Friday, June 28, 2013

Distinguishing Between Essentials and Non-Essentials


Here is a chart to help distinguish between those things that are essential (cardinal) and those things that are non-essential (non-cardinal). There is an explanation below. How to distinguish between essentials and non-essential is a very big question that is not covered here, but you can learn about that here.

Essential for salvation: These are the most essential doctrines of all. This includes what everyChristian should always be willing to die for. In essence, if someone does not believe the doctrines that are “essential for salvation,” they are not saved.
What I include:
  • Belief in God (there is no such thing as an atheistic Christian)
Issues pertaining to the person and work of Christ:
  • Belief in Christ’s deity and humanity (1 John 4:2-3Rom. 10:9)
  • Belief that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy (1 John 1:10)
  • Belief that Christ died on the cross and rose bodily from the grave (1 Cor 15:3-4)
  • Belief that faith in Christ is necessary (John 3:16)
As with all of them, I am sure there are some ancillary matters that could be included, but this gives you the key doctrines. Without these, you simply don’t have any sense of what it means to be a Christian.
Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy: These include beliefs “essential for salvation” butare broader, in that they express what has been believed by the historic Christian church for the last two thousand years, no matter what tradition. This is expressed by the Vincentian Canon (434 A.D.): “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” The exception of fringe movements has never been valid for this canon. It is simply asking, “What have all Christians everywhere always believed?”
Some of what I include:
  • The doctrine of the Trinity as expressed at Nicea
  • The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union (Christ is fully man and fully God) as expressed at Chalcedon
  • The belief in the future second coming of Christ
  • A belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  • A belief in eternal punishment for the wicked
  • A belief in God’s transcendence (his metaphysical distinction from the universe)
  • Belief that Christ is the only way to the Father
To be sure, some of these doctrines “develop,” but their development is only in relation to their seed form which preexisted their more mature expression. (For more on this, see here.)
Essential for traditional orthodoxy: Again, these will necessarily include all of those from the two previous categories, but some distinctives are added. Essentials here will include all of those that are foundational to one of the three main Christian traditions: Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Roman Catholicism. These are beliefs that distinguish one tradition from the next, but are not absolutely essential from the broader Christian worldview expressed above.
Some Protestant distinctives would include:
  • General belief in the major pronouncements of the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 AD)
  • Belief in the necessity for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
  • Belief that justification is through faith alone on the basis of Christ alone
  • Belief that Scripture alone has ultimate authority on all matters of faith and practice
  • The canon of Scripture made up of 66 books (excluding the Deuterocanonical books)
Some Roman Catholic distinctives would include:
  • Belief in transubstantiation (the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Christ)
  • Belief that justification is through faith and works
  • Belief that both Scripture and unwritten tradition have ultimate authority as they are interpreted by the Magisterium
  • Belief in the authority of twenty-one ecumenical councils
  • Belief that the Pope is the infallible vicar of Christ
  • Belief in the Marian dogmas
  • Belief that the canon includes the Deuterocanonical books
Some Eastern Orthodox distinctives would include:
  • Belief in the infallibility of the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 AD)
  • Belief that the liturgy of the Church is part of the Gospel
  • Rejection of substitutionary atonement and the imputation of Adam’s sin
  • Salvation by grace through faith as God works these out through our unification with Him (theosis)
  • Traditional inclusion of the Deuterocanonical book (although there is some debate about this)
Essential for denominational orthodoxy: This will be similar to the above, but one step down in importance, dealing as it does with the particular and peculiar denominational expressions of the various Protestant traditions.
Some examples:
  • Credo-baptism, i.e., Baptism is only for believers (Baptists)
  • Infant baptism (Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans)
  • Unconditional election (Reformed and Presbyterians)
  • Arminian theology (Methodists, Nazarenes)
  • Belief in the continuation of the Charismatic gifts (Pentecostals, Church of God)
Important but not essential: These are those beliefs that do not describe any particular tradition necessarily. They are important, but not that important.
Some examples:
  • Beliefs about particulars in the creation debate
  • Belief whether the books of Jonah and Job are historical accounts
  • Beliefs about the inerrancy of Scripture
  • Beliefs about the authorship of 2 Peter
  • Belief about particular end-time schemes (e.g., premillennial, amillennial, post-millennial)
  • The order of books in the canon
  • Which translation of the Bible to use from the pulpit
  • Which Gospel was written first
  • How often one should celebrate the Lord’s supper
  • Whether or not Christ taught in Greek or Aramaic
Not Important: These are beliefs that people have concerning Christian doctrine that are not important for any expression and do not affect Christian devotion or spirituality.
Some examples
  • The date of Christ’s birth (Christmas)
  • What kind of music to play at church
  • Whether to use real wine or grape juice at communion
  • Whether to hold Saturday night services
  • Whether or not John the Baptist was an Essene
Pure speculation: That is just what these are—speculation. We just don’t know one way or another, nor does it matter.
Some examples
  • Did Adam have a belly-button? (yes, he did…it would just look funny otherwise)
  • Belief in the eternal destiny of pets (except I know my dog Rocky is going to heaven)
  • What was God doing “before” creation? (decrees)
  • Will there be meat to eat in heaven? (we can all hope)
  • Will there be sex in heaven? (we can all hope more)
  • How long was it before Adam and Eve fell? (didn’t I just write on this?)


Kwame E. said...

Somehow he dropped the ball when he came to the lists of “Important but not essential” things and “Not Important” things.

WRT the former list, we live in a world where one thing leads to another, both good and bad. WRT the latter list, something like what kind of music you play at church is important if it is cacophanous to the point of being distracting or if music should not be played at all, in keeping with some people’s take on the issues of Exclusive Psalmody, or a capella singing, etc.; these things become even more important when they lead to schisms or the splitting of congregations.

I fully understand and appreciate where he is coming from, but to a certain extent all things are important and must be done correctly.

D.B. said...

Yeah, I think his post was simply trying to get a thumbnail sketch of these things. I know he would not simply dismiss the importance of some of the topics, just we ought to be careful not to make the minor things major, at least at first.