How to deal with theological differences

Christians are divided over many issues, which is the (at least original) reason behind different denominations within the Evangelical confession.

Often these differences become exacerbated and lead to actual divisions of fellowship and an overall loss of the love that should characterise relationships between Christians. Reacting to this, (usually a generation or so afterwards), some Christians try to “break down the barriers” between denominations, especially in para-church ministries. The idea that is often to “put aside those things that divide us and focus on the things we agree upon”.

What follow are some thoughts on the issue.

1. It is important to distinguish between major and minor differences. Is there a division over a major doctrine (e.g. the nature of God, nature of Christ, biblical attributes, Trinity, gospel, atonement etc.) or a minor, “secondary” doctrine (e.g. church polity, service content, eschatological details, Church/State relationships etc.)? In the first case, there is a biblical mandate to separate fellowship (Rom. 16:17; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Thes. 3:6, 14; Titus 3:10; 2 John 9-11). But this does not extend to difference of opinions that are, as far as their proponents can see, biblically sound.

2. Minor differences may reflect differences in greater doctrines. For example, although we might think of ammilenianism and premillenianism as a minor difference, they often originate from very different views concerning the relationship of national Israel and the Church.

3. One way of addressing theological differences is to avoid/deny/minimise them altogether. But this  approach is short-lived benefits because it only allows for shallow, “restricted” fellowship. Sooner or later, differences will crop up again and again in practice, prayer, and teaching emphasis. This is unavoidable because healthy Christian fellowship requires the full extent of biblical truth.

4. The best way to deal with theological differences is to openly clarify them and humbly debate them. This has the multiple effects of

  • a) informing believers of a particular denomination what they actually believe and why; this leads to more biblically-critical thinking and less unqualified emotion – more light, less heat
  • b) informing believers of a particular denomination what “the other side” actually believes and why
  • c) promoting in-depth searching of the Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:11)
  • d) edifying one another (1 Thes. 5:11)
  • e) often casting the differences into their real light as either major or minor, or even as different angles on the same view.

2 thoughts on “How to deal with theological differences

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