We live in a heavily divided society. Democrats and republicans, rich and poor, black and white, religious and atheist, etc.
Unfortunately, the church is no stranger to dividing lines.
While it’s understood that Christians are to “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (Eph 4:3), the question often arises as to when it is appropriate and even necessary for Christians to divide. How important is a specific doctrine? When is it necessary to divide over a stance and when is it appropriate to simply discuss our differing views?
Dr. Gerry Breshears, one of my professors at Western Seminary, offers a helpful guideline for Christians to discern the significance of certain beliefs. He classifies doctrines and beliefs into four separate categories: die, divide, debate and discuss.
Doctrines that you would die for consist of essential truths that, if denied, the validity of the gospel would be discredited. Essentially, if these truths are not affirmed by someone, the person would not be a Christian. Here are a few examples:
- the divinity of Jesus
- the humanity of Jesus
- the death of Jesus
- the resurrection of Jesus
- salvation by faith in Jesus alone through grace alone
This category of doctrines is made up of stances that, should two parties differ, it would be wise to divide. This does not mean that that the dividing groups doubt the others’ faith. It simply means that these doctrines hinder partnership in ministry together. Here are a few examples:
- complementarian or egalitarian
- calvinist or arminian
- authority of scripture
- views on marriage
In this section of beliefs, there are views that can be debated in house but at the end of the day should not divide people. We can hold to opposing convictions and yet still be on mission and worship together in one local church. Here are a few examples:
- style of worship
- continuationist or cessationist
- creation and evolution
- young earth and old earth
- end times
- political or social topics
- infant baptism or believer baptism
These items essentially don’t matter in regards to salvation. Churches will undoubtedly consist of people who take a stance all across the spectrum. Here are a few examples:
- secular music and Christian music
- rated R movies
- drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco
- bikinis, tankinis, one-kinis and any other type of “kini”
It’s vital for us as Christians to understand these categories as well as learn how to better discern where each of our views fall under. We don’t want to be “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching” (Eph 4:14) but instead, when storms of controversial doctrines confront our faith, we may endure the waves of deceit and stand firm in Truth.