The other day I had someone ask me what I thought of this statement: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, and in all things Jesus Christ.”
This is an interesting restatement of the famous dictum (attributed to St. Augustine): “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” I think both sentiments are essentially the same or similar.
I appreciate the rephrasing of the motto in that it specifically references Christ; that He is to be the center of all things.
C.S. Lewis in his classic, Mere Christianity, observes that Christians disagree about many things and one of the things about which they are disagreed is the importance of their disagreement! I believe he is correct.
The essentials of our faith (dogma, if you will) are, in my estimation, to be limited to such things as the full deity and true humanity of Jesus Christ. That is, the “essentials” are those teachings which were and are accepted or affirmed by all Christians, in all places, in all times.
Having unity in essentials then affords us the liberty to think differently in regards to doctrines which do not rise to the level of dogma. In other words, in the Christian faith we have form and freedom. Christians may disagree—say over something like baptism or eschatology—without any lack of love towards one another.
“In all things Jesus Christ” is not only a good attitude, but also a great hermeneutic. When Christians disagree concerning certain passages of scripture (which is very often the case!) a Christ-centered approach to the text can be very helpful. The focus then shifts from disagreement over “particulars” to a more beneficial question: What does this passage or story or whatever it may be teach us about Jesus.
Suffice it to say, we needn’t be overly dogmatic in non-essential doctrines and we needn’t insist on seeing eye-to-eye on all things in order to enjoy loving, Christ-centered fellowship.