After my post on controversy and three levels of doctrine, I came across a short piece written by a Fellowship pastor who is a bit older than me, and who’s certainly seen his share of controversies over the years:
I have written in an earlier article regarding Baptists and fundamentalism. We are fundamentalists in a right sense of the word – but the itemizing of the fundamentals becomes the issue. There are 5 and only 5. These are the non-negiotables, that for which we will not bend.
Next, there are distinctives. Baptists as others are entitled to have their distinguishing elements. I have made the case earlier for the Lordship of Jesus Christ as that distinctive under which all of our distinctives have a place to stand. Church governance, baptism in the mode of immersion for believers, a regenerate membership, and a Holy Bible, for me are those distinctives. I am not going to give a number to distinctives so that there is room for discussion.
Then there are preferences. My considered view of future things, my choice of systematic theology, gender issues for ministry are included here so that there is room for such within a Fellowship without our statement of faith giving my preferences.
Obviously, this scheme of dividing doctrine isn’t new. What’s new to me is that middle level of distinctives or convictions. Many of the schemes I’ve seen only have essentials and preferences. That middle level is necessary, though, or else everything that’s not essential gets swept into the category of preference, which tends to cheapen some important issues.
What’s interesting to me is how hard it is to tell what doctrine belongs in what level. In some circles, the issue of gender roles is viewed as an essential, because they equate an egalitarian view with a denial of the authority of Scripture. This makes little sense to me, but it’s how they see it. I tend to see gender roles in the middle category, but this writer has put it as a preference. We clearly won’t always agree where the issues belong.
A question for you before I give my view, and then ask a question to those who take an emerging view of things. What would you put in the essentials list?