ESSENTIAL DOCTRINES OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
What is the main purpose for the Christian church? God’s enduring purpose for the Christian church is to proclaim the Gospel to the world. After Jesus’ resurrection, He said to his disciples the following:
1. Mathew 28:19-20 go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all things that he commanded them.
2. Act 1:8 be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Much too often the Christian community fails in its mission to reach the world because it lacks unity. The Christian community, too often, splits and divides over differences in Biblical doctrines while the worlds looks on. Since we are supposed to be Christ’s ambassadors on the earth, no wonder why we fail in our attempts to win people to Christ.
Unfortunately, we encounter these doctrinal differences between congregants and even between congregations (one church vs. another church). Are there any solutions that will unite the Christian community despite differences in Biblical doctrines?
One viable solution is for the Christian community to unite on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith while showing liberty in all non-essential doctrines. An essential doctrine of the Christian faith can be defined as a doctrine that belief in is crucial and necessary to obtain salvation.
Let’s look at an article written by Hank Hanegraaff (host of the Bible answer man radio show and president of the Christian Research Institute). Hank lays out the importance of uniting on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.
Article ID: DC234 By: Hank Hanegraaff (Christian Research Institute) CRI is committed to the maxim: “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity.” Our goal is to make people so familiar with the essentials of the Christian faith that when a counterfeit looms on the horizon, they will recognize it instantaneously.
There must be unity around the essentials, since essential Christian doctrine forms the line of demarcation between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the cults. Today, as perhaps never before, this line is not just being blurred by false teachings, but it is being obliterated. The tide in evangelicalism is turning from unity around the essentials to unity despite the essentials. Movements within the culture — cults as well as the church — are compromising, confusing, and contradicting essential Christian doctrine.
It is precisely because these essentials have been redefined that millions have a completely distorted view of what it means to be a Christian. As a case in point, the “Faith” movement may use Christian terminology when it comes to the essentials, but the meaning it pours into the words is decidedly unbiblical. Faith is redefined as a force, God is reduced to a being who has faith, and the gospel of grace has been relegated to a gospel of greed. Although Faith teachers have trivialized the importance of essential Christian doctrine, it remains the key to effective Christian living. First, “essential Christian doctrine” provides the framework through which we properly relate to God in prayer, accurately understand the Bible, and actively involve ourselves in vital church membership. Furthermore, it is the means by which we ably defend our faith.
Finally, it is the basis for how we live our lives. As Paul instructed Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Let us look at some more information regarding the essentials of the Christian faith: Does the Bible have doctrines that are considered essential?
a. Yes, the Bible has essential doctrines. These essential doctrines of the Christian faith can be traced to the Christian creeds. b. Norm L. Geisler (a well-known Christian apologist) in an article he wrote called, “The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith” states that by taking a historical approach to the topic of the essentials of the faith, we can start with the earliest creeds, which are embedded in the New Testament. We can then trace creedal development through the early forms of the Apostles’ Creed to the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.
c. What is a creed?
1) Creeds are written summaries of the doctrines of the Bible. 2) Different Creeds have different reasons for coming into existence and don’t always agree with each other 100% of the time. However, they divulge the truth of the Christian faith in the essentials.
3) A creed is a form of words setting forth with authority certain articles of belief which are regarded by the framers as necessary for salvation. 4) The creeds are not co-ordinate with, but always subordinate to, the Bible which is the only infallible rule of the Christian faith and practice. 5) The value of the creeds depends upon the measure of their agreement with the scriptures. What are the essential doctrines of the Christian faith? Norm Geisler says that the essential doctrines of the Christian faith emerge from a historical approach and from a logical approach:
a. Historical approach – these are those contained in the Apostles Creed and unfolded in subsequent creeds of the first five centuries. These include (1) human depravity, (2) Christ’s virgin birth, (3) Christ’s sin-less- ness, (4) Christ’s deity, (5) Christ’s humanity, (6) Gods unity, (7) Gods triunity, (8) the necessity of God’s grace, (9) the necessity of faith, (10) Christ’s atoning death, (11) Christ’s bodily resurrection, (12) Christ’s bodily ascension, (13) Christ’s present High Priestly service, and ( 14) Christ’s second coming, final judgment, and reign. Heaven and hell are implied in the final judgment and are explicated in later creeds. b. Logical approach - there are two criteria for this approach:
First, the doctrine must concern and be connected to our salvation; that is, it must be salvific.
Second, its connection to our salvation must be crucial; that is, it must be so tied to our salvation that if it were not true, our salvation as God revealed it would not be possible.
Why separate God’s truth into essentials and non-essentials? Norm Geisler states three reasons: a. The 1st reason is unity. Geisler states that the essentials are the basis for our unity. The ancient dictum (an authoritative pronouncement), in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity resonates with practically everyone
b. The 2nd reason examines cults vs. true Christianity. Geisler states that the essential doctrines distinguish cults of Christianity from true Christianity, since these groups claim to be Christian but deny one or more of the essential doctrines of the historic Christian Church. It is not possible to identify these cults, however, unless we know what the essentials are. c. The 3rd reason is it forms a dividing line. Geisler states that the essential doctrines are the only truths over which we rightly can divide (i.e., break fellowship). It is better to be divided over truth than to be united in error where essentials are concerned (e.g., Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; Titus 1:9; 1 John 2:19), but it is a great error for those who hold the truth to be divided where nonessentials are concerned (e.g., Eph. 4:3). It behooves us, therefore, to know the difference; otherwise, we may find ourselves dividing from those with whom we should be united and uniting with those from whom we should be divided.
Are non-essentials of a lesser value?
Separating doctrines into essential and non-essential does not mean that the non-essentials are of lesser value. The following words of Charles Surgeon (known as the “Prince of Preachers), explains this important fact: a. Spurgeon said: if you say that any one part of the truth is unimportant, you do as good as say – to that extent the Holy Spirit has come upon an unimportant or valueless mission. You perceive it is declared that he is to teach us “all things”; but if some of these “all things” are really of such minor importance, and so quite non-essential, then surely it is not worth while disturbing our minds with them. And so to that degree, at any rate, we accuse the Holy Spirit of having come to do what is not necessary to be done; and I trust that our minds recoil with holy repulsion from such a half-blasphemy as that…
b. On the value of essentials Spurgeon said: but it may be said, “There must be some truths which are not so essential as others!” That is granted. There are some truths that are so vital to salvation and peace with God, and there are some others that do not vitally concern the regeneration and conversion of the soul, and upon these men may be in error, and yet not risk their souls for all eternity. But still, even these [less vital] truths are part of the whole body of truth, and the body cannot do without its head, its heart, though it might lose a limb.
The Christian community must unify in order to be effective ambassadors of Christ in reaching a dying world. We must unify on the essentials, show liberty in nonessentials, and show charity in all things.
It is extremely important for the Christian community to unify around the essentials of the Christian faith. Psalms 133:1 states “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Mathew 12:25 states “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.”
Following are some of the benefits of the essentials:
1. They form the basis of Christian unity.
2. They are the only truths over which we rightly can divide (i.e., break fellowship).
3. They form the line of demarcation between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the cults.
Following is a list of essential doctrines:
(1) human depravity, (2) Christ’s virgin birth, (3) Christ’s sin-less-ness, (4) Christ’s deity, (5) Christ’s humanity, (6) Gods unity, (7) Gods triunity, (8) the necessity of God’s grace, (9) the necessity of faith, (10) Christ’s atoning death, (11) Christ’s bodily resurrection, (12) Christ’s bodily ascension, (13) Christ’s present High Priestly service, and (14) Christ’s second coming, final judgment, and reign. Heaven and hell are implied in the final judgment and are explicated in later creeds.
Are the following doctrines that the church community divides over essential or non-essential - you decide:
1. Eschatology (study of the end times and views on the timing of Jesus’ return) a) Futurism – places the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, the Book of Daniel, the Olivet discourse and The Sheep and the Goats generally in the future as literal, physical, apocalyptic and global. b) Historicism – understands some prophecies of the Bible, especially Daniel & Revelation, as being fulfilled in a continuous line from ancient Jewish history through the End of the Age or the End of the World. c) Partial Preterism – places the events of most of the Book of Revelation as occurring during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD yet still affirms an orthodox future bodily return of Christ to earth at an unknown day and hour. d) Idealism – Sees all of the imagery of the book of Revelation as non-literal symbols.
e) Premillennialism – belief that Jesus will literally and physically be on the earth for his millennial reign (a thousand years), at his second coming. f) Mid-Tribulation – says that the rapture will occur at some point in the middle of what is popularly called the Tribulation period or Daniel’s 70th Week. g) Pre-Tribulation Rapture – advocates that the rapture will occur before the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation period, while the second coming will occur at the end of the seven-year Tribulation period. h) Postmillennialism – chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation which sees Christ’s second coming as occurring after the “Millennium”. i) Amillennialism – holds that the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 is a symbolic number, not a literal description, and that Christ’s reign during the millennium is spiritual in nature. And at the end of the church age, Christ will return in final judgment and establish a permanent physical return.
2. Calvinism vs. Armenianism
a. Calvinism – a doctrine that teaches total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.
b. Armenianism – a doctrine that holds that humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation and possess free will to accept or reject salvation, salvation is only possible by God’s grace, no works of human effort can cause or contribute to salvation, God’s election is conditional on faith in the sacrifice and Lordship of Jesus Christ, Christ’s atonement was made on behalf of all people, God allows his grace to be resisted by those who freely reject Christ, and believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace through persistent, unrepented-of sin. 3. Speaking in tongues
4. Saturday worship vs. Sunday worship
5. Young earth vs. Old earth creationism 6. Baptizing - Immersion vs sprinkling
7. Baptizing - Infant vs Adult
IMPORTANT: In theory, most churches will acknowledge that the Christian community should unify around the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. However in reality the church will sometimes elevate non- essential doctrines to an essential level and divide over them.
The solution for Christian unity is to embrace and exercise the following: “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity.”