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An awkward freshman year expe­rience: After just picking up lunch at the Knorr Family Dining Room, you encounter an intense debate at the cir­cular table where you plan to sit down. The topic: reli­gious doctrine.

Veteran cafe­teria-eaters know to turn the other cheek to such fruitless bouts of emotion, even to the point of having “religion-free” tables to stop the discord from taking over every meal, but everyone has probably gotten stuck in it at one time or another.

Such fierce debates are not over the res­ur­rection or deity of Christ, however. No, it’s usually about less vital matters: pre­des­ti­nation, tran­sub­stan­ti­ation, and the like.

While some of the con­ver­sa­tions admit­tedly end up with some insight or change of heart, most feature indi­viduals who are unwilling to waver from their points of view and only par­tic­ipate because they enjoy the activity of debate.

Wit­nessing such dreadful con­flict between friends leads one to wonder: how important are these reli­gious dif­fer­ences? For Chris­tians, isn’t it enough that they are united under Christ?

This brings up the con­ver­sation of non-essential versus essential doc­trine. Should we split over some things but not others?

Equip Min­istries sought to address these ques­tions at their Pastors’ Forum on Thursday, Feb. 18. Pastor Scott Cress of First Pres­by­terian Church, Father Adam Rick of Holy Trinity Parish, and Pastor Bob Snyder of Coun­tryside Bible Church were the rep­re­sen­ta­tives who took ques­tions on the subject.

Snyder started out by describing the pos­itive aspects of differences.

“Essential doc­trines create a center for unity,” Snyder said.

Snyder also said that the adi­aphora, or matters of indif­ference, are natural in the church. Snyder said we need to keep this in mind as we interact with others.

“Beyond the Gospel and the moral law, let things be done in faith and love,” Snyder said. “These things are matters in which Chris­tians are going to do things differently.”

Cress sup­ported this diversity in form of worship.

 “I think we are too worried about insti­tu­tional unity some­times,” Cress said. “If you know the person in the church down the street is a Christian, and you don’t question it, and they are doing their thing and you are doing your thing, have you really dis­obeyed Christ?”

C.S. Lewis, for example, has the analogy of dif­ferent denom­i­na­tions as rooms, Cress said. We can still have unity in Christ but in dif­ferent gatherings.

Rick noted that pastors from dif­ferent denom­i­na­tions can get along.

“We partner over a lot of things,” Rick said. “We can support what other pastors are doing down the street even if we don’t attend the same services.”

Indeed, it’s the freedom of a Christian to do things dif­fer­ently. Like Paul and Silas in Acts 15:39, who sep­a­rated from Mark and Barnabas after a “sharp dis­agreement,” Chris­tians can go their sep­arate ways while still loving and sup­porting one another. They can still be brothers and sisters even if they have dif­ferent con­vic­tions. Paul made it clear that he did not con­sider Mark as a lost brother when he later wrote in 2 Timothy 4:11, “Mark…is helpful to me in the ministry.”

In addition, Snyder said that churches can even unite in certain min­istries, even if they do not worship on Sundays in the same way.

“Churches can end up doing things together, even if they might be able to be under the same house because they practice such things dif­fer­ently, they can still rec­ognize each other as Christian and coop­erate together in various endeavors,” Snyder said.

Nev­er­theless, this unity does not mean that our con­vic­tions and minor doc­trines are not important.

“Non-essential does not mean unim­portant,” Cress said.

Fur­thermore, a person should not make an unessential doc­trine a requirement for the faith, as the early church tried to do con­cerning circumcision.

“If someone does not give that up after warning, they are to be rejected according to Titus 3:10,” Snyder said. “Not because we differ with them on those par­tic­ulars, but because they are being divisive and facetious.”

So next time you sit down to have a the­o­logical debate about a non-essential doc­trine, remember that you are not speaking to a lost brother or sister, but to another of the same fold. Go into the con­ver­sation with the goal of learning, not con­verting, and try to keep things civilized.

As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

Josh Newhook is a sophomore studying English and German. He is an assistant editor for the Collegian..