Necromancer On A Hill

Awhile back, I joined a very good friend of mine in sipping on a Tim Horton’s coffee while conversing about his various ecclesiastical adventures. In between nips and laughter, our conversation extended to the topic of church hoppers and church shoppers. We knew many who were bouncing from church to church, living with discontent and in several instances causing such. Our discussion eventually took on a more personal tone, and we began to question what, if possible, would motivate a sudden exodus on our part from a congregation. What would be the proverbial last straw to persuade us to leave a church? We recognized and clarified that we had a responsibility to Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account (Hebrews 13:17).  We acknowledged that we have a certain required faithfulness to them and jumping the ecclesiastical ship is not something that should ever come lightly, and God expects our loyalty to our local congregation.

During our short discourse (if you want to call it that), we came up with a few items of controversy and a whole lot of potential doctrinal riffs that we felt might send us through the exit door.  The conversation became very real to me because, at the time, certain doctrinal matters were causing me to question my survival in this ecclesiastical environment. The thought of leaving had crossed my mind more than once.  My good friend beaming with Christian maturity said something on a whim that I’ve never forgotten. He said that he’d rather be in a Pentecostal church that practiced holiness than in a Church with completely sound doctrine that didn’t. Solomon couldn’t have said it better! In other words, he’d prefer to be among those whom perhaps he didn’t see eye to eye on every point but practiced a life of holiness, a longing for worship and a love for one another, rather than the theologically proper stiff-necks who were so high-minded that they did nobody any good.


I wouldn’t want someone to get confused about the significance of doctrine and think that I believe that singing Jesus loves me around the campfire will be the ultimate unifying factor of a group of Christians. Of course, what you believe matters! What you trust will drive the actions and outlook of your faith and if two people are driving in different directions, its’ generally because they believe they have two different places to go. What’s even more challenging is when their doctrines cause them to head for each other dead on. There needs to be beliefs that are shared and that are unifying. While it can be tempting to become a scrapper who wants to fight on every theological issue imaginable, we need to find a balance and determine which hill we’re ready to die on.  Not all doctrine falls into the same category, some tend to drive to unity and others, if the line is crossed, may lead to division. Prior to addressing a theological topic, it’s good predetermine if the juice is worth the squeeze. The hills to die on largely need to be based upon what we call the fundamentals of the faith. There are certain issues that are essential and, in many ways, communicated clearly in scripture, while others are a little more on the muddy water side. The goal is always to be as biblical as possible, even if there are some disagreements in systematic theology.


The good folks who wrote past confessions of faith, whether the Belgic Confession, the Augsburg Confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith, or the 1689 London Baptist Confession were focused upon communicating primary and secondary Christian beliefs. While they were interested primarily in the steak, they did allow us to choose our sauce on certain points. They expressed teachings that are foundational doctrines of the Christian faith and without them, there would be little resemblance of authentic Christianity. We call these non-negotiables and in a good church, they’re clearly defined. Here’s a list of items that make it to the top floor:

  • Sola Scriptura: The first of these would include subscribing to the notion that the bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the inspired word of God, inerrant, and in return sufficient for all that the Christian needs in his walk with God.
  • Monotheism: The early Christians were surrounded by a plethora of gods and their worshippers. Today, we are still surrounded but by different gods, with different worshippers. We must be faithful to the idea that there is only One true God, and that He is revealed in the Judeo/Christian scripture. He alone is God, who alone is to be worshipped and who alone exists as the sovereign Lord.
  • Trinitarianism: This same God exists however in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit who are fully God yet distinct in their personhood.  
  • The Gospel:  The Central message of the Gospel should be a point not to mess with. Issues surrounding the efficacy of the atonement of the Lord Jesus as substitutionary, justification by faith alone,
  • The Bodily Resurrection:  Central to many false religions is the idea that Christ didn’t raise from the dead physically, but merely spiritually. Of course, this is a hard case to make considering that people were literally putting their finger inside the marks in his hands and he ate and drank post-resurrection but some will try.
  • The Virgin Birth: For many, this is a challenging one since, well, virgins don’t have babies, but in light of keeping with the miraculous, which any good biblicist will do, we must adhere to the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus.
  • The Visible Return: Avoiding all the landmines that comes with that 2nd coming of Christ, we can all adhere to the idea that an orthodox view of this return of Christ will be visible, tangible and to bring both judgment and salvation. Whatever form that takes.


There are many theological fuses that produce nasty blow ups in churches. If you haven’t seen such heated exchanges, then thank God! Why on earth would someone get so uptight about these things? Well, I would argue that, in a sense, it’s a good thing that they engage in verbal spiring, since it demonstrates that they take the bible seriously. With that said, this is not necessarily the best approach to engage in disagreements on theological points. Many Christians enjoy fighting on every point of doctrine and seem pleased to throw the anathema around like the Popes of Avignon and Rome. But not all points need to result in divisions that are dishonouring to the Lord. What I’m referring to are doctrinal points that we can discuss without showing our brother or sister the door. These are what we call secondary issues. When I speak of secondary issues, I’m not minimizing the importance of these doctrines but merely filtering items that are just not worth dividing over. I want to point out however that these items do have an impact on the Christian walk and in some circumstances, they will affect the way that you approach several primary issues. The point is that these are not worthy of division and while we can debate these in-house, we should be careful not to create friction to start a nasty fire. Here are examples of such items:

  • Election & Predestination: This is the teaching that God has elected and predestined all things prior to the foundation of the world and included in that is a certain peculiar people to salvation. Those who oppose this view see that God’s election and predestination is based upon those whom God foreknew had faith. Of course, this has been debated for thousands of years by greater minds than yours truly. I believe the side of the river you choose will influence many other areas including your evangelism, prayer life and largely your whole outlook on the world. Even with my grandiose linguistics, I still think we can get along on this one with those whom we are in a disagreement since we preach the same message of the gospel at the front end.  
  • Church Government: The question of the structure of the leadership of a church is significant but not a deal breaker. There are various views on church government, whether a single-pastor lead congregation, a plurality of elders or those who subscribe to multiple hierarchies. There are arguments a la galore for all these views, but ultimately true shepherds of the flock are more important than how they are arranged.   
  • Baptism: This is generally the debate between the Credo Baptist who baptize believers only or the Paedobaptists who baptize infants. The issue is more complex than many make it out since it deals with the nature of the NT, the nature of the changes brought by the NT and the question of church membership. With that said, it’s definitely an area where we can agree to disagree!
  • Eschatology: The complexity of this matter alone is a reason to shy away from division. To argue on the premise of law where you have an understanding the end-times beyond a reasonable doubt, is deceiving oneself. Premillennialism, Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, panmillennialism or whatevermillennialism shouldn’t cause divisions within the body. Let’s just say that this is a complicated but significant topic that’s fun to debate and leave it at that!


Still, there are points of disagreements that may be even less substantial than the former two categories, well, depending on who you ask. I’m tempted at this point to duck out from adding this third category, but I feel that that such a classification is warranted. These are some items that get people a little red in the face and let’s be honest, these are generally individuals who’d be willing to fight tooth and nail on just about anything under the sun (with apologies to Solomon). It’s my experience that sadly those who make these minor things major, and their circle of associates seems to get smaller and smaller everyday! Here are just a few examples:

  • Bible Translations: This debate stems on the question of which bible translation should be utilized for study and read in the churches. This generally comes in the form of lifting a particular translation over another. I’m not attempting to minimize the importance of the accuracy of God’s word but simply saying that there are many great translations out there and none are perfect. Yet, churches literally split over this issue!
  • The Lord’s Supper: For some, there is a particularity here on whether to use bread or crackers, wine or grape juice, once a week or once a month, should it be held at the morning service or the evening service. The list goes on and on. This is an area that we have no imperative to follow and so we should be a little humbler and focus on remembering Christ rather than the meal itself.
  • Music: Strangely enough, this one has been at the forefront of much ecclesiastical tension. Whether to sing traditional hymns or contemporary songs, instruments or acapella, these are not choices that should bring about a church split but alas, some have parted ways over such things. Maybe we should focus more upon singing lessons for those who need them!


With all this said, what’s significant to remember that while we have differences, we should still seek to be likeminded and focus upon those things that unite rather than divide. The Lord Jesus stressed the importance of Church unity during the first coming by praying for the believers that they may all be one (John 17:21) and would remain as one flock under one shepherd (John 10:16). The apostle Paul was also strongly convicted of the importance of the accord of God’s people. He wrote to the Corinthians and exhorted them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10). Paul also wrote to the Ephesians that they build up the body of Christ “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians 4:12-13). Paul was adamant of the importance of unity and expressed it often [i] while rebuking those who create dissensions and difficulties in opposition to the doctrine which believers had been taught. Paul even goes as far as to tell his recipients to avoid them (Romans 16: 17-18)[ii]. The scriptural support for Christians being united is not wanting and it should always be regarded as foundational to the purity of the church.


As I’ve insinuated from the previous segments, doctrine is important and what you believe will lead you to the decisions you will make for yourself, your family, and your church. For a Christian to thrive and be a good steward of the things of God, it must be done in a church context. Yes, I know, lots of Lone Rangers out there but even the Lone Ranger didn’t go at it alone, remember Tonto? Being able to focus upon crucial things will eliminate many of these theological grievances

One of the things that I’ve been blessed over the last couple of years has been with a good Pastor. I’ve been fortunate that a man stands in the pulpit each week who respects the word of God and expounds it faithfully. He is a shepherd of the flock who loves people and who seeks to honour his Lord through his faithfulness to that word and through the love for His people. There are many secondary issues and even third tier stuff that we disagree on, but his ability to oversee our church, his love for the church, his sacrifice for the church, and I’m sure, his forgiveness of many in the church, overshadows these differences.

Another important thing to zoom in on is to focus upon the people. The means by which we show the authenticity of our faith is through the love of the brethren (1 John 3:10-11). A church with people who love on another, who are willing to sacrifice for one another and who are willing to forgive one another is a church that will blossom and find the joy of the Lord. They are also a people who practice holiness and strive to be separated from the world in their thinking and in their actions.

Something that the recent pandemic has shown us is that some churches have the Lordship of Christ as a focal point in their gathering, and they’ve refused to allow the secular throne in. Christ is the head of the congregation of God’s people, and we better get that straight in a time when the throne is pushing hard against our door. The ironic part is that Christ promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18), should it be the other way around?


Times have changed even though the Lord has not! Our enemies have mutated, and they’ve gotten uglier and a lot richer. They are constantly launching their attacks and, as I mentioned, continue to get closer to our church doors. While it is fine to engage in the art of in-house debating, we must continue to be focused upon the strategies of the enemy and not brand an ally as one. So, Brethren, put away your boxing gloves until you reach the top floor and prepare to fight the enemy!

These classifications are hopefully helpful in understanding which hills to die on and which ones might be best left alone. Comments are welcome! Let us know what hill you’d be willing to die on.

[i] Also see 1 Corinthians 1:2;10:17; 12:12-26; Ephesians 4:4-6;  Philippians 2:2

[ii] Also see 2 Corinthians 6:17; Galatians 2:11-14; 5:20-21;2 Timothy 3:4-5;  Jude 19


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