I am all for upholding distinctions within Christian theology between primary and secondary, and even tertiary issues. That kind of clear thinking leads to clear teaching and are great helps in sanctification.
However, I would caution you about making too much of the distinctions in our day. A secondary issue (and for that matter a tertiary issue, but for the rest of this post I will refer to anything that is not primary as secondary) becomes a primary issue if the real issue is submission to God’s Word. A secondary issue becomes a primary issue if the real issue is submission to God’s Word.
I will give you three examples to illustrate what I am talking about:
- About 5 years ago our church began discussions about changing our leadership structure from single-elder to plural-elder leadership. It caused lots of conflict. Many people left over the issue. I tried the whole time to say “church polity is a secondary issue.” And because I was clear about that, a member asked me, “if it is secondary, and if it is causing people to leave, why not drop it?” My answer: It would be one thing to be patient and have more discussions, but if God’s Word says we should have plural elders, we do what God says. You do not “drop” anything that God says. Yes, I might be wrong in my interpretation, but let God sort that out later; or let’s have more bible discussions about it to see what the Bible really says. But we do not have the option to ignore anything God says, just because an issue might be secondary in our minds.
- I have known good Christians who have gone to churches with women pastors. Some of them have told me they do not really think the Bible allows women pastors, but these women are godly and close friends and there are all kinds of things to commend about these women. In their minds, women in ministry is a secondary issue, not something to divide over. My response: women in ministry is secondary to the gospel. But Lordship of Christ is not! And if Jesus says “women should not be pastors” then you submit to Jesus. Case closed.
- My wife was once asked to work at an Arminian school. They told her “you can teach anything you want as long as you don’t teach ‘once saved, always saved.'” So she respectfully declined. Why? Because we believe God wants us to preach the gospel in such a way that the believer understands Christ’s finished work secures them for all eternity. Can someone be saved without believing in eternal security? Yes. John Wesley is in heaven! But if I think God says to preach the gospel one way, and I deliberately preach it another way, all of a sudden, my submission to the Lordship of Christ is called into question.
So uphold the centrality of the gospel of our Lord Jesus– the crucified, dead, buried, and risen Savior, the one in Whom all who trust in Him will be saved. Uphold the centrality of the Trinity– one God, three Persons; the Father who plans, the Son who accomplishes, and the Spirit who applies redemption. Uphold the primary doctrines as primary. And then submit to the God of those doctrines in all things primary and secondary (Matthew 28.20).