By Anthony Casperson
If someone were to raise the topic of who the best ninja turtle is, there would likely be one of three reactions. One, those involved in the conversation would have a good laugh describing their opinions in a cordial manner, enjoying their time, even though the topic is considered trivial. Two, a heated debate would ensue with sides forming and argumentation flying, as if the world depended upon this issue being resolved right now. Three, those around the one searching for opinions would ask, “Who’s the best…what?”
You don’t believe me, do you? Okay. Donatello is the best ninja turtle.
(You can continue reading after you’re done maligning my name or singing my praise. Unless, of course, you are one of those who don’t know about the ninja turtles, in which case, welcome. Theonerds aren’t always this bad.)
When it comes to matters of opinion, this is often the way of things. Some assume that opinions are trivial, even if joyfully engaged in from time to time. Others will fight tooth and nail for their opinion, often ending the conversation with, “I guess you’re entitled to hold the wrong opinion.” And then there are some who don’t have enough information to maintain an opinion.
Being someone who has been through bible college and seminary, I can assure you that I’ve seen plenty of this when dealing with differences of opinion with regard to theology. Interpretation of sacred texts has a habit of causing divisions. Though, in an attempt to curb animosity, it was often repeated by the professors, “Don’t major in the minors.”
The desire behind this statement was to promote unity among fellow followers of Jesus. There are major theological perspectives that are unquestioningly clear in the bible. God is one, yet three distinct individual Persons. The Second Person of the Trinity enfleshed himself in a real human body, lived a perfect life, and sacrificed himself to bring those who call upon his name a right relationship with God. This Jesus was buried and raised on the third day by the Father, and ascended to heaven. The time will come when Jesus will return for those who are his followers, both the living and the dead.
I could go on for a little longer, but you get the point. These statements are integral parts of the Christian Faith. We who rally behind the truths of these statements are brothers and sisters in Jesus. We are one body gathered under him. These unite us. It’s good to remember that these major truths bind us as family.
Other theological statements (those that are less clear or deal less with the salvation of an individual) are considered “minor” theological thoughts. These areas are able to have differences of opinion without affecting who is or isn’t a part of the followers of Jesus. They’re matters of opinion that we should have some understanding of, but realize are not a litmus test of who is worth our time in conversation.
The desire of a statement such as, “Don’t major in the minors,” is a good one. We are united by bigger thoughts than these. But, I believe the outcome of the statement trivializes these minor theological areas to something akin to, “Who is the best ninja turtle?”
I want to be careful here to not be misunderstood. By no means am I lifting matters of opinion to the levels of the core fundamentals of faith in Jesus. Nor am I attempting to draw lines of who is or isn’t right in their opinion. We are one body in Christ.
On the other hand, I believe we followers of Jesus have allocated these “minor” theologies to a place of triviality. If a person raises one of these topics, we tend to hurry it along in the conversation so that animosity doesn’t begin to grow. And those who raise legitimate concerns regarding the practicality of holding certain opinions are thought of, or treated as, divisive individuals.
What I propose is that not all “minor” theological perspectives are equal. Some affect interpretations of large sections of the bible. Others have the effect of causing a person to sin if not practically living in line with the theology.
One of the prime passages in focus when regarding opinions is Romans 14. Verse 1 tells us to not be judgmental concerning the opinions of each other. Unity placed in prime real estate. The reason why we’re not supposed to judge each other is because we each belong to Jesus. We are accountable to him in our opinions, not each other.
Continuing in the passage, there’s discussion of whether or not followers of Jesus should eat meat sacrificed to idols. Also, the idea of which special days should followers of Jesus observe is raised. These are two examples of theological ideas that don’t have a clear distinction for the standard operating procedure. There are many other theological thoughts that can be placed in this category, but these two are what Paul specifically raises.
Then we get to verse 14. Paul writes his conviction that nothing is unclean. As a passage with similar thoughts about opinions (1 Cor. 10:23-33) puts it, “All things are lawful.” We, as followers of Jesus, are free because of the work of Jesus on the cross. But not all things are beneficial for our lives (both our physical and spiritual lives).
However, Paul continues in Romans 14:14 saying that for anyone who believes that something is unclean, it is unclean. A person who believes that something is sinful, will sin if they don’t act in line with their theological opinion. And that’s even if other followers of Jesus are free to act in the same manner without being sinful.
Above and beyond that, the kicker is that if those who holds the opinion that something isn’t sinful then cause the other person to act in that same way (for any number of reasons), both have sinned. The one who believed it was sin for doing what they believed to be sinful. And the other for causing their brother or sister to sin.
If our theological opinions can cause us or others to rebel against what God has instilled in us, then these matters of opinion are not trivial. Not all people who bring up differences of opinion seek division. Some seek holiness.
Unity is important for the body of Christ, but the righteousness of practical living for his followers is important as well. Let’s not judge each other for holding certain opinions. But let’s also not trivialize the possibility of sin.