Tuesday, March 12, 2013


From Matthew Henry’s commentary on Psalm 122:

If all the disciples of Christ were of one mind, and kept the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, their enemies would be deprived of their chief advantages against them. But Satan’s maxim always has been, to divide that he may conquer; and few Christians are sufficiently aware of his designs.

Those who can do nothing else for the peace of Jerusalem may pray for it. Let us consider all who seek the glory of the Redeemer, as our brethren and fellow-travellers, without regarding differences which do not affect our eternal welfare. Blessed Spirit of peace and love, who didst dwell in the soul of the holy Jesus, descend into his church, and fill those who compose it with his heavenly tempers; cause bitter contentions to cease, and make us to be of one mind. Love of the brethren and love to God, ought to stir us up to seek to be like the Lord Jesus in fervent prayer and unwearied labour, for the salvation of men, and the Divine glory. (Mathew’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008, p. 561)

Recall, if you would, all the way back to Chapter 1:

The 17th-century Lutheran Peter Meiderlin once said, “We would be in the best shape if we kept in essentials, Unity; in non-essentials, Liberty; and in both Charity.” This is an extremely valuable and effective touchstone for our journey. Let’s define the terms with precision, and use that precision to our benefit as we proceed. This will prove valuable:

An essential is something that is necessary, utterly required for something to be effective, true, or real. You may recall this expression from mathematics: if and only if. That defines an essential.

A non-essential may be profoundly important, valuable or highly regarded, but it is not necessary, not required. This is a critical distinction.

Liberty means that we do not force others to conform to our practices or beliefs on issues that are non-essential.

Charity means that we treat others with respect and love, even when we disagree or differ on either essentials or non-essentials.

We need to realize that something can be non-essential in one context and essential in another.

                    Plain, modest dressing is essential to being Amish, but it is not essential to being a Christian.

                    Ordination is essential in many denominations to be a priest or pastor, but it is not essential to teach or care for others.

                    Apostolic Succession is essential to the polity of a church in the apostolic tradition (Roman Catholics, Anglicans, others), but it is not essential to salvation or sanctification.

                    The Liturgy is essential to the worship of a “liturgical church,” but it is not essential for a church to be Christian.

Similarly, though sanctification is non-essential to salvation, it is essential to Life in Christ, to Covenant.

Covenant, Life in Christ, begins with salvation, is lived in sanctification, and finishes in glorification. Sanctification is the process of learning to live and love as Jesus did. Sanctification is the very means by which we are each conformed to Christ’s image, where we become more like Him, where we learn to love.

So, what is essential to sanctification? What is the if and only if of sanctification? What must it have to proceed? And what can it proceed without? Here’s the key understanding:

To the degree that any of our church concepts, doctrines, worship styles, polity, and so on, aid us in our sanctification, they are helpful, perhaps even important, but if sanctification can proceed without them, they are not essential to sanctification, and not essential to life in Christ.

Life in Christ, covenant, is what all Christians have in common. Sanctification is basically the living out in daily life—and in our faith tradition—of this covenant with Him. It is where we are formed in His image, where we are made into His bride without spot or wrinkle, where we mature in learning to love as He did.

It is life with and in Christ during our walk on this earth.

That’s sanctification, and every Christian grows up through it. It is to be discipled and be a disciple—to learn “by use and practice.” To learn to love.

Sanctification is essential and unavoidable for a Christian. It is our daily walk and growth. So the big question is: are the elements of your church tradition required for sanctification, and therefore for life in Christ? Are they essential? I’m not asking if they are valuable or perhaps even important. I’m asking if they are essential, required for sanctification. As valuable and honored as they may be, the answer is almost certainly, “No.”

We really have to move past the non-essentials if we are to embody the unity for which Christ prayed.

The risk in even broaching this topic is the fury that arises when religious people fear that their beliefs and practices are being attacked—and calling any one of them “non-essential,” even with careful definition of what this means—is often heard as a threat to the faith. Recall Matthew Henry’s insight:

If all the disciples of Christ were of one mind, and kept the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, their enemies would be deprived of their chief advantages against them. But Satan’s maxim always has been, to divide that he may conquer; and few Christians are sufficiently aware of his designs.

I believe that with care, willingness, and charity for each other, there is a path beyond our divisions, to a common place of safety and godly mutual respect, to Reconciliation.


I want to begin here a series of examples of how Reconciliation can be applied with actual followers of Jesus who differ markedly in their Concepts, Doctrines, Subdoctrines, Worship, Polity, Hermeneutics, dress codes and more. In other words, with Christians who often have little or nothing to say to each other, and even less to do with each other—except perhaps in derision and distancing themselves—lest they be tainted by the other’s embodiment of the Faith.

If you begin to live as a Reconciler, an ambassador for the Gospel, and are able to find the unity Jesus prayed for—with others who differ in their Concepts (Doctrines, and so on), visit the Web site (WhatWeBeliveAndWhy.com) of this book, and please share your story with me. I will post those that are appropriate online and in future editions of this book, and let this section on Application grow.

More to come...

In Christ,

Pastor George