We Evangelicals talk a lot about essentials and non-essentials. Rightly so. We talk about distinguishing between those areas in our faith—those doctrines—which are central or “cardinal” doctrines, and those which are not so important. However, we often have trouble when someone asks us to define, distinguish, and defend this whole “essentials/non-essentials” distinction.
Evangelicals: We can and we must distinguish between essentials and non-essentials better. Draw our circles too tightly, and we slip into fundamentalism. Draw our circles too wide, and we slip into liberalism.
I have written on this many times, but I am going to attempt to be somewhat comprehensive here. That means: “long article forthcoming.” But I think that this exercise is representative of a pressing issue in Christian discipleship. So put on your seat belt. It is going to get bumpy.
At the Credo House of Theology (our headquarters in Edmond, Oklahoma), right when you walk in the front door you will see written on the wall in Latin the words in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. Translated into English, this means, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This phrase (often wrongly attributed to Augustine) comes from an otherwise obscure German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century named Rupertus Meldenius. It has served as a place holder for a sort of Evangelical credo (statement of faith—hence, it is the first thing you see at the “Credo” house). It expresses the idea of orthodoxy and grace existing together. It reminds us that there are essential Christian beliefs and there are those matters of lesser importance.
I remember hearing a pastor once say concerning doctrine, “You are either one-hundred percent right or one-hundred percent wrong. There is no in-between and there are no gray areas. God is not confused or unsure. Why should we be?” While this might be true concerning God, for us things are different. For now, we see in a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12).
Read the rest here
I included his handy reference chart.
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”