As we draw this study to a close, there are three important considerations we must remember.
Look again at Revelation 22:18-19. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
Certainly, in context, this warning applies specifically to the prophecies of Revelation. However, I think there is also a more general principle at work. We are warned in this passage against two serious errors. First, we must never take away from the teachings of the Word of God. What the Bible teaches, we must believe. Second, we must not add to the Word of God. We should not demand what the Bible does not demand. We must take God’s Word as it is – neither adding to it nor taking away.
With that understanding, I believe the following three considerations are crucial.
First Consideration: We Must Learn to Categorize Truth
The trick to this entire process is learning to assign each truth to its proper category. As I have taught this concept, I have been peppered with questions – what about this doctrine? What about that idea? Our task is to fit each truth into its proper category. We must determine what is a Brick Wall doctrine, what is Picket Fence Doctrine, what is Dinner Table Doctrine, and what are Personal Space issues.
One of the persistent criticisms of what I have taught here and of Dr. Mohler’s doctrinal triage is that it designates certain doctrines as unimportant and is thus insulting to biblical truth. That is simply a misunderstanding of this effort. I have maintained repeatedly that every doctrine of the Bible is important and should be held in reverence. We should seek to understand every question and issue that the Bible teaches, from soteriology (salvation) to ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) to eschatology (the end of the age). No doctrine is unimportant. But triage is still necessary, and even its harshest critics use it. We treat disagreements over eschatology differently than we treat differences over the nature of God, the deity of Christ or the truthfulness of Scriptures.
And that is really the key to this doctrinal classification system. It is not the importance of the doctrine, but the appropriate “unity response” to disagreements over doctrines. How do you respond to someone who disagrees over a particular doctrine or issue. Clearly, if someone denies the Trinity or the deity of Christ a different response is appropriate than disagreements over who wrote the book of Hebrews. We all know this.
Unfortunately, there will always be some level of disagreement about assigning doctrines to the four categories. I saw a bumper sticker a while back that said, “If it ain’t King James, it ain’t Bible.” To me, picking a Bible translation is a personal space issue at best. But this person evidently believes it is a much more important issue – a Picket Fence issue at the least. He is willing to separate from me because I use a different translation than he does. We may differ on whether Catholics are outside the Brick Wall or across a Picket Fence. Some will want to put the proponents of Open Theism outside the Brick Wall, while others give them a place inside the community. We will never come to perfect unanimity on all issues. But we must still work to accurately classify and categorize doctrines.
Questions that Determine Categories
And the key to that is asking the proper questions. The first question is the most important.
“Does this doctrine affect the fundamental truth of our faith – the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone?”
If the doctrine is essential to our faith, we must erect a Brick Wall of separation from those who disagree. If we determine that the gospel is not affected by the disagreement, then we ask the second question.
“Does this doctrine affect the functioning of the church in a profound way?”
If it does, it may be necessary to erect a friendly Picket Fence. We will bless each other and accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, but may not be able to worship in the same church. We may maintain our separate homes, but we see ourselves as one community – a community of love and unity. If the answer to the first two questions is no, then we must ask one more question.
“Is this a lifestyle issue on which the Bible does not speak absolutely?”
If it is, we assign it to the “Personal Space” category. I follow my conscience under the Lordship of Christ and allow you to do the same. Everything else is simply Dinner Table truth. We discuss it, debate it, but never divide over it.
May God’s Spirit give us wisdom as we determine which doctrines belong in what categories. May God grant us a greater unity as we continue our uncompromising search for biblical truth.
Second Consideration: We Damage the Purity of the Body when We Inappropriately Devalue Doctrines
There are serious consequences when Christians move a doctrine to a level lower than it deserves. When we treat Brick Wall doctrines as if they did not matter, we compromise truth for the sake of unity and we do fundamental damage to the purity of the church. We were given marching orders by the Lord to “make disciples” by “preaching the gospel to every nation.” If we compromise the gospel, we endanger the mission of the church. A church that establishes peace through doctrinal compromise gains nothing and loses everything. We may have peace, but we will not accomplish the work assigned to us by God.
As I grew up in the church, I heard dire warnings about “the ecumenical movement.” Churches were sacrificing truth for the sake of oneness. A unity bought at the expense of doctrinal purity is no blessing to heaven or to thechurchofJesus Christ. Unity between churches is a wonderful thing – a joy in heaven and a blessing on earth. But it must be a unity based on shared beliefs – who God is, who Jesus is, who humans are, and how God saves them. Not all unity is a good thing. Sometimes, as Jesus told us, we must wield the sword of division for the sake of the gospel.
Every one of the fundamental truths I defined as Brick Wall Doctrine is under strong attack within the evangelical church today. We are often called on to accept the unacceptable. We cannot act as if fundamental truth were just a Dinner Table discussion or a Personal Space Issue. We cannot build friendly Picket fences around fundamental tenets of the faith. We cannot move doctrine down the ladder.
There are truths that we must contend for. It is politically incorrect and personally uncomfortable to do so. But if we will be the church of the Living God, if we will be a pure and Holy Bride, we cannot compromise doctrines that relate to the gospel of Christ.
Third Consideration: We Damage the Unity of the Body When We Inappropriately Elevate Doctrines
Finally, great damage is done to the unity of the body of Christ when doctrines are moved up the ladder to a level higher than they deserve. When someone questions the genuine Christian commitment of another who has a different view of the end times, we grieve the heart of God. When I have a condemning spirit against someone who speaks in tongues (or doesn’t) or against an Arminian (or Calvinist), I bring schism into the body of Christ. Jesus Christ died to redeem ONE body, not many. We may always disagree, but we must never make doctrinal mountains out of molehills. If we do, we offend the blood of Christ shed for that body.
During a conversation with a charismatic friend, I complained about some of the things I had seen from charismatics in the church. I had seen charismatics move into evangelical churches and push their views in ways that divided the church. I had charismatic friends tell me my walk with Jesus was not all it was supposed to be because I did not share their experiences. He agreed with what I said, but told me, “Dave there has been plenty of offense all around.” He told me about the hurt charismatics had experienced in evangelical churches. They had been ostracized, thrown out of churches, and generally treated like they had some sort of infectious disease.
Look at all the hurt we have done to each other over an issue that is not germane to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Charismatics have questioned the salvation of evangelicals, and evangelicals have questioned the sanity of charismatics. We have hurled epithets at each other rather than blessings. We built a brick wall where one was not needed. And in so doing, we damaged the body of Christ and grieved the Holy Spirit.
We cannot sacrifice the purity of the body of Christ by compromising on fundamental doctrines. Nor can we sacrifice the unity of the body of Christ by condemning those who disagree with us on issues that may be important, but are not essential to our salvation. Both of these faults are damaging to the church that Jesus died for. We cannot afford either fault.
Some issues I keep to myself and allow you to do the same. Some doctrines and interpretations we discuss around the table at our home in the Christian neighborhood. Around some doctrines we must erect a friendly picket fence. We may not be able to live in the same house, but we can honor one another as part of the same Neighborhood of Faith. But around a few doctrines we must build a brick wall of separation. With Martin Luther we must say, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” A stand like that will not be popular in this world and may not even be well accepted within the universal church. But we cannot compromise these fundamental truths, not even for unity.
Lord, help us to know which truth fits where. May the Neighborhood of Faith be protected from wolves without and within and may we experience the full unity of the Spirit which you desire.
Brick Walls and Picket Fences: Links to Previous Posts
- In the first post, I introduced the topic. I have had deep experiences in two very different Christian camps – the theological and the experiential – which often seem to be in direct conflict. One desires theological correctness and the other prizes unity over doctrine which divides. I have seen much good in both and desire to find a way to bring them together.
- In the second post, I identified the four levels of biblical truth and the appropriate unity response at each level. Level 1 is the “Brick Wall” – doctrine which is essential to the Christian faith and over which we cannot compromise. We must build a brick wall of separation around these fundamental doctrinal truths. Level 2 is “Picket Fence” doctrine. Some disagreements do not require division but separation. By separating into churches and denominations we can practice our beliefs without arguing. We recognize, at this point, that those who disagree with us are genuine Christians even though we disagree with them. Level 3 is “Dinner Table Doctrine” – truths which we can disagree on even within the same church or denomination. Level 4 is “Personal Space” truth – in which each of us can have our own convictions and not disdain or condemn those who disagree. The key is to learn to properly categorize doctrine.
- In the third post, I introduced “Brick Wall Doctrine” – truths that are essential to the gospel and cannot be compromised in the church.
- In the fourth post, I started listing what I believe are Brick Wall truths, beginning with the perfection of the Word of God.
- In the fifth post, I identified two more Brick Wall doctrines – the nature of God and the sinful nature of mankind.
- In the sixth post, I finished up my discussion of Brick Wall doctrines – examining the nature of Jesus, the gospel and the Second Coming of Christ.
- In a supplemental post, I addressed a few sticky questions about specific groups (open theism, Catholics, etc) and asked whether they are inside or outside of the Brick Wall.
- In the seventh post, I introduced the concept of the Picket Fence, a friendly boundary that provides private space for local churches by allows them to be good neighbors with other churches.
- In the eighth post, I ask the question “Is it a sin to disagree?” and then define four categories of Picket Fence doctrine.
- In the ninth post, I discussed three key steps to maintaining a friendly picket fence.
- In the tenth post, I discuss “Picket Fence Ecclesiology” – a view of the threefold nature of the church that helps with the picket fence process.
- In the eleventh post, I turn the discussion toward “Dinner Table Issues” – truths which may be important but are not worth dividing over in any way.
- In the twelfth post, I begin to examine “Personal Space Issues” – issues of conscience on which Christians may disagree and on which we should not attempt to force our convictions on one another.
- In the thirteenth post, I examine Romans 14 and demonstrate that each believer answers only to the Lord who died for us, and that it is wrong to attempt to exercise Lordship over on another.
- In the fourteenth post, I explore the question of why we disagree and the opposing concepts of legalism and antinomianism.
- In the fifteenth post, I tried to set a pattern for determining “meat sacrificed to idols” issues.