I gave some pointers last week on the blog about “how to live in a fragmented world.” I mentioned that just because there is disagreement, particularly within church communities, that doesn’t mean there is disunity. Just because we are unified, doesn’t mean we agree on everything. But that begs the question, are there some things that we simply cannot tolerate? Are there some issues there can simply be no conversation over? How do we tell those apart?
1. We have to distinguish between core issues and non-core issues.
There is a helpful tool we use around Real Life called the “concentric circles.” It looks like a big target shape, and in the middle are the “core” issues we perceive to be non-negotiable to following Jesus. On the outer circles are issues that are important, but not necessarily “core.” Different churches include different things in both sets of circles. So, the question “to what degree can we disagree” leverages largely on what you include in your “core.” But that should never be the end of the question. In fact, to be able to do this requires that churches be well versed about the issues at hand and that’s never a finished product. Because the culture around us is constantly changing, that means that the way in which we relate to that culture also has to change with it. But, it has to constantly be reflected back onto your core and non-core.
Ideally, “core” issues are those that are more important to faith. The more “core” a belief is, the more necessary it is to call yourself a follower of Jesus. However, many times, our tendency is to put way too much into the core, to the point where we make a big deal out of everything. We don’t want to have too much in the core, but we don’t want to have too little in there, either, to the point where we are not really saying anything at all, or not having an actual influence.
Now, as stated previously, Christians have always had differing opinions on what belongs at the core and what doesn’t. It’s nothing new (how often to administer communion, how to get baptized, etc.). These issues are not unimportant, in fact, quite the contrary.
2. There is a difference between matters of faith and matters concerning faith.
Matters concerning faith usually go outside circles, though, as I said, there is a tendency for us to put a lot at the core. But, the Christian faith doesn’t hinge on disagreements regarding non-core issues, although mainstream media may make it seem that way. Just because something is in the outer realm of circles does not mean that topic or issue is unimportant. They are certainly important, so much so that they require a conversation rather than an assumption.
I can speak for Real Life that we want to be known as a church that is more known for the core than what’s in the non-core. That also determines where our focus goes and what we put most of our energy and resources toward. To us, that’s “helping people find and follow Jesus” and being a welcoming environment for outsiders to observe and experience that. There are a lot of people that come to our church from different religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds. That usually means that they don’t agree on everything, especially on matters concerning faith. But most of us recognize we can all come together around the center core, and that informs the way in which we talk about issues that are not. That, in my estimation, should always be what drives that question, “to what degree can we disagree.”