Thursday, October 08, 2009
Maintaining the Unity of the Saints
In his book, Vintage Church (co-written with past Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA) Gerry Breshears distinguishes between four different “levels of certainty” regarding doctrinal truths, and maintains that discerning what’s essential and what’s merely controversial is foundational for maintaining Christian unity within a local church. Here are the four “levels of certainty.”
Truths that we would be ready to die for: These are truths, which if denied, would put a person out of the realm of core Christian orthodoxy, and quite possibly indicate the absence of saving faith. An example of this would be the doctrine of the Incarnation (the teaching that Jesus is God and uniquely came to earth in the flesh.) For other examples, think of the sorts of truths asserted in the Apostles’ and Nicean Creeds.
Truths that would be ready to divide for: These are truths which are not essential to salvation nor core tennents of Christian orthodoxy, but would probably be necessary for warm fellowship and meaningful partnership in a local church. Examples would include church polity (who rules and how they rule), the meaning and practice of the Sacraments (who are the proper recipients and how are the elements to be administered.) As Breshears notes, “Such differences are legitimate as long as the unity of the body of Jesus Christ is affirmed and dividing points are truly central issues.”
Truths we would debate for: These are the sorts of truths that are debated intensely, emotionally and sometimes even hotly between members of a church that are growing in Christ, loving one another and ministering together. Examples would include worship music, liturgy, pulpit fare, modes of Christian education and budgetary issues. These debates are conducted in the context of true Christian community and actually serve to unite the brethren. As Breshears notes, “The wrestling may be prolonged or painful, but we do it while maintaining regular fellowship, joining together in worship and proclamation.”
Truths we decide for: These are the sorts of truths that simply reflect or express little more than personal tastes or opinions. Examples would include diet, recreation, music, clothing, entertainment, etc.
Breshears concludes with this helpful comment: “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 the one hand and compromising the faith on the other.”