In 2015, a viral internet debate started about the color of a dress. Was the dress in this random picture a blue and black dress? Or was it white and gold? Personally, I see white and gold. My coworkers, who opened this can of worms with me, were outraged that I didn’t see black and blue. So, I researched their side and compiled the evidence. Factually, the dress in the picture was black and blue. I was wrong, but I still don’t see those colors in the photo. My eyes make me believe that the dress in the photo is white and gold; however, I carry great respect for the black and blue side based on my research. And that’s OK. Because—believe it or not—it’s just a dress!
“The Dress” was a huge debate. But Christians are faced with far more important questions. Here are some I often get while serving in Great Questions:
- Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
- Can I lose my salvation?
- Do the miraculous spiritual gifts still happen today?
- How do the dinosaurs fit into the creation story?
There are hundreds more questions that have divided Christians throughout our history. Beliefs vary between Christians about issues of theology, culture, and behavior. Depending on the question, believers—even within Watermark—can come to biblical and well-informed conclusions while disagreeing with one another. So, when are Christians free to disagree, and how can we disagree with love and respect? A helpful framework to consider is called the “Concentric Circles.” Every theological issue falls somewhere within this “bullseye” with rings labeled Essentials, Convictions, Opinions, and Questions.
Essential - What We Know Is True
Essentials are what all Christians believe. They are essential to the faith; if you don’t agree with an essential, then you are not a Christian.
There are six core things that Christians believe:
- Trinity – There is one God that eternally exists in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- Sin – Humanity rebelled against God and deserves judgment.
- Deity/Humanity of Jesus – Jesus is both fully God and fully man.
- Atonement – Jesus’s death paid for sin and is applicable to man through grace.
- Resurrection – Jesus physically rose from the dead and is alive today.
- Resolution – God will make all things right when Jesus comes again, eradicating evil and restoring creation.
Some of these beliefs are ones that Christians “must affirm,” while others you “must not reject.” For example, all Christians must affirm that Jesus died for their sins and rose again (Romans 10:9). Believing the gospel is necessary to be a Christian. When it comes to the Trinity, however, a Christian must simply not reject that God is Triune. The God of Christianity is the Triune God, so rejecting the Trinity makes one believe in something that is not the Christian God. Thus, every Christian agrees on the essentials.
When disagreements arise over an essential, we must stand firm on on the biblical and historic faith. Lovingly present these truths and defend them without compromise. For, if the essentials are lost, Christianity is lost with them.
Convictions – What We are Convinced is True
Convictions are important beliefs based on biblical evidence or church history, that may have a big impact on Christian life and the ministry of the church. Convictions are important, but not truly essential. Believers can hold to differing convictions while maintaining unity in the gospel, even though disagreements on these issues often lead believers to worship in different congregations or denominations.
Common convictions include differences in how and why baptism is performed (such as immersion vs. sprinkling, or adult vs. infant baptism), whether a church is self-governed by local Elders or is subject to regional bishops, and details of how the Lord’s Supper is handled. At Watermark, Members are called to share some convictional beliefs, while others can be disagreed upon.
It is right to state your disagreement with another Christian on a conviction issue and defend your position honestly. But it would not be right to belittle or think less of a fellow Christian for holding a different conviction than you. State your reasoning, seek to understand the other side, and hold fast to what the Holy Spirit has convinced you of through Scripture.
Opinions – What We Think is True
Differences in belief that do not have major impact on daily life and the ministry of the church are classified as opinions. Besides being less important than convictions, opinions tend to vary more while having less concrete biblical evidence. People within the same church can have widely varying opinions, but that should not be a reason to break fellowship or cause denominational division.
Common opinions that Christians hold include different views on the six days of creation, the exact order of events in the end times with Christ’s return, and details regarding miraculous spiritual gifts (such as the gift of tongues or prophecy).
Opinions are often not “black and white” issues. Biblical evidence could reasonably support multiple opinions on an issue. Because there is not a clear right or wrong answer, Christians ought to approach opinions with truth and charity. Know how you came to your conclusion and seek to understand your opponent’s arguments. You can promote your opinion, but be quick to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. If a Christian still disagrees with you after a long discussion, then go grab a fun lunch together, tell them that you think “the dress” is white and gold, and make sure to keep up with your new friend and fellow co-heir with Christ.