Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Let’s go back to that Moravian statement:
“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, & in All Things Love.”
In recent weeks, I have spoken of the Moravian essentials. In pondering these things I owe a great deal to things written and spoken online by Dr. Craig D. Atwood at Moravian Theological Seminary. Having come recently to the Moravian point of view, I admit that I still approach these ideas from my peculiar ecumenical point of view that was never exactly normal in Lutheran or Presbyterian circles. So, the insights I offer aren’t spoken from a place of complete authority.
In Dr. Atwood’s article that you can find on the home page of www.moravian.org, he writes about the six essentials of Moravian belief. They are “God creates, God redeems, God blesses. And we respond in faith, love, and hope.” There are actually some things that are neither essential nor non-essential, but are seen as sacred gifts that become sacred when they are used to lead people to essentials. These “ministerials” include clergy, sacraments, sacred rites and creeds. They are sacred when they are used to communicate the essentials, but they are not sacred when misused to distort or mislead. For example, clergy are part of a sacred service when they preach the essentials, but not when they preach against the essentials.
Of course, we learn of the essentials through the Bible, but we do not approve of misusing the Bible to sew hatred, violence, or as the justification for evil behavior. It should be remembered that even the Third Reich justified many of their evil behaviors with biblical texts (Romans 13 was a favorite passage of the Nazis).
So outside of the six essentials and the “ministerials” (that are tools that usually share the essentials), what are the non-essentials that are subject to debate and liberty?
Non-essentials would include:
-Which translation of the Bible you prefer.
-Details about how, when, and why the universe was created.
-The day and year when Jesus was born.
-What Jesus looked like during his earthly ministry.
-Opinions about end times and the fulfillment of prophesies.
-The precise ways how faith, love, and hope inform political views.
-The separation of the duties of clergy and laypeople.
-Architecture and art of worship spaces.
-Questions about the nature of pain and evil.
-The ways in which communion and baptism are celebrated.
-Styles of worship and particular liturgies and hymns, etc.
-The understanding of spiritual gifts (like teaching, and speaking in tongues).
-Worship calendars and liturgical seasons.
-The ways a church collects money and pays its bills.
-Food and drink restrictions.
-Understandings of what constitutes moral behavior (in business, banking, social occasions, etc.).
-Any question that is irrelevant (like the sports teams you follow, your favorite color, your taste in music, and so on).
The list would go on and on, but we need to remember the phrase, “and in all things love.”
So, even if a thing is “non-essential,” we always need to be aware of “the loving thing to do” in every circumstance. So, even when we are talking about worship styles and food and drink restrictions, we need to remember to be loving. Love doesn’t offer a beer to a recovering alcoholic or chocolate cake to a diabetic. On the other hand, love may push you to make marijuana available to people with glaucoma and PTSD. Love doesn’t lead a worship service in English for a Spanish speaking congregation. Even when we go to the ballot box, we need to ask, what would be most loving. Even when we are faced with polarizing moral questions, we have to ask what is loving to all of the people involved.
You have a choice of the books you read and the TV shows you watch, but where does love fit into that question. Even a scientist doing research needs to ask, “What is loving and beneficial?”
An American cardiologist named Robert Eliot coined the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but some things are deceptively small. There is always time to consider what would be loving? This Sunday will be mother’s day, which sounds like a small thing, but love helps us realize that it is a hard day for people who have lost their mothers and an important day for people who have been under-appreciated.
So, yes, we have a lot of liberty, but please keep it rooted in love.
How we each behave during this pandemic should be based on love and not convenience.