Dr. Al Mohler has a helpful discussion on what he labels "theological triage" - how to assess those issues that are direct attacks on the integrity of the church as compared to those issues that cause certain levels of disagreement between genuine Christians.
I have found this a useful way to think through certain issues. Mohler writes:
"Second-order issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism. Baptists and Presbyterians, for example, fervently disagree over the most basic understanding of Christian baptism. The practice of infant baptism is inconceivable to the Baptist mind, while Presbyterians trace infant baptism to their most basic understanding of the covenant. Standing together on the first-order doctrines, Baptists and Presbyterians eagerly recognize each other as believing Christians, but recognize that disagreement on issues of this importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination.
Christians across a vast denominational range can stand together on the first-order doctrines and recognize each other as authentic Christians, while understanding that the existence of second-order disagreements prevents the closeness of fellowship we would otherwise enjoy. A church either will recognize infant baptism, or it will not. That choice immediately creates a second-order conflict with those who take the other position by conviction."
My question, however, is if such a disagreement dictates the same response in every case? Is it a logical necessity that I separate from those with whom I have a second-order disagreement? In some cases, this seems like the only option. For example, Mohler raises the isse of women elders:
"In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue. Again, a church or denomination either will ordain women to the pastorate, or it will not. Second-order issues resist easy settlement by those who would prefer an either/or approach. Many of the most heated disagreements among serious believers take place at the second-order level, for these issues frame our understanding of the church and its ordering by the Word of God."
I can see a sort of "functional necessity" to separation with this issue. The actual running of the church would be hindered by continued fellowship. But is this the case in every area of second-order disagreements?
I often wrestle with this kind of separation when it comes to the issue of baptism. Do not think for a nano-second that my convictions on Believer's Baptism wane! May it never be! But I tend to believe there are ways for a local church to function smoothly made up with those who disagree on this second-order doctrine.
So my question for you, dear reader, is this: Do you think Christians can remain unified (in one local church or one denomination) while firmly disagreeing about a second-order doctrine? And if they can, how would it work out? And if they cannot, then why not?