Decide, Debate, Divide or Die For?
Pastor Mark Driscoll and Dr. Gerry Breshears’ new book Vintage Church has a really helpful bit in their Q&A section following chapter 6 on ‘Church Unity’ (pages 158-159). In it they identify what they call four levels of certainty.
At the top are the truths you would die for. These are essential gospel truths that if one were to abandon, you’d be outside of the historic Christian faith, evangelicalism and perhaps even salvation. Things in this category would include the virgin birth, the full-divinity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection etc. I guess these would be your absolute ‘closed-hand’ issues.
Next are the truths you’d divide for. You don’t consider those who differ as outside of the faith, but you wouldn’t say, partner with them, invite them to speak at your church or fly under the same banner as them. In this category might be issues such as women in ministry (complementarian or egalitarian), Arminianism or Calvinism etc. These are also ‘closed-hand’ issues for your church, but there’s a caveat in that you shouldn’t allow arguments with them to
drain significant energy from our worship of God and hinder building godliness and proclaiming the gospel. (p. 158)
Instead of blogging about them, talking trash, or sending hate mail condemning them to hell, we should love them and emphasize our unity in the essentials. (p. 158)
(I think perhaps we in Sydney have a bit to learn from the above caveat.)
Next are the truths you’d debate for. These are issues you might engage in healthy debate over (perhaps even emotional debate over), but in the end you’d do it while
… maintaining regular fellowship, joining together in worship and proclamation.
In other words, you’d still count them as partners, you’d still fly under the same banner as them, you’d still consider them your allies in the work of ministry, even if you disagree on some things and have healthy debate over them. I guess these would be ‘open-hand’ issues such as worship style, politics and (perhaps controversially) whether one is cessationist, continuationist or somewhere in between.
And last are truths we’d simply decide for. These are ‘open-handed’ issues that really don’t matter in the end and aren’t even worth spending time debating about – e.g. whether you can have alcohol, whether you raise hands during singing, whether you sponsor a child or not.
Their conclusion is worth quoting:
Divisive people are ones who elevate lower-level issues to divide fors. False teachers treat die for issues as questions open for humble discussion. As we utilize these levels as a community of believers, we can avoid the trap of being unnecessarily divisive on one hand and compromising the faith on the other.
I think these observations are quite timely in the current climate of theological discussion and what’s making rounds in the blogosphere. In my mind, there are a lot of issues I would like to think are in the debate for basket that hopefully means people can differ while still being courteous and loving, keeping in mind that we are partners together in the work of the gospel in our city. But I fear that there are people who want to regard all of the issues being debated for as issues to divide for (or worse yet) to die for. Or perhaps unwittingly, by the tone with which we blog, comment or debate, we give the impression that these truths being debated over are in fact truths we ought to divide over.
I’d be interested to hear what you and your churches would consider as issues to divide for versus debate for?