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

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I think of the above saying from St. Augustine that John Wesley liked to quote whenever I am trying to decide if an issue is important enough to divide over, or if it should just be a matter of friendly debate. There are some things Christians must agree on, such as the Divinity of Jesus, the accuracy and authority of the Bible, that Jesus is the only way to salvation, etc. If we don’t agree on those then we’ve got big problems. But we should be as charitable as possible when disagreeing.

Some church leaders actually say unity is more important than doctrine, but that is counter to what the Bible teaches (see Doctrine Counts). Ironically, the fact that they hold that view is one of the reasons the church should split from them! When you review the beliefs on the essentials of the faith, the factions are so far apart that unity is impossible.

For example, some claim that the Bible is not the Word of God, and that it is merely a product of the perceptions of certain cultures at certain times. But the Bible makes literally thousands of claims to speak for God. So if someone thinks all those claims are wrong, why pick up the book at all?

But we don’t have to have unity on non-essential issues. For example, there are honest debates about how to interpret the Book of Revelation, and one can hold one of several views and still be an orthodox Christian. There are many worship preferences (music, style, etc.) that we don’t need to agree on. There is remarkably little guidance in the New Testament on how to conduct worship services, so a little flexibility should be in order. The main thing is to never alter the message of the Gospel.

When we are united on the essentials, Christianity is incredible. We all read the same book and serve the same God no matter where we are in the world. Some of my favorite worship experiences have been when I visited Singapore and Kenya, because the same Holy Spirit was present in radically different venues.

God knew we would have disputable matters, so He gave us guidance on how to handle those.

P.S. In my experience, those who favor unity over doctrine have bad doctrine.

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

  1. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
    “I think of the above saying by John Wesley whenever I am trying to decide if an issue is important enough to divide over, or if it should just be a matter of friendly debate.”

    Neal, John Wesley did not say this. St Augustine did. A Catholic Bishop in the 5th century. Google it.

    God Bless you, Daniel


    1. The saying, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” did not originate from St Augustine at all. It actually originated from Marco Antonio de Dominis in 1617 during his anti-Rome days in England. Another independent original user of the famous peace maxim was German Lutheran theologian Peter Meiderlin (Rupert Meldenius) in 1626. This saying was popularized by Richard Baxter in 1679.



        In 1Corinthians, St Paul’s guiding principles for Christian morality, charity, liberty and unity are derived from COMMANDS (7:10) CONCESSIONS (7:6) COUNSELS (7:12).

        COMMANDS require UNITY and conformation,
        CONCESSIONS require LIBERTY and consideration, and
        COUNSELS require CHARITY and consecration.

        “In essentials (commands) unity, in nonessentials (concessions) liberty, in all things (counsels) charity.”

        Essentials (Commands) and Nonessentials (Concessions) should be determined by what the Bible reveals or says is mandatory (commands) or optional (concessions). For Christians, these cannot and should not be determined arbitrarily.

        Thank God for almost uniform consensus derived from the Scriptures and summarised in the Nicene Creed as essentials for the Christian Faith and eternal salvation.

        Whatsoever the Bible presents as absolutes and mandatory should be taken as “essentials” (commands). For instance in paraphrase “Thou shall not commit adultery/fornication” or “No one comes to the father except by Christ”.

        Whatsoever the Bible presents as alternatives or optional should be taken as “nonessentials” (concessions). For instance in paraphrase: “Thou may or may not marry as the situations demand” or “Circumcision or uncircumcision does not enhance or diminish our standing with God”.

        Counsel applied in consecration to the Lord and charity to others are needed for sound and safe discretion in nonessentials and uncertain matters.


  2. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. I may tweak my wording above to note that the origin isn’t completely clear. The first hit I got on Google yielded this.

    “A common quotation from “Augustine”? The question most commonly bouncing off the Internet wall to me about Augustine is the source of the following quotation: “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” It seems to have gotten into circulation as something attributed to Augustine, and so I am asked the source. I cannot find the text in Augustine’s own texts, nor does it sound Augustinian to me, but it is clearly popular. So I went on a web-crawl. To my surprise, delight, and then bemusement, I found that this quotation is a pan-denominational maxim, quoted as authoritative in a dizzying variety of incompatible Christian traditions. The closest I came to a source was Wesley, until I found a specific reference to John XXIII’s first encyclical, Ad Petri cathedram of 1959. I cannot find the Latin text on-line, but the English translation is available, whence this quotation, its paragraph 72:

    But the common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.
    I take that as suggesting that the Vatican’s own scribes and scholars cannot find a sure attribution. “


  3. Neil, I am one of those who does not believe the Bible is that schindig of however many adjectives people claim it to be. And yet, I still hold reverence for the Bible as Holy.

    1) The “OT” never was a settled matter to the Jews as a majority until 90 A.D.

    2) The early church did not have the Bible as we know it.

    3) I have observed that, through increasingly advanced studies of every aspect related to the Bible, less and less of the Bible (not the entire thing was messed with, undoubtedly) was actually written by who we once thought they were, and their content is from many sources. Such passages as 1 John 5:7 in the KJV (from the received Greek text) were inserted to produce Biblical evidence for the Trinity, and early church fathers chose to condemn non-trinitarians. Also, in the 4th Revised Edition of the Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies, the editors showed confidence in that, because of evidence, (and supported rather grudgingly by my Gospels; Acts & the Early Church; and Greek professor), some of the words of Christ were inserted.

    4) More material is being called into question because of the Christianizing of pagan practices, such as the whole communion thing, which is practically a step-by-step parallel with the preceeding religion of Mithraism.

    5) gra’fe could be translated as writings or Scripture. And even with it always being translated as “Scripture,” people still seem to either forget or ignore the fact that Scripture to the NT church wasn’t even all of our OT. So, no…the Bible does not make literally thousands of claims to be the word of God.

    6) Taking into account that observant Jews (those like Jesus and his Disciples) would have never pronounced “God” as common as we translate it nowadays. Try retranslating, for the sake of today’s understanding, this for John 1:1 “In the beginning was the message, and the message was with the Divine (or the Divine One), and the message was divine”..///…and later on….//”and the message was lived out among us.” It makes so much more sense with the same message in it, and it’s not so magical and out-of-this-world of a phrase. Please do not even attempt to challenge my proposal unless you have completed and entire course in koine Greek from a Bible college. I have no idea, or time to hav e reviewed whatever credentials may be available for me to study about you, but your site – as unprofessional as it looks (after all, it is a blog


  4. sorry, but the most important part of my message got cut off, but all I want to say is, I admire your judgment on this quote.


  5. Thx for the 2nd comment.

    “Please do not even attempt to challenge my proposal unless you have completed and entire course in koine Greek from a Bible college. I have no idea, or time to have reviewed whatever credentials may be available for me to study about you, but your site – as unprofessional as it looks . . .”

    I’m not sure I follow your argumentation and logic there. Sorry, but I’ll go ahead and challenge a couple points just for grins. Go ahead and fire me if you like.

    1) I’m pretty sure the Septuagint comes awfully close.

    4) Re. Mithra – who cares? Most of the examples I’ve heard of of Christianity “copying” things get it backwards (e.g., the Christian tradition came first). Either way, having a similar process doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.

    5) Re. the “thousands” comment: You couldn’t be more wrong. Do a word search in some Bible software.

    6) Yes, I suppose one could re-translate it with “message” and “divine,” except for one problem: That’s not what the text said.


  6. My logic: Greek, as inflective as it is when it pertains to the word in the Greek language, can never be fully translated into an exact word in English or any other language. The same goes for any other language. One example is, 2 Timothy 3:16. Commonly translated as “All Scripture is God-breathed and therefore useful for doctrine, reproof, etc… However, the word “is” has to be supplied. The question is, where does it go? Any conservative will, without hesitation, say that it goes between “Scripture” and “God-breathed.” However, because of the vagueness, it can perfectly well be translated as “All God-breathed Scripture is also useful for doctrine, reproof, etc…” This I say with no doubt in mind – a professor of mine who was on the NIV council acknowledged this without hesitation.

    As far as what it says…you are still speaking out of ignorance. If you do your homework on the way our supposed ecumenical councils work, it’s mob rule. Whatever the majority says, goes. The little guy is kicked out and crapped on. That is where “tradition” comes from.

    1) “I’m pretty sure the Septuagint comes awfully close.” – The Septuagint uses “parthenos,” the closest in Greek, but still not correct. Isaiah 7:14 uses “almah,” which has nothing to do with sexuality, but rather the age of the daughter (who is old enough to be married). Isaiah chose to use this word, as compared to 32:12, where he uses “bethulah,” which has an extended meaning of a daughter who has never slept with anyone (meaning, from her privacy).

    Not only that, but if you would read 7:14 in its context, it is fulfilled – as is common with OT prophecies – within one generation. Chapter 8 is the fulfiment. Matthew appealed to it out of the Septuagint, which was corrupted in transition. And he appealed to it to say that it is not impossible for the Messiah to be born from a really young woman.

    Here’s the real kicker – why, on God’s green earth, would Matthew include Ruth the Gentile, Rahab the prostitute, Tamar – and the last being Mary in his true genealogy? The fact that they were all involved in sexual sin? Thr truth is, Joseph and Mary got a little hanky-panky, and God redeemed them.

    4) “Re. Mithra – who cares? Most of the examples I’ve heard of of Christianity “copying” things get it backwards (e.g., the Christian tradition came first). Either way, having a similar process doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.” -I care. This is not backwards. Mithraism developed around 300 BC, from the Jewish exiles in Babylon, at about the same time the Septuagint came about.

    5) Re. the “thousands” comment: You couldn’t be more wrong. Do a word search in some Bible software. Follow your own advice. In fact, whoever else reads this, never take anything for granted and do not fully believe anything you read or hear until you’ve examined it yourself.

    6) “Yes, I suppose one could re-translate it with “message” and “divine,” except for one problem: That’s not what the text said.” – One problem: That (…Word, and the Word was with God)…..that’s what we (the church) have been forcing it to say, without equal mention of what else it could mean.


  7. 1) Not sure what the Isaiah comments are about. That wouldn’t be my number one virgin birth passage (plenty of those in the NT), but I always laugh when people think it was a prophecy about a “young girl” getting pregnant (gee, then they really went out on a limb with that one!). I do think it is significant that the 70-72 scholars for the Septuagint translated it with the word meaning virgin.

    4) You missed my point. The “so what” is that there is no reason to discount what the Bible teaches about the Lord’s Supper.

    5) I did follow my own advice. When you follow it you’ll come to the same conclusion that I did. Search for things like, “The Lord said,” “The Lord says,” “The Lord commanded,” “says the Lord,” etc. Since you are the Bible college guy and I’m the ignorant one, I look forward to your count.

    “Joseph and Mary got a little hanky-panky, and God redeemed them”

    Sheesh. Somebody’s been reading too much DaVinci Code-quality materials.

    Ruth wasn’t involved in sexual sin. Nothing wrong with including Rahab and Tamar. It highlights how broad and deep God’s forgiveness and redemption is, and, of course, the fact that they were part of the genealogy might be one reason they were included!


  8. Oh, and about that Bible-Study software…nothing beats a real education. If I just went out and made my own software or wrote my own book, does that make me any more authoritative than any of my peers? No! So what does?

    Education. Not money, but education. Not owning the right books, not wearing the right clothes, not agreeing with the majority.

    Honestly, I’m very disappointed in a majority of the American Church and their Jesus of Suburbia. You people need to think for yourselves (plural, as in: not drones), and learn about other religions so you can say why you still stick with Christianity as horrible as people paint it out to be, rather than sitting back and swallowing load after load from Matthew J. Slick (CARM) and people who worship him. The End Times (if they happen), may not happen according to Jenkins and his buddy.

    You need to learn that narrowindedness, ignorance, and stupidity are no substitute for wisdom, faith, and trust.

    Really, you might as well be saying “In the Beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God.”

    The only essential doctrine is this: The Father made it possible through his chosen son for anyone to be redeemed. Jesus of Nazareth came to show us how to live – as if we are not condemned, for through our own judgment we are condemned. Through the Father’s judgment and ever-pervading Grace, all are forgiven chould they choose to be. For those who do not will be destroyed. and not resurrected.——but that’s just me.

    If you wish to believe something diff, go ahead. We’ll just see in the end.


  9. Mike,

    I’m not far off on your essential doctrine, but the only way you can come to that conclusion is by reading the Bible. So that makes the Bible kinda important.

    To recap, though, you dove into a post with an assortment of complaints, only 1-2 of which even were on topic. I tried to respond to one of your specific claims where you said, “So, no…the Bible does not make literally thousands of claims to be the word of God.” I pointed out a real easy way to confirm what I said or to prove me wrong. Instead, you just responded with insults. That isn’t very productive.

    Your Bible software comment is off base for a couple reasons. I only mentioned it because it is an easy way to search for things. Go ahead and count the number of “The Lord says” comments by hand, if you like. Just quit trying to insist that my claim is wrong if you aren’t going to do a little more to prove your point other than hurling insults.

    “You need to learn that narrowindedness, ignorance, and stupidity are no substitute for wisdom, faith, and trust.”

    What makes you think I don’t know that? I would encourage you to learn that ad hominem attacks don’t accomplish much (you admit you haven’t even read my site, but you are accusing me of all these things?!).

    I care a lot about false teachers and sound doctrine. Hey, I’m disappointed with the American church and the Jesus of suburbia as well. I’m just going about it with a little different approach than you. I don’t claim to be right on every point, as I am continually learning new things. But I think I have the basics down pretty well.



  10. I have no idea if either of you (Neil or Mike) will ever read this as I stumbled across this website when looking for the quote. But, Mike, you said everyone needed education not the latest tape or book. All education is taught verbally or by books. Whether a book is old or new in Greek or English you have no idea what motivation a particular author has or had. So an education of “so called” classics can be just as much in error as reading a book by a modern author. History is written by the victor is a well documented fact. So how can we know if something is real history or not? There use to be a standard or evidence. Suppose I wanted to know if a shot was fire into my great great uncle in WWII or did he die from heart failure. The first source would be an eye witness, the second would be someone that was near by and saw the after effects the third would be to dig up my great great uncle and look for a bullet. They are called 1) Primary Sources 2) Secondary sources 3) Physical Evidence. So just reading a book won’t do. I will say that with all the archeological digs going on the Bible is shaping up to be pretty well varified, at least the Old Testiment. As for the New Testiment, it is very true that the first Christians had only word of mouth (plus the Hebrew Scriptures) as their Bible. It was the councils that determined what would be in and out. However, as in their day also in ours, Jesus was the fulfiment of the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. The one thing both of you have left out of the equation is the Holy Spirit. And there is where your arguements will have to stop. Because the truth is it is the Holy Spirit alone that can settle this. All the head knowledge in the world will never equal the knowledge of God. All the teachers and books and interpretations and point counter points on Greek or Hebrew pale in comparison to the TRUTH of God. We all see through a glass darkly. Some of us are willing to admit that others are “ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth”. So keep studying, and learning and reading, but never think for one minute that you know enough to answer the question.


  11. Hi Nette – I sort of followed that until your last line. When you say, “never think for one minute that you know enough to answer the question,” what question are you thinking of? Is it a general “we can never be sure about anything” or a more specific question?


  12. I do believe you can be sure of the Truth of God but only with the aid of the Holy Spirit and the Faith that He brings. Outside of that it is just two humans debating the color of the sky. I can debate “War and Peace” or the politics of “1984” or the Bible from a strictly intellectual point of view and never come to the truth of the reality of war or totalitarian government or salvation.


  13. After reading much of the above, I felt that the love and liberty elements of this quote (by an author unknown I would guess) had been left out of equation by the respondents above!!


  14. I am so reminded of a close relative who studied the New Testament in a secular college, and came away not believing any of it. He argues with me incessantly re: the nature of truth. He also has no guidance from the Holy Spirit, since belief in God is not in his makeup. On the other hand, a daughter who thought she knew all she needed to know of Christ called me one night from across America, having found Christ, and in reading the Bible suddenly understood, led as she was by the Holy Spirit. How great is our God! How understandably frustrating for those who seek not God, but reasons why He is not, and His word is fallible.


    1. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. (1 Co 1:26–29 NASB95)


  15. Right on Neil. Do you think that God uses nonessentials to protect the essentials as a wall of stones protects a fort? -a “Multi-Fort” Protection of the Essentials?

    Countless church traditions cling to quite diverse nonessentials. Even the mention of some can elicit strong emotional responses from us, positive or negative – infant baptism, women in pants, loud music, elder board, bishops, southern gospel music, dancing, moderate hymns, snakes, Calvinism and the list goes on.

    God obviously is using many, diverse, regenerate churches, traditions and all.


  16. I think that no one has the trump card on what is essential and non essential. I would rather say for Bible believing Christians “in things plainly biblical unity but in things not plainly biblical diversity”.


  17. Good discussion. My 2 cents:

    Unity in spirit is what we are to strive for. As Ephesians 4:3 and John 17:23 denotes. We can differ on many things, but His sheep hear His voice and are guided by His Spirit.

    Like a flock of birds in flight or a school of fish in the sea move as one, so we should also be so in tune with other true believers.

    Aside from that, Jesus told us to love God with all our being and love our neighbor as we do ourself. If we truly do those two things, we have fulfilled the entire requirement while here on this earth.


  18. … or better still to love one another AS CHRIST LOVED US (This is Christ’s New Commandment and is certainly better and clearer than ‘as we love ourselves’ of the royal law or golden rule). John 13:34; and 15:12

    You hit it on the head.Thats the key LOVE.


  19. “There are some things Christians must agree on . . . the accuracy and authority of the Bible, . . . etc.” Inasmuch as God stands over and above the Bible, must one agree on “the accuracy and authority of the Bible” to be a Christian? In addition to having listed these “some things”, what other essentials do you include in the “etc.” I would be hard-pressed to list anything as essential to being a Christian other than belief in God as Trinity, the full divinity/humanity of Christ, his substitionary death, and the resurrection. Certainly these may be embraced even by someone who does not profess to believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible (which applies only to the autographa, i.e. the originals).


  20. Whoever said “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity,” it is virtually a summary of the apostle Paul’s riff spanning Romans, Chapters 14 and 15.

    I suspect whomever said those words first was thinking of the same.


  21. The term “bible” implies essential writings, even authoritative, by those who so name a collection of writings. But “accurate”? Translation of words from one language to another, or even from one ancient language to its modern derivative, is inaccurate in the many situations. Taking excerpts from a translated work and using those to justify a strict and firm stance is shaky at best. Because it must be translated, even a direct quote from the Bible is an interpretation. So, for me, interpretation of the words in the Bible requires a charitable state of mind.

    The Bible is for me a recognized and authoritative source, carefully vetted by many scholars whose authentic belief in the validity of its selected works and their translations I must accept by faith. Yet, as with any classic work, it is subject to interpretation and re-interpretation to communicate its message into each new age. It can be a useful guide, if one allows room for honest, charitable, spirtitual understanding to grow. I take any claims “accuracy”, or of literal truth contained in the Bible, with a grain of salt.


    1. Hi Ama — thanks for visiting and commenting.

      To be clear, my position is always that the original writings were inspired by God and turned out exactly as He liked.

      Yes, there are translations, and that can make things more challenging than if the words were in our contemporary language. But even if we receive something in our current language then meanings could change. So I concede that even if you read the original languages that you’d have to have some understanding of how they used the words then.

      Having said that, it isn’t as hard as some make it to be. Example: There are over 100 passages indicating that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Each translation may word them slightly differently, but the theme is unmistakable. If someone wants to read that and conclude that the originals said the He isn’t the only way, then I wouldn’t bother reasoning with such a person.

      The passages teaching that we are sinners in need of saving are clear, as are those indicating that Jesus rose from the dead.


    1. What great timing — I’m set to read Ephesians 4 today as part of my read the Bible in a year plan. Please send your sermon when it is done!


  22. I believe my God is capable of perserving his word through the many generations and the many translations that all say basically the same thing on the “esentials”. I think the Apostles Creed is a good place to start to determine the esentials. Whoever said the quote first is irrelavent as it is very wise indeed and in keeping a Spirit filled revelation. And foremost, just because something is on the internet doesn’t make it true. lastly, i am glad this is considered a “friendly debate” because i missed the essence of that in several comments.


  23. Hi Neil, great debate, thank you for your posting. If I may I would like to add my two cents.

    I trust the fundamental inerrancy of the Bible. I believe it to be the ever living, inspired word of God as presented to the original writer and represented by the original autography. But it is also true that the original manuscripts are lost and we must accept the Bible by faith, as stated above. To this end I believe God has helped us along.

    It seems strange to me that the words of ancient philosophers and others are given direct undisputed credit when the number of supporting documents to these claims is a small percentage of the innumerable supporting documents associated with the Biblical writings. Contrast to this the fact that modern translations of the Bible represent the work of thousands of scholars, theologians, church leaders and more who are as familiar with ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic (not to mention many ancient and modern Indo-European languages) as they are their own language, and it blots out a lot of doubt. And, in deference to one of the above comments, it takes more than a few classes in Koine Greek to be a Biblical scholar.

    I understand that throughout history nefarious individuals have attempted many disgusting and misleading things in the name of religion. I also know their counterparts were present and left their mark in history as well. Their writings added to the ever-growing thousands of truly ancient references are studied ad nauseum.

    It is comforting to know today’s translators continue their work with a goal of proofing our translations with available manuscripts and new discoveries as they become available. According to one group’s opinion, textual errancy of modern translations is limited to less than one percent of the original manuscripts. Additionally, none of the errancy affects the substantive aspects of the gospel message. There are just too many references supporting these passages.

    So, how does this relate to the discussion?

    There must be a rule of faith. The point of reference, the oar of life one is guided by, without this reference point how does one know what is or is not essential? As was previously stated, we accept this rule by faith in the One who authored it. Without it we are subject to the dogmas and traditions of men, some good intentioned some not. It becomes the arbiter of the teachings of Jim Jones, of David Koresh and a whole litany of others. Without it who is to say what is essential or not? Without trust in it and its application in our lives, we are missing an essential piece of the armor of God, the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

    There have been some individuals who have attempted to pollute the message of the ancient writings by various methods, but there have also been countless thousands who have held to a code of strict accounting. With the help of the Holy Spirit manifesting His power through the hearts and minds of truly dedicated believers, I believe the Bible will always represent God’s Word and the true gospel message – that’s essential.


  24. If God cannot watch over HIs Word and get it to us in the form He knows we need, He’s not God.
    Since He is omniscient, He knew going in what would occur. All of this talk about corruption of the text has been taken into account by God who authored it. To not believe that is anathema to me.
    I do not want to be de-railed by issues of earthly musings and so miss the intended message. I am teaching through Ephesians and was looking for this quote as was someone else and came upon this blog. Let’s just live out the privileges we have as Christians and share this life with others. By so doing we will have done well.
    Thanks to all who have contributed. I have enjoyed reading every line.


  25. As a Minister of the Gospel, ordained under the auspices of the Southern Baptist denomination, I wish to submit for your consideration the following observations about essential and non-essential factors that inform my own interactions within the broader Christian community.

    The necessary focus of The Essentials…
    Regarding your discussion of “the essentials” and what may be considered an essential within the context of Christian orthodoxy, I believe that the focus must be upon God and, more specifically: God as He has chosen to reveal Himself in and through His incarnation…Jesus (the fullest possible revelation of the Godhead in bodily form); Jesus, born of a virgin; Jesus, who lived a life without sin, and in whom the Father was well-pleased; Jesus, whose ministry & miracles were recorded in the writings of His Apostles (and/or their associates) and contemporaneously published/distributed; Jesus, who was crucified, died, rose again, and remained to minister for a brief period following His resurrection.

    ALL believers must focus upon God…
    The “essentials” in which I find unity with ALL BELIEVERS are focused upon the only true and sovereign God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has chosen (according to His good pleasure) to call, redeem, bestow eternal life upon, and adopt as His own children those who have received His gift of faith…a faith exercised through the placing of one’s complete trust and reliance upon Jesus (the only-begotten, unique, Son of God) for salvation.
    The evidence of the aforementioned redemptive transaction is in the manifestation of the fruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, and by the love that God’s adopted children have for one-another — a love that transcends the qualities of humankind that otherwise result in division and hatred among those who remain spiritually dead in their tresspasses and sin.

    Non-essential factors remain important…
    We are not saved by doctrinal orthodoxy — notwithstanding the great importance of study and a right understanding of God’s revealed Truth, found in the pages of the Old Testament and the historic accounts and Apostolic writings of the New Testament. And we are not saved by our good works, denominational distinctives, or faith-based traditions — notwithstanding the importance of these outward expressions of dynamic, Christ-centered, life-experiences. Accordingly, I regard doctrinal matters (not directly related to the triune Godhead), denominational distinctives, and other traditions as secondary and non-essential; and I will not allow these to be a barrier to my love for those who are my brothers and sisters — according to our common blessing to have been abopted by God the Father. And I make this choice as an act of obedience to my Heavenly Father, while remaining faithful to a conservative theological understanding that is the fruit of almost 40 years of study of the Bible, reading theologians’ writings, and (inadequate) service & devotion to my Sovereign God and Father.

    We still celebrate distinctives…
    Within the universal church of Jesus Christ, we embrace certain distinctives that reflect our individual understandings of God’s revealed Truth; we embrace those distinctives based upon heartfelt convictions; and we seek the fellowship of others who celebrate similar convictions in their worship of, and service to, our Sovereign & Eternal God. Seeking communion with believers of similar convictions in consistent with the conscience of each child of God; and the importance of acting in harmony with one’s conscience before God is celebrated in the Reformed tradition (as described in the Westminster Confession of Faith) and in the settled tradition of Baptists — a tradition reflected in this 21st century in the Baptist Faith & Message (a doctrinal statement less exhaustive than Westminster, but just as powerful in its brevity.)
    So…while enjoying fellowship with the broad community of those professing Christianity, I will always return to my congregation; and I am thankful to be united with one of the many Christian communities around this world which celebrates an uncompromising commitment to the Truth of Scripture, and an unwavering devotion to the only true and sovereign God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
    The New Testament’s reliability…
    One of your correspondents has suggested that the New Testament we have today did not exist until it was adopted by the Council of Carthage (397AD). There is also a suggestion that the books acknowledged as canonical were adopted as a result of political intrigues or — as some dubious “scholars” claim — because of conspiracies and plots, undertaken by corrupt and devious power-mongers, to silence early free-thinkers or feminists.
    It should be noted that the historic accounts (the Gospels and Acts) were written by Apostles present at the events, or by men associated with the Apostles; and any of these books (if untrue) could have been set-aside as invalid from the testimony of people, other than the Apostles, who were personally acquainted with the historicity of the accounts. With the exception of Revelations, the remaining NT letters were authored to “unwrap” the mysteries of the Old Testament and/or to address issues affecting the early church. Paul was an especially effective instrument describing the new relationship that believers had in and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, in his description of the dynamic relationship between God and His children, and in his unfolding of God’s eternal plan of redemption.
    Charles Ryrie points out that the Carthage Council was acting to confirm those books that were already accepted as authoratative, and that had been generally accepted from the time of their writing in the first century. The Apostle Peter, for example, affirmed that Paul wrote as God led him (2 Peter 3:15,16); other Apostolic writings were accepted based upon their authors’ unique calling and relationships with Jesus Christ.
    Furthermore, while I don’t have access to the citations as I write this, I know that the earliest writings that we have from the early church fathers refer to NT texts BEFORE they were officially recognized as canonical by the Carthage Council; and it is noteworthy that these earliest citations were using the texts as the basis for authoritative, theological writings. It is also noteworthy that the so-called “lost gospels” and psuedo-canonical, heretical texts (highlighted today) were not similarly used by the early Church fathers.
    We can see the superintending Hand of God in the writing of the NT as emerging theological truths described by the scholar Paul were also seen in the writings of Apostles whose academic training was accomplished while working as fishermen. The objective quality of content, the applicability of the texts to the broader Church, and the athoritative authorship of the texts are factors that affected their early acceptance and eventual inclusion within the New Testament that we have today.


  26. Wow, this is 5 years after the original discussion was started, and I am in way over my head. You guys are all MUCH SMARTER and GIFTED them me (I’m a basically self-educated grandma living in SW USA.) However! That said, I will now jump in with my comment. The question I always have when people question the legitimacy of phrases or translations of the Bible is that one always has to take into account the supernatural nature of this most unusual book. With the obvious exceptions of “mistranslations” that are obvious mistranslations of cults which are done so as not to conflict with the teachings of their cult — i.e. the JWs and their ‘New World Translation,’ particularly Colossions 1:16-19 and John 1:1. As is always the case with cults, their basic error is what they teach about Jesus Christ The Word made man in the flesh. Their unique translation keeps Jesus’ true identity as The Creator, The God, The Son of God, The Eternal second Member of the Trinity out of the picture and distorts His identity. Those are translations from dishonest con men trying to sell their religion. I keep coming back to Psalms 119 where it talks over and over how God is able to keep His word intact. Ps 119:160: “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” Not some of them, not a few of them, not most of them, but ALL of them. No matter what is going on, God’s word is safe because He is the One who keeps it safe! Even the JW ‘bible’ is fully exposed for a false translation, an agenda-driving book rather than life-saving truth. False religions who criticize the Bible are doing so because they see life through their own world — that the ‘god’ they worship is unable to keep ‘his’ word safe. That the ‘god’ they serve doesn’t really care if his words live on because ‘he’ doesn’t really desire a personal relationship. Ultimately their religion is exposed for what it truly is — a man-made religion that depends on a lot of man-made laws that are unable to stand on their own. Look at what God’s true Word (The Bible) says in Isaiah: 40:8 : “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” Will stand forever–i.e. eternity, not overnight, not for two weeks, not for a month, not for a man’s lifetime, not for until the JW’s need to make revisions to their latest version of their Bible. No! God’s Word lasts FOREVER. That’s a powerful God who is able to keep His Word alive and intact and able to be studied not only during biblical times but also here in the 21st century. Ald all without a degree in Ancient Languages!

    Next look at Isaiah 55:11 (ASV): “So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: It shall not return untio Me void but it shall accomplish that which I please and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it.” So not only will His Word stick around for thousands of years in a good translation that people can use from all over the globe, but His Words have a purpose. Not to hold a cult together! Not a political agenda to determine who gets elected in presidential elections! It will produce the results He wants it to produce! This is not your average book. Its contents can not be debated by mere mortals (intelligent and highly educated tho they may be) as to what was meant by the Author or should remain in the Book. God is guarding it from being ruined. Now your or my individual copy of the Bible might sadly get stolen or runover by a car or ruined or lost in some way. But it replaceable. How do I know this? Because God promised He could do so, and He always keeps His Word! He is able to do what man can not do.


  27. Neil,
    I appreciate your boldness, yet gentleness, debating Mike. It seems the opposition always defaults to ad hominem attacks and insults when you are not mesmerized by their knowledge.


  28. I’m a stranger who happened to stop by, googling for the famous quote, ‘In essence, unity…’, and ending up reading your post.
    I’m from South Korea living in the USA.
    I became a Christian by attending a small Korean church in a small rural village that used the Bible in Korean language – a translation from another translation possibly the Chinese Bible, since our language heavily depended on the Chinese.
    Guess what?
    With that poor translation and with a pastor who probably was poorly trained without much resources available other than the translated Bible, I received the Gospel and got saved, knowing who, what true God is. If anybody think the poorly translated Bible and poorly trained pastor were the only source of my salvation, he/she and I are all deserved to be called ‘nutty person’.
    If God wasn’t behind all that seemingly insignificant entities, wow, unspeakable even.

    We Koreans have many Christian denominations like in America, including those many cults.
    I think that’s because of the sinful human nature doing what is NATURAL to them.
    I also am very good at doing ‘the private interpretation’ and believing it to be ‘the true interpretation’, naturally though.
    Even though I’m not the author of the Bible, I love to interpret my way, a reader’s personal way.
    How can a reader interpret better than the author himself?

    In this world, most readers don’t even bother considering the origin intention, value, purpose, or meaning of the author of a book, when they read somebody’s book.
    Even if all that are considered, without the presence of the author with the reader in real time,
    anything goes in reader’s way.
    Even with the author present, a reader of written materials or a hearer if spoken love to ASSUME own interpretation to equal with author’s, issuing the misunderstanding evil that is not considered too much an evil, which in fact is evil pe se.

    If an author is dead, like those of huge amount of books or historical documents in past tense,
    the interpretation of such is at the mercy of the reader’s private interpretation which cannot be equaled with the author’s, no way possible due to unique nature of an author and a reader,
    and the time and space gap that separate a reader from an author who might be in different realms, or is dead and gone, being helpless in helping those readers acquire author’s authentic value, intention, or meaning, etc..

    In conclusion, if the author of the Bible, God the Holy Spirit, is dead or not present with a reader,
    those Bible readers honest but alone without the presence of God the Spirit can have own interpretation only.
    With such believers, no unity is possible due to the absence of the very unifying entity,
    God the Spirit.
    Only with Him, by Him, for Him, we can be united in essence.
    Even with Him present, those non-essential issues cannot be unified due to the unique nature of human being. Those are simply personal, uniquely.

    Preaching unity to those sincere but lone ranger believers including cults in Christianity is like in a Korean saying; 쇠귀에 경읽기,
    meaning reading a holy book to a cow’s ear.

    Thank you for reading.


    1. Thanks for visiting, and good question! From another post —

      The Bible itself reveals what is important and essential to the Christian faith. These essentials are the deity of Christ, salvation by God’s grace and not by works, salvation through Jesus Christ alone, the resurrection of Christ, the Gospel, monotheism and the Holy Trinity. These are the main “essentials” that we should understand and believe if we are followers of Jesus Christ.



    In 1Corinthians, St Paul’s guiding principles for Christian morality, charity, liberty and unity are derived from COMMANDS (7:10) CONCESSIONS (7:6) COUNSELS (7:12).

    COMMANDS require unity and compliance,
    CONCESSIONS require liberty and consideration, and
    COUNSELS require charity and consecration.

    “In essentials (commands) unity, in nonessentials (concessions) liberty, in all things (counsels) charity.”

    Essentials and Nonessentials should be determined by what the Bible reveals or says is mandatory or optional. Thank God for almost uniform consensus derived from the Scriptures and summarised in the Nicene Creed as essentials for Christian faith and eternal salvation.
    Whatsoever the Bible presents as absolutes and mandatory should be taken as “essentials”. For instance in paraphrase “Thou shall not commit adultery/fornication”. Or “no one comes to the father except by Christ”.

    Whatsoever the Bible presents as alternatives or optional should be taken as “nonessentials”. For instance in paraphrase: “Thou may or may not marry as the situations demand”. Or “circumcision or uncircumcision does not enhance or diminish our standing with God”.


  30. Actually the Bible does give some guidelines regarding worship that véry few churches practice: “Then how is it, brothers? When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be for building up.” 1 Cor 14:26


  31. The Moravian Church in North America has “n Essentials, Unity; In Nonessentials, Liberty; In All Things, Love.” at the head of their Web site. They don’t say who they claim first said it, unfortunately.


  32. This is for Mr. Mike (if he ever reads the follow-up comments), and for anyone else who might be listening. Mike, you have indicated that you are at least scholarly, if not a scholar. If you are really interested in truth, you might want to change your terminology when speaking of the Messiah. His name is Yeshua (transliterated from Hebrew). It is not, nor has it ever been “Jesus,” in Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. It can’t even be transliterated from Greek into Jesus. Furthermore, the name only has a meaning in Hebrew or Aramaic; salvation, as in “for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21) It means nothing in the Greek, and even less in English. Furthermore, if we really care about someone, we will call them by the name they wish to be called, not be something we dreamed up. It’s one thing to mispronounce something because we are not used to making a particular sound. It’s another thing to choose to mispronounce a name because it makes us feel good or it’s convenient. Perhaps it’s just a matter of respect for who someone is; in this case, the Son of Adonai.

    We could also talk about James (Ya’aqov) and John (Yochanan), but let’s leave that aside for the time being since you didn’t bring them up.

    In the above comments, you have encountered many patient and considerate replies. I don’t feel I need to provide one one those. Your comments have been arrogant. And Bible schools will only teach you what the professors want you to know. They probably taught you Biblical Hebrew from a standard Christian perspective and pronunciation, which is different from actual Hebrew, and the Hebrew mindset. I have hundreds of commentaries and other reference materials in my library, and refer to them often. But the best teacher is the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), If He is dwelling inside you. He can guide you to the truth where theologians fall short. And do not trust in yourself so much. You are as fallible as anyone else. Hopefully, like the rest of us, you make mistakes so you can learn from them. “Do not be high-minded, but fear.” (Ro. 11:20 – slightly out of context)

    Now, touching on the Mithra thing, there are many interesting facts that we can reference with regard to that which is included in Scripture. As was said previously, it really doesn’t matter. Just because there are flood stories around the globe does not mean that the account in Genesis was taken from one of the “older” stories. Either you will trust what Scripture says, or you will be relying on your own best judgement, which, in my estimation has not shown itself to be very good judgement. This will include the “last supper” narrative. Do not ascribe “cause” where only “similarity” appears. HaSatan appears to many as an “angel of light.” Try not to be fooled by the one who seeks to deceive you to keep you from the truth.


    1. Brother David (Mt. 23:8), I agree with much of what you say, but disagree with your emphasis on using only the Aramaic Yeshua instead of the English “Jesus”. Specifically, you said, “His name is Yeshua (transliterated from Hebrew). It is not, nor has it ever been “Jesus,” in Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. It can’t even be transliterated from Greek into Jesus. Furthermore, the name only has a meaning in Hebrew or Aramaic; salvation, as in “for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21) It means nothing in the Greek, and even less in English.

      While I understand the emphasis on the meaning behind the name (“Jehovah Saves”), I would point out that many demonic events (masquerading as extraterrestrial/alien contacts) have been stopped by people calling on the name of Jesus, in whatever language they speak, including English. You can read “Alien Intrusion” [] for further information and for documentation of this phenomenon. In his research into UFOs and “alien” experiences, he has talked with many “UFOlogists”, and all of them (mostly off the record) admitted that they knew of one or more credible accounts of “alien abductions” (or other experiences) which were stopped when the person called on the name of Jesus.

      Yes, there is power in the Name, and since that power has been demonstrated whether it was said in English, Spanish, Aramaic, or some other language, I think it perfectly acceptable to use that Name in whatever form our language has.


      1. Oh my goodness….I hardly think that depending on some UFO nuts to validate ANYTHING having to do with Jesus is a good idea.


      2. I will ignore the “alien invasion” reference and go to the matter at hand (not to mention that the Name of Adonai is not Jehovah).

        The Lord is able to, and does, bless many things that man does in his own strength and understanding. This is not something to perpetuate, but to learn from. Remember that Ishmael was blessed on account of Abraham, but Adonai still told Abraham to listen to Sarah and send both Ishmael and his mother away. Adonai does have a permissive will. Unfortunately, we tend to rely more on His grace, and ignore the things He actually says. He allows exceptions as well, but these are not the rule, and we should not be seeking to make them into our standards. He deserves to be honored and obeyed.

        Many people consider using correct terminology to be nothing more than semantics. If the Bible is the Word of Adonai (which most believers think), then what it actually says takes precedence over whatever interpretation we wish to apply. The Scripture tells us that “at the Name of Yeshua every knee shall bend . . . and every tongue will confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai.” (Phil 2:10-11). Now, one may think that the Name itself means nothing, but the Creator is unimpressed by our personal inabilities to come to grips with what He has stated. If your Bible does not say Yeshua (more than likely), does that mean that His Name is Jesus (or Yesu, or Krishna, or ? – traditional Judaism calls Him Yeshu, which is a derogatory term), that it doesn’t matter what we call Him, or does it mean that the “translators” took the easy way out because people did not wish to change their traditions? The sad fact is that it is one more way in which well-meaning, humble, and even seminary-educated believers have done their best to remove the Jewish context of Scripture. Read what Proverbs 19:2 (and context) has to say about zeal without knowledge.

        Alcoholics Anonymous has a great saying: “God grant me the serenity the accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is a prayer each of us would do well to meditate on a little bit every day. Small actions done in the power and will of Adonai can accomplish great things. But sometimes we only want His power to be active in our lives. His will takes second place. May it not be so. We should acknowledge His will in everything we seek to do.


      3. Rabbi, can you please explain the Jewish perspective of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac? I do not understand why God, who through out scripture seems to abhor human sacrifice, would ask Abraham to commit such an outrageous sin in order to prove himself to God. It makes no sense to me and is a huge stumbling block for me. I always get the answer that it is the forshadow of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but this is still not satisfactory that God would tell Abraham to commit this atrocious sin to prove his loyalty. Can you shed some other light on this issue?


      4. This is a good question, and it is relatively simple to explain. Adonai knew Abraham’s heart, but as with Job, He was testing him to see how faithful he would be. Remember that Adonai sent his angel to stop Abraham from completing the task. He would have never allowed the sacrifice of Isaac to happen. As you pointed out, Adonai does not approve of human sacrifice. Perhaps Abraham understood this, perhaps not completely. Isaac (Yitz’chaq) also had to cooperate; he had to trust that his father was going to do the right thing. He probably could have over-powered Abraham, who was quite old at the time. The “foreshadow” was actually the ram that was sacrificed instead of Isaac. In this, we are taught that Adonai is the One who takes away our sins, and who provides for our eternal redemption. We can never claim to have done something to earn it. This also shows us that this concept exists throughout Scripture; it is not only found in the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament), but has been in place, and accessible, since the beginning.


      5. Thanks for the lecture on the importance of reading and applying the Bible to one’s life as much as possible, except for when you don’t want to apply it to your own life, as in when you call yourself Rabbi, though Jesus/Yeshua said not to. Feel free to use foreign languages to read the Bible yourself, but kindly don’t lecture others on the supposed necessity of doing so, even though they can’t read it with understanding (1 Cor. 14 pops into my mind); and feel free to use the “original” names in the “original” languages, even though the Greek NT Scriptures used Grecian versions of the original Hebrew names, with no apparent problems (and indeed, inspired by God Himself). I’ll continue to feel free to use the language God gave me to praise Him, considering that in both the Old and New Testament, He says that He will be praised by people of all languages, and not just Hebrew.


      6. Kathy,

        You are responsible for what you can know, not merely what you do know. Without Yeshua, we would all die in our sin, whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not

        You have a right to believe anything you wish, and you are welcome to follow the dictates of your own heart. No one can convince you otherwise. Follow Adonai, not me, and not your pastor. We are fallible. Adonai is not.

        Make sure that you “call no one your father,” except Adonai. The term “rabbi” means teacher. Paul says that “there is no longer male nor female,” for we are all one in Messiah. Firstly, we know that there still exists male and female. Secondly, the “we” only refers to believers in Yeshua, not all of us who inhabit the earth. The context is important. Don’t neglect it in favor of what you expect or want it to say (eisegesis).



  33. Thanks for the lecture on how important it is to read the Word of God, and apply it precisely in every way in our lives, particularly in using the original languages (though we do not read them, and cannot read them with understanding — 1 Cor. 14, esp. v 9 & 11 seem to speak to this; and though the Greek NT Scriptures had no problems with using Greek forms of Israelite names, instead of using the original Hebrew); while you ignore Jesus’s words and call yourself Rabbi. But if it makes you feel better to use the original though foreign-to-you tongues, go right ahead; I will continue to use the language God gave me to praise Him, since indeed, His Word says that He will be praised by peoples of all different types of language and speech, not just those of the Jews.


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