I’ve owned a copy of this photo by Dr. Stanley for a decade and still enjoy the way its colors and imagery are bright yet soft, resembling an impressionist painting. It was a ministry gift in celebration of my 20th year of working at In Touch, and it still brings me joy every day. Not many gifts boast such long-lasting effects.
Curious about my framed view, one day I researched the location. I was shocked to learn other photos are sharper and more finely rendered, the colors far more vivid and flourishes more distinct than my impression of them. Images of this scene taken by photographers with different perspectives and equipment than Dr. Stanley’s look nothing at all like the one I’ve so enjoyed. Alternate views of this castle ceiling appear so dissimilar that it’s a challenge to accept they are of the same place.
I was reminded of these seemingly unreconcilable differences while talking about church experiences with some friends recently. One person spoke about uplifting moments of worship, while another found modern musical style and volume overwhelming. One person claimed that topically oriented sermons were easier to digest and apply, while someone else stated verse-by-verse studies were more methodical and thorough. What’s ironic about these assertions is that, for the most part, we were making them about the very same church.
“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
A familiar quote says, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
Though the author is disputed and often misidentified, it’s telling that this statement has been handed from cleric to philosopher to common man, cycling through the ages as calling, warning, even rebuke. For hundreds of years it’s directed many to lively discussions about what constitutes “essential”—with no universally accepted answers, even (or maybe especially) in the church.
It comforts the Pharisee in me to have a neatly numbered list of essentials, reducing the Christian life to items I can cross off to ensure personal sanctity and providing an indisputable rallying point for all believers. But as in many things, God perplexes us with His generosity. More than presenting a simple list, He gives us the full counsel of His Word as our life’s foundation. We have the life of His Son Jesus as the perfect example of faithful living. And within us we have the Holy Spirit, who provides wisdom for discerning the essentials and navigating our differences about them with humility and compassion.
The believer’s life requires the ability to allow for diverse opinions among brothers and sisters in Christ, on a whole host of matters inside the church and in the world. Arguing about them often leads to “Us vs. Them” thinking, which is divisive by nature and prevents us from seeing value in one another as distinct parts of the body of Christ.
The believer’s life requires the ability to allow for diverse opinions among brothers and sisters in Christ, on a whole host of matters inside the church and in the world.
When I look at this prayer room ceiling, I know I have a unique attachment to it, primarily because of my history with In Touch Ministries. Other people won’t experience Dr. Stanley’s photograph the way I do; instead, they will see it from a different angle or history, and I can accept that. The same should be true of my local church. I have a personal and unique relationship with the place I consider my spiritual home. Other people will experience that same church in a different way, and I can accept that, too. What matters, in the end, is the love that holds us all and binds us together.