Catholic theologians speak of a “hierarchy of truths,” a phrase found in Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio, 11). This concept does not mean that some truths are truer than others, or that the Catholic faithful are free to pick and choose among the teachings of their church as they please. It means, rather, that in the economy of divine revelation, more theological weight, as it were, is given to those teachings that relate directly to the foundational truths of the Christian faith. This point is similar to the distinction Thomas Aquinas makes between some articles of faith which are as such secundum se and others in ordine ad alia (ST 2-2, q.1, a.6). (See the excellent study by the Capuchin scholar William Henn, “The Hierarchy of Truths Twenty Years Later,” Theological Studies 48, .)
In this vein, I would like to propose a “hierarchy of ecclesial realities.” What do I mean by this? While I recognize myself as a Protestant, an Evangelical, and a Baptist, none of those labels defines my spiritual and ecclesial identity at the most basic level. Being an evangelical Protestant, a Baptist, indeed a Southern Baptist, are all important markers of my place within the community of faith, but there is a more primary confession I must make: I am a trinitarian Christian who by the grace of God belongs to the whole company of the redeemed through the ages, those who are “very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ” (Book of Common Prayer).
Far from being a new construal, this way of putting things goes to the very heart of what it means to be a genuine Protestant, a true Evangelical, and an authentic Baptist.