When I first began my ministry, I served in a church with clearly defined doctrinal tests of fellowship. We understood that there were Christians – good Christians – who didn’t hold to the same beliefs that we held, but the consensus was that fellowshipping with “those” people was probably not a good idea.
Over time I came to put some of these differences between Christians into the category of “major minors.” A “major minor” is something that is an important enough difference that varieties of opinion might be hard to manage within a local congregation, but they are not issues over which believers should separate.
Baptism is one example. I was ordained a Baptist pastor, and I am firm in my belief that baptism is to be administered as a profession of faith in Christ and pictures our being buried with Christ in his death and raised with Christ in his resurrection (Romans 6:1-11).
When I was younger, I cast a wary eye toward believers who practiced infant baptism. I have read the argument for infant baptism, and I think I understand it, but I am still a Credobaptist. It’s important. I don’t believe that you can practice both Credobaptism and Paedobaptism in the same church without confusing your people. But it’s hardly a test of fellowship.
Younger guys may read this and think we were, well, neanderthals. Understood. But I was a product of the generation that trained me and having those distinctions was part of the culture in which I was raised. To be fair, they existed on “the other side of the aisle” too. Thankfully, we’re in a different place today.
Let me share a few thoughts about what you believe:
First, know what you believe. If you haven’t had to prepare a statement of belief, do it. Are there areas about which you are uncertain? Don’t minimize them. Take time to study them out and arrive at a conclusion. Pastors can’t afford to be doctrinally ignorant or ambivalent.
Hold what you believe about the “major minors” with humility. Recognize that while you may be firm in your convictions, there are others who hold to other views that fit under the umbrella of orthodoxy. The example above about baptism is one of many. In preaching or teaching about some of these areas, be charitable toward the opposing view. Be careful that you don’t vilify someone who holds a different view on baptism, spiritual gifts, eschatology, etc.
Realize that some of your views may change. You should always be learning, and learning will lead both to reinforcing and refining of what you believe. When I left Bible College, I was a card-carrying, chart-waving Dispensationalist, with my eschatological views firmly nailed down. As time has gone on, my eschatology has morphed a bit. I have a set of conclusions I’ve reached about the end times, but I’m more open to the possibility of being wrong at 66 than I was at 26.
Make sure your beliefs line up with the church in which you are serving. While I was in Bible College an opportunity arose to serve as a youth director in a nearby congregation. This was a Christ-loving congregation, but they held a different view on the security of the believer than I did. So they asked me not to even talk about the issue of eternal security. It was only a few months into the job that I realized that I had made a mistake. My ability to teach the Bible clearly was handicapped by what I had agreed to. I respected their view, but I couldn’t live with that restriction. So I resigned.
I could give other illustrations, but suffice it to say that doctrinal incompatibility is going to lead to one of two things, neither of which is good. You will either have to teach with a muzzle by not teaching clearly, or you will create division by teaching contrary to the beliefs of the church and/or denomination. If you cannot hold to the doctrinal statement and convictions of the church in which you serve, then move on, trusting God to provide a new path for you.
Paul told Timothy “Watch your life and doctrine closely (1 Tim 4:16, NIV). There are doctrines that are absolutely central to the Christian faith. Hold tightly to them and don’t give ground when they are attacked. But on other matters, we want to be firm in our beliefs, yet gracious toward the orthodox beliefs of others. And we want to be instruments of peace, not those who cause division.