Is your church family harmonious? How much should a church family agree with one another? Is it okay if there is disagreement in a church family?
Yesterday we began looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12, and I said that Peter is talking to all Christians about how they should interact with one another in their church families. He starts off with five adjectives that should describe us. Today we look at the first one, and tomorrow we’ll see how the remaining four support the first.
Adjective #1. Christians should be harmonious
The word Peter uses for “harmonious” means, “Pertaining to being of the same mind or having the same thoughts as someone else.” So Peter could be translated here as saying, “all should be like-minded”. The dictionary I use says that the word Peter uses is a word picture of “having thoughts that follow the same path.“
Harmony is a musical word. To make harmony, not everyone is singing the exact same tune. In fact they are singing different tunes that work together. But we know right away when harmony is poor, right?
Peter is not saying that everyone in a church family must think about everything exactly the same. That would be uniformity. Peter is not suggesting that we need to strive for uniformity in the church. Peter is talking about unity, where we have the same goals, same mission, same heart, but we can still disagree about a great many things, in love.
What are some areas where we can disagree? Politics and matters of ethics are areas where I think it is obvious that people in my Faith Church family disagree. We have Republicans and we have Democrats. We have those who are conservative and those who are moderate and those who are liberal. We have people think that certain behaviors are okay, and people who think those same behaviors are wrong. Those differences are completely normal, and even to be expected.
Though we have differences of opinions about many things, we are to be harmonious.
There are a few things that are non-negotiable, and the rest we can disagree in love. Have you heard the phrase: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” I find it to be very helpful in providing a framework for how Christians in a church family can be harmonious. Let’s look at all three levels.
In Essentials, Unity
What are the essentials in which we are to practice unity?
Historically, the Apostles’ Creed. This is what Christians everywhere, from the very early days of the church, said out loud together to give voice to what is true Christian teaching:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell; The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The Holy catholic Church, the Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.
I think it is best to keep as small as possible the theological statements that we feel are absolutely essential to be followers of Jesus. The Creed is perhaps the best foundation.
In Non-Essentials, Liberty
What are some examples of the middle level, the non-essentials? One could be differences in churches’ modes of baptism. Or differences in how we practice communion. These and many other doctrines express differences that distinguish between denominations.
I think the EC Church does a great job of asking its members to commit to a few distinctives rather than a big group. The EC Church has 25 Articles of Faith and a really long statement on Christian Practice. But to be a member of an EC Church, you don’t have to agree with that. I find that very healthy. What do you need to agree to, to become a member of an EC Church? This is what we ask:
The Discipline of the Evangelical Congregational Church outlines the qualifications for membership: (1) Believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; (2) Believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God; (3) Be committed to daily Christian growth; (4) Be committed to giving Jesus Christ your time, talent, and treasure; (5) Be supportive of our local church and the ministry of the Evangelical Congregational Church denomination; (6) Be faithful in attendance and participation; and (7) Be baptized as a Christian.
In All Things, Charity
Finally there is the third level, what we would call “in all things, charity” and this is where much disagreement takes place. Should Christians gamble, drink, smoke, swear, watch R-rated movies, wear bikinis, and on and on? When I preached this, I illustrated this part of the sermon with a picture of a gambling table at a casino. I said, “As soon as you see that picture, some of you are thinking, ‘I can’t believe you put that picture there! Gambling is a sin! Are you trying to encourage gambling, Joel?’ And others of you are thinking, ‘There is nothing wrong with having a little fun at a casino on vacation. Geez, the stock market is a worse gamble.’
There is so much we could talk about here. Peter says, be harmonious. Charity means “love.” In all things, charity, means that we absolutely need to love those, especially those in the church family, with whom we disagree. Check out this post (about bikinis!) for further thoughts on how Christians can disagree about ethical issues.
 Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 351. Print.