Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

Open-Handed Theology

October 29th, 2012

I’ve been attending Pillar Dumfries for quite a few months, and recently took their membership course.  While I have loved the sermons, I hadn’t read their statement of faith.  When the course began, I quickly turned to Section 2 (p.6 & 7) in the membership book, entitled doctrine, to read it and check if there were any points I disagreed with.  What I found brought me to tears.

– Two –

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.”
– St. Augustine

In the church, unity is of great importance. Churches tend to make primary issues secondary ones, and make secondary issues primary. We feel like it is important to identify which issues are primary (closed handed) and which issues are secondary (open handed).

It is important to note that we are not claiming that “open handed” issues are not important issues. We are, however, claiming that they are not more important than the unity of our church. Some issues are that important; we call those “closed-handed” issues.

Here is a brief definition of how we will use each of the terms:

Closed-Handed Issues represent those issues that we ask every member to affirm and support in good-conscience. Major disagreement in one of these areas makes it difficult to carryout the gospel centered mission of the church. Note, we are not saying that every disagreement within this category separates a Christian from a non-Christian. For example, we have Presbyterian friends that take a different view of the ordinance of baptism, but believe the gospel and we would certainly not argue that they are not Christians because of this disagreement.

Open-Handed Issues represent those issues where disagreement should be discussed and debated but not at the expense of unity around the essential mission of the church.

This laid out an approach to doctrine that was both unexpected and beautiful.  Later the document lists God, The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, Scripture, Man, Salvation, The Great Commission, and Ordinances as closesd-handed issues.  It lists end time views, sovereignty vs. free will, education, giving, and Bible translations as examples of open-handed issues.

I grew up listening to people vigorously defend minor points of theology, and then wonder why the church wasn’t more united.  I’ve seen churches expend more resources and energy working to get their members and other churches to agree with them theologically than reaching the unconverted.  Pastor’s equated their preferred confession with the meaning of the word of God, and made understanding and agreeing with it a prerequisite to church membership.  In practice correctly understanding theology was more important than understanding how it should be lived out.

Being part of a church that truly values the unity of the body of Christ has been a wonderful oasis.  The pastors come from a theological perspective I appreciate, and have spent a lot of time studying theology, but their focus is outward as they focus on reaching the unchurched and stay humble.  Uniting around the heart of the gospel truly is unifying, and it has been wonderfully refreshing.  This beautiful surprising contrast in approaches forced me to fight back tears.  Sometimes crying is good, especially when you know you really are finding a home.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia