I have often said that if you want to live a quiet and peaceful life, there is a sure-fire recipe for this: simply say nothing, do nothing, and seek to be nothing. Do not comment on any controversial issues of the day; do not get involved in any hot potato debates; and do not dare to have a strong opinion on anything.
That way you will have a relatively easy run through life. Of course if you are a believer who thinks and acts this way, then you have declared yourself to be disloyal to your Lord and your calling. Believers are commanded to be truth bearers and to be salt and light.
Of necessity that will mean that you will have to be involved in the hot topics of the day. A Christian faith that says nothing about the issues of the day and cares nothing about the world around it is not a genuine Christian faith. Too many believers are craven compromisers who will never open their mouths for Christ and the Kingdom. That is completely unacceptable.
But here I want to talk about various controversial issues which can also cause all sorts of division and animosity, but are – in my books – actually secondary issues. They are important but they are not absolutely crucial issues. They do not impact on one’s salvation for example.
I have been involved in dozens of bruising battles over some of these matters. Some people treat these issues as the most important thing there is, and if you dare to take a different position on them, you will be treated like the Antichrist, if not worse!
There are many of these issues that are such hot potato topics for believers that no matter what side you are on, you are guaranteed to get blasted and hated on by some folks. And I speak from experience here! This has happened to me far too often regrettably. It has not been pleasant.
Let me offer just a short list of such matters. Many more could be added to this list, but these will suffice to prove my point: daring to publically discuss some of these things will more than likely get you into big trouble!
-Should there be women leaders? (in church and at home)?
-Should Christians drink alcohol?
-Should Christians celebrate Christmas?
-Should Christians celebrate Easter?
-Should Christians get tattoos?
-Should Christians support the death penalty?
-Should Christians own firearms?
-Are the charismatic gifts for today?
-Is the rapture theory biblical?
-Is the premillennial view the only one a believer can hold to?
-Is the KJV the only Bible we should use?
As mentioned, these are for the most part all secondary issues (and for even saying this I will be ruffling some feathers). That is, you will not go to hell if you have a tattoo or drink a beer or celebrate Christmas. You will not be eternally damned if you believe in the rapture or don’t believe in the rapture.
You will not be barred from entry to heaven if you happen to be an amillennialist, a postmillennialist or a premillennialist. You will not be rubbed out of the Book of Life if you say “Happy Easter”. You will not be consigned to eternal flames if you favour the death penalty.
These are basically areas where Christians can and do disagree, and we should be willing to cut each other a bit of slack here. These are matters where we should have some freedom to disagree on. Conformity of belief on these sorts of matters is not biblically required.
Sure, most of these matters are important indeed, and we can see why people get so passionate in their stance on these things. But we should put our real efforts and willingness to go to battle into the primary doctrinal issues. For example, if someone claims to be a Christian yet denies the deity of Christ, then that is a very serious matter indeed.
That is an issue we must be willing to go to the wall over. That is a fundamental teaching which we must not compromise on or pretend it is just a give or take issue. There are of course other vital biblical truths that Christians must insist upon and fully defend.
The triune nature of the Godhead would be another. The fact that the Bible is the authoritative and unique word of God is also a basic fundamental truth to be championed. That salvation is based on the substitutionary work of Christ at Calvary alone would be another one.
Of course even here there are some differences in how we approach these issues. Does belief in an authoritative Scripture also demand a belief in inerrancy? I think it does but I realise some believers take a somewhat different stance on this and related issues.
So while we are to affirm and defend basic biblical fundamentals, there is still room for humility and grace as we seek to fine tune these teachings. So care is needed, both in terms of deciding which issues of doctrine and practice are primary, and which are secondary, and in getting the balance right in speaking the truth in love. That is, we must be gracious while we defend orthodox Christian beliefs.
And part of that means being willing to ease up on the heresy hunting that so often occurs here. Far too often someone who holds to a differing perspective on a matter, especially a secondary issue, is regarded as anathema and rebuked as a heretic.
This happens far too often and has got to stop. I have written about this before and encourage you to have a read: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/09/on-heresy-hunters/
As I wrote there:
Christian fellowship and unity must be promoted where possible, and learning to get along with those who do not fully see eye to eye with you is a mark of Christian maturity and wisdom. Wanting to pick a fight with anyone over anything and everything is not.
And as is often the case, there is a fine line running between arrogant, proud pugilists who seek out enemies everywhere, and those who will staunchly stand for biblical truth, but will do so in love, recognising that secondary issues can be treated much more lightly.
So I plea to all the heresy hunters out there – and undoubtedly some folks will think that I am one – to be prayerful, careful and humble as you stand for truth. Staying on your knees is the very best place to be fighting for biblical and theological orthodoxy.
I realise that even what I have suggested is a secondary issue will enrage some believers who will call me out as a heretic for daring to say their pet belief or cause is not a primary truth for all people for all times and for all places! You just can’t win in other words with some folks.
But hopefully most Christians will be humble enough and gracious enough to realise there are some things we can legitimately disagree on without fear of being cast into outer darkness if we have an opposing point of view. Biblical unity is important. We do not compromise on core truths, but we show grace when we can in fact have a range of views.
As I said, if you want to live a peaceful and very easy-going life, then do not have an opinion on anything. Or if you do, just do not share them in public! Just keep it all to yourself. But truth matters, and important truths deserve to be earnestly contended for, privately and publically.
But there are many truths which are of lesser importance in terms of one’s eternal destiny and the like. So please pray for grace and wisdom as we discern the primary from the secondary, and as we learn how to interact with those who differ with us. Our Christian witness is really at stake here.