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  • « Distinguishing Between Moral and Natural Inability | Main | Why the Right Response? »

    Primary and Secondary Doctrines

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

    Jesus made it clear that what a person believes about His deity is fundamental to eternal life. He said, "Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins." John 8:24. As Christians we would affirm that all truth is important, but the question is, are all truths equally important? The following is a quote by Dr. Phil Johnson, from an article "Does Scripture Permit Us to Regard ANY Truth as "Secondary"?" first posted 14, September, 2005, at his Pyromaniacs blog:

    "It seems to me that the distinction between primary and secondary doctrines is implicit rather than explicit in Scripture. But I think the distinction is still very clear. Here, briefly, are five biblical arguments in favor of making some kind of distinction between primary and secondary doctrines:

    Jesus Himself suggested that some errors are gnats and some are camels (Matt. 23:24-25). And He stated that some matters of the law are "weightier" than others (v. 23). Think about it; such distinctions could not be made if every point of truth were essential.

    Paul likewise speaks of truths that are "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3)—clearly indicating that there is a hierarchy of doctrinal significance. Certain issues are plainly identified by Scripture as fundamental or essential doctrines. These include:

    doctrines that Scripture makes essential to saving faith (e.g., justification by faith—Rom. 4:4-5; knowledge of the true God—Jn. 17:3; the bodily resurrection—1 Cor. 15:4; and several others).

    doctrines that Scripture forbids us to deny under threat of condemnation (e.g., 1 Jn. 1:6, 8, 10; 1 Cor. 16:22; 1 Jn. 4:2-3).

    Since these doctrines are explicitly said to make a difference between heaven and hell while others (the "gnats" Jesus spoke of) are not assigned that level of importance, a distinction between fundamental and secondary truths is clearly implied.

    Paul distinguished between the foundation and that which is built on the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11-13). The foundation is established in Christ, and "no other foundation" may be laid. Paul suggests, however, that the edifice itself will be built with some wood, hay, and stubble. Again, this seems to suggest that while there is no tolerance whatsoever for error in the foundation, some of the individual building-blocks, though important, are not of the same fundamental importance.

    The principle Paul sets forth in Roman 14 also has serious implications for this question. There were some differences of opinion in the Roman church which Paul declined to make into hard-and-fast matters of truth vs. heresy. In Romans 14:5, he writes, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." That clearly allows a measure of tolerance for two differing opinions on what is undeniably a point of doctrine.

    As an apostle, Paul could simply have handed down a ruling that would have settled the controversy. In fact, elsewhere he did give clear instructions that speaks to the very doctrine under debate in Romans 14 (cf. Col. 2:16-17). Yet in writing to the Romans, he was more interested in teaching them the principle of tolerance for differing views on matters of less-then-fundamental importance. Surely this is something we should weigh very heavily before we make any point of truth a matter over which we break fellowship."

    Posted by John Samson on August 24, 2009 01:16 PM


    Good post and good reminders. Yet the battleground is ever present. The issues of baptism, women elders, end times, and church government to name a few have divided the church.

    Could die hard infant baptists and die hard credo baptists allow the other the liberty to follow their convictions and practice them in the same church?

    Like wise with the other doctrines mentioned.

    I don't know the answer. This is something that I wrestle with.


    The issues of end times,church government and even baptism to a lesser point should not be divisive to the point of separating from each other. Not one of these matters deny the authority of the word. However women ordination into roles of leadership undermines the authority of the word and has sweeping implications.

    This is refreshing. I am reformed in theology, but I will not divide fellowship with arminians. Obviously, these doctrines are not necessary knowledge for salvation.



    My Mentoring Pastor taught us years ago a sequence of doctrinal importance, one through five, as he was so trained. He showed these important aspects to us with Scriptures.

    The first doctrine of importance is that of the foundation of the Church, which is Jesus Christ. As this article points, there is no other foundation that can be laid for the salvation of the soul of the elect believer.

    The second truth or building stone is what Christ does to the believing soul. Jesus reveals God's Love to the believing soul next through the sanctification work of the Holy Ghost.

    Third, now the believing soul is ready to be filled up with God's "vision", which is to develop this "love" of God with God and Christ Jesus on earth by given Their lovingkindness to others. How can you say you love God who you cannot see and hate your brother who you can see?

    Fourth then is this that by giving God lovingkindness to others freely "Unity" of the brethren is perfected.

    Once God unity is perfected within our lives we then are free to engage others in their specific beliefs.

    First is to hear the Gospel and receive Christ as the foundation of the Church. Once this foundation is received within you you are awakened to God's Love. Third this love from God gives you a heart of flesh to love others with. Because this love is in you and grows ever stronger there comes a unity of the Spirit in a bond of Peace that keeps you actively engaged with others. Once this unity is perfected then finally, you are mature enough in the Doctrines of the Faith you can then safely have discussions or debates about the non-essentials of Life together with Christ as your Head, your Savior, your Lord and King as an active lively member of His Body, the Church:::>

    Psa 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
    Psa 46:5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
    Psa 46:6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
    Psa 46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

    This blog and these articles seem to be quite refreshing and edifying all the time and I am grateful to God for you men of the Faith once delivered to the Saints to continually "put over the goods" as one Theologian I know affectionately says it about laying down your lives for the edification of the Church!

    Wow, a loving and gracious discussion of the Calvinism/Reformed issue. I am sad to say this is the first time I have been exposed to it in such a setting. The particularly viscious attacks of many "Calvinists" against their "Arminian" brothers has been very upsetting to me over the past years. While I am theologically closer the the "Reformed" position, I have found myself so offended by the words and attitudes of many "Reformed" Christians that I now avoid the word as much as possible in my discussions with fellow believers. This issue has unfortunately destroyed too many relationships among American Evangelicals. I would like to end my comments with a quote from a pastor introducing a study on spiritual warfare. He said, "Gentleman, this is a study on spiritual warfare not a debate on theology. I don't care if you were drafted or volunteered. We're in the same fox hole."

    Yet in writing to the Romans, he was more interested in teaching them the principle of tolerance for differing views on matters of less-then-fundamental importance.

    Should be less-than

    Thank you

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