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)

And therefore,

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?


About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on May 29, 2009, in Church, Ministry, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Interesting post Pete and I agree with the general thrust of what is being said, but the only question I have is how do we decide which issue falls into which category?

    For example, you say that the consumption of alcohol is an open-handed issue that is not even worth debating, and while I agree with you, you and I both know that there are plenty of bible-believing Christians who would disagree with us at this point.

    Same with regards to ‘worship style’. For some people ‘worship style’ isn’t a open-handed issue because they believe that there is a direct correlation between worship style and one’s theology of worship.

    You’re right when you say it’ll be interesting to see what people think are issues worth dividing for versus those up for debate.

    BTW, think that your last sentence is spot on. The internet doesn’t allow for a lot of finesse.


  2. Hi Peter.

    Great read as always.Thanks for the thoughts

    I have to agree with Gary on this. Over the years of ministry my biggest struggle has always been to work out what goes where. My biggest problem is that I have let things go which, upon reflection, I should have stood my ground. And on the other hand I have dug my heels on other matters, which upon later reflections I should have let go.

    What makes things more difficult still is that what is a life and death issue in one situation is a matter of dialogue in another situation. This was certainly the case with Paul. The way he handles circumcision in Galatians is so different to how he handles it in Acts re Timothy. The way he handles food laws in Galatians and Colossians is so different to how he handles it Romans and Corinthians.

    For me personally I am now feeling this more acutely with my involvement in CCOWE. I’m now facing issues, which previously I could just look on as a spectator, but now I have to deal with personally. And unfortunately my brain is not as big as others. It was so so so much easier working in the tax office.

    Why couldn’t life be so easy?

  3. Just curious which category would this belong to?

    Biblical timeline of Creation versus Scientific timeline

    Perhaps different people might impose different values on such issue, which leads to different implications.

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