What Think Ye of Christ?–A First Order Issue
Theologians like to talk about issues of the first, second and third-order when discussing items that divide. Third-order items are points of debate that might make for a heated discussion over a coffee with a friend but should not be the cause of a denial of personal or church fellowship. To allow it to do so would be to succumb to the error of legalism. 'Should I eat meat?' or 'Will the Church go through the tribulation?' or 'Does God choose individuals to salvation?'* are such examples.
Second-order issues, by definition, are more significant and raise questions for church fellowship. Just look at the various denominations that exist within the church, and you will get a good idea of second-order issues: baptism, church governance, attitude to charismatic gifts, and the use of head coverings, to name but a few.
But then there are first-order issues. These are cardinal matters of central importance. Items such as the person of Christ, the nature of the Trinity, the virgin birth and the nature of salvation are all examples of issues that cause a necessary break in fellowship.
But 'why necessary' you ask? 'Surely it's far kinder to disagree politely and move along as if the matter doesn't exist?' Not so, according to Scripture. We should always be polite, that is indubitable. But Scripture tells us that issues that theologians call first-order are in fact matters that divide the saved from the lost. Let Scripture speak for itself: Here's what John stated about an error on the person of Christ;
"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist" (1 Jn 4:2-3, KJV)
Here is what Peter stated;
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." (2 Pet 2:1, KJV)
Here is what Paul thought about those who changed the message of the gospel;
"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8, KJV)
As we go to remember Him again this morning, let us give the last word to the insightful hymn writer, John Newton;
What think you of Christ? is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of him.
As another has answered Newton’s question; ‘He is altogether lovely!’
*The writer is aware that some consider eschatological and soteriological divisions of this nature to be second-order issues and therefore a question of church fellowship.