The Elephant in the Church

Yesterday, Brent preached from Mark 9. What a great lesson we receive from being observers of the life of the disciples. If we wonder how we are to respond to the non-essential issues of the day – like how someone else should be doing ministry – we can take a look at what Jesus says to them when they start to murmur and judge and critique.

At our small group last night we talked about how easy it is to think “our group” has it right. And we can be so sure of ourselves that we piously run to Jesus to tattle on the others. And then He says: For the one who is not against us is for us.
We talked about the fact that in the Church there are essentials and non-essentials. And we should not be shouting at each other about the non-essentials. I think Paul would remind us that spending so much time on lesser issues is actually keeping us from the real job we have – preaching the gospel! He said that “it is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

Yes, for sure the gospel (even the sin part) should be preached! But getting sidetracked on non-essentials may just be keeping others from hearing the essential message. I read a blog post recently that helped me put this into perspective in my practical living …

Before there can be honest, biblical conversation we may have to address the elephant in the room. We’ve probably all been pummeled by it. This elephant has a name. His name is “You Should.” He stampedes all over churches and Christian organizations, trouncing the freedom (and sometimes the faith) of countless Christians. Although this elephant is obviously gray from trunk to tail, his handlers see him as either black or white. And because they think he is black or white, they insist that You Should see him that way too.

There are essential tenets of the Christian faith that truly are black or white. These “close handed” issues are things we cling to tightly and about which we do not compromise. However, there are other issues that are not of the essential core of Christian beliefs. These are the “open-handed” issues, things we hold with an open hand and have room for differences of opinion. Beth Moore calls the former “spine” issues – the things that connect and comprise the true body of Christ. Beth calls the latter “rib issues” – things that branch off from the spine and “are not matters of life and death.”

There are certainly essentials/commands in Christian lifestyle. The Bible specifically forbids drunkenness, sex outside of marriage, sorcery, and idolatry, to name a few. It also forbids lying, greed, coveting, lust, and gossip. The Bible calls us to strive to live a life worthy of our calling (2 Thessalonians 1:11), to become conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29), to be pure and blameless (Ephesians 1:4; 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:7; Hebrews 12:14), and to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15–16).

The fact that there are nonessentials does not give Christians a “get-out-of-obedience-free” card to live however they want. And the fact that there are nonessentials does not negate the reliability or perspicuity of Scripture. However, we must acknowledge that God has not chosen to treat every issue in the Bible with equal clarity. He has left some things ambiguous in His Word, while other things He keeps secret (Deuteronomy 29:29). As the Westminster Confession says, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all.”

In other words, while the Bible clearly presents essential doctrines and issues (issues to which we cling tightly and would die for), it does allow for genuine Christians to have differences of opinion on nonessentials.

So if the You Should elephant rears its head, do your best to “let your conversation be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6) and respond with gentleness and love, bearing in mind that Scripture urges us to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Good stuff, y’all.
And I’ve got a long way to go to having this one down.

In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.
(credited to Augustine)

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