We are committed to being a church that practices unity in essentials, liberty in disputed matters and charity in all things. This framework provides a way for us to be in community as we encounter those “disputed matters” of faith (Romans 14) in which we might have differing viewpoints and interpretations.
In Essentials: Unity
We cannot forget the deep and abiding truths that unite all Christians. Simply put: there is more that holds us together than divides us. This is true of both the things we believe and the actions we practice. We are committed to intentionally remembering and living out this truth.
When asked “What are the essentials?” we point to the most widely and longest held creeds of the Church: the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:5-11 are also concise expressions of the Christian faith that point to the essentials. These things are central to the Gospel and our understanding of God’s redemptive work in the world.
In Disputed Things: Liberty
Debate and disagreement are not new phenomenon among Christians. We have often had deeply held, conflicting viewpoints about issues and doctrines. Unfortunately, when disagreement arises a common reaction has been to label the other side and then separate. But there is another way.
In the early church, there were several issues that caused deep debate, as they should have. The issues found in Romans 14 and Acts 15 were related to how one interpreted the Ten Commandments and understood God’s covenant with Israel (eating meat sacrificed to idols [violating the first commandment] and lax Sabbath observance [breaking the fourth commandment]). We shouldn’t be surprised that this caused significant and contentious debate.
And yet, in these two passages we see the early church maintaining unity by staying centered on essential things (the outpouring and work of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s death and resurrection), trusting God to judge fairly, and giving liberty in disputed matters.
We are striving to do the same. This doesn’t mean that we’ll trivialize our differences or always end up agreeing. It does mean we will give each other liberty to live out our convictions in community. In doing so, we believe we will find greater strength and a deepening of our faith.
- Liberty in our Convictions
We will give each other liberty in our convictions about “disputed matters” — not requiring that anyone hold a certain viewpoint on these issues, but instead, spurring each other on to seek God’s Spirit for wisdom.
- Liberty and the Holy Spirit
We can give each other liberty because we trust God’s Spirit to lead and guide our lives towards truth. We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in all of God’s children, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic status, moving, shaping, and transforming our minds and hearts into Christ’s likeness. This truth frees us from the all too common human tendency to judge our neighbor.
- Liberty and Relationship
Make no mistake: liberty requires humility. It asks us to admit that we might not see the whole picture and we may have something to learn from those we disagree with. It asks us to surrender our ego for the sake of the other. In doing so, we create space for diverse people to be sharpened by each other as they enter into meaningful relationship. We believe that the world desperately needs examples of communities like this, and what’s more, Jesus calls us to be this kind of community.
In All Things: Charity
Love is the command on which everything hangs (Matthew 22:34-40). It is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:10). It is Christ’s greatest commandment. Therefore, in every interaction, in all places, with all people, we will seek to live out love with excellence and abundance.
A Contemporary Example
Today, North American Christians are mired in a debate as they attempt to discern how their faith leads them to understand same-sex marriage. Are same-sex couples to be accepted and received in the church in the same way that opposite gendered couples are accepted and received?
At the Branch, the answer is “yes” and we have come to this position by using the framework of unity, liberty and charity.
Giving each other liberty means that those at the Branch with an affirming viewpoint on same-sex marriage give people with a historical viewpoint liberty to hold their convictions, and vice versa. It also means that liberty will be given to those who are LGBT+ as they seek to live out their lives according to God’s leading. Again, Liberty doesn’t mean that we will all agree, but it does mean that we will act with love towards each other regardless of our position, will commit to live in supportive community and hold to unity in essentials of the Gospel.
A Guiding Principle
The framework of unity, liberty and charity applies much more broadly than to just the conversation about human sexuality. It is a way for The Branch to navigate any area of faith in which we have varying viewpoints and interpretations.
If you look back on our life together as a church this is not a new way to approach conflict. From the beginning we have given each other liberty in areas such as viewpoints about war, convictions about end-times theology, capital punishment, and political and policy beliefs to name a few. In these areas we have come to different convictions about what the Scriptures lead us to believe or do, and yet we have remained committed to unity.
We take our cue from the early church. Acts 15 and Romans 14-15 show us that those first Christians debated core issues and through it all Paul’s instructions are to pursue peace and the things that lead to building each other up (Romans 14:19). The call for staying in relationship despite significant differences is clear — including Jesus’ prayer for unity in his final hours (John 17). And so as we move into a complex and unknown future, we are steadfast in our dedication to share a deep unity in the Spirit even when we have sharp disagreements.
In this, we hope to bring glory to God the Father, honor to Jesus Christ and praise to the Holy Spirit.