“In things essential, unity; in things non-essential, liberty; in all things, charity.”
This eirenic phrase is attributed to St Augustine and has been taken up by various reformers, including the Moravians and the space within the spectrum of the Christian family to which I belong.
There’s a rub, however, when it comes down to deciding what things are essential. Any community that gathers for a common cause is on shaky ground here. We claim unity in Christ as our polar star, but it’s the navigation equipment that we debate. What is essential and what is not essential?
The Apostle Paul pleads a solution in 1 Corinthians 8:7-13. In summary, he says those who are on the stronger ground must accommodate the more fragile and vulnerable members of the community, even if it means laying personal freedom to the side. Sacrifice a little bit of liberty for the sake of unity under the umbrella of charity (which for Paul and all who follow the way of Christ is supreme.) In a society where each is out for one’s own, this is countercultural. Communities like mine must model it if its wisdom and life-giving energy are to be visible.
As my church secretary says with just a hint of irony, “Just as well we aren’t doing something hard!”