“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
~Romans 15:13 (NRSV)
“In essentials unity;
In non-essentials liberty;
In all things charity.”
What may otherwise be read in isolation—Romans 15:13—is an important summarisation to the recipients of the letter that they were to treat all people, especially the weak, with grace befitting the moment; always prepared for a positive answer, whether unity, liberty, or charity.
Romans 15:13 may serve, therefore, as a pleasant benediction for the section dealing with the practicalities of Christian fellowship within a broadening cultural context.
There have been dissensions throughout the history of the church. The unity of fellowship in the Holy Spirit is paramount. There is a triadic approach to a sensible regulation of unity within the church:
1. Maintain The Necessary Gospel Standard
There are certain things we must agree on if we’re to maintain our unity of fellowship. These are the ‘distinctives’ of our faith that distinguish what we hold as basic tenets, from those things in the second category.
This first category we cannot compromise on, and this will lead, necessarily, to many lively debates, especially the ethical ones, despite our temptation to swing with the postmodern breeze—the conveniences that influence us, today. The test is easy. Would we entertain or allow something today that has never been allowed ever before in our Christian history?
Some things we cannot afford to change the rules on. If a ‘new thing’ is to be considered there must be sound biblical reason.
2. As Much Liberty As Is Permissible
In the nonessentials of our lives, our theology, and within the ethical landscape, we must endeavour to allow sufficient scope for as much cultural and social diversity as love will allow. Where people are not subject to hurt, directly or indirectly, all things may very well be permissible.
There are many things within faith that aren’t compelling, and don’t warrant incessant arguments over minute detail. In being broadminded, whilst retaining our essentials, we personify love whilst maintaining the standards our faith calls us to.
3. Love Above All Else
Above all else, the maintenance of love within the fellowship is paramount. This may mean dissenters are excluded from fellowship. By definition, dissenters may always look for the fight, creating umbrage. The unity of the broader group, and the love they share, is the spiritual imperative. Even dissenters, nonetheless, are able to be loved.
In faith, certain standards must be maintained. Beyond the essentials, though, there is freedom to live diversely. Above all is the unity of fellowship—love within the church.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.