When Mature Believers Disagree on Secondary Doctrines

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By Dan Delzell , Special to CP
June 27, 2012|7:51 am

While all born again people agree on the Gospel....and the doctrine of the Trinity....and the doctrine of Christ's two natures....we are not in full agreement on many secondary doctrines. This isn't necessarily a problem in and of itself. Unfortunately, we sometimes take it a step further and attempt to push our "pet doctrines" upon one another.

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    (Photo: Dan Delzell)
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I suppose we have all done it at one time or another. We mean well....but sometimes we go too far. We allow our minds to be driven by a secondary doctrine, even though there is much disagreement among mature believers on the doctrinal issue in question.

Pet doctrines can easily promote spiritual pride. Our "enlightened interpretation" can make us feel superior and smarter than all those Christians who don't agree with our perspective. "If only they were as impeccable in their interpretation as those in my group."

It may be our doctrine on the gifts of the Spirit....or our doctrine of the end times....or our doctrine concerning baptism....or our distinct view of church structure....or one of many other issues where mature believers hold differing views.

To grasp how this plays out among Christians, first think about those religious organizations that don't even have the Gospel. Their followers become obsessed in pushing their religion and their man-made doctrines. Why? Because the flesh drives man to obsess over the teachings which he believes make him and his earthly organization superior to other groups. Just look at the Pharisees in the New Testament as an example, as well as the various cults today that have come up with their own unique doctrinal positions.

The obsession with pet doctrines is widespread....but the flesh doesn't only drive unbelievers. Christians too become driven by their flesh at times. This happens when we become consumed to make our pet doctrine a constant theme and focus of our message. After all, we feel it distinguishes us from "all those other Christians." That in itself should be a red flag for us....the fact that we think our select group is the only one among all Christians worldwide to get this issue correct. Yea right.

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There is nothing wrong with Christians holding some disputable views on secondary doctrines, and even sharing their interpretation with others. That happens all the time in churches, and many times it is done in good taste and with respect for other biblical interpretations. But we have to be very careful in this area. Our enemy, the devil, would love for us to see our own discipleship and doctrine as superior to that of mature disciples in other Christian groups.

Maybe you have never fallen into that trap. If so, rejoice....and be on guard. You are not above experiencing this temptation.

Most of us tend to have at least one or two areas where a large number of mature believers hold a different view than our own. If we start to make that thing a regular part of our presentation, we start to become obsessive-compulsive about it....and many mature believers then perceive us as being contentious. That's just the nature of going off on a doctrinal tangent....and all the while, other Christians wonder why that one secondary doctrine seems more important to us than the message of the cross....and more important to us than our fellowship with all Christians.

Unity in the faith does not require unity on secondary doctrines. It's often difficult for those who celebrate denominationalism to fully appreciate this reality within Christianity.

It seems preferable to us at times to continue "beating the dead horse" of our beloved tangent. In doing so, we end up boasting in our interpretation of our favorite secondary issue. We of course don't consider it boasting, but that's often what is going on. In contrast, St. Paul had this attitude: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Galatians 6:14) That fiery passion was not the result of Paul being driven by his flesh. It was the result of Paul being compelled by the Holy Spirit. There is a big difference between the two.

The one message that will always separate believers from unbelievers is the message of the cross. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." (Luke 12:51) You are either for Christ, or against Him. You either get it, or you don't. If you get it, that doesn't make you better than those who don't get it. You can't take credit for understanding the message of God's grace. The Holy Spirit revealed it to you....and you repented of your sins and humbly accepted the good news which you heard. "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor. 1:18)

If you get it, then you have been placed into the same body of Christ as every other believer. Your passionate defense of a secondary doctrine may seem more important to you than what you have in common with all born again people, but heaven does not view it as more important. You may want to read that last sentence one more time....as you ask the Holy Spirit to impress it upon your soul.

Have you perhaps been energized somewhat by a divisive spirit that seeks to lift you up and single you out among your fellow believers? That is a common trait of the flesh....to think that "my doctrinal group" has "one up" on all other believers in the body of Christ. What a misguided attitude! It actually reveals an area where I may be lagging well behind many mature Christians due to spiritual pride in my heart.

I suppose many of us have been there at various times as our "doctrinal hobby horse" puffs us up with pride. We ride that horse off into the sunset while other mature believers are thinking, "Bon voyage....we hope you make it back to us safely when your doctrinal adventure has run its course." We barely hear their words of encouragement because we are so enthralled with our exquisite level of theological understanding concerning the doctrine in dispute.

"What amazing insight my group has on this doctrine! Not only that, but our system of theology is far superior to those other systems of theology in the Christian world today. I guess you could say that our doctrinal group within Christendom is God's true gift to His church and to the world." Oh really. I guess that means that all the other Christian groups don't have many mature believers in their ranks. Wrong.

Wouldn't spiritual maturity enable me to discern the maturity of other Christians who have different views on my hobby horse issues? Cult members do not have that discernment. They are simply cookie cutter representatives of their organization's pet doctrines. Christians, on the other hand, are able to have this discernment....and to walk in freedom of conscience and freedom of biblical interpretation on matters which are far from decisive in Scripture. "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." (Romans 14:5)

It is wise for each believer to ask this question: Are there any secondary doctrines that I am always pushing which tend to be held only by those in my particular group of disciples? We may feel that we are the only ones who really understand this issue in the light of Scripture. We constantly talk about it in our own group....we tend to rally around it and draw strength from it....and whenever we can, we push it upon other Christians. "If only they would get it, all would be well in the church," or so we tell ourselves.

Dear friends in Christ....our common faith in Jesus and His cross is what placed us into the body of Christ as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Any doctrine that tends to be "rightly understood" only by our special group is a doctrine that we should be careful not to push upon others. There are always solid biblical reasons why so many other Spirit-filled believers do not share our view on it. Whenever we lack the discernment to recognize that reality, we are behaving in a way like those people in unbelieving sects where there is not even an ounce of discernment concerning the cross and salvation. In other words, Christians are not immune to putting on blinders when it comes to their pet doctrines.

If your pet doctrine has confused you to the point of believing that only your group has mature believers in it, call a time out....open your mind....and begin to study the lives and the doctrine of Christians who don't share your view on that issue. You have become way too secluded from the rest of the Christian world. You may even lack the discernment to see what really makes a mature believer....and what doesn't. That's what a tangent can do to us.

But hey....it's not too late to come back from your adventure into the outer realms of the doctrinal universe. "Earth to you....come back to the fundamentals of the Christian faith."

Take a deep breath. Look around you....and rejoice in what God is doing in the lives of your fellow believers in the body of Christ....even those who disagree with your conviction regarding your pet doctrine. You might as well start getting comfortable with these other believers....after all, you are going to be spending eternity with them. I assure you that in heaven, you and I won't be trying to push our pet doctrines upon anyone. Hallelujah!

As we pray here on earth, "Thy kingdom come," let us as Christians never forget that God's kingdom is always much larger than my pet doctrine. Let's focus on reaching the lost with the message of the cross....and making disciples of Jesus Christ, rather than disciples who push pet doctrines.

We want to be humble and gracious biblical believers....rather than rigid and smug doctrinal robots.

At the end of the day, Spirit-filled Christians choose to agree to disagree with one another on secondary doctrines....without being disagreeable. Now that's a recipe for spiritual maturity that brings glory to God.... and a strong loving witness to the world.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.
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