Sermon AUDIO -30 minutes
(Complete TRANSCRIPT below)
TEASER 1: “What if decided while I was preaching to crack open a BEER and sip on it throughout the sermon. You know, the cool pastors are drinking coffee while they preach and that kind of thing; what if I just decided to ONE-UP them … right?”
TEASER 2: “What you believe about who should and who should not get MARRIED, what you think about POT, FREDDIE GRAY, ALCOHOL or POLITICS… and about the church and denominations and the end times, and baptism and confirmation… these are NOT ESSENTIALS to our faith and church attendance. What we mean is, what you believe about that subject does not threaten our UNITY with CHRIST… so it shouldn’t threaten our unity with one another…. YOUR OPINIONS MIGHT ACTUALLY BE THE RIGHT ONES IN GOD’S EYES… but that does not give you permission to communicate them or ACT in an unloving way. Some of you are RIGHT in your opinions, but you are WRONG in God’s eyes because of the way you are communicating them.”
YA GOTTA HEAR-READ the rest of this:
Essentials of our Faith (An 8-Week Series on the Important Stuff We Believe)
Week 1: Essentials and Non-Essentials
Sermon AUDIO (listen as you read)
“The summer before I got married I had finished one year of seminary and I had moved home to Toledo, Ohio to spend the summer with my mom; and that summer I got a full time job delivering furniture for a high-end furniture store, and Amanda was down living with her folks in Louisiana and I had one main person that I worked with.. it was small enough, high end enough furniture store that had just 2 delivery people… I mean, can you imagine me as a furniture delivery person (laughter).. thank you, I think that’s saying I look weak basically (laughter).
But anyway that’s what I did for a summer, and one day this one guy that I work with and I were walking through the design area of the furniture store and some of the ladies from the store asked me and this other gentleman and I would like to go out for drinks after work.
Well, being engaged I said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks”, ya know it didn’t seem appropriate. And this guy that I was working with, he looked right at those ladies and said, “YEAH, THAT’S WHAT I WANT TO DO… GO GET DRUNK AFTER WORK”.
There was a really awkward kind of silence and we walked away… and I could tell this was a hot button for this guy.
And so there we were, making a delivery… and my personality type as you you get to know me you’ll realize that when I think I should let something go, I don’t (laughter)… and so anyways, I brought it up, I said, “So is it safe to say that you’re against drinking alcohol?” And he says, “YES…” and he went on this long rant, his face was getting red, he’s spitting, he’s driving faster… I mean he’s really fired up about the subject of alcohol.
And I finally sort of interjected, “So what do you do with passages like, ah, the whole idea of Jesus turning water into wine. And he goes, “THAT WAS GRAPE JUICE”… and I thought “Ummm, OK, I hadn’t heard that before” (laughter).
Here I’d just finished 4 years of Bible Theology degree and I hadn’t heard the “Grape Juice Theory” yet. And so I said, “OK.. that sounds good… so I said, “You’re saying the drink that Jesus made was incapable of intoxicating?” And he said, “YES, THAT’S WHAT I MEAN” … and I said, “OK, but I’m pretty sure I remember this passage in Scripture somewhere I think Paul says something to Timothy about this idea that he should drink “a little wine”, and he said, “THAT WAS GRAPE JUICE TOO”… and I said, “Well, if it was grape juice, why was he supposed to drink just a ‘little'” … what’s the danger of drinking too much grape juice… you know (laughter).
So he pulls out of his pocket a King James Bible; now it’s not like a pocket size King James Bible, it was a full-size Bible he had found a way to fit in his pocket somehow (laughter); he pulls it out, he throws it on my lap as we were driving and he says, “READ IT IN THE REAL TRANSLATION”.
I said, “OK, alright”… and so not being very exposed to King James I opened it up; I was trying to find the passage and luckily I found the passage and, do you know what it says in the King James? … WINE. I said, “Well, I’m sorry to tell you, it says wine here too”, he says, “THOSE SCHOLARS, THEY’VE SOLD THEIR SOULS TO THE DEVIL…
I left their thinking, WOW.. here this is a subject that I always considered to be relatively non-essential, only to discover from this person that it was VERY essential.
Let me ask you a question: What happens when our list of things that we consider to be essential… and what I mean by that is, those things, those beliefs and convictions about God and morality… that we hold passionate and are willing to argue with others about, and insist that others believe the same way… WHAT HAPPENS WHEN OUR LIST OF ESSENTIALS GROWS TOO LONG? … is there such a thing as having too long of a list of essentials?
Or, for that matter, what happens when our list of essential is TOO SHORT? Is there such a thing as having too short of a list of those things which we consider to be essential?
I mean if I was to ask all of you to take out a pen and a piece of paper right now and begin to write down all the things that you consider to be essential… I bet in a room this size we would have many, many different lists. Some of you would literally be here all day writing, writing and writing and writing, and you would tell us what you believe about marriage, and about drugs, and about politics, and about the church and denominations and the end times, and baptism and confirmation… and you would just go on and on and on.. you would have this long list of things which you consider to be ESSENTIAL.
And some of you though, you might be done in 5 seconds. You might write one thing on your list and it might be something like, “Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins.” … and still there are others of you who might not write anything on your list; because you’re here today and you’re still trying to decide, what is it that you believe… and you don’t have any real essentials right now.
But I bet it would be very interesting to see all of our different lists.
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TODAY and for the next several weeks, we’re beginning a new sermon series designed around our denomination’s motto. Many of you know that the Kirkmont is associated with The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, or the EPC; and we have a motto in our denomination and that motto says this:
IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, IN NON-ESSENTIALS LIBERTY, BUT IN ALL THINGS LOVE
In essentials we ought to have UNITY; in those things which are non-essential we’re allowed to have diversity or liberty; but in all things, LOVE.
IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, IN NON-ESSENTIALS LIBERTY, BUT IN ALL THINGS LOVE
That’s going to serve as the framework for our sermon series. Starting next week we’re going to look at what are the essentials of the EPC and look at each one.
But for today’s sermon we’re going to look at the motto itself… it’s a great 3-point sermon: “In Essentials Unity; in Non-Essential Liberty (or Diversity); and in All Things Love”
That’s what we’re going to do together this morning. First, let’s look together at the first one:
IN ESSENTIALS UNITY:
First, what do we mean by the idea of “Essentials”? What does essentials mean? What does the idea that we ought to have unity in our essentials mean?
Well first I think it’s poignant to the idea that in the Scripture we have the possibility, we have the potential to have UNITY WITH CHRIST. In John, chapter 17 verse 20, the Scripture tells us this,
“My prayer is not for them alone. 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. May they also be in us.”
Let’s pause there and keep that screen up.
So I think the first thing that this idea of IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, what it’s referring to is that we have the potential to be UNITED WITH CHRIST. It speaks to the unity that can have with Jesus Christ… “that they may be one_with_us” it says.
And therefore, what “The Essentials” mean are all of those things that we MUST believe so that we might experience the UNITY with Christ that we have the potential to experience… all of the thing that we must believe to have unity with Christ is first what I think it means by “In essentials unity”.
But the passage tells us something else also doesn’t it? It says we not only have the potential to be ONE with CHRIST, but it also says that Jesus’ desire, God’s desire is that all of them may be one–that is that the Church might be ONE; that we might` not only united to CHRIST, but then also united to each other.
So by “IN ESSENTIALS UNITY” what we mean is that in all of the things which are necessary for us to believe in order that we might have unity with Christ, we should seek unity among each other.
Those are the things which are essential.
Now those 7 essentials are going to be what we look at in the following weeks; but for now I want to merely establish the Biblical precedent for the idea of ESSENTIALS. In Galatians 5:7-12 the Scripture tells us this… again this is the Biblical precedent for ARE THERE THINGS THAT SHOULD BE CONSIDERED ESSENTIAL. The Scripture says,
“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”
Ya know, this isn’t a sermon on Galatians Chapter 5, but I mean we can take the time just to understand some the context for a second. Paul clearly has previously given instruction to this church; he’s taught them some things about what they ought to believe about who GOD is and about who JESUS CHRIST is. And apparently some other people have come along and they’ve taught something different.
Now one possible response for Paul COULD HAVE been to say, “Hey, I taught you this, other people taught you something else, BUT IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER… it doesn’t really matter if you believe them, you can believe whatever you want, you can believe WHOM ever you want, we’ll see each other in heaven some day… it’s really not that essential.”
That’s one possible response that he could’ve had.. but instead, apparently he thought that what he had taught them was SO IMPORTANT that he was willing to say words like “who cut into you… those agitators, they deserve punishment… and since they were so in love with circumcision…” see, Paul is teaching them friends, Paul is teaching them that our Salvation, the HOPE for our Salvation and Eternal Life lies in the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross alone.
And these people came along and said, “Well, that’s great, but we also want you to obey The Law and we also want you to get circumcised.. those things are really important too..” and so Paul says, “Well if that’s so important I wish they would’ve gone ahead and emasculated themselves… gone the whole way [and castrated themselves].
So, you see, in Paul’s eyes, through the inspiration of God, there are some things that are taught which are essential and worth fighting for. In Second John, verses 9-11 the Scripture tells us a similar type of thing is happening. The Scripture says,
“Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ (that is they deviate from what Christ has previously taught), they do not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (that is the teaching of Jesus Christ), do not take them into your house or welcome them.” the Scripture says.
So here’s another example of someone who begins to teach something where John could’ve said, “Well that’s not really that big of a deal.. it’s just a slightly different opinion on the subject, you know, you can believe this person, you can believe that person…” BUT INSTEAD he says it’s such a significant thing, that “if they deviate from this ESSENTIAL truth in any way at all, they don’t actually have God, they don’t have Unity with God anymore and therefore you shouldn’t even allow them in your home and entertain them”.
In Psalm 133, verse 1, the Scripture tells us God’s heart for us to be unified together; it says,
“How good and pleasant is it when brothers and sisters live together in unity”.
Ya know, some people conclude that if UNITY IS THE GOAL and DOCTRINE IS THE SOURCE OF DIVISION then the answer is to minimize doctrine… right? There’s a term for that, it’s called, “Doctrinal Minimalism”. But does that really produce UNITY? … just to reduce all of our teaching, all of our theology?
I mean if the only thing that you have in common with a bunch of other religious folks is that none of you have any real convictions… is that really unity? Besides, it’s unbiblical isn’t it? In Matthew Chapter 28, Verse 20 the Scripture tells us this… some of you will recognize this as The Great Commission, Jesus says these words,
“and teaching them…” what? … to go and teach them a FEW of the things… a COUPLE of the things that He’s asked them… or does it say ALL I’ve commanded you?”and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
And so the SOLUTION to SEEKING UNITY IN THE ESSENTIALS or unity in a Church is NOT to have “no essentials” at all of any kind.`
Ya know, my church that I was at previously before this, Riverside Church in Minnesota, it was a church like many churches… like Kirkmont quite frankly, that when it came to it’s facility lacked what I would consider to be a central SIGNAGE… every door you walked into at Riverside you would either go UP or DOWN, you had that choice; but there were no signs anywhere.
So if you wanted to find the Secretary’s office.. good luck; if you wanted to find the Pastor’s office… good luck. If you wanted to find the SANCTUARY, good luck. If you wanted to find the Fellowship Hall, no signage for that… Sunday School rooms, no signage for that; BATHROOMS… that’s a really big deal, no signage for that either. These are ESSENTIAL things that the church lacked signage in, and as a result of it, I think, were sort of missing the point with their mission and their goal.
But sort of in an ironic way there was one part of the building that was the exact opposite… our church secretary’s Office Door. Jane and I had a good relationship, we got along well, but she was a nicer person than she was organized.. you know (laughter)… someone’s going to listen to this back home and tell her I’m talking about her, but…
… on that door there was sign that said, “SECRETARY’S OFFICE”… and that was an important thing; it actually told someone that’s where they had arrived. But she put SO MANY other things on the door… anything that someone brought in from the community… just BOOM there it was on the door… all kind of things, like a collage on her door.
So it completely covered up the whole idea that this was where the secretary’s office was.
In many ways, that illustrates a lot of people’s theology …that they either have NONE of the essential things that they ought to have… and as a result THE MAIN POINT IS MISSED, or they have SO MANY things going on that the same result happens — the main point is missed.
But one thing we know for now is that the solution to UNITY is NOT to have NO essentials… alright.. next point:
– – – – – – – – –
IN NON-ESSENTIALS, DIVERSITY`or LIBERTY
By non-essential WE DO NOT MEAN “Not Important”… that’s a very clear point to make. We do not mean that by Non-Essentials that it’s something that is not important. The truth of the matter is there are IMPORTANT non-essentials and there are NOT-important non-essentials as well.
For example, the subject of MARRIAGE… some of you will be surprised to find out that as we go through the 7 Essentials that the subject of who SHOULD and who should NOT get married is NOT one the the EPC [Evangelical Presbyterian Church] seven essentials. It doesn’t mean that the denomination doesn’t have an opinion or a conviction about the subject; and it certainly doesn’t mean that the subject isn’t IMPORTANT.
We have probably a myriad of different opinions about the subject of MARRIAGE, but the one thing that we can probably ALL agree on is “that’s an important topic”… right? But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an ESSENTIAL TOPIC.
So what’s an example of a NON-important NON-essential topic… well, for me it would be like, ‘should people at church wear jeans or khakis. Ya know some of you, not only is that an important non-essential but for some of you it’s an ESSENTIAL. But for me, I call that a NOT-important, NON-essential. It just doesn’t really matter. There are some non-essentials that are important, and some of them that aren’t important.
So what do we mean then by NON-ESSENTIALS?
What we mean is, if you don’t believe accurately about that subject, it does not threaten your unity with Christ; and therefore we should not divide ourselves about that subject. For example, if I had decided while I was preaching I was gonna crack open an alcoholic beverage… sip on it throughout the sermon. You know, the cool pastors are drinking coffee while they preach and that kind of thing; what if I just decided to ONE-UP them … right? (squirming laughter… love it). Just got an alcoholic beverage out and just sort of sipped on it, ya know and the TRUTH of the matter is, based on that action we’d have a lot of different responses.
Some of you would just get up and walk out.. right? And we’d have that end of the spectrum, all the way to some of you would say, “Didn’t he pay attention at school? … if you bring one stick of gum you should have enough to share (LAUGHTER)… I mean we’d have the whole spectrum.
And the truth of the matter is that IT IS EITHER MORALLY RIGHT FOR ME TO DO THAT OR NOT… but for our purposes this morning, that’s not the point… it doesn’t matter, because by definition of a Non-Essential, some of us would be right in our convictions with regard to that… some of us would be wrong, but none of us would have our UNITY WITH CHRIST jeopardized based on our OPINION of that behavior. [00:19:05]
And therefore we should not DIVIDE over it… that’s what we mean by a non-essential.
Is there a Biblical precedent for a non-essential? YES… in Romans, Chapter 14, verses 1 through 6 the Scripture teaches this:
The Weak and the Strong
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
So apparently what’s happening here in Rome at least, is that it’s more of a subject of whether we should be eating meat, or some people think that they should be vegetarians… and, so going on… verse 3,
The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Paul is giving us two examples here: the first example is about what we SHOULD and SHOULDN’T EAT and he says it’s a DISPUTABLE MATTER.. right… it’s a NON-Essential… we ought not to divide over it as a church because it does not threaten our UNITY with CHRIST… so it shouldn’t threaten our unity with one another.
And now he moves on to another subject of “DAYS”… some of the early Jewish Christians thought they should honor the Jewish days and others thought we don’t need to honor that kind of thing any more. And he goes on and he says,
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
In First Corinthians Chapter 8 verse 7 there’s a similar thing happening here … only the context is a little different; it’s about FOOD again… and has to do with meat, but apparently some of the meat that early Christians had the potential to eat, the animal had previously been killed as a SACRIFICE to a false god and now some of them are wondering “Should we eat that, or should we not… that seems kinda weird”. And here’s Paul’s response, and we’re jumping in the middle of his conversation…,
But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
DID YOU HEAR THAT ??? “But FOOD does not bring us any closer to God… we’re no worse or no better. Again, this is a subject he’s saying that does not threaten our unity with Christ therefore it shouldn’t threaten our unity as a Church.
In Romans 12, verse 18 the Scripture says this,
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
That’s a challenging verse in light of this subject. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… having non-essentials built into the framework of how we function, helps us to live at peace with one another.
I mean without non-essentials we would be forced to divide and to separate ourselves from until others until we agreed with everyone else in our circle of faith.
Let me just ask you… today the average church in America is around 77-78 people… average church across the whole country. If you insisted on going to a church where everybody who was there agreed with you on every single point of doctrine, HOW LARGE OF A CHURCH WOULD YOU ATTEND? … ONE.
That’s right.. ONE, thank you. Some of you were doing “peace” (two) for a while, but I think one would become the new average. Because there’s no possible way, not your husband, not your wife, not anyone who’s close to you could possibly ever agree with you on EVERY point.
In order to have REAL UNITY with each other we need to have some things that are ESSENTIAL, but we also need to have some things that are NON-essential. I mean IMAGINE the things that Churches have SPLIT over over the years.
Early in my ministry at Riverside, when someone new would come into the church I would just be happy that we had somebody else at the church. And I would be excited that they showed up; and usually they showed up because they had a story about how they had left one of the other local churches and decided to come to a new church.
Then I’d come to learn over a time that based on the reason they’d give me for why they left their last church and showed up for this church… it’s just a matter of time before they leave this church and go somewhere else.
There are some people who are perpetual church leavers… because they haven’t embraced the idea of non-essentials. They cannot be in UNITY with other people because they have not embraced the idea of non-essentials.
Think about the things that churches have split over… (pause)… the color of the carpet, the color of the pews, the color of the walls, whether we have church at this time or a half-an-hour different, or whether our music is sung from a book or on a screen; or whether the pastor wears a suit and tie, or whether he wears jeans and a shirt… I mean ALL THE THINGS.
At Riverside we made so many changes: we changed the Service time, we changed the music style, we changed the building, we changed the website, we changed all kinds of things and each time we did I thought, “I’M GOING TO GO TO CHURCH ON SUNDAY AND NOBODY’S GOING TO BE THERE (all smiling, soft laughter).
And you know every time we did, the people were still there.
Then one day someone told me, “Ya know the coffee here at the church is really lousy”. So we got a new coffee maker. We upset more people with the new coffee maker than we did with all of those other changes (LAUGHTER).
It’s amazing what we will cling to and stick with.
QUESTION FOR YOU: for those of you who consider yourself to be Christ followers… Do your essentials or your non-essentials DISTRACT or POINT to what you believe to be the main point of your Christian faith?
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IN ALL THINGS then finally, quickly… IN ALL THINGS, LOVE
In essentials UNITY, in non-essentials DIVERSITY, but in all things LOVE – you know, you might hear that expression and think that someone in the EPC came up with that, or that was very clever; or other people have done a little homework and sometimes this slogan is given to St. Augustine. But it really came from a much lesser known name.. his name is… I’ve never heard it before, I have to read it… Rupertus Meldenius… poor guy (laughter).
But anyway he’s a German Lutheran theologian in the early 17th Century. His name and the timing and all that stuff might not be significant to you, except when you hear this: that he wrote this during a Thirty Year War in Europe… a bloody time in European History from 1618 to 1648. And one of the reasons why the war was so violent, that it was such a bloody time was because of the religious tension. And he came up with this expression, right in the midst of all of that.
This idea of IN ALL THINGS LOVE. In Ephesians chapter 4 verses 2 through 3 the Scripture says this,
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
In Colossians 3:14 the Scripture tells us this,
And over all these virtues put on LOVE which binds them together in perfect unity.
– – – – – – – –
I think what the Bible is trying to say to you and I here with regards to our conversation today is that IT IS NOT AN OPTION TO COMMUNICATE YOUR ESSENTIALS OR YOUR NON-ESSENTIALS IN AN UNLOVING WAY”. It is not an option to communicate your essentials or your non-essentials in an unloving way.
Church… your opinions about MARRIAGE, POT, Freddie Gray, alcohol, who should be our next President, baptism, end times, various denominational beliefs… YOUR OPINIONS MIGHT ACTUALLY BE THE RIGHT ONES IN GOD’S EYES… but that does not give you permission to communicate them or ACT in an unloving way. Some of you are RIGHT in your opinions, but you are WRONG in God’s eyes because of the way that you are communicating them.
The first time Amanda and I ever talked about God and theology… we were friends and we got into an argument about the subject of predestination… and I lost on two fronts that night (laughter)… I left there having lost my cool and acted in an unloving way; and I later realized that I was wrong theologically as well (laughter).
OUR LOVE FOR GOD and OUR LOVE FOR OTHERS, it ought to be the very filter which allows us to determine what things are essential to us and what things are non-essential to us.
– – – – –
Maybe you grew up here; and maybe you’re here and you grew up in an environment where their so-called love for God led to such a long list of essentials, you left that church world, that family life… whatever it was… and you have absolutely no clue WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT.
But maybe you’re here this morning, and you grew up in an environment that was so loving to people that they refused to have any real essentials about God at all… and you’re still here today with absolutely no clue as far as what this is all about.
We want to invite you to come back with us the next 7 weeks as we discuss THE SEVEN ESSENTIALS OF THE EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church).
But to just give you a little teaser… Romans, Chapter 5, verses 6 through 8 tells us this,
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
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