Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Secondary Issues

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."  - along with other similar statements, often attributed to St. Augustine and having great influence upon John Wesley

I've been thinking a lot lately about secondary issues within the Christian faith, or non-essentials if you will, and how that affects our dividing from one another over such issues.  It seems that many of the problems arise because everybody has differing ideas of what the essentials are.  Many elevate secondary - or even lesser or microscopic - issues to that of essential issues.  Many believe we shouldn't divide over secondary issues, but do anyway.  Some are willing to overlook any categorizing of an essential whatsoever and are willing to accept anybody as a Christian.

Some see a solution to all of this in agreeing upon a basic formulation of the faith, such as the apostle's creed.  I tend to agree with this last statement.  Although holding a different position on a secondary issue or more shouldn't cause one to place that one outside of Christianity, secondary issues are nonetheless important.  Does anybody have some ideas on where a line should be drawn between essential and secondary issues?


  1. Yes, it seems like a solution to unity until you have to figure out what the primary things are, and what the secondary things are! One good example is the so-called 'perseverance of the saints' or 'believer's baptism' w. the older options.

    I think that for someone to come up with their own line dividing the two things is to err. I have to go with tradition, something time-tested, that has worked and been tried throughout the centuries and in many different cultures, and yet lasted.

    So yeah, the essentials are the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, from my point of view. This in my missionary work I can work with Catholics and Baptists (and I do, in fact), while I would not be able to work with a Mormon, at least in a spiritual context.

  2. Steve,

    I've struggled with this issue as well.

    I'm done with denominations and have a deep desire to be united with all other followers of Christ.

    That said, sometimes it is very difficult to know who is and who isn't a Christian. I'd like to say that anyone who says "Jesus is Lord" is saved, but we've probably all heard members of blatant cults say that.

    The Apostles' Creed is attractive, but in the end it is a man-made document. The fact that it, along with the Nicene Creed, has stood the test of time says something positive for it however.

    My big problems with those creeds is that they don't deal with the subject of justification. Paul makes it so clear in Romans and Galatians that justification is by faith that I struggle to see how anyone who believes otherwise is truly a Christian. Then I have to ask myself whether or not I'm just playing favorites with certain doctrines.

    In the end I think we need to give people the benefit of the doubt. If they say they are a follower of Christ, I think we have the duty to believe them. As we spend time with them, we will see in their lives (fruit or no fruit) whether or not they actually are a Christian.

    Good post. Thanks.

  3. I think one simple way to distinguish whether or not some of the issues are secondary is this.

    Line up and consider all the Scripture verses that support each side of the issue.

    Then line up and consider all the Scripture verses that support the idea of unity.

    From the divisive issues I've researched, none of them come close to having the same Scriptural weight as unity. Most divisions hinge around a few key verses that give some room for different interpretation.

    The big themes in Scripture (unity is one of them) show up all over Scripture with so much consistency there isn't much to debate.

    I also have come to recognize it's not really my job to judge the heart of anyone. I don't need to know with certainty who is in and who is out.

    But maybe my viewpoint is too simplistic..

  4. Such a difficult question. You've worded it so much better than I have ever been able to express it. Thank you, even if there are no pat answers, for clearly stating THE QUESTION! :)

    My only suggestion - and I humbly admit it's only a suggestion - is to consider Romans 14. I think Paul really understood this so well... I'm pretty sure he would stand up in church and say "Stop the birth-control, yoga, homeschool versus public versus private school, homebirth versus hospital birth, ancient medicine versus modern medicine, AWANA or no AWANA, youth group or no youth group...debates!" And as he says in Romans 14, "GROW UP!"

    My other new favorite on this topic is Ephesians 2 - that THE LAW caused the enmity between the Gentiles and the Jews, but that in Christ Jesus, an entirely NEW man (and faith) have been created. And the enmity is abolished (rendered powerless). My take on it - I tend to come off as a hippie Christian with a lot of love and peace and unity in His strength.

    But does unity have to be uniformity or unanimity?

    Fascinating questions, and wonderful comments amount. I'll be pondering this for years to come (unless you give us the brilliant answer!).

    Resting even amidst the questions,

  5. In my opinion there is no instant solution to this tension between essentials and optionals. It takes time and spiritual growth. Developing unity in these two dynamics must include intense, mutual dialogue, or as the scripture calls it doing the "one another" instructions - admonishing, teaching, encouraging, serving, loving, etc. There will not be God's kind of unity when this dynamic is weakened or diluted. This essential dynamic is almost non-existent in the institutionalized forms of church gathering.
    1. Based on crowd orientation with one-way communication dominating instead of two-way mutual communication. Supernatural unity cannot be developed with substitutes for what God has asked for.
    2. Lots of money is riding on believers maintaining a theological comfort zone where those who disagree with me just find a different brand name and location. 86% of "giving" on average is devoted to buying this system to largely benefit the givers. Believers are only going to hire someone who matches their personal list of essentials and optionals. Any cross dialogue is considered divisive because unity has been redefined as institutional uniformity and unanimity. Saints stay in their little branded box of truths and never examine what they are told with the scriptures to see if it's true. Acts 17:11

    i could give many other ways this system nullifies the commands of Christ and the power of God to bring believes to unity in Christ. This very ancient, well worn system is found to be corrupt when compared with scripture.