Susquehanna LINK, Winter 2013/2014
The United Methodist Church is in the media spotlight over some contentious issues at present; issues that have been debated and fought over for many years, issues that threaten to “untie” us rather than “unite” us. How do we remain united when our opinions, viewpoints, and sometimes our beliefs, are in such stark contrast to one another? What is it that we are and should be united about?
John Wesley is often quoted as saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” According to Wikipedia, the source of the original Latin text, “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas,” remains unclear, but the earliest attribution goes to the 17th century Archbishop of Split, Marco Antonio de Dominis. Seventeenth century German Lutheran theologian Peter Meiderlin is also attributed with the following (translated), “In a word, let me say: if we might keep in necessary things Unity, in unnecessary things Freedom, and in both Charity, our affairs would certainly be in the best condition.”
Other translations of the text include “Unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things,” and, “In necessary things unity; in uncertain things freedom; in everything compassion.”
Who said it is of least importance. What it says is of the greatest importance.
“In essentials, unity.” For us as United Methodists, the “essentials”’ that unify us are our Wesleyan heritage, predicated upon sanctifying grace and the lifetime endeavor of discipleship (Christ-likeness).
“In non-essentials, liberty.” The non-essentials — the uncertain things — are those “grey” areas in Scripture that although we believe to be inspired by God, might be more the opinion of the writer and reflective of the culture and time in which it was written. These tend to be the issues we disagree about the most. In these things let us be free to disagree.
“In all things, charity.” In the end, it all comes down to this. In everything — that means certain or uncertain, essential or non-essential — charity. What is charity?
Among the dictionary definitions are:
- generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless;
- something given to a person or persons in need; alms;
- benevolent feeling, especially toward those in need or in disfavor.
Synonyms include kindliness, consideration, humanity, benignity, sympathy, compassion, love. Haven’t we heard these somewhere before?
The Bible says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love (charity - KJV), which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV)
There’s nothing in there about having to agree with others or their lifestyle choices, or condoning their poor choices or sinful actions (lest we forget our own). Over and above our feelings toward others we are called simply to “Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV) “Because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7 CEB