We probably all have our modern-day heroes. One of mine is Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I find myself agreeing with almost all Mohler says.
However, I disagree with him on the issue of what many refer to as "second-order" doctrines. Simply put, President Mohler believes they exist, while I do not (to be specific, I no longer believe they exist).
Mohler wrote about this in a blog post entitled A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. In this post, Mohler writes, "First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture."
Mohler continues (and this is key to this blog post), "The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident." (emphasis mine)
Mohler further says, "Second-order issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism. Baptists and Presbyterians, for example, fervently disagree over the most basic understanding of Christian baptism. The practice of infant baptism is inconceivable to the Baptist mind, while Presbyterians trace infant baptism to their most basic understanding of the covenant. Standing together on the first-order doctrines, Baptists and Presbyterians eagerly recognize each other as believing Christians, but recognize that disagreement on issues of this importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination." (emphasis mine)
Finally, he writes, "Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations. I would put most of the debates over eschatology, for example, in this category. Christians who affirm the bodily, historical, and victorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ may differ over timetable and sequence without rupturing the fellowship of the church. Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question."
I fully agree with Dr. Mohler that there are certain doctrines that a person must adhere to in order to be considered a biblical Christian. These issues are worth separating over; they are gospel-centered. Paul says as much in Galatians 1:6-9.
I also agree with Dr. Mohler that there are doctrines (third-order) where Christians may disagree but not separate. The numerous admonitions for the church to be united apply directly to third-order doctrines.
Now to the issue of second-order doctrines. What I would ask Dr. Mohler (if I had the chance) is this, "What biblical evidence is there for the existence of second-order doctrines?" In other words, where in the bible are Christians ever told to separate from each other over issues that are not first-order doctrines?
Mohler clearly advocates separation among believers (see the above sections of his quotes that I placed in bold type). Where in the scriptures does he find anything that suggests this?
I argue that the existence of second-order doctrines is completely a man-made concept to justify separating over issues in which we disagree. Instead of sitting down together and figuring out how we are going to live together as Christians, we separate into all of our little denominations where we can feel comfortable and good about our perfect doctrine.
Did anyone ever bother to ask Christ if He wanted His church to be this splintered? He clearly told us to be united. He told us to separate over core gospel issues, but nothing more.
Therefore, I outright reject the idea of second-order doctrines. When we look in the bible, we see first-order doctrines and third-order doctrines.
We are to be united as followers of Jesus.