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Summary: To accept one another, we are to concentrate on the essentials.

Last Good Friday, nineteen men were crucified in San Pedro Cutud, Pampanga. This Easter crucifixion tradition is “an extreme form of penance”[1] or trying to cleanse oneself from sin. It is good that the Roman Catholic Church expressed disapproval to the practice. According to a priest, “The church does not recommend it because the church is against self-flagellation… when we express our faith to the Lord the Church does not want us to hurt ourselves for us to experience the Love of God.”[2] However, I disagree with what the priest said next: “But we cannot question somebody’s faith. It’s just an expression of their faith. We do not lead their lives so we do not know what happens to them while experiencing that, so we might as well respect it.”[3] Now, I am not questioning the sincerity of these devotees. But we must question the practice.

When we say we accept the different, it does not mean we will agree with everything. Yes, as our acronym goes, we are to ACCEPT one another in Christ. We are commanded in Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”[4] But that does not mean we will compromise the truth of the Word of God. We are to CONCENTRATE on the essentials. When it comes to principles we must make a stand. When it comes to theology we must draw the line.

Now, if it is just a matter of preference, if it is just an issue of taste, we are to CONCEDE differences. We can agree to disagree with each other. Romans 14:1 command us, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” Note that there are disputable matters. Ever since, Christians held different opinions on what food to eat, what clothes to wear, what holidays to observe, and the list goes on and on. But we are “not to quarrel over opinions.”[5] We will discuss more these differences in opinion when we tackle Romans 14 in detail starting next week. What is important is we “Don’t criticize [others] for having beliefs that are different from [ours].”[6] There are some people who think it is their duty to correct everything in others. Sadly, they end up becoming so critical. We are commanded, “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with”.[7]

But when it comes to the truth, the Bible urges us “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”[8] The Message version goes like this, “I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish.” This morning we will focus more on “Concentrate on the essentials.”

Here in Makati Gospel Church, we have spelled out the essentials in our statement of faith. We discuss it during the baptismal and membership class. We also follow the principle, “In the essentials, let there be unity. In the non-essentials, let there be liberty. In all things, let there be charity” or love. Now, how do we spell out what the essentials are?[9]

First, the Bible clearly teaches the essentials. We have no other authority. It is our supreme and sufficient authority. We don’t need additional revelation such as the Koran or the Book of Mormon. According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Everything we need to know about what we should believe and how we should live is in the Bible. There is no church council or church leader, no organization or person, who is above the Bible. Note that I said the Bible “clearly” teaches the essentials. That does not mean that what the Bible teaches are easy to understand. For example, the Trinity or that there is one God in three persons may be hard to accept but it is taught in the Bible.

Second, everything that has to do with salvation is essential. First Corinthians 15:1-4 says, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”. This Holy Week we remember the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to share the good news to others. Romans 1:16 say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”. The truth that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is an essential teaching of the Bible.

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