Defining ‘Essential’ Doctrine in the Church – The Big Three

I created a bit of confusion with my previous post. 

The list of “non-negotiables” shared there is not totally made up of things I consider “test of fellowship” issues – those are mostly doctrines I believe in strongly and will defend strongly.

But there are some doctrines that should cause us to draw a line in the sand – doctrines that should determine whether we fellowship others or not, and by “fellowship”, I mean accept them as a brother or sister in Christ.

From my study of the Scriptures, these “Big Three” are it:

  1. Belief in God.
  2. Belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
  3. Submission and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master.

These are salvation issues, and when heresies cropped up in the New Testament, these were doctrines those heresies distorted or contradicted.

I was raised within a faith tradition that taught if you go to a different kind of church you are probably doomed to hell,  if you don’t understanding certain things at the moment of your baptism you are probably doomed to hell, if you don’t worship a certain way you are probably doomed to hell, and if you neglect to organize your church a certain way you are probably doomed  to hell.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my faith tradition and will never leave it – but I’ve dwelled in the scriptures for a few years now and do not believe I should have ever been taught those things.

So many of the things our tradition has made fellowship issues over the years are every bit as ridiculous as anything in that video I showed the other day, because they are extrapolations from scripture – not clear commands.

I really appreciate what Monte Cox said a few years ago at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures: “I’m not comfortable drawing lines in the sand where God has not clearly drawn them – I’m too conservative for that.”

I’m with Monte – I’m just not willing to draw lines where God hasn’t clearly done so Himself.

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7 thoughts on “Defining ‘Essential’ Doctrine in the Church – The Big Three

  1. K. Rex Butts says:


    I so much appreciate your openness and willingness to think through such an issue in a forum like this.

    I am in full agreement with your “big three”. I have labeled it with the phrase “Confessionally Committed” meaning my fellowship boundary is shaped by the confession of faith in Jesus Christ and a commitment to living out that confession. One does not have to understand everything about the Christian faith and it’s way of life the same as I do (meaning they don’t need to share the same convictions as me on all the various issues) in order to share a common confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah and being committed to living by that confession.

    Grace and Peace,


  2. charliesohm says:

    Well, that third one covers a lot. Kind of reminds me of Barney Fife’s rule number one: “obey ALL the rules”.

  3. Daniel W says:


    I really appreciate the courage you have in proclaiming what is often seen as controversial in Restoration Movement circles. In fact, it really encourages me. The other day I was very discouraged when a Jamaican Church of Christ missionary from the Caribbean visited my church and gave a presentation. He painted a false picture of the Caribbean, claiming that there were no Christian churches on certain islands and that the Gospel had not reached certain islands, when what he really meant was that there was no church doctrinally affiliated with the Church of Christ on those islands. He related to us a story about his earnest but failed attempts to save a woman. At the end, he revealed that she was difficult to save because she insisted on remaining a Methodist. I was sort of appalled.

    • K. Rex Butts says:

      I’m appalled by such sectarianism too. And as a member within the Churches of Christ (as well as a preacher/minister for a CoC) is something that I earnestly desire to be rooted out of us once and for all but old heresies die hard.

  4. Mike Meadows says:

    Amen brother!!

    Mike Meadows
    CollegeAvenue Church of Christ
    El Dorado AR

  5. BigDrG says:

    I’m confused. What is the benefit of drawing lines in the sand? Won’t the tide wash them out or the wind blow them away?

  6. Tulsaoilman says:

    I also am not for drawing lines. I am not the judge of who is and who isn’t going to Heaven or Hell. That being said; I will never stop teaching His word to everyone who will listen. Example: Are you not going to Heaven if you are not baptised? NOT MY CALL. But I will still teach what the word says about baptism.

    Sometimes this “non-judgemental” approach leads some to just accept that all are saved and therefor no need to teach them about Jesus and His word. That’s just wrong. I say; “If the only way you will show me Jesus is if you judge me lost, then judge me losts so I can see Jesus.”

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