Friday, October 15, 2010

Distinguishing Essentials and Non-Essentials

Great Bible teachers understand and work effectively with people who hold a range of views. You may find it challenging to teach and lead discussion with people who actually disagree with you on some point, or do not have the same strength conviction you do. But this is part of being a teacher.

Most people are comfortable with the old saying, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

At least until there is a dispute about what's essential!

Hear my clearly: I strongly believe you need to study the Scriptures and develop convictions. I do not think you should strive for a wishy-washy, milquetoast, ambiguous, "whatever you think is ok" approach to teaching. And not every viewpoint that comes up in discussion is supported by Scripture -- and you need to call that out.

But how do you decide what is essential, vs. non-essential? I heartily recommend you print off this terrific article from C. Michael Patton, "Evangelicals: We can and we must distinguish between sssentials and non-essentials better." This article is worth some study, with pen in hand.

Back to your teaching approach: aim to be gracious with differing views on non-essentials, gently calling out error as you observe it, and challenge people to study and meditate on challenging issues - in order to form their own convictions as a fellow believer with you. It is certainly appropriate for you to share your views and explain why you believe this (with ample Scripture references).

There is one teaching situation where sharing your personal convictions may actually get in the way of good dialogue: where you are educating people on different views of issues, and are helping them think through it themselves. If you share your view, most people won't be open to learning about other views (even when they disagree with your view). For example, I taught a series of lessons some time past about the basics of Salvation. We looked at Reform (Calvinistic) and Arminian viewpoints. I have my convictions after years of consideration, but were I to share my convictions it would have weakened the lesson. (Note-- in my denomination we do not take an official stance on these perspectives; if your denomination does take a stance, you need to respect that as you teach.)

Again, print off this article and give it some study. Your teaching will improve!

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