Which Hills to Stand On
Have you ever found yourself in a long, heated conversation over a very precise point of Christian belief? Or have you ever seen someone who seems to make a huge deal of a doctrine which doesn’t seem all that important?
Or, have you seen the opposite. Perhaps it was a person or a church that refused to approach controversy, and ended up accepting or endorsing all kinds of unhealthy practices, or even ideas which are totally opposite to the Bible’s teaching.
When Christians differ, the deep love and passion we have for knowing God and following him faithfully can turn into discord and division. But the Bible does repeatedly teach us to value sound doctrine, and not to accept false teaching.
So, how do we balance this? Which hills should we stand on?
It is good and useful to think through our beliefs carefully. The Bible provides us with a detailed understanding of who God is, who we are, what he has done for us, and how he calls us to respond.
We honour God by seeking to understand and reflect these truths as best as we can. But we must be able to differentiate between the key issues and the small details, and we must be able to acknowledge that there are some areas of uncertainty where other conclusions can faithfully be drawn from scripture.
The practice of working out how important it is to hold to a specific belief or practice is called ‘Theological Triage’. Much like how a triage at a hospital works to identify how serious an illness or injury is, we should practice identifying how serious a disagreement is.
This never implies that we fail to take biblical belief seriously, but helps us work out how we should respond to any given issue. So, just as in a medical incident, theological triage helps us to prioritise issues according to their order of importance.
First order issues are things which are absolutely essential for Christian faith. These are things that we must not compromise on, otherwise we would be changing what it means to be a Christian. These issues are clearly defined in the Bible, and there isn’t much grey area where there could be different interpretations. Examples include that God is Trinity, that the Bible is his inspired Word, and that Jesus is our saviour by grace alone. You can check out the “Our Beliefs” section on our website for a full list. These are the hills we stand firm on.
Second order issues are things which we firmly believe, but we acknowledge that you could have a different view and still be a faithful Christian. These are things like our understanding of what baptism is and who should be baptised, or how the specific ways that God’s grace relates to our salvation. These are beliefs that we believe accurately represent the teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures. They are important to us and shape who we are and what we do. However, we do not think these convictions should be cause for division. If your conscience objects to these beliefs you are still welcome to become a formal member at Oasis, provided that you agree to respect and honour that these convictions shape the life and practice of our church. Understanding what second order issues are also encourages us to respect our brothers and sisters in churches who differ in these beliefs.
Third order issues are things which have minor theological or practical consequences, or which are difficult to understand with certainty from the Bible. An example of this is the specific ordering of the events before Jesus returns (the events themselves are more important). It is valuable to think through these things as we seek to understand God and follow him faithfully. Some Christians will firmly believe a particular view. But these are molehills, not mountains.
As we learn the art of theological triage, we can become people who hold firmly to the truth, while also remaining united together with other believers as we seek to help more people find the life that only Jesus provides.
Have a blessed week,