20th November 2023

DANIEL STEGEMAN writes about



Divisions (or not)

For a few years I lived in Waverly, NY, which sits right on the New York - Pennsylvania state border.

Rarely a day went by in which I didn't cross into Pennsylvania for one reason or another.
I am also a Canadian citizen and before COVID hit, I would often head north to visit my family.
Border crossing is nothing new for me.

One day I got to thinking about a well-known quote.

"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."

As Christians, there are things that separate us, just as borders separate states and countries and territories.

While I love my Baptist and Presbyterian friends and have learned much from them, we hail from different tribes.
We share much in common, but there are some elements of doctrine and emphasis that separate us.

The same could be said of virtually all denominations.

The first church I pastored was an independent church in Ohio.
We had a doctrinal statement and a mission statement along with other elements that made us unique.
This is true for every church.

I think it would be fair to say that most (not all) churches and church leaders try not to let their distinctives hinder cooperation with other bible-believing, gospel-centred churches.

With that being said, let me also say there is a place for separation.
The Bible clearly teaches separation (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1) from the non-believing and the apostate.

14  Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Etc.

There are going to be times where it is unprofitable (and even damaging) to align ourselves with those who reject Biblical truth and the gospel of Christ.

So how do we know when to separate?
When is it ok to extend the right hand of fellowship and when is it not?
This takes us back to our opening quotation -
In essentials unity, non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.

We all long for unity, but what are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith, that when violated, would force separation?

Years ago, I heard John MacArthur talk about what he calls "the drivetrain of the gospel."
By this he means the essentials of the Christian faith.

MacArthur defines these as belief in "a Triune God, deity of Christ, deity of the Holy Spirit, deity of God the Father,
the virgin birth, the sinless life of Christ, substitutionary atonement, literal resurrection,
salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone."

These essentials, along with a belief and supreme confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, have formed the core of historic Christian doctrine.

If there is anything we should be rallying around which can serve as a basis for our unity, it is these foundational biblical truths.

What about non-essentials?
What would be a doctrinal issue where two Christians (or churches) may differ on, but liberty should be granted?

I would suggest things like eschatology (views on the end times) and ecclesiology (views on church governance/baptism) are beliefs that would fit into this category.

These are matters where it would be unhelpful and unwise to separate from a brother or sister in Christ just because they don't share your particular theology.

No one wins when all our energies are being poured into non-essentials that separate instead of essentials that should unite us.
Charity is always the goal and aim of Christians (1 Corinthians 13).

Is there a place for standing for the truth?
As it says in Jude 3, "I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints."

Satan is waring against the church of Jesus Christ like never before.
He knows his time is short.
Let's make sure we are armed and prepared to stand for biblical truth and the essentials of the faith.

But let's make sure we are fighting the right battles.
And remember,
"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."

This is an edited version. The full article and Bible references are avaiable on request

Daniel Stegeman
(DMin, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary) has been in pastoral ministry since 2008 and is co-host of the Before You Quit podcast.
He blogs at and is the author of "Help! I Want to be a Loving Husband".
He also writes regularly for Focus on the Family and the Gospel Coalition.
Daniel and his wife Stephane make their home in Lewistown, PA and are the proud parents of Elizabeth, Anna, John, and Jeremiah.


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