BDF).

In our own minds, we tend to think that “If the Holy Spirit will just enlighten them, they repent and align with my XYZ view, then the church will be rescued from folding.” But a little history and a little humility might instead go a long way. “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity (probably Augustine).” In other words, there are primary, secondary and tertiary issues. Though some might disagree and think that all issues they hold are primary, we can point to the words of Jesus for affirmation of this concept. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus offered a rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees, “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law….” Hence, Jesus was saying that there are some issues that are more important and by inference, we could instead be focusing on the secondary ones. It’s not saying that they are minor and don’t matter at all. Later in that verse, he said that those other issues could be ones that we still shouldn’t neglect.

The gist of this is not necessarily saying to just major in the majors and let the minors go unattended. But we must at least realize the distinction and priority. For the church, the primary issues are ones of the Trinity, Scriptural authority, the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

Secondary issues and concerns still matter. But when someone works in the ER, they prioritize a knife wound to the head more than a sprained ankle. The knife wound is primary; the sprained ankle matters and will be addressed; but it is secondary. To that point, it should be able to be discussed. “Sir, we’d like to continue to discuss care for that sprained ankle. We’re going to do some rest, ice, etc. Then we want to discuss your therapy and dialogue over what’s best”. But if you get mad and leave because the ER focused on the other guy’s primary knife wound, then your sprained ankle won’t ever get better. By staying together, in a sense, through treatment, the ankle will get better too.

Hence, the church needs to continue to stick together and dialogue through the tough secondary issues, without splintering into 8 different factions. Don’t end up “boycotting” the church until your 1/8 faction gets its way. You’ll miss being with the ACEs and BDFs. Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” This isn’t saying unity just for the sake of unity. Indeed, walk together because you agree upon the primary issues.


Darol Timberlake