Friday, August 27, 2010

The Need for Discernment

Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

9 μωρὰς δὲ ζητήσεις καὶ γενεαλογίας καὶ ἔρεις καὶ μάχας νομικὰς περιΐστασο· εἰσὶν γὰρ ἀνωφελεῖς καὶ μάταιοι.

Paul is wrapping up this short letter with some commands to Titus.  This is the first of three verses about the kind of person who gets involved in μωρὰς δὲ ζητήσεις, or "foolish controversies."  The δὲ in there is the weak adversative that we translate "but."  Incidentally, the difference between this word and the stronger αλλα is one of the good reasons to study Greek.

Any conservative reader of Scripture will of course agree to this.  But this is where the discernment comes in.  What is it that makes a controversy μωρὰς (from which we get our word "moron," and in this case I do not think this leap is an exegetical fallacy) instead of essential?  We all agree that the gospel is primary.  When we get to Jude we'll see an extremely clear command to contend for the faith.  How do we decide whether or not it is a vital doctrine or one that is μωρὰς?

Personally, I use salvation as my filter.  Is this something that someone needs to understand in order to be saved?  That's a bit nebulous though.  Does someone need a perfectly-articulated understanding of the Trinity?  Maybe or maybe not, but I would consider Christology to be pretty important.  Relegating Jesus to "a God" as the Arians do is a problem.  Relegating him to Lucifer's brother as the Mormons do is a problem as well.  Do we have to get Jesus right?

This is where discernment is vital.  I think that at the core we need to simply recognize that we are sinners who desperately need a savior.  We need to recognize that there is absolutely nothing we can do to merit our salvation and trust completely on Jesus' finished work on the cross.  If we agree on that as the core then some of the questions I asked above get answered pretty easily.  It does matter who Jesus is because we have to understand Him as fully God (the perfect sacrifice) and fully man (representing us).  We recognize the Holy Spirit and His work in salvation.  This covers the Trinity pretty well.

It's tough to do this though and I fear that I may have missed something.  But what I don't want to do is elevate any secondary or tertiary doctrine as primary.  I will fight you long and hard over the gospel.  I will fight very hard over God's sovereignty in electing and preserving His saints.  I won't fight quite as hard over the mode of baptism.  I will hardly lift a finger over eschatology.

We all need to determine where we put various doctrines.  How many things are in the core that must be believed?  How many do we hold with a fairly tight grip, but can let go of when pushed?  And how many do we hold with a very loose grip?


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