Is error in doctrine always sin? It’s a question I’ve reflected on in the past and one that I think is well worth considering, even if just for a few moments. While this may seem like a petty issue, a petty question, I believe it is an issue of some consequence since it will necessarily impact how I relate to fellow Christians who differ from me on secondary issues. If I feel that my friend is being sinful by teaching that we should baptize infants, I will want to go to great lengths to show him that he is sinning and to see him repent and correct his error. But if I believe that his belief in infant baptism is something less than sin, I can appreciate his conviction while not feeling the need to emphasize repentance and correction. Do you see the difference there? One understanding compels me to emphasize correction while the other allows me to find unity.
Now it is obvious that there are times when differences in doctrine reflect sin. A person who preaches that Jesus Christ is something other than divine is teaching an awful and divisive heresy and that error is sinful, pure and simple. A person who teaches that homosexuality is a legitimate lifestyle that the Bible condones is likewise teaching grievous error and error that can be easily proven so from the Bible. But what happens when the error deals with issues of lesser consequence? What happens when one teacher preaches a sermon defending the baptism of believers while another preaches a sermon defending the baptism of children? Obviously one of the two men must be wrong. But is one of them being sinful in teaching what is wrong? Or think of an issue like eschatology where two very fine and godly men may have completely different understandings of the end times. When they teach their differing conclusions, is one of them actually being sinful?
Here are three principles I’ve found useful and relevant while thinking about this issue.
First, it is clear to me that, regardless of whether or not error in doctrine is always sin, error in doctrine is always a consequence of sin. When the Lord returns and we join him in heaven, there will no longer be disagreements about doctrine. Disagreements about baptism, eschatology and other issues will be put away once and for all. And we all look forward to that day.