We all believe in certain things, but not all of those things carry equal weight. This is especially true when it comes to our theology. There is a big difference between what you believe about the resurrection, and what you believe about the timing of the rapture, or how the polity is going to be structured in your church. Many things may be important, but not equally so. When we value everything we believe equally, we soon find ourselves dividing over secondary issues and neglecting matters of much greater importance.
This is why Paul said in I Corinthians 15:3, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance….”
So, on a particular belief do you draw a hard line, dotted line, or just give a person space? While there may not be a perfect illustration, I have found Al Mohler’s “Theological Triage” very helpful as I process my own thoughts. His original post on the topic can be found here, or a newer abbreviated article is in this issue of Southern Magazine.
I would agree that there are at least three tiers/categories to this discussion:
- The first/top tier is orthodoxy. What doctrines are necessary for a person to truly be “Christian?” Sometimes we have referred to these as “the fundamentals of the faith.” While five of these were distinguished in the early part of the last century, I do think there are more. These would be beliefs that are necessary to have a true gospel, an orthodox faith, and an authentic Christianity. I believe it is very clear that Paul draws a hard line here with orthodoxy when we read Galatians. If we don’t get this right, we don’t get anything right.
- The second tier is one of functional distinctives. These teachings are necessary for a local church to function effectively—such as mode of baptism and church polity. We may have great fellowship with a Presbyterian and even have him preach for us in our church, but we probably won’t be members of the same church. We differ because we interpret certain texts differently. I see this as a “dotted line.” We can both be Christians who love the Lord and seek to please Him in all we do and we can enjoy times together in and out of the contexts of our local churches.
- The third tier is personal convictions. These are matters of conscience or preference. These are important, but believers should be able to differ and still enjoy fellowship within the context of the same local church. Love and respect will “give people space.” It is a Romans 14 spirit within the body and does not prohibit a healthy functioning of the local assembly of believers. In fact, the differences can be a strengthening characteristic.
Over the next few weeks I would like to speak to the implications of our theology and “What Matters Most.”