A Question I Was Asked:

What About Christianity's "Peripheral" Doctrinal Areas'?

The Actual Question:

I realise that you support all the major claims of Christianity 100%, but what about some of the peripheral areas where there are differences of opinion? Should Christianity allow these differences of opinion?

UK Apologetics Reply:

I would say that Christianity has to allow these differences of opinion in the peripheral areas! If only this view had always been taken, many of these denominations could have been avoided! There is no question that sometimes Christians have divided over very peripheral matters and that has often been regretful.
In contrast, a careful consideration of the earliest Christian writers, that is, the 'church fathers,' reveals that differences of opinion were allowed in the non-essential areas.

Okay, so what are some of these peripheral areas? The following are just a few of these:

1. Church Government.
Forms of church government is a peripheral matter. One could say that the New Testament supports several forms of church governance, or, one could equally say that the New Testament supports none. So we have to accept that the relevant Scriptures (not many of them) may be understood differently. Obviously, God has left this largely open to us.

2. The Lord's Day.
Many of us have no problem whatever here; the Lord's Day was the day of Christ's resurrection and the church chose to set aside this day to meet for Christian worship, and, well, that's it! Those of us who hold this view see the entire meaning of the Sabbath as being fulfilled by Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 3:11-4:11; Colossians 2:16-17).
Some believers, however, insist that Sunday became the new sabbath day. Personally, I would take great issue with them but there you have it. This understanding started to be formalised through the Westminster Confession and has spread, mainly through Puritanism, Methodism and the reformed movement (Calvinism). Many such people would refuse to believe that this issue is 'peripheral' at all, but it certainly is. Indeed, Paul the Apostle says enough on the topic of setting aside 'days' and regarding any such days as holy (Romans 14:1-14; Colossians 2:16-17), for us to be in little doubt on this question. Yet a true Christian may hold either view.

3. Baptism.
The New Testament says surprisingly little about baptism and Paul especially shows little interest in this topic (see the inset article 'Baptism - Water and Spirit' here). The subject seems important in the Book of Acts but, as one moves forward through the pages of the New Testament, it's importance appears to dramatically wane. It is immediately obvious that one could take more than one view on this subject. Many believe that water baptism has now been superseded by baptism in the Holy Spirit, therefore water baptism can now be set aside. Others feel that baptism signifies entering the covenant of belief and may be applied to infants whom God will then work with when the time is right. Yet many of us hold to 'believer's baptism' and we believe that only truly repentant believers (at an age of accountability!) should even consider it. Generally, it would seem to me that the third is the strongest view, yet one or two New Testament verses on the topic are ambiguous, one even seeming to suggest that infant baptism is fine. Even the view that water baptism was only for the very early church (having now been superseded by Baptism in the Holy Spirit) cannot be totally rejected. These things being so, one may say that this is a peripheral area; more than one view is possible.

So we may observe that whereas certain doctrines of Christianity are clear and absolutely central to what we believe, other teachings are certainly peripheral and more than one viewpoint is possible. One's embrace on the major doctrines of Christianity is not compromised in such areas.
Robin A. Brace. August 15th, 2009.