Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Differences Between Convictions, Persuasions & Opinions

Photo Credit: ThoroughlyReviewed
One of the things that I have most appreciated about my involvement with the ministry of Cru is that we are an interdenominational, worldwide organization. This means that we have people involved from a variety of church and cultural backgrounds.

This provides for our staff and students the opportunity to learn from those who are different than them and to gain a greater appreciation for the diversity that exists within the Body of Christ.

This, of course, also provides the opportunity for a variety of challenges as people from varying streams of faiths and ethnicities seek to understand each other and serve together around a common vision of proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

As a Christian ministry, we do have a Statement of Faith in order to clarify what we believe about those things that are essential to the Christian faith. This not only helps to provide direction when partnering with local churches and other organizations, but it helps to bring focus to who we are and what we're about.

As a new staff member with Cru I was introduced to a helpful framework to help in discerning which beliefs were absolutely essential to my faith and which could be viewed in a bit of a different light.

Dr. Alan Scholes frames this in the language of Convictions, Persuasions and Opinions. Here is what Dr. Scholes has to say:
1.  Convictions: These are central beliefs of the Christian faith that are crucial to salvation. Notice how Paul identifies the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as “of first importance” in 1 Cor. 15:3–5 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”  Paul is saying that the truth of Christ’s death for sins and resurrection from the dead is fundamental to Christian belief.  To deny this is to deny the gospel (see vv. 1-2).  Other examples of “conviction-level” doctrines would include the authority of the Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the full deity of Christ, the full humanity of Christ, humans under divine judgment for sin, the forgiveness of sins, salvation by grace through faith, etc. These are issues over which we would eventually divide fellowship with others (if there is no repentance). The church has historically used the term "heresy" to speak about deviations from these beliefs.  Listen to what Paul says about those who abandon these fundamental truths of the gospel in Gal 1:8-9.  “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." 
2.  Persuasions: These are beliefs about which we are personally certain but can still fellowship with other Christians who disagree since they are not matters central to the gospel and/or the historic Christian faith. A person may be ignorant of these doctrines and yet still be saved.  For example, it is not necessary to know how God’s providence relates to human freedom in order to experience salvation.  Examples of "persuasion" level issues would be forms of church government, appropriate mode of baptism (sprinkling vs. immersion), the scope of Christ’s death (everyone vs. only the elect), the age of the earth, nature of God’s providence, and the nature of the millennial kingdom. Many denominational distinctives fit into this second category.

3.  Opinions: These are beliefs, desires, or even wishes which may not be clearly taught in Scripture over which believers may legitimately differ. Implicit in this third category is the assumption that there may be more than one correct "Christian" view on an issue. Notice what Paul says in Rom. 14:5-6 about Sabbath observance for Christians: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”  As an apostle, Paul could simply have handed down a ruling that would have settled the controversy but he didn’t.  Examples of “opinion-level” doctrines could be aspects of church government (e.g., how many elders should a church have), the order of Christian worship, etc.
Having this type of framework has been extremely helpful for me as I've gotten older in my faith and been exposed to many different beliefs that fall under the Christian umbrella. It helps me to determine which doctrinal beliefs are non-negotiable and which are not.

It is common for many Christians to think that everyone has to agree with them about everything. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's about salvation, baptism, when to hold Sunday morning services or what kind of chicken to serve at the potluck, these believers make no distinction between matters.

But what I've found as I've matured in my faith is that the number of issues that I would include in the "Conviction" category has grown smaller but my passion for these matters has not.

It has also freed me up in interacting with others about those areas that might be considered more "Persuasion" level beliefs to allow for a greater degree of flexibility. I can still firmly believe in a certain doctrine but I can also maintain fellowship with other believers that have come to different conclusions.

This type of approach to understanding Christian doctrine recognizes that how we understand the Scriptures is often influenced by factors like where we grew up in the world, what our church experiences have been, the ethnic group to which we identify and even our political party affiliations.

It is natural for us to want others to be passionate about the things we're passionate about. But there are simply some doctrinal beliefs where the Bible is not clear and in which sincere Christians might disagree yet remain in fellowship with one another.

Even though we may use guidelines as those I've suggested here, we may still find ourselves in disagreement with others about which beliefs fall into which category. In these circumstances, it's important for us to maintain a charitable & humble spirit.

In addition, it's wise for us to continue to search the Scriptures, to pray for God's Spirit to guide us and to seek the wise counsel of those we respect like our pastors and other spiritual leaders. I do believe it's possible for us to hold firm beliefs but interact with others in a winsome and kind way.

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