8 December 2021
You asked me a very practical church question: should you choose a church based on theology or relationships? You’re already in a church where your family has dear friends, but you question the theology being taught there. I’ve tried to outline my thoughts for you, as best as I can, below. I’m praying it’s helpful for you!
As for theological questions as they relate to churches, I have a general lens I run those questions through. I often advise people who are trying to make decisions about churches to think this way: Is this a first-order, second-order, or third-order issue?
A first-order issue is one that separates Christians from non-Christians. This would be salvation through Christ alone, substitutionary atonement, the role of confession, repentance, and forgiveness in the life of the Christian, etc. These types of issues, in other words, are ones that if we don’t agree, then we don’t even have fellowship together in Christ. These are, obviously, the weightiest issues in theology and most important for consideration.
A second-order issue would be one that separates denominations. Speaking in tongues is a classic example of a second-order issue. Pentecostal churches would believe and practice this, while others may believe it and not publicly practice it, and still others wouldn’t believe that tongues is a heavenly language at all. But they are all still Christians. Some other examples might be views on communion, mode of baptism, or roles of elders and deacons within the church. All Christians would believe in these issues, but what they believe about them would keep one fellow Christian with a different view from joining a particular church. For me, the second-order issue of speaking in tongues (and the accompanying view of the filling of the Holy Spirit) would keep me from being a part of a Pentecostal church. I certainly wouldn’t say these folks aren’t Christians, but our differences in these second-order issues would keep me from having my family be a part of that church family.
A third-order issue is one that even people sitting in the same pew can disagree about and still worship together. A classic example of a third-order issue for me is eschatology. It’s such a “non-issue” to me that I can worship beside others who have different views of the millennial reign, rapture, and Second Coming of Christ with no issue at all. (Just for the record: I would consider Christ’s Second Coming somewhere between a first and second-order issue). Now, for some people, eschatology is a second (or even first) order issue. But, third-order issues to me are of such little consequence that I don’t even spend breath debating people about where they stand. Calvinism/Arminianism questions are mostly third-order issues for me, so I don’t often “take a side” in those conversations.
So, I guess my first thought is to consider the question of whether the issues you have in mind are first, second, or third-order issues. That may help you figure out how much of a “big deal” these things are to you and your family and what you should do about it.
The practical side of your dilemma is that your family is already worshiping there and have developed great friendships. This, of course, greatly complicates and influences your decision-making because you’re not dealing in abstractions but in actual flesh-and-blood relationships. Here’s some questions I would consider in your scenario.
Are you in a position where you have to choose between one or the other?
Not to make everything so cranial and academic, but there’s a logical fallacy known as “the logical fallacy of the forced dichotomy”. It occurs when you see two opposing views as the only two possibilities and pitting them against one another without considering the vast possibilities in between those two points. Our modern political arena is the perfect example of this: issues are presented as though there are only two possible solutions and they are diametrically opposed to one another. However, I believe with most things there is only about a ten-percent black area and a ten-percent white area and the other eighty percent is comprised of various shades of gray. This gray area is wrought with paradigms and tensions which, while uncomfortable, help us think and live more “rightly”.
So, if you don’t have to choose between the two, the next question is: what can you live with? If the theology isn’t heretical or damaging, and your family is happy with the relationships there, can you live with that? If the theology is worth breaking fellowship over, then you will have to rethink the relationships formed there, which will inevitably cause some disruption in the family. Can you live with that? When you’re on the eighty percent spectrum of gray, figuring out which gray square is best for you and your family can feel overwhelming and is usually only decided after much prayer and conversation.
A related question is: Do you have to decide now? In your case, there may be no great urgency because your business of getting ordained (with the Alliance or elsewhere) will likely force you into limited church situations. If your family (and mainly your wife) is happy with the church you’re attending now and are being nourished spiritually, and you can live within your theological tensions, then perhaps you let that decision be forced upon you at some point in the future. If so, that gives you plenty of time to let the Lord unfold and clarify His will for you in the meantime.
The unknown element for me (but which you will know) is the relationship you have with your wife and understanding how these decisions will impact her. Alanna (my wife) is incredibly easy-going and trusting of both God and me in my spiritual leadership of our family. She has a high tolerance for uncertainty and is remarkably flexible. If our life plans changed tomorrow, she would roll with it like we had been planning on that for years. I count both her and her personality as one of my greatest blessings in life. I don’t know Casey...but you do! If she is more inflexible and not-so easy-going, then it may require more deliberate and delicate leadership on your part. My only caution in leading her is to lead her. God didn’t call you to lead just any woman, or some idealized version of a wife, but Casey Friend. I don’t know how these kinds of decisions affect her and your marriage, but you do and I would not discount that variable in this equation.
I’m confident that God will reveal His will to you in this...it’s just a question of when and how. I’ll keep praying for you and am happy that God brought you and I together for a season. If any of this is helpful, then Glory to God!
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence