If you’re like me, you have a hard time keeping your thoughts to yourself…or simple…or short…or remotely uncontroversial…
If you’re like me, you’ve had painful experiences with others using them against you, twisting them, making false accusations…
And, if you’re like me, you’ve noticed these people often spew anger, hurtful accusations, and condemnations due to differences that really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. For instance, a friend was told he’s going to hell because he’s a theistic evolutionist. Not only is that hurtful and divisive, it also doesn’t make any darn sense. Bottom line: most differences just do not warrant the strong emotional responses they are often given, and I’m. So. Over. It.
So I’ve come up with a compartmentalized tier system of beliefs based on one question: If bringing up the topic would definitely cause discomfort and potential division, is it worth bringing up? IOW, is it worth getting our knickers in a twist?
Tier 1: Beliefs that directly impact salvation.
- the “Good News”
This literally defines Christianity’s simplest, most basic form, so disagreements between Christians don’t usually include this. That would be pretty antithetical to the entire religion, even in its broadest sense. If talking to a non-Christian, we should always represent this belief, but never force it on others. Doing so is rude and would likely push them away. If it’s already stated, implied, or modeled, and more mentions would harm receptiveness or boundaries, then don’t do it more.
Tier 1.1: Beliefs that directly impact the treatment/suffering of others, but don’t necessarily impact salvation.
- command to love God and love others
- complementarianism vs. egalitarianism/feminism
- interpretations of modesty, sexual impurity, and accountability
- views on stewardship (environmental, fiscal, spiritual gifts, etc.)
- views on mental health
- hierarchical vs. ecological/mutual ministry, leadership, authority, and servanthood
- interpretations/implementations of “true faith” (think James 1:19, 27; 2:14-26)
- views on justice and equality
Should we discuss these? Abso-frickin-lutely. I don’t care how uncomfortable it is, we should always advocate for the oppressed, mistreated, disadvantaged, burdened, marginalized, abandoned, and unappreciated. Always.
Tier 2: Beliefs that impact understanding of the world, but don’t necessarily impact salvation or treatment/suffering of others.
- creation theories (young earthers vs. old earthers vs. theistic evolutionists)
- christian environmentalism/stewardship (this is both 1.1 and 2 because it does impact people, but many simply don’t understand that)
- views on OT vs. NT God
- the infallibility/inerrancy of scripture
If it’s only going to cause discomfort and division, only discuss these if someone has already begun doing so and the parties involved are responding to another person with hateful rhetoric and/or hurtful accusations. Otherwise, save them for more mature and respectful audiences. Pro tip: Don’t ever contribute to the un-Christ-likeness. Only get involved if you can do so calmly, lovingly, and respectfully, and if your intentions for doing so are to reign in the negativity and abuse.
Tier 3: Beliefs that inform mostly neutral/non-consequential traditions and practices.
- views on liturgy
- denominational preferences (or lack thereof)
- sacramental preferences
Same as Tier 2, with one small difference: these are not objective beliefs supported by indisputable science, history, exegesis, etc. Rather, these are mostly based on upbringing, experiences, and personal preferences. Therefore, while we can discuss them out of interest or learning, these are not points we should approach with a persuasive intent, and they definitely aren’t worth getting angry or compromising relationships over (actually, that would apply to Tier 2 as well).
Keep in mind, these are my tiers. I very strongly feel that feminism belongs in Tier 1.1 because it directly impacts people, but you may not. This is not meant to be a standard for everyone. Rather, this is a personal exercise meant to help me get to know my own values better and be more diplomatic and Christlike toward others. Perhaps if more people employed similar techniques before responding to others, there’d be less spiritual abuse in the Church. Perhaps there’d be less division, instead of 33,000+ denominations all claiming to have gotten it right. Perhaps we wouldn’t drive people away at such staggering amounts. Perhaps love and consideration would abound, instead of condescension and defensiveness. Perhaps we could actually get ourselves in order enough to go out and be the salt-and-light of the world.
P.S. These are not exhaustive lists, just basic outlines.
P.S.S. I’m hesitant to make salvation its own top tier because it provides an excuse to neglect tier 1.1, and I truly believe God cares just as much about how we treat others as He does about our salvation.