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Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

I am thankful for the current emphasis in our Reformed Evangelical world upon the Gospel, justification by faith, and the substitutionary atonement of our Lord. It is a blessing that our community is emphasizing “the main thing.” However, I hope that as we give emphasis to these tenants of our faith we don’t somehow minimize other important doctrines of the Scripture or even disregard them as unimportant (i.e. ecclesiology, the sacraments, sanctification, etc.).

Thomas Witherow, a Scottish Presbyterian, had this same concern when he wrote along these lines in his little tract, “The Apostolic Church: Which Is It?” (1851):

To say that, because a fact of Divine revelation is not essential to salvation, it must of necessity be unimportant, and may or may not be received by us, is to assert a principle, the application of which would make havoc of our Christianity. For, what are the truths essential to salvation? Are they not these: That there is a God; that all men are sinners; that the Son of God died upon the cross to make atonement for the guilty; and that whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved?…But if all the other truths of revelation are unimportant, because they happen to be non-essentials, it follows that the Word of God itself is in the main unimportant…

As Witherow makes clear, if this is the argument we choose to make then we are pulling the rug out from under our own feet . For we are robbing the vast majority of the Scriptures’ teaching and pages from having any influence, relevance, or importance for our Christian lives:

Let a man once persuade himself that importance attaches only to what he is pleased to call essentials, whatever their number, and he will, no doubt, shorten his creed and cut away the foundation of many controversies; but he will practically set aside all except a very small part of the Scriptures. If such a principle does not mutilate the Bible, it stigmatizes much of it as trivial. Revelation is all gold for preciousness and purity, but the very touch of such a principle would transmute the most of it into dross.

Let us unite around the Gospel. Let us be clear in emphasizing and proclaiming it. Let us underscore the importance of justification by faith alone. Let us continually point ourselves and others to the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

But as we do this, let us never say or act as though the other doctrines and teachings of the Scripture are unimportant. “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). We can continue to uphold that which is at the heart of our faith and all the while not neglect or relegate the “secondary” doctrines to that of unimportance.

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5 thoughts on “Secondary Doctrines”

  1. Randy in Tulsa says:

    Maybe the problem is a too narrow definition of the gospel. Instead of thinking that Paul’s definition, which emphasizes in certain places justification apart from the works of the law is the full definition, maybe its time to give the Jesus and Peter, James and John (and Paul in other places) full credit. For example, Jesus emphasized the need for new birth, without which no one could see the kingdom of God. But, Jesus also said that the one who does the will of his Father is the one who will enter heaven. Life and Godliness. New birth and a new life. I think Peter summed it up quite well – By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. This is a full gospel definition. And of course, no one explained the theology of the full gospel better than Paul. The good news is not only that we are given a right standing before God, but we are freed from the dominion of Satan and sin here and now. We are a new creation, which means so much more than new birth. We have a new life, the eternal life in Christ that begins here and continues for all eternity. All aspects of that life are essential to it.

  2. Ras Erasmus says:

    Any definition of the gospel that does not include the renewal of our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit is not the gospel.The same Christ in whose blood we are redeemed renews us by the Holy Spirit to a life of new obedience. Said otherwise, the work of Christ IN us is just as important as the work of Christ FOR us. This is Heidelberg Catechism 101.

  3. Brad says:

    “Let us underscore the importance of justification by faith alone.”

    And yet Scripture tells us that if we have not love, we have no faith and therefore no “justification by faith alone.”

    I think we need to rethink just what on earth we are talking about here whether we are discussing doctrinal essentials or non-essentials – and all in the context of the entire counsel of God’s Word, because our community is allergic to genuine, outward Christian love.

  4. Don Hartness says:

    I struggle with this one in depth. At this moment, I’m locked into a discussion with a member of my community group who claims that “God revealed to her” the truth behind the doctrine of universalism. On one hand, I don’t want to spend endless hours debating on the nature and existence of hell, as my focus is not on defining a place that I have never been nor intend to go. On the other, this person is a core member of the group, passionate about her view and unable to let it go. Will she start proclaiming her view to the group? Will it cause an argument? How do I respond?

    The author in this post has a point. However, I also see Christians across all denominations arguing over so many particulars and details, with a fierceness betraying love. This endless bickering has been going on for centuries. I can’t help but see a shrewd enemy, laughing hysterically at the dissension he so easily stirs up between us.

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