Scott Sauls was on my radio program recently to discuss his book, Jesus Outside the Lines. In his book, he tells a story of what happened in his church (Christ Presbyterian Church) when R.C. Sproul gave a talk on how God and people come into a relationship with one another. Dr. Sproul emphasizes the sovereign, electing grace of God. Other Christians, like Billy Graham emphasize human free will.
During the question-and-answer session after Dr. Sproul’s talk, someone in the audience asked him if he believed he would see Billy Graham in heaven. He replied, “No, I don’t believe I will see Billy Graham in heaven.” There was a collective gasp in the audience. He continued, “Billy Graham will be so close to the throne of God, and I will be so far way from the throne of God, that I will be lucky to even get a glimpse of him!”
I hope you get the point. We should show respect to fellow Christians even when we might disagree with them. Within the body of Christ are different denominations and theological strains. We can disagree with one another about doctrine, but we should still maintain respect and affection for one another. Augustine put it this way: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
This helps us avoid two dangerous extremes. Many Christians (often motivated by liberal theology) emphasize unity to the exclusion of biblical orthodoxy. They want us to compromise on the essential doctrines of the faith in order to promote unity. Other Christians focus too much on non-essentials and break fellowship with other Christians who can contribute to our understanding of Scripture. We should allow liberty in non-essentials where a fundamental doctrine of the faith is not at risk.
Christians should not compromise their faith by ignoring or watering down the essential doctrines of the faith. But they should also be willing to listen and learn from other Christians even when they might disagree about non-essentials. That’s what Augustine meant when he called for unity, liberty, and charity.