Thursday, June 09, 2011

Secondary Issues

What constitutes a "secondary" issue within Christianity is not a difficult thing to determine.  I don't think, anyway.  There is constant debate about so-called secondary issues - those issues that are not essential to the Christian faith as far as salvation.  Recently I have read a number of things about this, and quite a few people seem to think that secondary issues are made primary depending on who it is doing the deciding, and we'll never come to agreement.  So, it's a hopeless topic.  But, hey folks, I think it is easier than most people think.

The essentials of the Christian faith are not difficult to identify.  The virgin birth, the real and actual death, burial and resurrection of Christ.  The Lordship of Christ.  The gospel.  The second coming, and so on.  These things have been held throughout history by the majority of the church, and they continue to be core beliefs.  The early creeds are an example.  Whether somebody drinks beer or wears certain clothes or allows their daughter to go to college or has a certain form of church government or whether women wear pants or even whether somebody sprinkles or dunks during baptism simply aren't essential doctrines.  People make them out to be, and that's the problem.  Denying that Jesus came in the flesh is a major problem, but denying that every last Christian child must be homeschooled isn't.

And there's a big difference between having convictions that you un-hypocritically hold to and judging other people based on those convictions.  The list of trivial things that are used to judge and condemn people - even to an eternity in hell - doesn't end.  Think about it.  God is going to cast a professing Christian into the lake of fire on judgment day to spend an eternity in hell because they drank a beer now and then?  Because they wear the latest fashions and dress well?  God is going to let you into heaven but stick you in a golden corner with a jewel laden dunce cap on because you baptized people the wrong way?  Think about what that means.  We would be willing to wish the worst on our brothers and sisters because of our personal preferences and pet doctrines?  What kind of Christian attitude is that?  It's the kind of attitude that Jesus says will condemn the Pharisees.

I'm not claiming innocence on this, as I spent a good amount of time in legalistic churches and groups, and learned how to judge people harshly on secondary issues.  But once God shows you the ugliness of it all, it is refreshing to not waste so much energy on condemning others.  It's a freeing thing.  And that's one of the things that Jesus came for.


  1. This is good. I have some beliefs and practices in Charismatic Christianity that not everyone believes. It's OK. It's why I get so cranky about end time stuff. The essentials are essential. Everything else is interesting but not essential.. To being a child of God.

  2. Hi Steve,

    I get the idea that some things are "primary" and that primary means things that matter on the gospel/salvation. But I am still vacillating on what constitutes secondary issues and whether they are important enough to contend for.

    Is there nothing worthy of our pursuit beyond "getting saved?" If so called secondary issues really have a deep impact on how capable people are of following Christ because of what they teach and the corresponding values it develops,
    Should we just shrug?

    For example, issues such as how we dress would be categorized as trivial by most people. Casual-suit whatever. Unless...

    Unless the people advocating we dress to the nines are doing so because they believe God wants us to be wealthy, and if we follow some magic rules, God will bestow copious wealth in return. In this case, what is advocated turns believers into those seeking riches, wanting to live ostentatiously and selfishly because they are told this is what God expects if we follow Him.

    I'm not sure I'm OK with people advocating beliefs and teachings that war against our following Christ.

    Yes, I get the idea that if they are sincere, God will straighten them out--He is the Head of the church. But I don't hear Paul saying things like this. I hear him challenging and strenuously arguing against a wide array of what we may want to call "secondary" issues. Helping one another follow Christ and live in the process of being transformed into His image is (I think) important to God. But it isn't eternity in hell vs eternity in heaven--the "saved" "primary" issues.

    I struggle with the hugely important issue of unity and accepting one another and what to do in the face of "secondary" issues that do great harm to the saints (which I also think are, in God's view, pretty important)..

  3. Art,

    You bring up a good point, and it is something that I should address in another post. What I neglected to say about secondary issues in this post is that I'm talking about having liberty with doctrine and practice that doesn't have a direct result of sin. It seems that these are the issues Paul writes against. Teachings that war against our following Christ, as you said, would be teachings that would fall into a category of false teachings and not necessarily secondary issues.