by Pete Garcia
There are many passionate believers out in the world today. Each of us tends to find those issues we hold near and dear to our hearts and we are willing to plant our battle flags on to defend until the death. For some, it is a particular doctrine. For others, it may be a form of religious worship. Still others find smaller sub-sections within Christendom to target in on and focus their efforts on understanding or perfecting. This brief will deal with what I believe to be five non-primary doctrinal issues whose divisions have done more than harm than good to the body of Christ.
For a foundation, let me begin with what are considered the major doctrinal issues by category. I have included a summation from CARM’s (Christian Apologetic & Research Ministry) doctrine grid. Today’s brief will primarily focus on some of numbers three and four. Anything italicized is copied verbatim.
- Primary Essentials. You cannot claim to be a Christian if you deny the following: Deity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, salvation by grace through faith alone, the gospel being the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and that there is only one God.
- Secondary Essentials. Technically, one could be regenerated (born-again), but if you deny these after your conversion, your salvation would seriously be in question if you continue to deny the following: the Trinity, the virgin birth, and that Christ is the only way to God the Father.
- Primary Non-Essentials. Denying these can bring one’s salvation into question since the regenerate seek to live according to God’s word. Violating them does not automatically mean the person is not saved since Christians fall into various sins. However, abiding in sins with unrepentance would be evidence that the person is not regenerated: moral integrity, fidelity in marriage, the inerrancy of Scripture, condemnation of homosexuality, baptism is not necessary for salvation, and eternal security (not by obedience).
- Secondary Non-Essentials. Any of them can be denied or affirmed, and regeneration is not in questioned: predestination/election/free-will/unlimited atonement, communion (on how it is conducted), Saturday or Sunday worship, Eschatological positions, continuation or cessation of gifts, baptism for adults or infants, and in-church musical instruments.
- Christian Heresies. These do not contradict the essentials but do contradict non-essential teachings. Generally, those who hold to these positions should be avoided and urged to repent: universalism, open theism, annihilationism, health/wealth, women pastors, willful sin cult, and that one must belong to a particular church to be saved.
Let me add my own personal caveat to this. Deviations from or into any of these can cause one to drift doctrinally. Likewise, hyper-focusing on any of the secondary and non-essentials can cause one (or one’s ministry) to lose sight of our primary mandate from Christ (Matt. 28:18-20)
I. King James Only
While I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, I do not believe in the inerrancy of translations. Just as I (and many others) are led to write and contend for the faith and teach many things, my own teaching is not without error. I make grammatical mistakes. I do not claim to fully understand all the mysteries as laid out in Scripture. Neither do the translators have everything perfectly translated.
We have a bible that was originally given to us in Hebrew, then translated into Greek, Latin, English and then every other language following. While I understand the different types of Scriptural translations (word for word vs. thought for thought) and the spectrum all the current translations fall into, none of these is without errors, even the KJV.
As Christians, we should not divide over bible translations. It is ok to have your favorite. It is ok for other people to have their favorite. We do not all speak 17th-century English, or any English at all for that matter. I would recommend that Christians avoid translations that seriously deviate from the original text (The Message, CEV, TEV, Living Bible, TNIV, etc.) Absolutely avoid the New World Translation (Jehovah Witness’s Bible) which seriously tampers with the integrity of Scripture.
II. Water Baptism
Teaching baptismal regeneration or the emphasis on water-baptism FOR salvation is an error. Scripture does not support this position, but rather, people misconstrue certain passages to come to this conclusion. For the sake of argument, let us break down water baptism and its relation to the salvation of the believer.
- We are first introduced to water baptism through John the Baptist (JTB). He baptized people in the Jordan for ‘repentance.’ (Matt. 3:5)
- JTB declares that One (the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world-John 1:29-31) is coming after him, who’s shoes he’s not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11).
- So now we have two types of baptism- water baptism and baptism by the Holy Spirit. Which do you think is necessary FOR salvation? The washing of water of the flesh (1 Peter 3:19-21), or the washing of the soul by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-7).
- Acts 2 shows Peter preaching and thousands coming to salvation.
- First, we see them hear the message, coming to the realization they NEED salvation (Acts. 2:37)
- Secondly, we see Peter tell them:
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
1. This word ‘for’ is the Greek word ‘eis.’ It can mean a number of different things, and it is unfortunate that English scholars have chosen this word ‘for’ since it can also mean unto or into. See the above (I) on errors in translations from Greek to English. From CARM;
“In Acts 2:38 the main verb is metanoesate (change mind), the aorist direct imperative (a command) of metanoeo which means to repent (change mind). This refers to that initial repentance of the sinner unto salvation. The verb translated “be baptized” is in the indirect passive imperative (a command to receive; hence, passive voice in Greek 1) of baptizo, which does not give it the same direct command implied in “repent.” The preposition “for” in the phrase “for the remission of sins” in Greek is “eis,” unto or into, and it is in the accusative case (direct object). It can mean, “for the purpose of identifying you with the remission of sins.” It is the same preposition we find in 1 Cor. 10:2 in the phrase “and were baptized unto Moses.” Note that both contexts are dealing with baptism and identification. In 1 Cor. 10:2 the people were baptized or spiritually identifying themselves with the purposes and vision of Moses.” (Link)
- If Acts 2:38 were the definitive example of HOW we are saved, then we should see this reiterated throughout the rest of Scripture. We do not. See Acts. 3:19, 8:37, 10:44-48, 19:4.
- The order we see in Acts is hearing the message, repentance and belief in the risen Christ, THEN baptism. Baptism is something born-again believers do, not what we do to be saved.
- The Apostle Paul did not include water baptism in the Gospel message, but as something separate, that follows conversion. (1 Corinthians 1:17, 15:1-6, Gal. 1:8-9, Eph. 2:8-9)
- There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. This baptism is not of water, but of the Holy Spirit who seals us until the day of redemption (Eph. 4:5, 30).
- Lastly, salvation is either by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), or it is not. The absolute clearest passages on salvation (John 3:16, Rom. 10:9-13) do not mention water baptism in any way, shape, or form. IF water baptism were necessary, it would be included in these critical passages. Water baptism is a requirement FOR the believer, NOT to become a believer.
III. Hypercritical Discernment Ministries
Certain discernment ministries, perhaps good intentioned, become so hypercritical that anyone who disagrees with them even on non-essential views, are written off as heretics or apostates. There is a charge by Christ and other contributors to Scripture to contend for the faith in love, with longsuffering and patience. When we exclude love, we are nothing more than clanging brass symbols who come off as self-appointed, self-righteous, biased, and narrow-minded. IOW, while there is absolutely a need for discernment in these last days, we are commanded to do so in love. (See also Matt. 18:15-17, Gal. 6:1-5, 1 Cor. 13, 2 Tim. 2:23-26, James 5:19-20, 1 Peter 3:15, 1 John 4:5-12, Jude 1:3, 22-23, etc.
This is a can of worms doctrine I always hate getting into, simply because it can be argued either way. Therefore, I will surmise this into its simplest form and leave it there.
- God is omniscient and knows everything, from the end to the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10)
- God foreknew us (Matt. 25:34, Eph. 1:4), and foreknew who would come to Him in repentance and salvation. By default, God also knows who would not come to Him, thereby earning damnation and eternal separation.
- Although God already knows the choice we will make, it is still ours to make. Probably the best explanation I have come across is from Gotquestions.org;
“It is impossible for us to fully understand the dynamics of a holy God molding and shaping the will of man. Scripture is clear that God knows the future (Matthew 6:8; Psalm 139:1-4) and has total sovereign control over all things (Colossians 1:16-17; Daniel 4:35). The Bible also states that we must choose God or be eternally separated from Him. We are held responsible for our actions (Romans 3:19; 6:23; 9:19-21). How these facts work together is impossible for a finite mind to comprehend (Romans 11:33-36).
People can take one of two extremes in regard to this question. Some emphasize the sovereignty of God to the point that human beings are little more than robots simply doing what they have been sovereignly programmed to do. Others emphasize free will to the point of God not having complete control and/or knowledge of all things. Neither of these positions is biblical. The truth is that God does not violate our wills by choosing us and redeeming us. Rather, He changes our hearts so that our wills choose Him. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).”
Therefore, predestination vs. free will becomes the age-old question that we finite humans cannot fully understand, nor will we this side of the veil. I am not sure why this has ever been such a huge, contentious, church-splitting issue for believers over the centuries.
By far my favorite topic to discuss with anyone is eschatology (the study of last things). I view eschatology as secondary only to soteriology (the study of salvation) and by which all other Christian doctrines hang from. Every doctrine has eschatology built into it, interwoven through, and connects every other doctrine, so to ignore it, is detrimental to the health of the believer and church. We find the first prophecy in the bible in Genesis 3:15 about salvation and the redemption of humanity (the protoevangelicum). Thus by prophecy, we see the salvation story foretold at the very beginning of creation.
There are really three types of believers out there regarding bible prophecy. There are those who zealously passionate about it (in its varying positions), there are those who ignore it completely, and there are those who balance it with all other doctrines.
- Those who ignore it, do so at their own peril. While it is not necessary for salvation, it is instrumental in understanding how all other Christian doctrines tie together. Without prophecy, one is getting an incomplete picture of both the Old and New Testaments. Most of the mainline Protestant denominations, much of Roman Catholicism, and much of the Seeker-Sensitive, Emergent Church, and other modern movements have largely abandoned the proper study of eschatology.
- Those who are overly zealous in their beliefs, tend to become militant in their positions (whatever that may be). They then use it as a way to measure other believer’s salvation status. I have been guilty of this. Furthermore, cults use their particular brands of eschatology as a means to frighten their followers (hence the term doomsday cult) which is an abuse of the text and heretical.
- Finally, there are those who hold a healthy balance of eschatology with all other doctrines, recognizing its “non-essential” (as it relates to salvation) role to our eternal state. I would add though, that having the correct eschatological position is critical to the spiritual development of the believer (Eph. 4:11-16, 2 Peter 1:19-21, Rev. 19:10). If your eschatology is askew, then you can be sure that other doctrines you hold to are also misaligned.
No believer alive today, nor since Christ, is or has ever been perfect. We, as the apostle Paul appropriately noted, see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12). We now are two-thousand years removed, have an inerrant bible (in its original form) but translated into our lesser languages by fallible men. We have misunderstandings over particular doctrines given this language barrier, of which God put in place at Babel (Gen 11:7).
It takes our regeneration to even begin to understand Scripture. That is our salvation by His grace through our faith (which He makes possible), placed solely in the finished and redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary and His subsequent resurrection from the dead to change us. We do not go from being unsaved to saved, but from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive with new natures (2 Cor. 5:17-21). We are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the singular, universal, multi-membered, corporate body of Christ here on the earth, sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption (2 Cor. 1:21-22, Eph. 1:11-14, 4:30).
While it is important to hold to a doctrine properly (through a literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic), we must demonstrate love, patience, and humility when we teach, write, instruct, and share with those who do not. Above all, we must love each other, because by this, the world will know we are of Christ. As Theodore Roosevelt was once quoted saying, people do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—Ephesians 2:11-15