Defining ‘Essential’ Doctrine in the Church – A List For You to Pick At

Tyler Ellis made a great point (as usual) in his comment under the previous post.

He said:

It concerns me any time someone makes a requirement of fellowship what God has not made a requirement of salvation.

There’s great wisdom in thinking this way.

Obviously there are doctrines we as church leaders must see and teach as ‘essential’. Many of the New Testament letters were written specifically to refute heresies that cropped up in the early church – most related to false teachers licensing early Christians to live in sin or teachings that distorted the identity of Jesus.

Jude urged readers to “contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3) – something he obviously took very seriously.

Get this: we should take it seriously too!

But what we shouldn’t do is place extrapolated teachings related to a specific faith tradition on the same level as clear, specific commands, prohibitions, and realities found in Scripture.

After thinking a bit, I thought it might be healthy to write down my own list of non-negotiables.

These are not necessarily tests of fellowship in my mind (some of them are), but they are doctrines I believe worthy of defense:

  • The existence and sovereignty of a loving, benevolent, compassionate  creator God, who all may access through prayer.
  • The man Jesus Christ is the divine, revealed Son of God, who is enthroned in heaven as both Lord and King of all, and who will one day return.
  • The reality of the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit given to all believers.
  • The reality of heaven, hell, and eternity.
  • The Scriptures, given to us by God , are to be used in correcting, teaching, rebuking, and training in righteousness.
  • The greatest commands are to 1) love God with everything you have, and 2) love your neighbor as yourself.
  • The church is the visible manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom on earth (to be fully realized when Jesus returns), every follower of Christ is apart of it, and every follower of Christ is called to work within it.
  • Jesus calls all to repent of sin and follow Him while continuing to live a repentant life, promising forgiveness of sin and salvation to all who do so.
  • Believer’s baptism is the biblical method prescribed for committing one’s life to Christ and is linked to the forgiveness of sin and gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • One day all who have ever lived will be raised to stand before God to be judged.
  • Salvation and forgiveness of sin is found in Jesus alone, by His grace, not by our goodness. We are saved by His death, and made alive through the power of His resurrection.
  • Lastly and ironically, one does not need to understand everything perfectly about God to be 1) loved by Him, 2) cleansed by Him, and 3) saved by Him. Ultimately, it’s all up to Him, and He’s a much better judge than I am. Infinitely more loving too.

It could very well be I’m leaving something out, but from where I sit right now everything else I can think of – doctrinally, organizationally, or otherwise –  is up for grabs.

As another commenter stated in the previous thread, “One man’s state is another man’s national” (watch the video in the previous post if you don’t understand that statement), so you may very will disagree with what’s written here, but I believe church leaders have a responsibility to teach and to defend these things … but here’s the problem. You’ll need to date this list, because in a few years it may look different for me.

What about you – do you have your own non-negotiables? What’s on your list?

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13 thoughts on “Defining ‘Essential’ Doctrine in the Church – A List For You to Pick At

  1. K. Rex Butts says:

    Is that last bullet point your escape method should someone convince that you are in error regarding one of the other eleven bullet points :-)?

  2. ATF says:

    I’ve always considered at least two passages to have this sort of meaning, laying out a foundation of Christian belief or “essentials.”

    The first is 1 Cor 15:3-8
    -The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are of first importance, and those according to the Scripture.

    The other is Hebrews 6:1-3
    -Repentance, faith in God, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection, and eternal judgement are elementary teachings.

    I find great meaning in the absence of a comprehensive list in the NT, as it would appear in a lawbook. Christianity is personal all the way through, and if I had to err it would be on the side of accepting someone in the fellowship with a different view. After all, I wouldn’t reject a person for failing the first grade. It would certainly affect what I think they are capable of at the time, but probably not whether to accept them.

    Great post Wes, and a very interesting train of thought.

  3. mattdabbs says:


    Is there a difference in your mind between your non-negotiables and what you view as salvation issues? In other words these things are core truths, that I agree with, but are they lines in the sand? For instance, there are some who don’t believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but have the “Word only” belief. I would still count them as my brothers even though I believe they severely misunderstand the Holy Spirit…not that I perfectly understand the Spirit either 🙂

  4. WesWoodell says:

    There is a difference in my mind between most of these and salvation issues, though some of them are salvation issues.

    Basically the list comprises doctrines I believe and teach and am not willing to budge on presently, and if others were teaching something different I would be inclined to strongly disagree.

    As far as ‘lines in the sand’ go: belief in God, believing Jesus is Lord, and surrendering to Jesus as Lord living a subsequent repentant life. Everything outside of these three is not necessarily negotiable for me, but these are most important, and in my mind neglecting any one of them is evidence one is not really a follower of Christ.

  5. Daniel W says:

    So is this your list of non-negotiables for fellowship? If so, does that mean that if you were an elder in a church you would not allow C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer to place membership? They were all baptized as infants and they all believed in the efficacy of believers baptism.

    Also, doesn’t your last point mean that you should allow anyone who considers himself or herself a Christian, such as the three theologians I listed above, to join your congregation? You admit that God is able to save those who understand him and his teachings imperfectly. At the beginning of the post, you also agree that there is a problem with making something a requirement of fellowship that is not also a requirement for salvation.

  6. Daniel W says:

    I missed you above comment when you described what exactly your list is for. However, I would still like to know whether you would allow Lewis, Wright, and Bonhoeffer to join (and maybe even be deacons at) a congregation at which you were an elder.

  7. All I can say to Tyler’s comment is “WoW!” Truly wise. Thanks for dealing w/ this stuff Wes, and everybody else! It has helped me a lot!

  8. David says:

    Worshipping in Spirit and Truth is non negotiable.

  9. David says:

    *in order to result in true worship

  10. BigDrG says:

    No offense, but I’m not so sure Tyler’s comment is that profound or that accurate. The fact that you elaborate actually makes that clear. Salvation is just the entry point; there is so much more staying in Christ and therefore staying in fellowship with others who are in Christ. But, I’m not going to enumerate any kind of list, which would essentially be pressing the new covenant into an old covenant mold. Really we just have to “play it by ear” so to speak (maybe “play it by heart” or “…by spirit” would be more accurate) and deal with individual circumstances as they arise. And this idea of churches disfellowshipping other churches… hate that thought process. Churches can, as a last resort, disfellowship unruly members but not other churches! But back to the original thought about using salvation as the only means of fellowship (with an individual),,, it would be like saying as long as you start a race correctly (no false start, no stumbling out of the starting block) then you win the race. No, there are a variety of ways to disqualify yourself (e.g., switching lanes in a race where lane assignments are paramount to running the correct length). One of the preachers in my home church’s summer series talked about a race he ran where he checked in at the finish line and was quite pleased with his times (a personal best) only to realize later that he stopped one lap too soon…. You can work through this with any of the “race” verses, but just consider 1 Co 9:24 for now. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” He doesn’t say “Start in such a way as to win the prize.” He says “Run…” and if we apply this thought process to fellowship, then we have fellowship with others who are also running the race, not just the folks who started right. Sorry to be contrary, but I hate short little quips about complicated subjects.

    I must say that I appreciate ATF’s comment. I “grew up” (in that most of my spiritual growth happened there) in a church that emphasized 1 Cor 15 and kept what was most important as most important. (BTW, I learned there how the resurrection is a fact of history, readily established in independent extra-Biblical sources, not something you believe in. What you believe in is that you will be resurrected too.)

    I must also say that I so greatly appreciate one of the paragraphs that preceded your list.

    “But what we shouldn’t do is place extrapolated teachings related to a specific faith tradition on the same level as clear, specific commands, prohibitions, and realities found in Scripture.”

    I’ve been banging my head against a few brick walls trying to get the “thou shalt not clap” upholders to realize their conviction, even if absolutely correct (which I’m certain it’s not), is a step removed from Scripture. “Thou shalt not clap” is in no way on a par with “repent and be baptized.”

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