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Essential Doctrines

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about unity and a result of that post was some discussion of what foundation unity should be built on. Some people believe that any believer should be able to experience unity with any other, while others believe that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to have unity with other “flavors” of Christianity. For example, can someone who believes in infant baptism (the Presbyterian version of infant baptism) have unity with a person who believes in believer’s baptism? My thought was that as long as the essentials are in place we are to strive to have unity with other believers. Of course then the question remains of what constitutes the essentials. Jeri was kind enough to send me an article from John MacArthur where he provides some guidelines. The following is adapted from his book Reckless Faith. I continually come across references to this book so have added it to the top of my “must-read” list.

I. All Fundamental Articles of Faith Must Be Drawn from the Scriptures

For something to be foundational it must find its source in the Word of God, not the word of a man, whether a pastor, priest or pope. If Scripture is not only inspired but sufficient, this must be the case.

II. The Fundamentals Are Clear in Scripture

The Bible is not a cryptic book meant to be only interpreted and understood by experts. The fundamentals of the faith are clearly laid out in the pages of Scripture.

III. Everything Essential to Saving Faith Is Fundamental

If eternal life depends on a doctrine, it must be regarded as fundamental. Among these doctrines, then, would be the diety of Christ, the resurrection of Jesus, justification by faith, and so on.

IV. Every Doctrine We Are Forbidden to Deny Is Fundamental

Any doctrine that the Bible specifically forbids us to deny must be fundamental. As examples MacArthur points out antinomianism, a denial of one’s sin and the notion that humans are essentially good, the denial of Jesus’ incarnation and not having any love for Christ.

V. The Fundamental Doctrines Are All Summed up in the Person and Work of Christ

Christ either personified or established every fundamental doctrine. These doctrines are: the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the doctrine of justification by faith, doctrines relating to Christ’s deity and incarnation, and the doctrines relating to His work – His atoning death, resurrection and the reality of His miracles.

The fundamentals of the faith are so closely identified with Christ that the apostle John used the expression “the teaching of Christ” as a kind of shorthand for the set of doctrines he regarded as fundamental. To him, these doctrines represented the difference between true Christianity and false religion.

That is why he wrote, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Far from encouraging union with those who denied the fundamental truths of the faith, John forbade any form of spiritual fellowship with or encouragement of such false religion (vv. 10-11).

Now what I have outlined does not constitute a definitive list of essential doctrines. I may be young and impulsive, but I am not going to attempt to do that! What we can do from this list of fundamentals is begin to see what God values in terms of unity. We can not and should not have unity with people who deny the fundamentals. We should not attempt to see these doctrines as the list that condemns people to hell. We need to realize that if they are to be condemned, it is their belief in falsehood that will condemn them.


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