A Latin quote: “unitatem in necessariis, in non necessariis libertatem, in omnibus caritatem.” Attributed to Marco Antonio de Dominis in his work De Repubblica Ecclesiastica, published in 1617, it is translated into English as “Unity in necessary things, in non-necessary – liberty, in all things charity.”
The idea, and variations of the quote, have worked their way around theological circles for four-hundred years. Thomas Campbell, in his Declaration and Address before the Christian Association of Washington in 1809, worded it thusly: “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion liberty; in all things, charity.”
Though the quote can be traced back to 1617, the ideas therein are all quite biblical in nature.
In those necessary matters of faith: unity.
We read in the Bible, this plea, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10; ESV)” And then again, we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6; ESV)”
In things that are merely matters of opinion: liberty.
Concerning this, God tells us, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. (Romans 14:1; ESV)” The same chapter goes on to explain that we should be convinced of our own opinions, but not try to force them on others. In other words, we have liberty concerning those things God has not commanded.
The main difficulty is in determining what are truly matters of opinion, and what are matters of faith. In the end though, if God has spoken on it, giving us guidance, a thing ceases to be opinion and becomes a part of the faith, because we believe the word of God is true (cf. Romans 10:17). However, even in such disputes, or especially in such disputes, it is necessary to remember the last admonition…
In all things: charity and love.
Our world has an absence of charity in regards to both matters of opinion and matters of truth. We see this lack of charity in our manifold political debates, with each side assuming the worst of the other. We see this in personal interactions as people scream and yell at one another, cursing and swearing. And, sadly, we even see this in religious discussions, where, much like politics, we are quick to assume the worst of those who disagree with us, and much like both political and personal arguments, we are quick to resort to name calling and the like.
The Bible tells us: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25; ESV)” Likewise, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18; ESV)” And, lest we forget, let us remind ourselves of the command of Christ, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44; ESV)”
There is a place in religion for absolutes and for ostanding on those absolutes; and the Christian faith definitely has some absolutes that we should hold fast (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:2, Ephesians 4:4-6, 2 Timothy 1:13). Likewise, there are matters of opinion in this world, and so long as these things don’t touch on the actual practice of our faith, we should be willing to let people do their own things (cf. Romans 14). But no matter the circumstances, no matter the disagreement, no matter what someone else has said or done, and no matter what we are afraid they are going to do, we must remember that it is in love and charity towards the other that we are most like Christ (cf. John 13:34-35). In all things, charity is always appropriate.
It is in such a spirit of love and charity that the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.