24 August 2009

Does Scripture Permit Us to Regard ANY Truth as "Secondary"?

What do common sense and Scripture tell us about the relative weight of different truths?
on the essential distinction between primary and secondary matters.

(First posted 14 September 2005)

Pyromaniacsommon sense makes it crystal-clear to most people that some truths in Scripture are of primary importance, and other truths are less vital.

For example, most people would agree that the deity of Christ is an essential doctrine of Christianity, but Sabbatarianism is not. (In other words, committed Christians might differ among themselves on the question of whether and how rigorously the Old Testament Sabbath restrictions should apply to Christians on the Lord's day; but authentic Christians do not disagree on whether Jesus is God.) Again, common sense is sufficient for most people to recognize the validity of some distinction between primary and secondary truths.

Unfortunately, "common sense" is not as common as it used to be. (It's one of the early fatalities of the postmodern era.) And with increasing frequency, I encounter people who challenge the distinction evangelicals have historically made between fundamental and secondary doctrines.

Some rather extreme fellows have begun a quasi-Christian cult located not far from where I live, and they actually teach that all truth is primary and every disagreement is worth fighting about and ultimately dividing over if agreement cannot be reached. Either agree with them on everything, or you are going to hell.



Others—equally extreme—argue, in effect, that "truth" isn't primary at all; relationships are, and therefore no proposition or point of truth is ever worth arguing about with another professing Christian. The latter position is gaining adherents at a frightening pace.

Does the Bible recognize a valid distinction between fundamental and secondary doctrines? How would you refute someone who insisted that all truth is of equal import? How do you answer those who claim no truth is worth arguing over? Could you make a biblical case for a hierarchy of truths, or for recognizing a distinction between core doctrines and peripheral ones? If so, how do you tell the difference? Do you have biblical guidelines for that? What if we disagree on whether a particular doctrine is essential or secondary? How is that question to be settled?

Those are questions which in my opinion have not been pondered seriously enough by contemporary evangelicals. You have to go back a couple of centuries to find writers who wrestled with such concerns in any depth. Volume 1 of Francis Turretin's Elenctic Theology includes a section discussing this subject (starting on page 49). Herman Witsius also deals with it near the beginning of vol. 1 of his two-volume work titled The Apostles' Creed.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Paul likewise speaks of truths that are "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3)—clearly indicating that there is a hierarchy of doctrinal significance.
  3. Certain issues are plainly identified by Scripture as fundamental or essential doctrines. These include:
    1. 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).
    2. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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-than-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.

One thing I would like to say, since I am sometimes cast in the role of someone who attacks heresy: I'm as eager to see evangelical unity as I am to attack ecumenical compromise. But in order to keep the two straight, it is crucial to have clear biblical reasons for treating various doctrines as either fundamental or secondary. I've given a considerable amount of thought to these issues in recent years, but I'm interested in feedback from readers of my blog. Anyone know of resources where these issues are discussed in depth?

Phil's signature

79 comments:

Johnny Dialectic said...

Great post. And five supporting arguments that look rock solid to me.

I'm reminded of the oft quoted, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." This is sometimes misattributed to Augustine. It is more likely a Puritan sentiment. I find it in Wesley, too. It always seemed right to me, and in fact the only practical way to achieve unity in the church.

For example, a primary doctrine would be the return of Christ. Within that are questions of when and how, and what happens after, etc. Within each of those are more questions, and you can slice those up even more, and find single verses for each one. It's not that these aren't worthy of discussion, but division?

The original set of pamphlets collectively called The Fundamentals would be a good place for evangelicalism to regroup--and it should start with the inerrancy of Scripture.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Phil:

Good article. I can tell you have mused upon this topic. You said:

"I've given a considerable amount of thought to these issues in recent years, but I'm interested in feedback from readers of my blog."

I believe there are other verses that also make a difference in what is fundamental and what is not. Seems like this would make a good book.

Blessings

Stephen

Hanani Hindsfeet said...

Thanks Phil, the last few classic reposts have been helpful with an issue I've been facing...I have had some conversations with a professing believer who will not accept that Jesus is God, nor the Holy Spirit. Only the Father is truly God according to his belief and while he will confusingly confess the Trinity (because of 1 John 5:7, although this is a trinity where the three have perfect unity butare not all "God"), he will say that he does not deny that the Son is equal to the Father, he does not deny the eternity of the Son or Spirit or imply they were created. I have attempted to show him from the Scriptures that Jesus is God, that He is in fact YHWH, as is the Holy Spirit (the reply is that YHWH only refers to the Father) and he rejects that Jesus' use of "I AM" has anything to do with a claim to be God.

The man in question speaks English well, although it is not his first language, so I am a little plagued by the idea that their might be a lingual barrier in communicating that Jesus is God, but that He is not the same person as God the Father although they are one in essence and being (but this is what I have tried to do)

I gave him some Scriptures to look at, which he read but does not accept that they teach that Christ is God. I've discussed the matter with my pastor, but while he has agreed with me on the issue, I feel as though perhaps the whole thing has been left to me to figure out what to do next. So does anyone have some godly counsel they can offer? Should I write a letter to the man or have another discussion or does it really need to be dealt with pastorally now?

I agree with Phil wholeheartedly that the divinity of Christ is so fundamental to our faith, but I would like some direction (and prayer) on how to deal with this, as it is a sticky situation to resolve and I want to go about it the right way, instead of doing something wrong or unhelpful in zeal...

donsands said...

Solid teaching. Thanks.

I remember reading in the Southwest Radio Ministries news paper that RC Sproul was a heretic. I wrote to the person who wrote the article to discuss the division he was causing. He surely didn't want to hear it, and sent me a rebuke.

So there are self-righteous teachers in the Church, who really believe they have all the truth, and even extra biblical truth, like the KJVO deal.

It is very sad when we can't discuss the lesser subjects of Scripture.

I hope I also will always have the courage to contend for the faith, and go to the mat for the essentials of God's truth, which is His Word.

Gary said...

I've found it helpful to keep in mind two different "essentials" categories: things which we MUST believe and things which we MUST NOT deny.

For example, we MUST believe Jesus is God (first category). And, while we can be saved without having a fully mature understanding of the Trinity, we MUST NOT outright deny the Trinity (second category) as that eventually flies in the face of my first example.

Craig and Heather said...

I am constantly amazed at how God is so faithful to direct me to solid, no-nonsense teaching about some of the things I consider!

Yesterday afternoon, an incident prompted me to say to my husband that it is interesting to me the things that people will consider enough to break Sunday fellowship over---yet they are not willing to say that there is actual heresy involved and will still happily visit outside of the "church meeting house".


It seems that Point #5 especially fits the situation of which I am thinking.

I think some people have taken the attitude that the Whole Bible is All God's Word, and so therefore everything it says must be applied (by us) equally across the board. But I've noticed that this often results in legalism because of the focus on "rules".

Or, one person becomes convicted about the keeping of the Sabbath, food laws, the Christianizing of politics, a certain way of evangelizing or some major lifestyle change...and then he proceeds to insist that his conscience must be followed by every other professing believer (or else there is sin involved).

On the other hand, Paul's writings in Romans and 1 Corinthians seem to be very concerned with not squelching the working of the Holy Spirit in another person's conscience. We all come from different life experiences and need to learn different lessons.

Everything in the Bible is important. God said it and I know I need to take it all seriously.

But I could live a hundred lifetimes and still not touch the perfection that God requires.

I like the concept of building on the Right Foundation. Only when that is solid is it possible to build a house that will stand.

Heather

Mark | hereiblog said...

This is a timely article. Actually, it will probably always be timely.

One of my frustrations lately in Protestant Christiandom is those who are unwilling to call out Roman Catholicism as having a false gospel. You can see this on the blogs. Roman Catholic theologians are consistently referenced and when asked about Rome's gospel the question seems to go unanswered.

I wonder where the supporters of Rome would fall if they applied the lens in this post.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Is the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy (or for that matter, any of the Doctrines of Scripture: Sufficiency, Inspiration, Perspicuity, Authority, etc.) a primary doctrine or a secondary doctrine?

In particular, I'm thinking of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy. Within the statement itself, it declares that believing and holding to Biblical Inerrancy is not salvific in and of itself, but that denying it is harmful to both the individual and to the corporate body of Christ.

As such, is the doctrine of inerrancy considered primary or secondary?

Much thanks for any light shed on this issue.

P.S. This particular issue seems to have some recent impact. The ELCA made news last week concerning their resolutions regarding same-sex relationships. Those resolutions reflect their views on the inerrancy and authority of Scripture.

olan strickland said...

Anyone know of resources where these issues are discussed in depth?

Almost four years later since first posted and odds are still slim to none in the resource category for this issue.

Craig and Heather said...

One of my frustrations lately in Protestant Christiandom is those who are unwilling to call out Roman Catholicism as having a false gospel. You can see this on the blogs. Roman Catholic theologians are consistently referenced and when asked about Rome's gospel the question seems to go unanswered.

I wonder where the supporters of Rome would fall if they applied the lens in this post.


Good point.

And I'm interested to know the answer, too.

After visiting some online RCC catechism sites, I can't see how Catholicism can be likened to Biblical Christianity. If everything else was set aside the stuff that is written about Mary as "mediatrix" appears to be nothing more than candy-coated blasphemy. How can we overlook that? Why do we often skirt around it?

Certainly, it can't be loving to simply assume that a devout Catholic knows the truth that saves. That seems similar to accepting Mormonism as true Christanity--and then quoting Joseph Smith.

The question of Catholicism is not simply academic for me as my mom was raised Catholic (but isn't one, now) and although she agrees that there is much error in the church teaching, she seems very defensive whenever I mention that the error is pervasive and does nothing to direct people to Jesus as Savior. I know part of it is that many of her family members either are, or died, as members of the Catholic Church, and she has hope that they were saved in spite of the religious mess. I know that is possible, but only because God's truth is sharp enough to cut through demonic lies.

Is it possible to openly condemn the Catholic religion while still allowing for God to work in the hearts of individuals who are within the system?

I apologize if this is very off-subject.



Heather

joel said...

Phil wrote -
"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." "

This was a great repost. I love how the scripture so often places the responsibility on each believer to have a clear conscience before God in what we believe and do before we even consider a brothers shortcomings. This principal has been making a difference in my marriage because I have come under the conviction that scripture commands me to spend the majority of my time in becoming submissive to Christ and much less enforcing my wife's spiritual behavior.

Stefan said...

TUAD:

The inspiration, authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture is a primary doctrine, because it's foundational to everything else.

If we don't take a high view of Scripture, we have no authority on which to rest any doctrinal claims—except our own highly fallible authority in deciding what's true and what's not.

Chad V. said...

Remember the Down-Grade Controversy during the 19th century in England. The inerrancy of scripture was the first doctrine on the chopping block, this opened the door to reject every cardinal doctrine. The inerrancy of scripture is so important that with out it no doctrine can be supported. Without it there is no Christian faith since it is the scriptures which testify of Christ and it is the scriptures. The scriptures are the product of the Holy Spirit himself and He testifies to it's truth in the heart of believers.

Chad V. said...

Might I add with that that a denial of Scripture's sufficiency is an equally cardinal doctrine, the foundation of Rome's damnable heresy.

rawchristianity said...

Thanks for re-posting this. It was helpful originally, and still is now. Several years ago it prompted me to write my M.Div. thesis on "Principles for Determining the Relative Importance of Particular Doctrines." It wasn't well-researched due to a time-crunch and a paucity of clear materials to work with (I did use Turretin and Witsius at your recommendation), but it was still profitable personally to work through these complex issues. So thanks again.

Sir Brass said...

Heather, read The Roman Catholic Controversy by James White. He essentially says the same thing about there being true believers in a false church. And the proceeds to examine the different points of difference between Catholics and Protestants.

Craig and Heather said...

Sir Brass,
Thank you for the reference. I'll see if I can find a copy.

Heather

Jmv7000 said...

Phil,

What do you think about a statement that asserts secondary issues in a doctrinal statement can potentially divide the church and is therefore sin committed by the churches' leadership?

For example an eschatological stance, drinking, smoking, or dating girls who do?

Solameanie said...

The stance we have always taken at the Institute for Christian Apologetics is that there are three areas of non-negotiables: soteriology, Christology and the Godhead (Trinity). Other areas have room for disagreement/debate.

I agree with Johnny D. that "The Fundamentals" are a great starting point. I'll have to mull over other potential resources, but am writing this on the fly.

Frank Turk said...

Yeah, here's how we get this thread to 200+ comments:

[1] Are the very words of Scripture "of first importance" (thereby making the method and means of receiving the text or first importance), or is translation a "secondary amtter"?

[2] Is the method and mode of baptism of first importance, or is it a secondary matter?

HAHAHAHAHHAH AHAAH AHHA AH AHAH AH AHAHA HA HAHAHA AH AHAHAHAH AHAHAHAH HAHA!

And just to keep this as on-topic as possible, I think the answers to these two questions draw the lines Phil drew in his post as starkly as any way to discuss this topic can.

Have at it.

DJP said...

...and I note that, with this, Frank promises personally to be this meta's administrator, classroom-monitor, censor, and everything else.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Stefan: "TUAD:

The inspiration, authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture is a primary doctrine, because it's foundational to everything else.

If we don't take a high view of Scripture, we have no authority on which to rest any doctrinal claims—except our own highly fallible authority in deciding what's true and what's not."


Chad V.: "The inerrancy of scripture was the first doctrine on the chopping block, this opened the door to reject every cardinal doctrine. The inerrancy of scripture is so important that with out it no doctrine can be supported. Without it there is no Christian faith since it is the scriptures which testify of Christ and it is the scriptures. The scriptures are the product of the Holy Spirit himself and He testifies to it's truth in the heart of believers.

Might I add with that that a denial of Scripture's sufficiency is an equally cardinal doctrine, the foundation of Rome's damnable heresy."


I'd be very hard-pressed to disagree with either Stefan's or Chad V's arguments.

There looks to be a tight, interrelated, and virtually inseparable link between a High Christology, a High Bibliology, and a sound soteriology.

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan said...

As far as the New Testament is concerned, could one way of setting off primary doctrines from secondary doctrines be the "received-delivered" and "the saying is trustworthy" formulae Paul uses at a few key points in his letters?

These presumably reflect the most ancient core apostolic teachings: ones that were already a fundamental part of Christian teaching in the earliest years of Paul's apostleship.

* The "received-delivered" formula in 1 Corinthians 11:23 (vicarious atonement; the New Covenant) and 15:3 (the Gospel and bodily resurrection);

* "The saying is trustworthy" in 1 Timothy 1:15 (the Gospel), 3:1 (eldership), and 4:9 (godliness); 2 Timothy 2:11 (salvation); and Titus 3:8 (either justification [preceding it] or sanctification [following it]);

* 2 Timothy 2:11 is interesting, because it immediately precedes what appears to be an ancient hymn. Another passage in his writing widely believed to be an ancient hymn—and one with an extremely high Christology—is Philippians 2:6-11.

Of course, this will not give us an exhaustive list of all primary doctrines—it doesn't even touch the key teachings of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ Himself (and of course, which of His teachings are fundamental and which are not is a matter of contention between different schools).

I hope the above doesn't stray inadvertently into source-critical territory.

Craig and Heather said...

Have at it.


I'll bite. Maybe I can irritate enough people who actually know some things and you can meet your comment quota. :oD

1. Are you referring to the difference between the indestructible and timeless nature of the God-breathed message to humanity versus KingJamesivitis?


Does this apply?
Hebrews 4:12 For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing apart of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

And: 2Peter 1:19-21 We also have a more sure Word of prophecy, to which you do well to take heed, as to a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Daystar arises in your hearts,
knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture came into being of its own private interpretation.
For prophecy was not borne at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke being borne along by the Holy Spirit.


When reading the Bible, I've been convicted and instructed apart from any specific translation. I think God is able to speak to His children through whatever translation is available but the key is the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

As a Christian, there is a necessity for me to believe that God speaks to me through His Word and is perfectly capable of using whatever translation is available. Some works may be more accurate or readable than others but it is wrong to idolize any one over the others.


2. Hubby once explained to me once that "baptize" is actually a transliteration of the original word "baptizo" (which was a trade word at the time of the writing) and does not easily convey the writers meaning to modern English-speakers who have taken the meaning to simply be immerse/sprinkle with water. People to whom the text was originally written would have noted that the concept was that of complete identification (like when someone dyes a cloth and the coloring permeates the item).

The symbolism of water baptism suggests that the desire of the one being baptized is to be "painted the color of Christ".

Full-body immersion would best convey this meaning, but since water baptism doesn't save anyone, and not everyone understands what is being said, I would think that method and mode of baptism is a "secondary" concern.

So, now I've displayed my ignorance and perhaps taken seriously what was intended to be a joke....

Heather

Stefan said...

Going boldly where angels fear to tread...

Stefan said...

A rule of thumb for reading Frank Turk is:

* Take his posts seriously. He writes good stuff.

* Don't take his comments seriously at all.

Jmv7000 said...

John indicates, "[that] what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also." Why? "So that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).

It seems that John places primary emphasis on the revelation concerning the Son - Jesus Christ as revealed by apostolic teaching.

Certainly a high view of Scripture is of utmost importance and emphasized by John, but also it seems the emphasis is placed on the person, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ.

But to answer Frank's questions, I would quote one pastor / president of a seminary, who says, "The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture." I think he's right.

And just an observation, but it seems most logical that John the Baptist and the other apostles would walk you into the Jordan river (or other river), whereby completely soaking your "pants" and "sprinkle" you. . . ;) But this is a secondary issue compared to the theological foundation of baptism.

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chad V. said...

Frank is showing his inner super-villain.

Chad V. said...

Baptism, secondary or primary.... well, I'm a Baptist and my fiancee is a Presbyterian.

So there's my two mites.

Chad V. said...

The sort that try to make baptism a primary doctrine tend to hold to the error of baptismal regeneration anyhow.

Craig and Heather said...

Ahhhhh....Thanks, Stefan. I'll remember that.

Seriously, though, (and back on topic) it appears that Scripture itself suggests that there ARE "lesser" points of truth in Scripture.

But I do wonder about:

2Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work.


So, the Whole Bible is also important, yet there are many applications?

Heather

Stefan said...

Heather:

Yes, and the verses you cited are, of course, a key text for our doctrine of Scripture, together with the immediately preceding verses (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Chad V. said...

Heather

Not so much many applications as room to disagree over doctrines not critical to the Gospel or which are not plain direct commands.

For example there can be no disagreement about whether or not we may worship other gods, (the first commandment) but we may disagree on how often we administer the Lord's supper. We cannot disagree about women being pastors since scripture strictly forbids it but as to wether or not a pastor must have children and be married is a bit more ambiguous.

Stefan said...

Thanks for the clarification, Chad.

And that's another internal clue to what is primary and what is secondary (at least in Paul's writings): he is strict on certain teachings, but extends Christian liberty (within clear guidelines) on others.

CR said...

Martin Lloyd-Jones preached a good sermon on the essential elements of conversion and therefore I think that can be extrapolated into what perhaps can be labeled as "primary" and "secondary."

Paul is telling the elders (Acts 20:21) at Ephesus that he wanted them to hold on to what he told them. What was that: repentance towards God and faith in Christ. Now, there is a lot encompassed into that because for example, in order to have faith in the Biblical Jesus (not just any Jesus) one has to have proper Christology.

So to answer and actually rephrase Frank's question: is mode of baptism essential truth? No. Is it important? Yes. Is it very important? Yes. Is it essential to hold on to in terms of faith in Christ and repentance towards God? I don't see how it is.

We could list a couple of other issues like eschatology in terms of the distinctions between premillenial, amillenial and post-millenial. Are these very important issues? Yes. Are they essential to repentance towards God and faith in Christ. No.

Craig and Heather said...

Stefan and Chad V, I think I understand what you guys are saying.

Some doctrines are non-negotiable. Without certain beliefs at it's core, Christianity ceases to be Christianity and we wander into the wilderness of cultism.

Yet, God also allows for individuals to be directed by His Spirit through their consciences. Scripture is what God uses to speak to a person's conscience and give direction. So, it's important to study all of it.

H

Frank Turk said...

Wow. I expected to come back after dinner here and find people throwing tread-upon vegetables at each other.

I think you're all dead inside.

Craig and Heather said...

Sorry to disappoint.
I only have a couple of slightly wilted summer squash that I've been meaning to make into zucchini bars.

H

paulwilkinson said...

This reminds me of the discussion years ago concerning the difference between rules (valid for one group of people or one place or one time) and principles (valid for all peoples at all places at all times.)

Or the parallel question as to whether some sins are 'worse' than other sins.

Part of our human nature (or western culture) is to want to assign quantitative values to what is supposed to be qualitative, or perhaps even allowably subjective.

Christ's call is for us to follow Him. That call takes many people through many different places, and those places each highlight different truths implicit in the Gospel.

My doctrines may be based around the centrality of love and service, while you may place in high regard truths foundational to the idea of proclamation.

Maybe few resources exist on this question because, like so many things in the Christian life, it belongs to realm of mystery.

Chad V. said...

Ah yes, the broad road that leads to destruction.

David Sheldon said...

Phil,
I have no resources to commend to you. But - as I think about it, maybe we need three categories instead of just the two mentioned of primary and secondary? I think we wouldn't even have to push it to say there may be three mentioned in the Ephesians 2 text: Cornerstone, Foundation, Building.

Some such "grid" like:

1. Essential to the Glory of God in Salvation
2. Foundational to the Glorification of the Holy Name of God in our Sanctification and Fellowship
3. Secondary to our Fellowship in Christ

This way I don't have to say that the Authority of the Holy Scriptures is a "secondary" issue but I can say there are essential things that one must believe to be saved - just like the authoritative Bible says - of which I now have a category! And we probably wouldn't have a fight in deciding the category for the fact of the resurrection or the importance of the hope of the Second Coming or the timing of the Second Coming. (At least I would hope)

Of course - you take the risk of someone not really agreeing with the grid. Phil - That's why we all think you should do it instead of any of us. In fact, most of us wonder if we should even think "out loud" in a blog.

I have thought about this issue too and it seems to me we can't get around a consequential platform of some sort. So the common sense thing for me to do is say - here is our platform - you can't find the platform articulated (exactly like we just did) in the Bible, but we base it on Ephesians 2 & John 17 (and whatever other texts) - but you will find the things we say in the platform to be true in the Bible and fall under our category.

If someone could get enough good Biblical minds together to find the right platform and start the task - it is possible it would go a long way in answering Jesus' prayer in John 17. And I might add, I would hope we would all find His prayer compelling!!! I would admonish us to open our Bible to it and pray it once a week along with our King! It is quite possible the Spirit would have us weeping before too long. Maybe He would even answer Jesus Prayer!

I'll work at trying to read Turretin and Witsius.

Has anyone ever accused you guys of making us think too hard?

one busy mom said...

A thousand thanks for this repost.

You have no idea how much this and the subsequent comments have just cleared up for me!

Where would I find a copy of the pamplets- The Fundamentals? Does anyone know the author, publisher, date - or anything to help in searching online for these?

Jmv7000 said...

One Busy Mom

There is a more recent update of "The Fundamentals," and I'm about 90% sure that Talbot republished them in the 60's which can be found in either a 1 or 2 volume set. But the original productions are a multi-volume work.

Try, http://www.amazon.com/Fundamentals-R-Torrey/dp/0825426332/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251178730&sr=8-4

this work will give you the essential articles. Much of them deal with Historical Criticism and may not be quite what you are looking for, I would also recommend Millard Erikson's Systematic Theology, JC Ryle's "Old Paths" and even though I think he is an Amil (which I am not) Watson's "Body of Divinity" are all great works that interact with the essentials. Erikson's is the most formal of the three recommendations, so I would probably favor Ryle's the most. . . just a few off the cusp.

one busy mom said...

Jmv7000,

Thanks. Yes, the words 'pamplets' made me think "short, sweet, managable, to the point".....'volumes' on the other hand - will probably be waaaay over my head.

Craig and Heather said...

paulwilkinson said: "My doctrines may be based around the centrality of love and service, while you may place in high regard truths foundational to the idea of proclamation."


And Samuel said, Does Jehovah delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice! To listen is better than the fat of rams! 1 Samuel 15:22

God expects obedience. It is impossible to obey His instruction unless you know what it is.

There are plenty of religious (and even atheistic) people that put emphasis on "love and service" but that doesn't make them Christians. Caring for others is important but should be the evidence of love for God rather than the primary focus.

How can any of us possibly know what God wants unless we are spending a sufficient amount of time reading His message to us and asking Him to tell us what it means and then actually listening while waiting for direction?

Maybe few resources exist on this question because, like so many things in the Christian life, it belongs to realm of mystery.

The Bible doesn't always have step-by-step instructions for every life experience but James says that when we ask for wisdom and have obedience as the goal, God will be faithful to give us what we need. We don't need a boatload of resources-- One reliable source is sufficient.

What is the mystery in simply being willing to do what we are told?

I guess I'm off topic again.

Heather

Jacob said...

Paul likewise speaks of truths that are "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3)—clearly indicating that there is a hierarchy of doctrinal significance.

It could be said you're placing that context on his words. ;)

After all, he could just as clearly mean "what is of first importance" in life, which is the gospel message, and yet not at all mean that anything else Christ said is any less important, just that you need to be saved first before the rest of it becomes important or meaningful. That doesn't automatically necessitate that other doctrine is less important.

Here's an example to explain what I mean:
In order to drive to work, you must first put the key in the ignition and start the car. That's of first importance. But you must also put it into gear and step on the gas pedal and turn the steering wheel. Those are all equally important in successfully completing the task - driving to work. Not everything after starting the car is relegated to some lower level simply because I identified starting the car as the first step.
Likewise, Paul stating the gospel essentials as of first importance is not necessarily relegating other things to lesser importance. You may wish to claim that, but others can just as well argue against such an inference.

Jacob said...

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.
Here again your argument rests on what you feel the statement suggests and not explicit statements by the author as to the degree of import.
For example, one could just as easily counter that in order to successfully build a house to live in and provide shelter, you need more than the foundation. The walls and roof are also important enough that they cannot be compromised or left out. Thus, yes, the foundation is the starting point and of "first importance" but there are other essential elements that are important (and thus not able to be compromised) such as the walls and roof.

I'm just pointing this out to demonstrate the paucity of the argument used in that point (and the one I previously quoted above about "what is of first importance
"), for sake of wanting better arguments because these simply don't cut it and anyone with a good grasp of logic would poke these holes in such attempts to justify a proprietary leveling of doctrines.

Johnny Dialectic said...

mom, these "volumes" won't be "over your head." They were written for the "thinking person" (esp. pastors) of the day. They were originally small, paper cover booklets--pamphlets in the John Adams sense. It was in this form that I discovered them one day years ago in a university library.

I have the two volume hardback set published by Baker. Don't know if that's still in print.

They are important historically, to see what the "fundamentals" were before the seperatist fundamentalist "movement" began.

Stan McCullars said...

Jacob, whose Profile (is) Not Available:
In order to drive to work, you must first put the key in the ignition and start the car.

A false premise. Some cars these days, similar to days of old, use a push button rather than a key.

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan said...

One Busy Mom:

I'd never seen—much less read them—but you can find The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth at the Internet Archive, here. You can also find an overview of them on Wikipedia here.

It might be interesting to compare the Niagara Creed, an 1878 statement of faith adopted by an annual conference prominent conservative evangelicals. This must have been one of the first interdenominational statements of faith amongst conservatives evangelicals. (The article says it reflects dispensationalist teaching, but it appears to be more Calvinistic than anything else, and only broadly premillennial.)

Then there were the "Five Fundamentals" of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which arose in the midst of upheavals in that denomination in the early 20th century. I can't find the source text for the latter, but they appear to be enumerated as:

* The inerrancy of Scripture
* The virgin birth of Jesus Christ
* Substitutionary atonement
* The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ
* The authenticity of the miracles of Jesus Christ

It's a somewhat selective list, since it was adopted to counter specific points that were being contested. The fallout from all this stuff going on among Presbyterians was the Auburn Affirmation, which affirmed the leftward drift of the PCUSA. The linked article also includes a brief summary of the "Five Fundamentals."

Then of course, there are more recent statements like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and the statements of faith of groups like the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Together for the Gospel, and the Gospel Coalition.

Craig and Heather said...

.....I'm just pointing this out to demonstrate the paucity of the argument used in that point (and the one I previously quoted above about "what is of first importance
"), for sake of wanting better arguments because these simply don't cut it and anyone with a good grasp of logic would poke these holes in such attempts to justify a proprietary leveling of doctrines.




I'm lost.

Why do you assume the reasoning for recognizing that which is of primary importance is to simply excuse the "justif[ication of] a proprietary leveling of doctrines"

There IS a foundation which must be established and recognized before it is possible to discuss other aspects of the Christian faith. If the foundation is non-existent, the discussion/relationship will take a profoundly different course than when it is determined to be properly laid.

Why are you concluding that the identification of the groundwork is the only thing that has been deemed as important?.

Heather

MSC said...

The easy part is to acknowledge that there is justification for primary and secondary truths and that the Scripture indicates just such.

Now the hard part, and the part I am most eagerly awaiting, is how do we establish criteria by which to judge what is primary and what is secondary? Phil are you working a post on this? Please?

stratagem said...

Jesus said that lust is the same as committing adultery in the heart. But if a man says that the command against adultery of the heart is on an equal footing with the command against actual physical adultery, have them ask their wife how they would react in both cases.

jmb said...

Our new pastor on the subjects of Election and Eschatology: "I don't care." Should I tell him that, um, since God saw fit to deal with these topics, maybe he should care at least a little?

DJP said...

I'd be tempted to ask him what his authority is for not caring.

Jmv7000 said...

"if a man says that the command against adultery of the heart is on an equal footing with the command against actual physical adultery, have them ask their wife how they would react in both cases."

I'm pretty sure the Lord takes both equally serious.

"If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."

jmb said...

"DJP said...
I'd be tempted to ask him what his authority is for not caring."

Good question, thanks. Better than my idea of handing him a Bible with the parts he doesn't care about torn out.

stratagem said...

Jmv7000: So, apparently you are saying that the actual act of adultery is no more serious than lust? Interesting! Not living in the real world, but interesting.

Jmv7000 said...

Strat,

Help me understand the "real world"? How am I to understand Jesus words? I guess I read them and come away thinking, wow, lust is REAL serious. Sin is REAL serious.

I am not saying one sin is less grave, Jesus is saying lust of the heart is serious. Col. 3:5 seems to allude that both sins are idolatry. . . I don't know, I guess I have much to learn, but it seems that before the Lord sin is serious no matter what the sin and maybe we fault by ranking them. . . As Jerry Bridges points out, maybe some are "Respectable" and others not.

But maybe you can help my world view and teach us something.

stratagem said...

Jmv7000: Well, now you've changed what you are saying. I agree with your last post that lust and adultery are both sins, both are serious, etc. But nowhere does Jesus say that lust is of the same seriousness as actual adultery; that is something I've heard people say before, but they are adding to what Jesus actually said. We are well-served to stay as far away from both sins as we can possibly get!
Real world: All I mean by this is that while I've heard people say that every sin is as serious as every other sin, absolutely NO ONE lives their life in a way that is consistent with that (stated) belief. And that tells me that it really isn't what they actually believe, it is just something they are saying. They may say "lust = adultery = lying = murder," but everyone knows some of these are more serious than others.
Blessings on you brother,
Stratagem

Jmv7000 said...

Strat,

Please forgive me if my language seems harsh or antagonistic, that is not my intention. . . I reread it and realized that it wasn't communicated as well as it could be, thanks for your patience and grace!

JV

Craig and Heather said...

Is it okay to make an observation?

stratagem: "But nowhere does Jesus say that lust is of the same seriousness as actual adultery; that is something I've heard people say before, but they are adding to what Jesus actually said."


(Jesus) Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

While the visible consequences of "actual" and "virtual" adultery may be different, it sure seems to me that Jesus has placed both on equivalent terms.

I think His point is that it is possible to appear to be righteous but still be thoroughly condemned because of our sin-infested hearts.

In one aspect, there is a "hierarchy" concerning sin because we don't operate in a vacuum. Yet, all sin has the effect of separating us from God. It appears to me that both perspectives are correct.

Heather

stratagem said...

"But I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Where in that statement does Jesus say "and committing adultery in your heart is of the same seriousness as actual adultery" ? That is the part you are adding to his teaching.

Agree, any sin can separate us from God, in the sense of he who is guilty of one part of the law is guilty of all.

But Jesus didn't actually say what you are saying he said. I recognize that it has become popular to teach that he did; but, he didn't. (He didn't address the issue of equivalence one way or the other).

I am very leery of beliefs / doctrines that virtually no one is willing to live consistent with. A good example of that would be Christians who say they believe the healing gifts work same as they did in the first century, but they don't go around emptying hospitals or even trying to. They tell themselves that these gifts operate the same, but they don't actually believe it.

Likewise, men who are wise do not get themselves into adulterous relationships. It scarcely needs to be said that all men engage in lustful thoughts (even though it is sinful to do so). Therefore they do not believe that the two are equal, no matter what they may say. Neither do their wives, evidenced by the fact that an adulterous affair, discovered, would land a man in divorce court, but a lustful thought, discovered, probably won't.

Craig and Heather said...

Where in that statement does Jesus say "and committing adultery in your heart is of the same seriousness as actual adultery" ? That is the part you are adding to his teaching.

Actually, I didn't say that He said that.

I offered what He said and noted that it appears that He didn't make a distinction between the act of adultery and the entertainment of thoughts that tend to lead to the act.

Please understand that I was not referring to "incidental" thoughts. I believe James 1 differentiates between inherent human lusts of all sorts (which lead to temptation) and the deliberate toying with/feeding of those lusts. I read Jesus' words to mean "If you deliberately entertain thoughts of lust...you have already committed adultery in your heart" And I believe He was making a point that all sinful behavior is actually a heart matter rather than about how clean we keep the outside of our "tombs".

I could be wrong. Maybe He IS saying "even if a single lustful thought flashes through your brain, regardless of how you respond to it". But,at this time, I don't understand it this way.

I do acknowledge that there are varying degrees of consequence between physical and mental adultery (or any other sin, for that matter). The Mosaic Law indicates that God Himself dictated different penalties for different behaviors. Deliberate rebellion tended to warrant the death penalty while specific sacrifices were allowed for other crimes.

Your discussion intrigued me because I've often wondered myself about the "are some sins worse than others" debate.

I was just thinking that perhaps both "sides" might be right, depending on how we look at the issue.

I certainly don't have things all figured out and am not banking on any specific belief/doctrine. I'd much rather say "I don't know" than settle for a comfy-sounding (but wrong) explanation.

Heather

Craig and Heather said...

You know,

I just realized that the majority of commenters here are men and that I may be overstepping appropriate boundaries by jumping into conversations on a regular basis.

My intention in reading this blog was not to debate or prove anything. I do tend to get excited when I see that others are considering some of the same things as myself...and I enjoy discussion which challenges me to find out what the Bible really says (as opposed to just accepting what someone else says that it says)

Hopefully, my participation has not caused too much annoyance. I'll try to contain myself and limit my interaction from here on.

Heather

Jmv7000 said...

Stratagem

You said three comments that make me wonder about your plumbline for doctrinal acceptance.

"have them ask their wife how they would react in both cases"

"All I mean by this is that while I've heard people say that every sin is as serious as every other sin, absolutely NO ONE lives their life in a way that is consistent with that (stated) belief"

"I am very leery of beliefs / doctrines that virtually no one is willing to live consistent with"

It seems as if you are saying "because people don't live practically concerning doctrine x, doctrine x might not be the right interpretation."

However, EVERYBODY takes advantage of God's grace and thinks lightly of His standards. Most of us have less convictions about God's standards than what we need to have. Sins that are not as visibly manifest are hard to weigh because they are not as obvious. The man who lusts is not as visibly noticed as the drunkard. The glutton is more easily seen than the unthankful at heart.

One can put on a smile and hide the sins of the heart, but that does not make them "lesser" sins because they are not visible.

If a culture puts up with rudeness towards Starbucks clerk and the redeemed man follows the culture treating Starbucks clerks without love, this does not reduce the severity or sinfulness of this action and heart attitude.

What we see in people, consistently is a propensity to sin and take advantage of God's grace. But this does not negate or change God's plumbline of holiness. God's standard is that you be holy as He is holy.

Rating qualative differences among sins is futile in action because each and every sin is a direct affront to Him and His holiness. The Sermon on the Mount proves God takes lust very serious and we can get into trouble by saying one is worse than the other, especially since Jesus Himself DOES equate lust with adultery because he calls lust adultery.

Heather, your observations are right on, keep asking and contributing!

JV

stratagem said...

Heather
Don't shy away from commenting on my account. I'm merely telling you what I think, but what really counts is what God was "thinking" when he wrote the passages we're talking about. And I'm not sure any of us can be sure of what was meant beyond what is actually said in the passages. That was my main point, actually: Being careful not to add to the text, beyond what it says. Peace.

stratagem said...

Jmv: Yes, if none of the redeemed act in accordance with a particular stated belief, then we can safely conclude that they don't actually believe it because they know deep-down that it doesn't square with reality. That is exactly what I'm saying.

Jesus didn't say that the act of adultery is the same as adultery of the heart. You added that. What the text actually says, is my plumbline. What you or others have added, isn't.

And because you've added to the text, here you are, right back to trying to defend the idea that the act of adultery is no more serious than a lustful thought. Pretty silly in my opinion.

Jmv7000 said...

Strat, I guess I am confused, because YOU ARE "leery of beliefs / doctrines that virtually no one is willing to live consistent with."

Those comments make it seem as if you are judging doctrine based on human actions. . . maybe I'm wrong, so could you please clarify. BUT you can say, if a person doesn't follow a doctrine, then he/she doesn't believe that doctrine.

Second, how am I to take:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but (de) I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her HAS ALREADY COMMITTED adultery with her in his heart."

Could you please explain this verse? Because it seems as if you are contradicting it?

stratagem said...

Jmv - glad to do so:
1) I know of nowhere in the Bible where it is said "all sins are equally serious." Since the Bible doesn't say that, and since all the church operates to the contrary, I conclude that all sins are not of equal importance.
2) Jesus said that the lusting person has already committed adultery in his heart. He did not say, committing adultery in one's heart is of the same level of seriousness as actually committing the act.
3) Likewise, in the same teaching on murder (v.22), he makes the point that if anyone says "you fool", he is guilty enough to go to the fiery hell. He does not say that saying you fool is the same seriousness as murder, but still serious enough to send one to Hell.
4)In simply reading the passage, it is clear Jesus is saying that merely following the Ten Commandments will not allow one to escape Hell, that all have sinned, even if in the heart or in ways that were not covered directly by the Ten Commandments. Reading the preamble to this teaching in Mt., it is clear he is referring to the Pharisees who were pretending that their righteousness was enough to get them into Heaven. Jesus was saying, even if you haven't done these big things, you are still sinning in your heart.
That's where I'm coming from.
Peace.

Craig and Heather said...

I appreciate being welcome. You all have been great and give me a lot to think about--even beyond the main post.

Sometimes I just talk too much and don't listen enough. God has a way of disciplining when I get out of hand so I figure I'd better rein myself in first. It surely won't kill me to comment once or twice instead of a dozen times.

One last thought:

(Jesus) Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and you have left undone the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith. You ought to have done these and not to leave the other undone. Matthew 23:23

It does appear that Jesus makes a differentiation between "types" of sin. But the weightier matters that He references here are internal qualities that drive behavior rather than the actions themselves.

He does say that the "lighter" aspects should still have been attended without ignoring the "weightier" ones.

On the one hand, "equating" thoughts with behavior could be seen as lessening the seriousness of the action. On the other hand, it could be viewed as bringing into focus the severity of transgression of the thoughts.

The "you fool"/murder illustration is good...Jesus points out that the heart motive already exists and if it is nursed and fed, could very well lead to murder if opportunity arises.

A main theme throughout Matthew is the futility of law-keeping and self-propelled righteousness. Externally applied bandages don't cure heart disease.

When asked who could possibly get into the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus basically said that unless God gives us a "heart transplant" none of us will make it.

Heather

Jmv7000 said...

Strat,

I guess since Jesus is willing to call lust adultery, treat it like adultery, condemn it like adultery, judge it like adultery, and tells them that lusting is "committing" adultery (obviously without physical acts) and then goes on to show the need for extreme action to prevent it, THIS leads me to say God equates lust with adultery.

The same can be said of murder and anger.

"and since all the church operates to the contrary" - kind of a sweeping statement, but I disagree with this line of thinking, but not much I can do to change it, other than say what the church does, does not mean they have an accurate reflection concerning biblical standards.

In the end, neither of us would treat lightly in our own life, lust or adultery. We would both see the need to warn our brothers of the dangers of lust (that often brings pornography and other sexual sins). We would not treat it lightly, but would warn our brother and remind our own heart the need to "pluck out our eye" which is hyperbole for "take drastic measure to prevent" lust in our life and / by treasuring Christ!

So we can disagree on this point.

stratagem said...

Jmv - if you want to believe that murder is no worse than anger, and adultery is no worse than lust, then you will have to explain why lust and anger didn't make it nearly as explicitly into the Ten Commandments as did adultery and murder. You'll also have to explain why you don't act as though you believe what you are saying.
Yes, we've agreed to disagree on this.

Craig and Heather said...

Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the Seed should come to those to whom it had been promised, being ordained through angels in the Mediator's hand.
But the Mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
Is the Law then against the promises of God? Let it not be said! For if a law had been given which could have given life, indeed righteousness would have been out of Law.
But the Scripture shut up all under sin, so that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
But before faith came, we were kept under Law, having been shut up to the faith about to be revealed.
So that the Law has become a trainer of us until Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But faith coming, we are no longer under a trainer.
Galatians 3:19-25



The Law was meant to bring attention to the shortcomings of humanity and bring us to a recognition of sin. The question that it prompts us to ask is "WHY can I not consistently obey these rules--and what can be done about it?"
It's purpose is to make us aware of the depth of our depravity and point us to the only Hope we have of being reconciled with a Holy and Righteous Judge.

Lust and anger are implied in the Ten Commandments but when we just focus on behavior, we can overlook that. It could be argued that at least lust is addressed in the command to not covet.

Jesus said:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; (Matthew 15:19)

The Pharisees had put faith in their ability to follow the letter of God's rule book (and, I understand, had added a significant number of rules of their own).

And when Jesus came, He revealed that simply "keeping the Law" was never the point of the Law.

It is the love of God's Law that we are unable to grasp on our own. That is a heart matter and something only God can remedy.

You two "agreed to disagree", so I don't want to try to stir the pot...Reading your interaction just made me think that the issue is not in disagreement but in a matter of semantics.

When all is said and done, I believe the important thing to understand about all sin is that the response God desires is:


Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. Psalm 51:4

I'm really going away, now.

H

Jmv7000 said...

Heather,

Well said, please contribute often. . . :)

stratagem said...

Yes, I don't think we ever had any disagreement about whether or not lust or anger are sins, only about the seriousness of those sins. No doubt, lust is always a prerequisite for adultery and anger often is a prerequisite for murder (but not always). The lesser sins lead to commission of the greater sins.