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What are the essentials?

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  • Chris G Criminger
    Hi Rogier, I don t think we can get away from essentials anymore than a wheel can get away from a center. Maybe the dilemma is how we define essentials rather
    Message 1 of 17 , May 20, 2003
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      Hi Rogier,
      I don't think we can get away from essentials anymore than a wheel can
      get away from a center. Maybe the dilemma is how we define essentials
      rather than whether we have them or not. Or for a church to say we have
      no essentials? Is that an essential? Maybe like a wheel, it would be
      better for churches to speak about the center and those things that
      encircle it recognizing diversity here among churches but all or most for
      example have beliefs and practices that center around worship, teaching,
      communion, etc. Just like there is unity and plurality in the Trinity,
      maybe stressing both unity and plurality among churches would be healthy
      and stressing one against the other would be unhealthy?

      Just a thought - Chris Criminger
      Vallonia Indiana



      ********************
      On Tue, 20 May 2003 16:07:11 +0200 "Rogier @ E-Claire" <rb@...>
      writes:
      > Hi,
      >
      > This is an interesting question to me, as I will participate in a
      > forum next
      > month that asks a very similar question: 'what is the gospel we
      > preach?'.
      >
      > (I work with a Christian missions group that seeks to plant churches
      > ('communities of faith') in major European cities, and in so doing
      > we hope
      > to contribute to the start of a new grassroots movements of people
      > following
      > Jesus.)
      >
      > I can't get around the fact that, while totally understandable, the
      > question
      > actually seems a little modernist, in that it seeks to reduce our
      > faith (or
      > the Biblical story, for that matter), to it's essence. Reductionism
      > is a
      > trade-mark of modern thinking.
      >
      > As I have been preparing for this forum I have been studying and
      > reading
      > Jesus' teaching, and it seems to me that Jesus' gospel is
      > 'situational' -
      > it's different in every situation he encounters. Hence it is
      > possible for
      > Nicodemus and the rich young ruler to get different answers when
      > they ask
      > 'what must I do to be saved?'.
      >
      > Augustine's quote is great, but many religious wars have been
      > started about
      > the essentials. What are the essentials? Who defines them? What
      > happens when
      > I deem one essential more essential than another? What happens if we
      > disagree on the essentials in the first place? Can we still break
      > bread
      > together? How much tension can we cope with before we disassociate
      > ourselves
      > from one another? Here is a sociological observation: he who defines
      > the
      > essentials, holds the power. Historically you can make a case that
      > in some
      > cases people defined essentials not so much because they really
      > cared about
      > the essentials, but because they really cared about holding the
      > power that
      > deciding the essentials brought them. To put it simply: the will to
      > power is
      > part of our desire to define the essentials.
      >
      > And yet I have struggled with the question of the essentials myself
      > very
      > much. How could we ever be one (as Jesus prayed in John 17) if we
      > could not
      > reach agreement on the essentials?
      >
      > I have this novel idea I am playing with: what if God never intended
      > for us
      > to agree on all the essentials. What if the variation he has so
      > cleverly and
      > skillfully brought out in the natural realm is the same variation he
      > would
      > like to see in the church? What if he never intended us to be the
      > same, look
      > the same, talk the same, or (dare I say it?) believe the same? What
      > if he
      > always intended for a high degree of ambiguity to exist? I know this
      > raises
      > many questions, such as: 'how can we be one?', and 'how can we
      > organize
      > ourselves?' and 'how do we know we can fellowship together (when are
      > you too
      > far removed from me for us to still cross the chasm between us?)?' -
      > but
      > humour me, okay? I'm trying to make sense of God and life and
      > ministry after
      > relinquishing my desire for control and institutionalism and
      > monolithic
      > groups and order and ...
      >
      > What would happen if each local community would decide for itself
      > what its
      > essentials are? If all over the place each community of faith
      > decided on its
      > own identity and values and emphases? I know, there would be some
      > groups
      > that would probably go of the deep end - but then again, those
      > groups have
      > always existed, haven't they? It's not like our modernist drive for
      > a clear
      > definition of the essentials ever cured that problem. Actually, I
      > reckon
      > that in this day and age, in our global village, our many
      > cross-border
      > contacts would keep us in check, at least to a degree (call it
      > cross-fertilization).
      >
      > I imagine that what would emerge would be a lovely varied quilt of
      > communities accross our local maps, each with its particular
      > attractions and
      > particularities - come to think of it, not all that dissimilar to
      > nature
      > itself: varied, colorful, organic, interacting with its context,
      > growing,
      > struggling a bit here and there, producing fruit, each after its own
      > kind)...
      >
      > Come to think of it, it's not so different from what has happened
      > accross
      > history already - but it's very different from what we desired when
      > we built
      > our systems and organizations and institutions, when we fought our
      > religious
      > wars, organized ourselves, spoke out against each other, called each
      > other
      > heretics (I live in Europe where these religious wars are a major
      > factor in
      > the secularization of my continent)... I cannot escape the
      > conclusion that
      > the ideological and organizational unity we sought is just not going
      > to
      > happen!
      >
      > What if, in the meantime, God has been building his church, just
      > like he
      > intended, without agreement on the essentials, but with the
      > variation, the
      > color, the quirks, the oddities, the differences, the strengths, the
      > weakenesses, the fruits and the flowers?
      >
      > I'd be interested in your thoughts!
      >
      > Rogier
      > www.thejourney.nl
      >
      >
      >
      > -----Original Message-----
      > From: Eland, David R [mailto:david.r.eland@...]
      > Sent: dinsdag 20 mei 2003 15:12
      > To: findingfaith@yahoogroups.com
      > Subject: [findingfaith] What are the essentials?
      >
      >
      > Looking over some earlier postings I found this:
      >
      > >Augustine's tried and true "in essentials, unity; in
      > non-essentials,
      > liberty; in all >things, charity (love)."
      >
      >
      > What are the essentials?
      >
      > And how do you know they are the essentials?
      >
      > Thanks,
      > Dave
      >
      >
      >
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      >
      >
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    • Stephen Shields
      Hi David! dr: Augustine s tried and true in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love). ss: I do think that we need to
      Message 2 of 17 , May 20, 2003
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        Hi David!

        dr:

        Augustine's tried and true "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials,
        liberty; in all >things, charity (love).

        ss:

        I do think that we need to differentiate between what we must believe before
        God deals with us (I imagine that list is a bit short and God is mainly
        looking at the direction of our heart) and what we would teach in a Worshop
        entitled "The Essentials."

        I grew up Methodist, in college went to a Presbyterian Reformed church, then
        a Bible church. In graduate school I went to a Plymouth Brethren assembly.
        Since then I've attended two non-denoms. I suggest that one can make a good
        beginning at the essentials by determining what beliefs all of these
        different yet truly Christian churches held in common.

        For what it's worth!

        Stephen Shields
        sshields@...
        http://www.faithmaps.org
        http://faithmaps.blogspot.com
        "navigating theology, leadership, and spiritual formation in postmodernity"

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      • Eland, David R
        Chris and Stephen, I wonder if we are using the word essentials in the same way. For example, ... Does that mean churches should have unity in essential
        Message 3 of 17 , May 21, 2003
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          Chris and Stephen,

          I wonder if we are using the word "essentials" in the same way. For
          example,

          Chris said:
          >Just like there is unity and plurality
          >in the Trinity, maybe stressing both unity and
          >plurality among churches would be healthy
          >and stressing one against the other would be unhealthy?

          Does that mean churches should have unity in essential beliefs? Or are
          you saying they have unity in love, mutual respect, etc. but can have
          different even contradictory beliefs?

          Stephen said:
          >I suggest that one can make a good beginning
          >at the essentials by determining what beliefs
          >all of these different yet truly Christian
          >churches held in common

          I wouldn't think that sharing common beliefs means those must be
          essential. However I would expect essential beliefs to be shared by all
          Christians.

          I am using "essential" in the sense of what is "required and absolutely
          necessary." To remove something essential means that the first thing no
          longer exists and it becomes something different. For example Christ is
          an essential part of the Trinity. Remove Christ and there is no
          Trinity. A god that is not triune is a different god from a trinitarian
          god. That does not necessarily mean that everyone must believe in the
          trinity. It just means that one belief is true and the other is false.
          God may or may not require that people believe that he is 3 persons in
          one being. He may graciously accept many people with incorrect beliefs
          about his nature. Certainly God cannot require that we have a perfect
          conception of him because finite beings cannot fully understand an
          infinite being.

          On the other hand, is it likely that God requires some minimal
          requirements for what we believe? Certainly Paul expressed this at the
          Areopagus in Athens. Acts 17:16 says, "While Paul was waiting for them
          in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of
          idols." If all conceptions of God are equally acceptable then why would
          Paul be distressed? Paul goes on to tell the story of Christ and his
          resurrection. Then he states in Acts 17:30, "In the past God overlooked
          such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For
          he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he
          has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from
          the dead."

          "He commands...he will judge...has given proof..." those are strong
          words. If we do not have minimal correct knowledge of God then is it
          possible we are really worshiping an idol rather than God? If there are
          essentials then it would be good to know them.

          Thanks,
          Dave
        • Stephen Shields
          Hi Rogier! It s been a while! r: This is an interesting question to me, as I will participate in a forum next month that asks a very similar question: what
          Message 4 of 17 , Jun 1, 2003
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            Hi Rogier! It's been a while!

            r:

            This is an interesting question to me, as I will participate in a forum next
            month that asks a very similar question: 'what is the gospel we preach?'.

            (I work with a Christian missions group that seeks to plant churches
            ('communities of faith') in major European cities, and in so doing we hope
            to contribute to the start of a new grassroots movements of people following
            Jesus.)

            I can't get around the fact that, while totally understandable, the question
            actually seems a little modernist, in that it seeks to reduce our faith (or
            the Biblical story, for that matter), to it's essence. Reductionism is a
            trade-mark of modern thinking.

            As I have been preparing for this forum I have been studying and reading
            Jesus' teaching, and it seems to me that Jesus' gospel is 'situational' -
            it's different in every situation he encounters. Hence it is possible for
            Nicodemus and the rich young ruler to get different answers when they ask
            'what must I do to be saved?'.

            Augustine's quote is great, but many religious wars have been started about
            the essentials. What are the essentials? Who defines them? What happens when
            I deem one essential more essential than another? What happens if we
            disagree on the essentials in the first place? Can we still break bread
            together? How much tension can we cope with before we disassociate ourselves
            from one another? Here is a sociological observation: he who defines the
            essentials, holds the power. Historically you can make a case that in some
            cases people defined essentials not so much because they really cared about
            the essentials, but because they really cared about holding the power that
            deciding the essentials brought them. To put it simply: the will to power is
            part of our desire to define the essentials.

            And yet I have struggled with the question of the essentials myself very
            much. How could we ever be one (as Jesus prayed in John 17) if we could not
            reach agreement on the essentials?

            I have this novel idea I am playing with: what if God never intended for us
            to agree on all the essentials. What if the variation he has so cleverly and
            skillfully brought out in the natural realm is the same variation he would
            like to see in the church? What if he never intended us to be the same, look
            the same, talk the same, or (dare I say it?) believe the same? What if he
            always intended for a high degree of ambiguity to exist? I know this raises
            many questions, such as: 'how can we be one?', and 'how can we organize
            ourselves?' and 'how do we know we can fellowship together (when are you too
            far removed from me for us to still cross the chasm between us?)?' - but
            humour me, okay? I'm trying to make sense of God and life and ministry after
            relinquishing my desire for control and institutionalism and monolithic
            groups and order and ...

            What would happen if each local community would decide for itself what its
            essentials are? If all over the place each community of faith decided on its
            own identity and values and emphases? I know, there would be some groups
            that would probably go of the deep end - but then again, those groups have
            always existed, haven't they? It's not like our modernist drive for a clear
            definition of the essentials ever cured that problem. Actually, I reckon
            that in this day and age, in our global village, our many cross-border
            contacts would keep us in check, at least to a degree (call it
            cross-fertilization).

            I imagine that what would emerge would be a lovely varied quilt of
            communities accross our local maps, each with its particular attractions and
            particularities - come to think of it, not all that dissimilar to nature
            itself: varied, colorful, organic, interacting with its context, growing,
            struggling a bit here and there, producing fruit, each after its own
            kind)...

            Come to think of it, it's not so different from what has happened accross
            history already - but it's very different from what we desired when we built
            our systems and organizations and institutions, when we fought our religious
            wars, organized ourselves, spoke out against each other, called each other
            heretics (I live in Europe where these religious wars are a major factor in
            the secularization of my continent)... I cannot escape the conclusion that
            the ideological and organizational unity we sought is just not going to
            happen!

            What if, in the meantime, God has been building his church, just like he
            intended, without agreement on the essentials, but with the variation, the
            color, the quirks, the oddities, the differences, the strengths, the
            weakenesses, the fruits and the flowers?

            I'd be interested in your thoughts!

            Rogier
            www.thejourney.nl

            ss:

            Thanks for this!

            Rogier, I would say that balance is the watchword here. The NT docs do seem
            to clearly differentiate those who are in the kingdom and those who are not.
            And surely there is some essential set of facts that **derive** from a real
            relationship with God. (I phrase this carefully. A modernized
            evangelicalism would posit the facts themselves as the foundational thing).
            So we would do well to avoid the Scylla of requiring complete agreement on
            every point of theology and the Charybdis of saying "Hey, it doesn't matter
            what you believe." Surely there are some non-negotiables about which we
            would be held accountable if we did not make earnest effort to share these
            with others.

            That being said, I tend to be an agnostic inclusivist. I simply don't know
            what God's gonna do with the possible category of folks that are genuinely
            seeking God but haven't yet been exposed to these nonnegotiables. All I
            know for certain is that belief in the Lord Jesus Christ (and I use "belief"
            in both its propositional *and* transpropositional senses) brings one into
            the kingdom. So this I proclaim and leave that which I don't know to God.

            Thanks!

            Stephen Shields
            sshields@...
            http://www.faithmaps.org
            http://faithmaps.blogspot.com
            "navigating theology, leadership, and spiritual formation in postmodernity"

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          • Stephen Shields
            David Eland commented: It s funny that you would describe the words of a 4th century pastor as modernist, how far back does modernism go? (I m not well
            Message 5 of 17 , Jun 1, 2003
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              David Eland commented:


              It's funny that you would describe the words of a 4th century pastor as
              "modernist," how far back does modernism go? (I'm not well versed in
              the definitions of modern vs. post-modern.) Wasn't it Greek
              philosophers who said everything has a true essence? And that it should
              be possible to strip away the outward appearances and find the true
              essence. I think one example I heard was that there are many kinds of
              chairs but each one contains the true essence of "chairness" and without
              that, it would not be a chair.

              Was Augustine saying that there can be great varieties of Christian
              communities of faith but all are united by some essentials. I'm also
              pretty ignorant of Augustine--did he describe these essentials?

              ss:

              I think this is a good point, David. It does seem sometimes that those
              writing in the pomoChristian thoughtspace equate a modernized approach to
              propositional truth with all categories of truth (I'm not accusing Rogier of
              this, btw).

              thanks,

              Stephen Shields
              sshields@...
              http://www.faithmaps.org
              http://faithmaps.blogspot.com
              "navigating theology, leadership, and spiritual formation in postmodernity"

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            • Stephen Shields
              Rogier commented: I find it interesting that three people have responded with specific proposals for essentials - and all of them have been different. ss: Yes!
              Message 6 of 17 , Jun 1, 2003
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                Rogier commented:

                I find it interesting that three people have responded with specific
                proposals for essentials - and all of them have been different.

                ss:

                Yes! Larry Crabb recently said that repentance is idiosyncratic. We might
                suggest that the same thing is true of what traditionally has been called
                "saving faith". If we accept that there is some set of nonnegotiable
                truths, surely the exact way I explain them and hold them in my mind in
                paradigm will vary from others. And so our wise Lord is the one that
                determines the acceptable degree of correspondence between our paradigms and
                objective truth.

                'Course I realize I"ve opened another can of worms! But I suggest that a
                full appreciation of the subjective nature of truth doesn't vitiate its
                objective nature. The variable and highly differentiated subjective
                experience of truth can coexist with its objectivity. You might be bored by
                my comments and can't wait for me to shut up as the minutes creep by. Or
                you might find this moderately philosophical discursive highly stimulating.
                But the quartz in your watch still vibrates at a defined number of times per
                second irrespective of your subjective experience of time. So also God and
                His truth.

                fwiw,

                Stephen Shields
                sshields@...
                http://www.faithmaps.org
                http://faithmaps.blogspot.com
                "navigating theology, leadership, and spiritual formation in postmodernity"

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              • Stephen Shields
                Chris opined: I don t think we can get away from essentials anymore than a wheel can get away from a center. Maybe the dilemma is how we define essentials
                Message 7 of 17 , Jun 1, 2003
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                  Chris opined:

                  I don't think we can get away from essentials anymore than a wheel can
                  get away from a center. Maybe the dilemma is how we define essentials
                  rather than whether we have them or not. Or for a church to say we have
                  no essentials? Is that an essential? Maybe like a wheel, it would be
                  better for churches to speak about the center and those things that
                  encircle it recognizing diversity here among churches but all or most for
                  example have beliefs and practices that center around worship, teaching,
                  communion, etc. Just like there is unity and plurality in the Trinity,
                  maybe stressing both unity and plurality among churches would be healthy
                  and stressing one against the other would be unhealthy?

                  ss:

                  I like it!

                  Stephen Shields
                  sshields@...
                  http://www.faithmaps.org
                  http://faithmaps.blogspot.com
                  "navigating theology, leadership, and spiritual formation in postmodernity"


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                • Stephen Shields
                  Dave differentiated with: Chris and Stephen, I wonder if we are using the word essentials in the same way. For example, ... Does that mean churches should
                  Message 8 of 17 , Jun 1, 2003
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                    Dave differentiated with:

                    Chris and Stephen,

                    I wonder if we are using the word "essentials" in the same way. For
                    example,

                    Chris said:
                    >Just like there is unity and plurality
                    >in the Trinity, maybe stressing both unity and
                    >plurality among churches would be healthy
                    >and stressing one against the other would be unhealthy?

                    Does that mean churches should have unity in essential beliefs? Or are
                    you saying they have unity in love, mutual respect, etc. but can have
                    different even contradictory beliefs?

                    Stephen said:
                    >I suggest that one can make a good beginning
                    >at the essentials by determining what beliefs
                    >all of these different yet truly Christian
                    >churches held in common

                    I wouldn't think that sharing common beliefs means those must be
                    essential. However I would expect essential beliefs to be shared by all
                    Christians.

                    I am using "essential" in the sense of what is "required and absolutely
                    necessary." To remove something essential means that the first thing no
                    longer exists and it becomes something different. For example Christ is
                    an essential part of the Trinity. Remove Christ and there is no
                    Trinity. A god that is not triune is a different god from a trinitarian
                    god. That does not necessarily mean that everyone must believe in the
                    trinity. It just means that one belief is true and the other is false.
                    God may or may not require that people believe that he is 3 persons in
                    one being. He may graciously accept many people with incorrect beliefs
                    about his nature. Certainly God cannot require that we have a perfect
                    conception of him because finite beings cannot fully understand an
                    infinite being.

                    On the other hand, is it likely that God requires some minimal
                    requirements for what we believe? Certainly Paul expressed this at the
                    Areopagus in Athens. Acts 17:16 says, "While Paul was waiting for them
                    in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of
                    idols." If all conceptions of God are equally acceptable then why would
                    Paul be distressed? Paul goes on to tell the story of Christ and his
                    resurrection. Then he states in Acts 17:30, "In the past God overlooked
                    such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For
                    he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he
                    has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from
                    the dead."

                    "He commands...he will judge...has given proof..." those are strong
                    words. If we do not have minimal correct knowledge of God then is it
                    possible we are really worshiping an idol rather than God? If there are
                    essentials then it would be good to know them.

                    ss:

                    Thanks Dave, a helpful distinction.

                    Stephen Shields
                    sshields@...
                    http://www.faithmaps.org
                    http://faithmaps.blogspot.com
                    "navigating theology, leadership, and spiritual formation in
                    postmodernity"

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