Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Doctrinal Tiers

In recent months, there has been debates going on in SBC circles concerning what beliefs we must share in order to be missions cooperating Southern Baptists. In the course of this discussion, some have proposed that we examine issues/doctrines based upon a priority or tier system. The basic proposal is below.

Tier 1 --- An Essential Doctrine Necessary To Be Considered a Christian, for a Denial of this Doctrine is a Denial of the True Christian Faith.

Tier 2 --- An Essential Doctrine Necessary to be Considered a Southern Baptist Christian, and if One Disagrees With It, He Cannot Serve in Leadership of the SBC.

Tier 3 --- A Low Priority Doctrine that Is Not Necessary to Believe in Order to be a Fully Cooperating Southern Baptist (leadership, missionary, trustee, etc..).

Here are some examples

Deity of Christ is easily Tier 1.

Believer's Baptism by Immersion is more like a Tier 2 doctrine.

Specific End Times Understandings--Dispensational/Amillenial, Pre-Trib Rapture/Post-Trib Rapture--would be more like a Tier 3 Doctrine

The problem is agreeing on where a doctrine or issue fits. Not all doctrines are worth dividing over, not all are hills on which to die. Let me ask you a couple of questions.

How valid is this breakdown?

What other examples can you give and your suggested Tier placement?

Do you have any experiences when you witnessed people dividing over less important issues?

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,



Rick Cook said...

I think it is essential for us to discuss church doctrines. As Christians we need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and be able to express our belief. Last year I made the decision to leave a church I was serving as an adult Sunday school teacher and elder because of a difference I had over doctrine. This church believes that water baptism is a necessary element of salvation, and Christians can lose salvation by bad works. I never accepted these beliefs and finally decided it was necessary to attend another church--UBC.

It is no surprise to me that a church that teaches a doctrine of salvation by grace and works (water baptism) would also not believe in eternal security of the believer. Salvation by grace alone, through faith, is directly linked to belief in eternal security. Having been saved by God's grace, must I thereafter work to keep myself saved? Sadly, many Christians believe and teach this.

I would place the issue of water baptism necessary to salvation as a tier 1 matter. Since I see the issue of eternal security so closely linked to the doctrine of salvation, I would likely place it in tier 1 also. As my experience shows, I believe we must divide over tier 1 issues, and I can now better understand why there are so many denominations. What bothers me is seeing Christians divide over non-doctrinal matters that don't rise to the level of any tier.

Kelly Reed said...

Your example is a hard one to determine exactly where it fits. Baptism and the nature of salvation are truly vital.

I struggle knowing that there are denominations and churches that believe baptism is necessary for salvation--baptismal regeneration, and that you can lose that salvation. However, we still would agree on the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, salvation in Christ alone, the resurrection and other important doctrines.

Do I believe those positions are correct? Not at all, however does it automatcially put them outside the body of Christ? I'd say no, though it makes truly entering it harder. They are wrong and deceived and missing out on the assurance and freedom of faith in Christ alone, by Christ alone.

Those issues would however, divide me from them as a practicing Christian--I would not attend a church that taught those doctrines, nor would they qualify as a Baptist church.

Believer's Baptism by immersion as a response to what Christ has already done and a pledge of faith to discipleship is a distinctive of baptist theology--though not of the whole body of Christ.

In my mind this would be high on the
list of Tier 2 doctrines and borderline Tier 1.

We do divide too easily. I know some congregations divide of the color of the carpet in the building program.

The great thing about the Cooperative Program in SBC life is that we hold most things in common belief, even though we differ on lesser, Tier 3 issues, we can still unite and cooperate and pool our resources and efforts in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Any other thoughts?

Thanks for participating!