Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
To build on the general principles previously considered, we look at the helpful work of Joe Rigney, assistant professor of theology and Christian worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary, who has provided some excellent guidelines that help us to understand these issues (he gives thanks to Daniel Wallace for initially introducing these guidelines/categories to him): How to Weigh Doctrines for Christian Unity
First, Rigney notes, we must distinguish the various kinds of doctrinal essentials and that for which they are necessary. He lists four:
He then moves from the doctrine itself to the person who embraces the doctrine, and to discern the personal belief and why.
It is critical to discern the differences in response. A person may fail to affirm out of ignorance, not active defiance. Furthermore, denial due to ignorance is not the same as denial with one’s eyes wide open.
The different reasons for embracing the position will determine whether or not one approaches this as discipleship (Acts 18:24-28) or as a rebuke (Tit. 1:9), or more seriously yet, handing over to Satan (1 Tim. 1:20). This relates to whether one is a learner who needs to be taught a more excellent way, or a false teacher who has settled convictions he/she is espousing and leading others astray.
It is also important to note that a doctrine can be affirmed with one’s lips and denied with one’s life (Tit. 1:16; 2 Pet. 2:1). The latter also needs to be confronted (Gal. 2:11-14)
The process is not yet complete. There are a couple of additional matters of importance. Distinctions need to be made between the following:
Finally, Rigney states one must evaluate critically and discerningly
Added to this is the importance of understanding church history and the history of Christian doctrine. Though not absolute truth, it does provide important guardrails as one thinks through doctrine in the present day.
True unity demands that we grow up in our thinking about doctrine and truth and fellowship. It demands Christian maturity, the kind that can speak the truth in love so that together we can all “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).