“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
That famous quote, often attributed to the theologian Augustine, likely came from an otherwise unknown 17th century German man named Rupertus Meldinius in a tract published around 1627. It speaks of the importance of the church’s necessary agreement on the non-negotiables of the faith, and our willingness to have diversity amidst our unity on those things that are negotiable.
One of the key themes from the pastoral epistles of the apostle Paul that we are studying this fall at TCASC is that what we believe matters. In other words, we are responsible to God and to each other for the truth of the gospel on which we stand. And in a world that has largely abandoned the concept of absolute truth, where “each man does what is right in his own eyes” (to borrow from the book of Judges), it is rare to find a person–or a church–willing to stand without compromise on sound Biblical doctrine.
And so, western Christianity, including the so-called “evangelical” church in America, has continued to drift from its solid Scriptural base. One such illustration of that came just last week, in an episode that has been widely discussed especially on social media. It involved Union Theological Seminary, an institution in New York City with a distinguished history in theological education and ministry training. Among its noted alumni is none other than German theologian and pastor (and martyr) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who studied there in the 1930’s.
The seminary had already begun to lose its way, doctrinally speaking, when Bonhoeffer was a student there, and has been on a downward slide ever since. Last week, the seminary’s Twitter account tweeted a photo of students standing before an altar filled with potted plants. The caption read–and I’m not making this up:
Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor. What do you confess to the plants in your life?
Part of the reasoning behind their intended-for-the-public prayer was as a statement on the highly politicized “climate emergency.” Part was just the latest slide down the slippery slope of pantheistic confusion being passed off as theology. As my mentor and friend Mickey used to say, some people get so open-minded that their brains fall out. That seems to be what has happened at Union.
If you have ever been on Twitter, I am sure you can imagine the jokes that followed. Some suggested that they were doing the “church planting” thing all wrong. Others questioned what plants were smoked prior to their time of confession. And the puns and potshots rolled out for days. But really, this is no laughing matter, especially for an institution that once grounded its teaching in Scripture.
And here’s the point, again. What you believe matters. The truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ found in God’s word is non-negotiable. But when you stray from the path of the “essential” truths of the Christian faith, you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up confessing to the creation itself, in the form of inanimate plants, instead of praying to the Creator, in the name of His Son Jesus. Romans 1 describes such a wayward generation so well: “…their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…” (1:21-23)
Lest we throw more stones and make more jokes, the emphasis here is not on them but on us. My prayer is that our faith would rest in Scripture, that we would feed our minds and hearts with God’s word daily and humbly come before Him daily in prayer, confessing His lordship and our complete dependence in Him. That is the path to freedom and peace and joy and life through Christ.
And one more quick note while I have the opportunity: Thank you for your kind words and expressions of love and generosity last Sunday night at our TCASC picnic in recognition of our ten year anniversary as pastor at Shelby Crossings. Nan and I are so blessed to serve such a great church, and we look forward to what the Lord has in store for us in the days and years ahead as we continue to serve Him together. I’ll see YOU on Sunday!