Primary and Secondary Issues

The primary purpose of scripture is to make clear the way of salvation, therefore I believe primary beliefs are those vital to the doctrine of salvation - they are gospel issues. Gospel issues include: credal beliefs (covering the nature of God, the person and work of Christ etc.); the normative divine inspiration of Scripture without which we would not know of salvation; the explicit moral law taught in Scripture (Jesus upheld the ten commandments and their implications.  The Pauline epistles and others specify sins which will, if persisted in, prevent a person entering the kingdom).  I would also include clear issues of justice.

I define a secondary issue as one on which numerous Christians, with an equally high view of Scripture, interpret the Bible differently, giving full weight to the traditional interpretation and using sound hermeneutical (interpretative) principles. I believe it is sinful to divide the church, or divide from the church, over secondary issues.

We need to be objective about secondary issues. Any of us can subjectively elevate our favourite secondary issue into a primary issue or a shibboleth by which we judge other people's orthodoxy. But, as we have seen, the purpose of scripture is salvation and primary beliefs are those vital to the doctrine of salvation - they are gospel issues. I am not saying these secondary issues are unimportant, but I am saying that because they are not gospel issues they are not primary.

Primary (Gospel) Issues

Secondary Issues

Credal beliefs (covering the nature of God, the person and work of Christ etc.)

The method by which God created the universe

The divine inspiration and authority of Scripture without which we would not know of salvation

The method of divine inspiration of scripture

The explicit moral law taught in Scripture: especially concerning sins which will, if persisted in, prevent a person entering the kingdom

Particular understandings of the baptism of the Spirit as opposed to teaching about being filled with the Spirit

 

Particular emphases about the gifts of the Holy Spirit including tongues and prophecy

 

Different views of healing

 

Particular understandings of revival and movements of the Holy Spirit

 

Differences as to the mode and timing of Baptism

 

Differences between a view of Communion as an aid to focusing on Christ and a view of it as spiritually, by faith, feeding on Christ

 

Differences over forms of church government, ordination and order

 

Differences over the place of women's ministry (it is recognised that some regard male headship as a primary issue, but I do not believe it is a gospel issue)

 

Differences over patterns of worship: liturgical and ‘non-liturgical’; traditional and modern; restrained and extrovert

 

Differences over demonology, spiritual warfare; deliverance, counselling

 

Responsible differences over drawing the line between acceptable behaviour and sinful compromise regarding New Age involvement, where Scripture is not explicit, e.g. alternative therapies

 

Views of ethics in areas where Scripture is not explicit e.g. some views of remarriage;  (non-abortive) family planning; pacifism; capital punishment

 

Different political views

 

Cultural differences including differences over music and the arts

 

Details of eschatology: millennial views; views of the rapture, the tribulation and Israel

 

So I would include under secondary issues: the method of divine inspiration of scripture and its detailed implications; the method by which God created the universe; particular understandings of the baptism of the Spirit as opposed to teaching about being filled with the Spirit; particular emphases about the gifts of the Holy Spirit including tongues and prophecy; different views of healing; particular understandings of revival and movements of the Holy Spirit; differences as to the mode and timing of Baptism; differences between a view of Communion as an aid to focusing on Christ and a view of it as spiritually, by faith, feeding on Christ; Confirmation; differences over forms of church government, ordination and order.

I would also include differences over the place of women's ministry (it is recognised that some regard male headship as a primary issue, but I do not believe it is a gospel issue); patterns of worship: liturgical and ‘non-liturgical’; traditional and modern; restrained and extrovert; differences over demonology, spiritual warfare; deliverance, counselling; responsible differences over drawing the line between acceptable behaviour and sinful compromise regarding New Age involvement, where Scripture is not explicit, e.g. alternative therapies; views of ethics in areas where Scripture is not explicit e.g. some views of remarriage;  (non-abortive) family planning; pacifism; capital punishment; political views; cultural differences including differences over music and the arts; details of eschatology: millennial views; views of the rapture, the tribulation and Israel.  There must be many others which I have not mentioned.

It is important to note that secondary issues may have parameters (limits) beyond which a primary issue is raised. For example, the issue of whether the Second Coming is before or after the millennium is a secondary issue, but the literal Second Coming of Jesus is a primary issue.

Jesus himself upset the religious establishment by not following the traditions which had gained respect over the years. He did not keep all the fasts or the current observance of the Sabbath or the ritual ablutions or the ceremonial separation from ‘unclean’ Samaritans (even an immoral Samaritan woman).

Paul regards differences over food and drink and holy days as secondary issues (Rom 14.1-6). Yet Christians have at times divided over food and especially drink. And they have at times divided over how Sunday should be observed.

So let us agree to disagree apart from over primary issues.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page