“In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion liberty; in all things, charity.”
These words were drafted by Thomas Campbell in his Declaration and Address before the Christian Association of Washington in 1809. Campbell, a Presbyterian minister, migrated to America from Ireland in 1807. He came to this country believing the American frontier presented a new life and a new opportunity for Christianity. He sought to promote, as he put it, “simple evangelical Christianity, free from all mixture of human opinion and inventions of men.” Campbell was seen by many in his denomination as unorthodox.
Actually Campbell’s “unity slogan” was not new, it was first spoken by Rupertus Meldenius, a Lutheran theologian and educator in the 17th century. Versions of this motto and theme were also enunciated by Puritan preacher Richard Baxter, Edward Stillingfleet, an Anglican minister, and George Calixtus, a Lutheran reformer,
Our word of the week is “unity.”
Religious unity is a desirable goal. Christ prayed for Unity. The apostles preached it. And Bible presents the blueprint for achieving it.
To the Ephesian church, Paul wrote, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was for all future believers of the apostles’ preaching. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:20-21)
The exhortation to a divided Corinthian church was simple. “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).
When Jews and Gentiles in New Testament churches became divided over issues of customs and opinions, the apostles called for both liberty and love. While it was right for Jews to still practice circumcision, Paul said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love (Gal 5:6). The Jerusalem conference, led by the apostles, in Acts 15 provided a scriptural, workable plan for Jews and Gentiles to work together. While Gentiles were commanded to follow doctrinal teachings, the Jewish brethren were not to bind their customs on them (Ac. 15:1-24).
Regarding the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols, the Apostles taught forbearance, consideration and acceptance of Gentile converts who believed it was wrong. It really wasn’t a matter of doctrine, but personal opinion. Yet, Paul said, he would refrain from eating such meat if it caused his brother to stumble and sin (1 Cor 8:1-13; Rom. 14;1-23).
The Bible principle is simple and succinctly stated: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal 5:13)
However, other issues are clearly a matter of Bible doctrine. They are “not for sale.” The Bible says there is one God. One Lord. One Holy Spirit. One body. One faith. One baptism. And one Hope. (Eph. 4:4-6). These constitute a platform for unity. Oneness in Christ. And integrity of Christian fellowship.
ThePreachersWord is dedicated to “the faith once delivered to all the saints.” (Jude 3). Yet, we recognize and respect personal liberty in matters of opinion and conscience. And we seek to display the spirit of love in all matters, even with our faithful readers with whom we may disagree!
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! (Ps 133:1)
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman