Secondary doctrine is made up of theology that are subsets of orthodox, primary doctrine. Unlike primary doctrine, secondary doctrine cannot be broken into certain, clear-cut parts. The theologies are scattered and range from creation to end times.
The title of this post in the series is called "Draw the line." The "line" in the phrase refers to the divide between beliefs you would die for and beliefs you are willing to agree to disagree over.
For example, a biblical church would be willing to split if there was a disagreement over biblical inerrancy. Unbiblical churches compromise and take no solid stance on such issues. Biblical churches understand that some people will believe in a future, literal, physical millennial reign of Christ on earth and others will not-- but that disagreement does not split the church because it is secondary to primary truth. Unbiblical churches will elevate secondary issues to the place of primary ones. They flip the script and their emphasis is misplaced.
With that said, it would be helpful to look at the theologies I'm talking about.
Age of earth: A literal hermeneutic applied to Genesis would create the doctrine of a literal, seven-day creation by God. However, some theologians interpret the creation story in light of the old-earth theory. Perhaps each day was not a 24-hour period, but rather a thousand/million/billion years for every day. This view is wrong, but not heretical or against primary doctrine, because those who hold this belief are not denying that God made the heavens and the earth or that the Bible is inerrant-- they are just interpreting the Scripture through the wrong hermeneutic.
Calvinism/Arminianism: This 400 year old battle over the details concerning God's predestination and election is completely secondary to primary doctrine. Neither view denies the sinfulness of man (although they disagree on the intensiveness of it) or the substitutionary atonement of Christ (although they may disagree on who is given the opportunity for its application). Both views even use the same hermeneutic. However, there is disagreement on this issue and it is on the back burner as far as doctrine is concerned. This issue will sometimes cause denominational divides.
For my view on this topic, click here.
Church government/membership: Some churches operate by elder rule. Other churches operate by congregational rule. Churches differ in their requirements for membership. None of the forms of government or membership in the church deny the universal Church being the Bride of Christ (in and of itself). None of the forms require a different salvation message than the truth. The primary doctrine doesn't have to be touched in this area of secondary doctrine, thus it is secondary.
Covenant theology/dispensationalism: Some people believe in a future for Israel and a literal fulfillment of God's promises in the Old Testament. Others hold to the idea that the Church replaces Israel and all of Israel's promises are transferred to the Church. Different hermeneutics are used in these theologies, yet neither one requires a denial of primary doctrine. However, just like the Calvinism/Arminianism issue, this area of theology will cause denominational divides.
The Holy Spirit in Practice: Charismatic churches are those that believe the Holy Spirit still imparts sign gifts to believers today. These include tongues, revelations, the gift of healing, and things of the like. Non-charismatic churches hold to a view called cessationism, which states that those sign gifts have ceased. There is strong tension in this area because charismatic churches tend to lift up their charismatic theology to the level of primary doctrine and make it a central focus in their churches. When this happens, heretical things happen such as the statement "The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance," becoming a fundamental truth of a church.
Methods of baptism/communion/evangelism/giving: Although these ordinances of the church (with the exception of giving, as it is not an ordinance) are closely tied to truths lodged in the realm of primary doctrine, the methods of such are not primary. For instance, if a church runs water over a believer's head as a form of baptism, that is not heretical. If they are padeobaptists yet they view the baptism as a dedication of the child and not an obtaining of salvation, they are not heretics. If a church takes communion every Sunday and another church takes it twice a year, neither is heretical. And in evangelism, as long as a church does not deny the necessity of evangelism, any mode of actually communicating the love of the gospel to the lost is accurate, good, and fine.
On a personal level, if a person believes in giving 20% and another only gives 5%, the lesser giver is not a heretic. Our basis as New Testament Christians is to give cheerfully and to be good stewards of what God has given us.
Millennialism: As I mentioned in the intro to the post, there is disagreement over what the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 represents. The disagreement has spawned into different theologies such as premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism (and preterism). None of these views deny a literal return of Christ as promised in Scripture, thus they are not heretical.
Missions theology: Our methods of reaching the world differ. Some think that the best form of missions is to start at home and move outward. Some think that going to directly to individual countries around the world is the best way to reach everyone. We are all called to our own specific place. With this in mind, we should shake off the idea that those who have a different strategy are "less Christian" or in denial of the truth.
Rapture: Some say there will be a secret rapture of the Church. Some say there won't be. Those in the first camp argue about when it will happen and those in the second camp make fun of them. However, they should all be able to exist in the same church without quarreling.
Sabbath: I know a guy who takes his Sabbath in July. The rest of the year he spends working nearly every day doing different things in and out of the church. Most people have one day of the week devoted to rest. Interestingly, this is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament. It is not an area that deserves tooth-and-nail argument.
Some qualifications for ministry: It should be understood that to be in ministry, one must adhere to all primary doctrine without wavering. However, there are differing philosophies on what boundaries should exist outside of primary doctrine. For example, what if the person aspiring to be in ministry has been divorced? Does it matter if it was before his salvation or after? Questions like this surround all of us and some agencies or denominations prohibit certain aspiring ministers based on these kind of issues that are in our past.
That was all a mouthful. So, I will just leave you with the key passage concerning secondary doctrine:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.