I greatly enjoyed reading and appreciated several blog posts written recently by Eric from “A Pilgrim’s Progress.” Here are those posts:
- A Question Desiring Answers: Should Christians Reconcile Infant Baptism and Believer’s Baptism
- Struggling with Unity and Baptism
- The Problem of “Second Order” Doctrines
- Unity and Baptism: A Possible Solution
- The Sacraments: What Should Bring Unity So Often Divides
In his posts, Eric considers the popular notion of three order of doctrines. The first “order” would be those doctrines that separate Christians from all others religions and beliefs. The third “order” would be those doctrines about which Christians disagree but do not (or should not) separate believers from one another.
The difficulty comes in what is usually referred to as “second order doctrines.” Christians disagree about these doctrines, and usually allow their disagreements to become reasons for separation. Eric discusses baptism as one of this so-called “second order” doctrines.
In Eric’s questions and study, he found the same thing that I’ve found: their are no second order doctrines in Scripture. There is a never a time in Scripture where one group of believers is told to separate from another group of believers because they hold to different understandings about the things of God.
Instead, we find just the opposite. Repeatedly we find the authors of Scripture instructing believers to come together, to reconcile, to consider others as more important. Yes, they are told, hold to your convictions (about sacrificed meat, or meeting days, etc.) but do not allow your convictions to become stumbling blocks for other brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, yield to (submit to) others.
This is not a popular notion today. Today, many within the church choose to be right (and to prove their “rightness”) over and against yielding to others. We argue over nuances of doctrine that have been argued about for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. We allow these differences to separate us.
When Paul was dealing with people who refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he started by admitting that idols were nothing. The idols were not gods, but were pieces of wood or stone. There was absolutely nothing wrong with eating meat that had been offered to these idols.
However, Paul recognized that some people in the church considered it wrong to eat meat that had been sacrificed to those idols. Because of their convictions, and because of his desire not to cause offense with his brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul said that he would not eat meat around these people. In fact, he said that if it caused problems for his fellow believers, he would never eat meat again.
Note, according to Paul, these people were wrong. They were wrong theologically. They misunderstood God and gods. They misunderstood the nature of idols. They misunderstood what it means to worship God. In spite of their being wrong, Paul changed his own practices to accommodate them and their wrong beliefs because he cared more about his brothers and sisters in Christ.
We need this attitude. We need to recognize that it is possible to hold convictions (about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the nature of salvation, etc.) without separating from other brothers and sisters in Christ because of those convictions.
In other words, we do not deal with people and interact with them and fellowship with them based on their opinions or statements about various doctrines. Instead, we deal with, interact with, and fellowship with people based on their identity in Christ! If they are children of God then they are our brothers and sisters, regardless of how wrong they (or we) might be.
Yes, there are times when we should separate from others who call themselves believers. But, in those cases, we do not separate from one another but continue to call ourselves brothers and sisters. Instead, when we separate from another believer for various biblical reasons, we are to treat that person as if that person is NOT a brother or sister in Christ.
Our disunity is cause for alarm. Eric stresses the urgency and the importance in his posts. Jesus prayed that we would be one even as he and the Father are one. Why did Jesus pray for our unity? Because the world knows that Jesus came from God because of our unity. As it is, the world does not know. In fact, in many cases, the world is convinced that Jesus was just a good man and did not come from God – if he existed at all.
We must face the fact that our disunity (our failure to hold to our convictions without separating from one another) is one of the reasons that the world refuses to believe that Jesus is from God. We are working against our purpose by our disunity and separation.