Although we live in a time period where our society considers itself more tolerant, yet we have lost a sense of a wide margin. We have lost the ability to allow differences, to forgive, to show mercy, and to restore. It is great to see how a unified voice brings a person to see that they are out of step with society and how it often moves the person to rethink and reset their position. It can redirect parenting practices, correct the use of questionable speech, adjust one’s view on gender issues, change racial and ethnic designations once formally seen as acceptable, etc. But what is stunning is to see how a step out of pace/sync—no matter how apologetic a person becomes afterwards—can cause the removal from one’s job, end promotional opportunities, permanently affect relationships, etc.
In the Bible we are given essentials to our faith for which there is no flexibility. Paul clearly noted many unifying essentials in Ephesians 4:4-6, and many more are clearly noted in Scripture— there is a God, Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, only faith in Jesus brings salvation, every believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit, etc.
Yet, as we look at Scripture we see an incredible margin/flexibility in respect to non-essentials of the faith as even Jesus noted to His disciples that a man who seemed to break a standard they had established was okay. Jesus’ response was that if the person was not against the essentials of the disciples they should show flexibility for that person was an ally (Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:50). A key reason we have such room for variation goes back to the very nature of the Church. In the first century the Church was comprised of various people from various backgrounds, nationalities, socioeconomic statuses, influence, etc. Paul repeatedly notes these challenges in teaching that our unity in Christ overrides our being Jewish or Gentile (pagan), master or slave, old or young, rich or poor, in the household of Caesar or a demon possessed slave girl in the marketplace, etc. The Church had to have flexibility to bring these individuals with strong differences together so that they would love each other beyond their differences. The church was to then practice forgiveness, mercy, restoration in all aspects of its life to achieve and to maintain this unity (Ephesians 4:1-3).
May we never forget that this flexibility in the nonessentials is a necessity for churches today. Today when there may be differences in one’s perspective on politics (public assistance should or should not be the role of the government), on race (the Confederate flag should or should not be banned), gender (women should or should not be pastors), etc. and yet have us not allow our differences to keep discussion and fellowship from taking place knowing that in the end we will still be one and must reflect that unity in our interactions with one another. When a person goes counter to the more agreed upon position of the church body may we not demonize that person for love, kindness, gentleness, patient conversation, even forgiveness is called for (2 Timothy 2:24-25) for such is the nature of the Church. So, how wide is your margin?