Apr15WedApril 15, 2020
In this post I would like to focus on just one aspect of what is another excellent chapter in this book: Theological Triage. However, before I get into that, allow me to lay out the structure of the whole chapter.
- Theological Triage – “We should expect disagreements with fellow Christians about third-level matters, and we should learn to live with those differences.”
- Conscience Controversies in the Early Church – “One text in particular addresses this [differences in conscience] very question: Romans 14: 1– 15: 7. In the greatest letter ever written in the history of the world, Paul spends about 10 percent of his time addressing the subject of conscience controversies within the church. We do well to give it the same kind of attention.”
- Seeds of Heresy to the Right and to the Left – “Paul saw the gap [caused by their differing consciences] growing wider and wider. What would he do to keep these disagreements from destroying the unity of the churches?”
- Twelve Principles about How to Disagree with Other Christians on Disputable Matters
- Welcome those who disagree with you (Rom. 14: 1– 2).
- Those who have freedom of conscience must not look down on those who don’t (Rom. 14: 3– 4).
- Those whose conscience restricts them must not be judgmental toward those who have freedom (Rom. 14: 3– 4).
- Each believer must be fully convinced of their position in their own conscience (Rom. 14: 5).
- Assume that others are partaking or refraining for the glory of God (Rom. 14: 6– 9).
- Do not judge each other in these matters because we will all someday stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom. 14: 10– 12).
- Your freedom to eat meat is correct, but don’t let your freedom destroy the faith of a weak brother (Rom. 14: 13– 15).
- Disagreements about eating and drinking are not important in the kingdom of God; building each other up in righteousness, peace, and joy is the important thing (Rom. 14: 16– 21).
- If you have freedom, don’t flaunt it; if you are strict, don’t expect others to be strict like you (Rom. 14: 22a).
- A person who lives according to their conscience is blessed (Rom. 14: 22b– 23).
- We must follow the example of Christ, who put others first (Rom. 15: 1– 6).
- We bring glory to God when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us (Rom. 15: 7).
This chapter is so very helpful in the day-to-day life of the church that I wish all our people would read it. When it comes to third level issues, this is a Biblical approach to take in which we are helped to love God and our neighbour. So much good here!
That being said, I want to address this idea of theological triage.
Naselli and Crowley follow other recent renditions of theological triage by asserting 3 levels of theological disagreements. The following breakdown is taken directly from Conscience (86).
- First-level issues:
- The issues are most central and essential to Christianity
- One can’t deny these teachings and still be a Christian in any meaningful sense
- Examples: There is one God in three persons; Jesus is fully God and fully human; Jesus sacrificially died for sinners; Jesus rose bodily from the dead; we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; Jesus is coming back
- Second-level issues:
- These issues create reasonable boundaries between Christians
- Reasonable boundaries are such things as different denominations and local churches
- These issues will have a bearing on what sort of church you are part of.
- One doesn’t have to hold one particular view to be a Christian, but it’s challenging for a church to have a healthy unity when its leaders and members disagree on these matters
- Examples: Baptism; church government; God’s sovereignty in salvation; The role of men and women in the church and home
- Third-level issues:
- These are disputable matters (also called matters of indifference or matters of conscience). They
- They might involve how you interpret particular passages of the Bible
- Disputable matters aren’t unimportant, but members of the same church should be able to disagree on these issues and still have close fellowship with each other
- Disagreement on third-level issues shouldn’t cause disunity in the church family
- Examples: Who are “the sons of God” in Genesis 6?; How should Christians view the “Sabbath”?; Is it OK to consume alcohol?
I found an excellent blog post on theological triage wherein the author is attempting to aggregate numerous attempts at clarifying this topic of theological triage.
For example, the author shares the viewpoint of Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Daniel J. Treier in their book Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account where he notes the authors' framing of the issue:
- First-level doctrine:
- “one that identifies the persons of the triune God on whom the gospel’s integrity depends”
- “one in which the communion of the saints has already formed a consensus”
- “the agreed universal judgments of the church: what Christians at all times and places must confess in order to preserve the gospel’s intelligibility (the material principle) and partake of the fellowship of the saints (the formal principle).
- Dogmas: “teachings for which the Spirit has seen fit to illuminate the whole church. To deny a dogma is tantamount to apostasy or heresy.” (125)
- Level-two doctrines:
- “treat events (e.g., atonement, resurrection) and aspects of salvation history (e.g., image of God, sin, justification) that must be affirmed, though there is some scope for different interpretations”
- “lack full catholicity: they are the doctrines on which evangelicals who affirm sola Scriptura have not reached agreement”
- “often represent points of significant ‘regional’ difference—points important enough to require for membership and shared ministry within a church or denomination, yet without impeding all translocal cooperation between evangelicals” (125–26).
- Level-three doctrines:
- “allow for considerable freedom of opinion without fostering congregational division. For differences over them are not damaging to the gospel or debilitating for shared mission”
- “That Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead is first order, the nature of the millennium is second order and the exact sequence of events pertaining to the millennium is probably third order” (126).
As you can see, the helpful construct of “theological triage” can become more complex and more nuanced depending on how far you wish to pursue it. For further study, consider starting with the aforementioned post by Joshua Steele: Theological Triage.
Having a clear understanding of what issues are debatable and which are not, is going to be necessary as we pursue unity in a church, and specifically, as we seek to glorify God at West London Alliance Church.