In many conversations that I have had regarding skewed theology, unsound doctrine, and bad interpretations of Scripture and the like, I run into the common refrain “Ya, but its not a salvation issue” or “Well, even if he/she does believe that they won’t go to hell for it.” This has always bothered me because the assumption is the only thing that matters when it comes to belief is only believing what keeps you out of hell. Now, obviously, that matters–big time, but it is not the only thing that matters. Its kind of like saying to your spouse after an disagreement: “Well, it’s not a divorce issue. Your not going to divorce me for it, so its not that big of a deal.” Or its like the classic teenage boy at youth group trying to go as far as he can with his girlfriend without doing-da-deed and actually fornicating. Its just a plain bad way of thinking and bad way to live your life in relationship with other people, which, of course, includes your relationship with Jesus.
Fred Sanders, over at his blog, has some helpful comments on the problem with this way of thinking about Christian doctrine:
Is this a salvation issue?” is often the final court of appeal for evangelicals. First of all, let me point out that even if it were not a salvation issue, it could still be important. Only an evangelical culture in which doctrine and truth are not considered relevant to Christian life could the question “Is this a salvation issue” function as a diagnostic check for every doctrinal discussion, with the implicit presupposition being that we should think very little about anything that does not directly impinge on whether you go to heaven when you die. Some things may not be salvation issues but may still be fundamentally wrong and therefore to be avoided. A Christian can be saved and go to heaven with a great number of wrong ideas in his head. Many believers have had shocking experiences in which we discover some amazing and important theological truth that has somehow escaped us in years of the Christian life. Many evangelical Christians believe, for example, that Jesus got rid of his human body when he ascended to the Father, undid the incarnation, and is no longer a human. That is a false belief, and reading Hebrews would correct it rapidly. Is it a salvation issue? No, but if a whole church began belligerently preaching the non-humanity of the ascended Christ, it would be grounds for warning them sternly that they were deviating.
The goal of Christian believer’s is not to believe as little as they can about God and his Word just to make it into heaven, but to “grow in knowledge and grace” and cultivate “sound doctrine.” Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, says that the time will come when people will “not put up with sound doctrine” (4:3). The poisonous weed of a negative attitude toward–a not putting up with–sound doctrine grows from the soil of an attitude that treats only the most important Christian doctrines as important at all and chucks the rest out as simply filler and relatively unimportant. When you start pulling on the string of important doctrines the most important ones will eventually disintegrate. (*Tip of the hat to Sinclair Ferguson for that last analogy*).