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A Theology of Convicted Civility

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Discerning Christian Convictions: the essential, important, and personal

“In matters of faith, unity. In matters of opinion, liberty. In all things, love.”

Is it a sin to get a tattoo? Are the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” available for us as Christians today? Should our teens go swimming with boys and girls together? Not every doctrine of scripture is equally important. We must rightly divide the truth of scripture with discernment. Even Jesus drew a distinction in God's commands calling us to place first importance on loving God and our neighbor. As we answer these questions in truth and love let us keep the main things the main things, and not be disunited by peripheral matters.

"We believe the Scriptures reveal three distinct elements of the faith: essential elements which are necessary for salvation; important elements which are to be pursued so that we faithfully follow Christ; and personal elements or opinion. The gospel is essential. Every person who is indwelt and sealed by God’s Holy Spirit because of their faith in the gospel is a brother or a sister in Christ. Important but secondary elements of the faith are vital. Our faithfulness to God requires us to seek and pursue them, even as we acknowledge that our salvation may not be dependent on getting them right. And third, there are personal matters of opinion, disputable areas where God gives us personal freedom. But we are never at liberty to express our freedom in a way that causes others to stumble in sin. In all things, we want to show understanding, kindness, and love." - Renew Network Faith Statement

See 1 Corinthians 15:1–8; Romans 1:15–17; Galatians 1:6–9; 2 Timothy 2:8; Ephesians 1:13–14; 4:4–6; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 3:16–4:4; Matthew 15:6–9; Acts 20:32; 1 Corinthians 11:1–2; 1 John 2:3–4; 2 Peter 3:14–16; Romans 14:1–23.

Click below for a helpful worksheet on discerning your core beliefs.

Convicted Civility Exercise
Download PDF • 228KB

Does What We Believe Really Matter?

To have faith is not simply a feeling or emotion. Faith begins with believing that certain things are true about God and his Son, Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” — John 3:16

Discussion questions:

  1. It has become a common assumption that religious faith is about personal preference and feelings rather than truth. Therefore, no one is either right or wrong when it comes to issues of faith. One of the many problems with this assumption is that it seems to ignore the fact that our feelings often steer us in wrong or even dangerous directions. When have your feelings led you down a dangerous road?

  2. Why do some Christians feel hesitant to share the gospel with others? Why do some even see evangelism as wrong?

  3. What actions will you take to pursue a rock-solid faith based on biblical truths that goes beyond the highs and the lows of your feelings?

  4. What are the dangers of having a plate-glass faith that shatters when faced with tough questions and doubts?

  5. What are some common rocks that shatter plate-glass faith, and how can we address them in a way that strengthens our faith?

  6. What are the dangers of transitioning from plate-glass faith to play-dough faith, where our beliefs become moldable and shaped by the culture?

  7. How can we maintain the essential elements of our faith while engaging in convicted civility and respectful dialogue with others who hold different beliefs?

  8. Why does what we believe truly matter in Christianity, and how does it impact our relationship with God and our ability to share the gospel with others?

What Is the Difference Between Essential, Important, and Personal Elements?

Essential elements are necessary for salvation. Important elements do not save us, but are necessary in order to follow Jesus faithfully. Personal elements are based on marginal convictions or preferences.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” — Ephesians 4:4–6

Discussion questions:

  1. Why is it important to be able to recognize religious beliefs as either essential, important, or personal?

  2. How do our personal religious backgrounds influence our essential, important, and personal beliefs?

  3. Our salvation does not depend on our getting all our beliefs correct. Explain why it’s important for you to remember this.

  4. What fundamental beliefs about God do you hold as “essential” (those that fall in the center of the PIE or bullseye)?

  5. Describe an experience you’ve had with another Christian when your essential, important, or personal beliefs did not line up and it caused conflict between you.

What Are the Essentials of Biblical Christianity?

The essential truths are that God exists, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is the risen Savior, and salvation is by grace and not by human effort. The essential markers of our salvation are the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and a faith that perseveres.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” — Hebrews 11:6

Discussion questions:

  1. In your own words, describe how Jesus saves us. What is the basis of your confidence that the Holy Spirit lives in you? Explain.

  2. How does truly believing that Jesus is Lord transform your life?

  3. What events in our lives can challenge our perseverance in having a faithful faith?

  4. What are some strategies that might encourage us to persevere in our faith?

  5. What are the core convictions of your own faith, and how do they shape your daily life and interactions with others?

  6. How do you view baptism in your faith journey? Is it a "have to" or a "get to" for you, and why?

How Should We Treat Elements of Our Faith that Are Not Essential?

Important but secondary elements of the faith are vital. Our faithfulness to God requires us to seek and pursue them, even as we acknowledge that our salvation may not be dependent on getting them right.

“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” — Acts 18:26

Discussion questions:

  1. Describe a time when you experienced someone, maybe even yourself, putting important truths into the essential category.

  2. What are some examples of essential beliefs that you uphold? Have they changed over time?

  3. How could mixing up essential truths, important truths, and personal preferences turn Christians against one another?

  4. Why is it important to gain knowledge in order to understand and then commit to the essential truths of Scripture?

  5. In what areas of your faith are you wanting to gain more knowledge in order to determine whether they should fit into the essential, important, or personal elements?

How Should We Treat Those Who Disagree with Us?

When we disagree about matters of personal preference, we are to respond to each other with grace and truth. We are never at liberty to express our freedom in a way that causes others to stumble in sin. In all things, we want to show understanding, kindness, and love.

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” — Romans 14:1

Discussion questions:

  1. How does the Bible address disagreements within the Christian community, especially when it comes to matters that are not essential to the faith? How can we apply the principles of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 8 in our interactions with others who hold different views?

  2. In what ways can we differentiate between essential elements of the Christian faith and personal elements when engaging in discussions with those who disagree with us? How can we ensure that we maintain unity while still upholding our convictions?

  3. How should we approach and treat spiritually weaker individuals in our faith community, such as those who struggle with certain convictions or beliefs? How does discipleship play a role in this process?

  4. The sermon mentions the dangers of godless chatter and foolish arguments, which can lead to unfruitful quarrels within the Christian community. How can we foster healthy and constructive discussions about our disagreements, even when they are about important matters of faith?

  5. What does it mean to practice "convicted civility" in our interactions with those who disagree with us? How can we demonstrate genuine empathy, curiosity, and humility while upholding our convictions and sharing biblical truths?

Book Recommendations for Further Study:

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