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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Light at the End of the Tunnel | Main | Heralding the Gospel in Times of Crisis: Covenant Enforcement »

    Maturity in Essentials and Non-Essentials by Pastor John Samson

    "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity." - Augustine

    Doctrine divides! It divides truth from error. It divides the true teacher from the false teacher; the spirit of truth from the spirit of error; and the true Christ from the Anti-Christ.

    In the Church, Christians hold differing views about important, yet non-essential matters. Let me explain. There are doctrines in the Bible that while very important, are not essential to salvation. For instance, whether or not someone believes in the baptism of infants or whether or not God still heals today, I think are important issues; yet, what someone believes about these is not essential to someone being included or excluded from the kingdom of God. Someone is not a "false teacher" who takes a different position on these issues. The same is true for doctrines such as whether someone is "pre-trib," "mid-trib," or "post-trib" in their belief about the end times, or for those who take different positions on the millennnium - "a", "pre" or "post." Sincere, godly, dedicated believers believe different things about these issues, but it does not mean that one person is saved and another damned because they have a different view.

    As Christians, what unites us, vastly outweighs what might divide us. In the essentials, such as the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, etc., we need to be in agreement. As this quote, which historically has been attributed to Augustine states, "In essentials, unity." We cannot compromise on these major issues of the Gospel. These are non-negotiables. In fact, to depart from these doctrines is to depart from the Christian faith itself.

    Knowing the difference between the essentials and the non-essentials takes a great deal of maturity at times. Christians have been notorious for dividing over such very minor issues, and the Body of Christ has been less effective because of it. The boundary lines are drawn by the Gospel itself. We must be united in the Gospel for true Christian unity to exist. But where this does in fact exist, let us celebrate it, standing united for the cause of Christ.

    Augustine went on to say, "in non-essentials, liberty." Christians need to allow their brothers and sisters room to hold differing positions on some issues without breaking fellowship with them. This takes a great deal of maturity. Church history shows us that the Body of Christ as a whole has not been very good at this. We tend to disassociate ourselves from Christians who don't have the exact same understanding of the spiritual gifts, the end times, Divine election, or even when a child is old enough to be baptized. These are important issues, of course. In fact, there is only one true biblical position on these issues - not everyone is right! There is a right answer and a wrong answer. In fact, there are many wrong answers. God is not confused on these issues, even if we are. We should note too that God doesn't ever give us the right to believe false doctrine. If there are two people with differing positions on an issue, at least one of them is grieving the Lord in terms of what they believe. Yet the point is that both people can believe that, disagree on a certain issue with a fellow brother or sister and yet believe the best of the other - that if the other person could be convinced by sacred scripture concerning the truth of the matter, they believe the other one would change their beliefs immediately. But disagreement on these important but non-essential things should not divide us, if we are united in the Gospel.

    This is not to minimize doctrine. In a local Church it is entirely right for eldership to state in categorical terms, just what it is that they believe scripture to be teaching. This is part of their function as elders. Yet, in doing so, we must all recognize our fellow brothers and sisters in the entire Body of Christ, and know that God embraces many who hold differing positions to us on some issues.

    The scripture commands us to "maintain the unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3) "until we all come to the unity of the faith." (Eph. 4:13). For God to tell us to maintain something, it shows clearly that we already have possession of it. For instance, we cannot maintain a photocopier unless we first have the photocopier in our care. We are called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This we are to do "until we all come to the unity of the faith.”

    Augustine's quote ends by saying, "in all things, charity (or love)." Let love be chief amongst us, His people. May we unite for the sake of the Gospel, while God, the Holy Spirit continues to lead all of His people into all of His truth.

    Recommended Conference for Pastors and Preachers – Together for the Gospel - April 26–28, 2006
    Galt House Hotel, Louisville, KY
    Hosted by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, Albert Mohler with special guests John MacArthur, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul
    www.togetherforthegospel.org

    Posted by John Samson on October 24, 2005 01:02 PM

    Comments

    Reading this message, I was looking for what, in your view, it is to be considered ESSENTIAL to divide myself from others churches, and why, instead.

    This is a point about which I am reflecting much.

    God bless,
    Francesco De Lucia

    Hi Francesco,

    I would point you to the essentials of the faith that I mentioned in the article: doctrines such as the Deity of Christ, the Trinity (God is one in essence and three in personality), justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, as well as its view regarding the inspiration of Holy Scripture. But beyond this, I would urge you to talk further with the elders in your church about such matters.

    Thanks for the answers.

    From what you write you let me suppose that you don't consider essentials for true unity the so-called doctrines of grace (tulip), do you?

    I am inclined to think that also to state as essentials the deity of Christ, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, the inspiration and non-inerrancy of Scripture, is too general for true unity, isn't it? What are we to mean for "grace alone"? Or through "faith alone"? Or by "Christ alone"? If these statements are not connoted in a REFORMED way, do they really mean what they affirm?

    I hope to have make my point quite clear to you.

    Francesco

    I have always thought that the best way of defining "orthodoxy" as we could call the essentials of the faith would be to look first to the authority of Scripture and then to the four ancient creeds (Apostle's, Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedonian). If you don't believe in these things, you are not a Christian. You can believe in these things and not be a Christian (as being a Christian requires the supernatural work of God), but you cannot refuse any part of these and still be a Christian.

    This isn't to say that any creed can supplant the Word, it is only to say that these creeds are beautiful condensing of the most basic aspects of the faith written by men who were there in the first days of the Church.

    I think that the first 4 ancient creeds were written to respond to some heresies and estabilish the true doctrine about THOSE particular points of doctrine.
    Read from:

    http://www.communitypca.org/Creedal_Defense.pdf

    and you will find that they came out from controversies about particular controversial points, afflicted by heresies; these first creeds were written to estabilish a commn biblical view of THESE doctrines, in order to estabilish truth and make it distinguishable from heresy.
    But for what concerns other important aspects of biblical faith, NOT LESS IMPORTANT AND BASIC(in my view) than these we don't find in these creeds any answer, probably because in these first centuries there weren't THESE kinds of problem about other doctrines and distorsion of these other doctrines.
    But in the centuries of the Church have arisen others controversies, that problably didn't regard the past centuries, where these other doctrines were normally taught and believe, and regarded so important and basical as the others.

    Already after Augustine it was pointed out that man was not free, and that "free will" was an invention of the time, a heresy of Pelagius, who DEPARTED from the sound and NORMAL view of the church about this issue.

    So I think that it's important not to stop at the first 4 creeds to estabilish what the first Christian believed, considered basic, and taught from the Bible, because probably many basic doctrines, at the time given implicitly true, and taught biblically, with time and heresies were stressed and remarked in creeds and confession too.

    I think the first Christians believed in grace, faith, predestination, election, preservation of the saints, etc., in the today's reformed sense of them.
    I believe that the reformers of XV, XVI, centuries, and the theologians who, in that time, wrote down some important confessions, simply stressed and underlined what the first Christians probably took for granted and taught biblically (in a today's reformed sense), considering them as important as biblical inspiration and the deity of Christ, etc.

    I hope to have made my point clear enough.

    What do you think about this?

    I have had a discussion at church Sunday, October 23, 2005. And we spoke of "decisional" regeneration. My friend and I hold to the Reformed view. That is, we believe that regeneration is a monergistic act, thus, monergistic regeneration. My friend and I spoke with two other people from our church at church, and they believed that they had to make the choice, that they had the will to accept or reject. We, however, tried defending that regeneration is totally monergistic, not synergistic.

    We had to explain what "free will" was, holding to the Augustinian version of free will, whom Augustine retained the Pauline view. I explained (and thanks goes to John Hendryx for the analogy) how the sinner is like a man in a prison cell. He is free to roam around inside that cell, but he is not capable of getting out. I was saying that until the liberator (Christ) comes and opens that cell, the man (sinner) is not able to get himself out. Only until after the prison cell has been opened is the man able to walk in or out of the cell.

    The synergists at my church, however, kept the view that we can still choose, and that grace has been given to all. All they need to do is believe, thus, the grace that they speak of is dependent and ineffectual. It's really a problem going on at my church. My friend and I only believe in the monergistic view, as well as my brother, and I believe one of my other friends from church, after showing her our side, is coming to believe what me and my friend believe.

    I believe that grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone is the most important and essential doctrine known in Christianity. I'll leave it up, provided by A Puritan's Mind, what C. H. Spurgeon had to say:

    "I have heard it asserted most positively, that those high doctrines which we love and which we find in the Scriptures, are licentious ones. I do not know who has the hardihood to make that assertion, when they consider that the holiest of men have been believers in them. I ask the man who dares to say that Calvinism is a licentious religion, what he thinks of the character of Augustine, or Calvin, or Whitfield, who in successive ages were the great exponents of the system of grace; or what will he say of those Puritans, whose works are full of them? Had a man been an Arminian in those days, he would have been accounted the vilest heretic breathing; but now we are looked upon as the heretics, and they the orthodox."

    Rick:

    Thanks for the excellent post. Ask your friends at church if grace has been given to all, then why don't all believe. What makes men to differ?

    John H

    Hey, John. I haven't asked everyone at our church about our differences on what grace is. I'm positive that my pastor is aware of the teachings I've brought up, and I do know that my youth pastor knows what my friend and I believe in. Some others may know, but I am not too sure. Still, it is conflicting, and my pastor in the past has brought up how we are saved, and that it's from foreseen faith.

    I did bring up the question, however, on Sunday. But I got the same response like I seem to always hear: "Some chose, others didn't." But that begs the question as to why they have chosen and others did not. Then they tell me, "Free will." That was the problem, and I had to explain what free will was and was not. It is interesting, however, that they asked, "Well, where is our free will then?" Or "So, we don't get to choose?" Or "Does this mean that we don't have free will?" My friend pointed it out after the discussion, during lunch, that these questions are centered on man and not on God. We've used some analogies to explain our views, as did the other side.

    There was one analogy. The analogy was that if a person gives you a gift and you take it, won't you open it? Or will you leave it up on a shelf. My friend was trying to think about it, and yesterday during lunch, he asked if I had an answer to it. I told him that I did, and that the person who said that analogy has set themselves up, because that is an Arminianistic view. After all, if you were given a gift, wouldn't you open it up? Of course, grace is beyond simple analogies.

    I think what's the real problem though is that the people who hold the synergistic side tend to focus more on emotions rather than morality. I know I've done that in the past when I thought the Reformed view had an unjust and cruel God. Of course, I wasn't focusing on the justice that all sinners deserve. Instead, it was a focus on, "Then how can God be a loving God?"

    Rick:

    The gift of regeneration is more like the gift God gives us at our physical birth. Our life as human beings was not something we have because we chose it. Instead things like physical life, sight, hearing, our parents etc. are all thing that God has granted us apart form our willing. Our faith is similar. (See Rom 9:16 & John 1:13)

    Jesus said, Flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to Spirit. The flesh counts for nothing, it is the Spirit who gives life. (John 3:3; 6:63)

    Likewise Jesus flat out says no one can come to me unless God grants it (John 6:65) in the same discussion he says and ALL who the father gives to me will come to me."

    The phrase "come to me" is the same as "believe in me: So he is saying, No one can believe unless God grants and and ALL to whom God grants it will come. This is the Jesus syllogism.

    Just so you can prove that come to me and believe on me are the same this is another sentence in the same pasage:

    “whoever comes to Him shall not hunger and who ever believes on him shall not thirst.” “Coming to Him” and “believing on Him” here are synonyms

    Solus Christus
    JWH

    This topic I feel is so straight forward in the scriptures when we read them in their context.

    I belong to a Armenian majority Southern Baptist church of approx. 300 members. I am a 45 year old male Christian of just over 5 1/2 years.

    I have been studying the scriptures and I feel that it is clear when I read in Romans about "Jacob and esau", "potter and the clay", "mercy on whom I have mercy", etc, etc. " and others like "I chose you, you didn't chose me" and many, many more scriptures that Salvation is monogistic.

    I am surprised at the response I've recieved when pointing out at times that Salvation is by the work of the Holy Spirit, and not based on some analogy presented such as "Jesus is standing in a boat in the middle of the lake and says get in and you'll be saved" Give me a break...

    I am only recently realizing that I am of a very very small majority within my congregation. Recently though our pastor made a statement from the pulpit that he is reformed in his theology, which was very encouraging to me.

    I have been blessed to have been studying with a reformed pastor friend of mine, every Saturday for the past few years, and I feel God is preparing me for an opportunity to speak within my congregation, as my pastor has been asking me to lead Sunday night services about once a month.

    I am very nervous to speak out against the grain of theology in the church, which my family and I truly love, but I feel the day is coming when I must speak on this very topic.

    Please pray for me to be bold and speak the truth on this very controversial subject.

    God bless you all for not being ashamed of the gospel and being ready to give a reason for what you believe.

    Robert Schulze

    Truth and Reality are not well defined in the whole history of Mankind. Reality is always the same regardless of our belief in the "truth", unless we are very specific in our definition of "Truth". The Reality here is that no man can know the Mind of God. It is the purpose of the Holy Spirit which Christ sent to us to lead, guide, and direct our life. Paul wrote, "Try the Spirits, whether they be of God or Satan". The second point that I would like to make here is that no authority has been given to any human being to order our life. The one and only source of authority and wisdom is from God. Christ came to point out the New Covenant with God. The Scriptures in the Old Testament are more essays in perceived history then spiritual instruction. It was a doctrine which led the Jews to crucify Christ. You must study and realize that whatsoever you read in the New Testament has been cleaned up, abridged, and selective doctrines. It is your own personal responsibility to decide which of these doctrines are authoritarian for the benefit and business of a corrupt church or which ones can be gleaned for the Reality of God. One other point to make. There are untold, unknown, and excluded or destroyed scriptures which were not included in the Bible. Many of these ancient writings have been miraculously preserved over the centuries despite the will of the established church. God did give Mankind and Womankind free will. Paul told us that all scripture is valuable for edification. Creeds and united doctrines are only useful for the preservation of the doctrines and authoritarianism of the ungodly church which even today is in the hands of the Anti-Christ. We need to keep in mind always the source of those absolute doctrines. Satan is the Great Deceiver, be on guard, try the spirits.

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