As a Bible-believing Christian, it is my conviction that there should be doctrinal unity among Christians in the local church (Eph. 4:1-6). There are, of course, things we can differ on. There are minor issues that we can hold differing views on, that should not divide us. If we can’t accomplish the mission of the church together because of our differing views on minor issues, something had better change; either our character or conviction(s).
I have been reading Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine, by scholar John D. Hannah. It has been a great read thus far. It is an exhaustive read on the history of the development of doctrine. But what makes this book different from any other book on Christian history, is that it contains practical applications about what we can learn from church history and it’s developments. I am finishing up this 395 page book, and read something about doctrinal unity that caught my eye, and I felt it was worth sharing with you. Here is a lengthy portion from John D. Hannah’s brilliant book:
“Doctrines are not all created equal; some are more important than others. Consequently, the Christian theologian finds it useful to talk of gradations of convictions. Think of three concentric circles.
First, in the center ring, there are the essential beliefs of Christianity. These are the core doctrines of Christianity—those beliefs without which there can be no Christianity; those beliefs so central that one should have willingness to die for them. Among these, in my view, are the existence of God, the deity of Christ, the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and salvation by grace without any human merit.
Second, moving outward by ring one, there are beliefs that are reckoned to be important but about which there is legitimate debate among Christians. Examples of these convictions might be particular views of baptism or the Eucharist, church polity, or the chronology of last things. While Christians may hold such convictions with a significant degree of fervency, they are nonetheless subject to a variance of opinion and are not issues that should divide the fellowship of the saints in the broadest sense. Nor should such doctrines hold center stage in our discussions of the Bible. The central things, the topics that should be our most frequent, fervent topics are those in the center circle.
Third, in the outermost of the concentric circles, there are distinctly personal beliefs. They are neither core doctrines of Christianity nor those embraced in a creedal statement by any particular Christian group. They are simply private, personal views that arise from the study of the Bible and the experience of life. Traditionally these have been defined as adiaphora, “things of difference.” They might have to do with certain moral issues that are neither prohibited nor propounded by the Scriptures.
While it is useful to think of concentric circles of beliefs, these three categories are often blended in practice. Sometimes, for example, mere personal beliefs are treated as core truths. My plea is that these distinctions be recognized and that our Christian pastors, teachers, missionaries, and laity make sure that the central truths be foremost in our proclamation of Christianity.
The most important person in all of history is Jesus Christ; he must always be the passionate message of the church. Without Christ, there can be no gospel that is really good news. While there are teachings that are important, greatly adding to the maturity of the church, Christ is the keystone of all.”
Very powerful and practical.
What do you think about doctrinal unity, and the centrality of Christ in our beliefs?
1. John D. Hannah, Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), pp. 342-343.