An opinion is different from a doctrine. Opinions are matters of personal interpretation, while doctrines demand obedience. Sadly, opinions are often elevated into doctrines that can be divisive when people demand everyone agrees with their interpretation.
Today, let’s think about another contributing factor that elevates matters of opinion to matters of doctrine: personalities. We all know Christians must treat others better than we treat ourselves (the Golden Rule). However, if someone is a false teacher or a heretic, some people believe we can boot them out of the church and say awful things about them. Thus, if you don’t want to be around Brother Different Opinion, just change his name to Brother Heretic – elevate a matter of opinion to a matter of doctrine.
How can you tell the difference between an opinion and something that is doctrinal? We don’t have time to go deeply into this issue but start with this example. Draw a point on a blank sheet of paper. Now ask someone to draw a straight line through that point. How do you know if that line is correct? You can’t. From one point, the line can go anywhere, north, south, east, or west! However, if you draw two points, there is only one line that will connect them. The more points you can establish, the more confident you are of the line. The same is true in Bible study. The interpretation of one point is an opinion. Two or more points can define a doctrine.
Here are two examples. The importance of baptism is without question. There are so many points of Scripture; the answer is sure: “Be baptized!” However, the “doctrine” that Jesus descended into hell and “preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago” is only based on 1 Peter 3:19. This “doctrine” became the basis for the “Harrowing of Hell” that “first appeared in fourth-century formulas and eventually was incorporated into the Apostles’, Athanasian, and Nicene Creeds.” Where Jesus went and what he did while he was in the grave is uncertain at best. However, the benefits of his death though are widely celebrated, and we are on much firmer ground because so many different Scriptures discuss it.
It is much easier to make judgments than it is to be tolerant, but unity is what Jesus prayed for his disciples:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20 – 21).
Be a Blessing,
 Brueggemann, D. A. (2016). Descent into the Underworld, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.