‘In Essentials, Unity’ Includes Sexual Morality

“In non-essentials, liberty.” Yes, there are non-essentials. Sexual morality isn’t one of them.

They [Jerusalem Council] imposed the first rule to keep Christianity distinct and holy unto the Lord — clearly not optional! The prohibition against eating “what has been strangled” enforced the rule against eating the blood of animals, a command that was never meant only for Jews…And so is sexual morality. From the beginning and throughout all Scripture, God intended sex to be for a man and woman who are married to each other. This earliest church council made that clear, one more time.

 

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” So goes the wisdom, dating back to the 17th century. But what’s really essential?

A couple weeks ago someone charged me with making my essentials into everyone’s essentials. He was talking about my stance against gay marriage and LGBT moral opinions. If he was right, I was being pretty obnoxious. But what if my stance isn’t just mine? What if it’s essential for the whole Church?

Most Christians believe we can have true fellowship with others who disagree with us on really important matters. For the most part, believers agree that we can have fellowship even when we disagree over the timing and mode of baptism, what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, what to expect in the end times, whether miraculous gifts of the Spirit continue still today.

So why can’t we disagree over gay sexuality, too?

The Early Church’s Answers

The answer is best found in the early Church. Christians in the first several centuries after Christ had some pretty severe conflicts over basic beliefs. They fought out their disputes in lectures, in sermons, in writings and in conferences called church councils. These councils produced the statement we now call the Nicene Creed and the lesser-known Chalcedonian Definition. Both were crucial in declaring who Jesus is, that he’s both truly God and truly man and therefore our savior.

Yet one church council took place much earlier than these — centuries earlier, in fact. Its members included the apostles Peter, James, Paul and Barnabas! It’s known now as the Council of Jerusalem, and it’s recorded in Acts 15:4-21.

Like other, later, councils, this one was called to settle a dispute. The question was this: Which Jewish beliefs and practices were essential for Gentile Christians to follow?

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