Doctrine Grid

Following is a proposed table of essential Christian doctrines. The table is designed to help categorize various doctrines into levels of importance. I admit that some of these are debatable. Nevertheless, it is an attempt to develop an understanding of the essentials based on what Scripture actually says rather than what a lot of people like to declare. This table is a suggestion which, I hope, will aid people in discerning what is essential from what is not essential.

I divide Christian theology into two categories: Primary and Secondary Essentials. Primary essentials are doctrines the scriptures explicitly declare are essential. But, with the secondary essentials, the scriptures do not make such statements. The secondary essentials are derived from the primary essentials and properly define orthodoxy.

C H R I S T I A N  - D O C T R I N E

RELIGIOUS GROUPS

IMPORTANCE

SUBJECT

Groups denying these and are, therefore, not Christian:
Christadelphianism - 1, 3
Christian Science - 1, 2, 3, 4
Islam - 1, 2, 3, 4
Jehovah's Witnesses - 1, 2, 3
Mormonism - 3, 4, 5
Roman Catholicism - 3
Eastern Orthodox - 3
Primary Essentials
Stated specifically in scripture that these cannot be denied and still be a Christian. They deal with the nature of God, the atonement, and its method of salvation applied to the believer. Denial of any Primary essential constitutes lack of regeneration, lack of salvation. Note: Regeneration means the believer is indwelt by God, changed, and enabled to understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:15)

1) Jesus is still both God and man (John 1:1, 14; 8:24; Col. 2:9; 1 John 4:1-4).
2) Jesus rose from the dead physically in the same  (John 2:19-21; 1 Cor. 15:14).
3) Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 3:28; 5:1; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 3:1-2; 5:1-4).
4) The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Gal. 1:8-9).5) There is only one God in all existence (Exodus 20:3; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8).
6) Must be born again (John 3:3)1

Comments: Denial of any of the above doctrines as stated in scripture constitutes being non-Christian.
Groups denying these and are, therefore, not Christian:
Christadelphianism - 7
Islam - 7, 9
Jehovah's Witnesses - 7
Mormonism - 7
Oneness Pentecostal - 7
 
Secondary Essentials
Not stated in scripture as essential but are derivatively essential since they deal with accurately describing the true God and they are based, in part, on the Primary Essentials. Denial strongly suggests lack of regeneration.

7) God exists as a Trinity of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
8) Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (nature of incarnation).
9) Jesus is the only way to God the Father (John 14:6).

Comments: God is a Trinity; and though a person may not understand or initially affirm the Trinity doctrine upon regeneration, he will eventually come to accept it since it is a biblically true revelation describing the true God. Jesus was born of a virgin which is essential when defending the two natures of Jesus: divine and human. If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then His patronage would be in doubt as well as His divine nature. Without a divine nature, Jesus would not be able to atone for the sins of the world.
 
Most Groups affirm:
Moral integrity, marriage fidelity, inerrancy, etc.
Mormonism denies - 13
Islam denies - 13 and 15
ICOC denies 14
Primary Non-Essentials
The regenerate seek to live according to God's word (1 John 2:4) though they struggle and sometimes fail. Violating these teachings does not automatically mean a person is not saved. Further examination would be necessary. But, abiding in sins with unrepentance would be evidence that the person is not regenerated.

10) Moral integrity (Exodus 20:1-17).
11) Fidelity in marriage in heterosexual relationships.
12) The condemnation of homosexuality.
13) Inerrancy of the Bible.
14) Baptism is not necessary for salvation (Acts 10:44-48).
15) Eternal Security (If salvation is maintained through obedience, then it is outside of biblical orthodoxy)

Comments: The fruit of the indwelling Spirit of God agrees in word and deed with the Scripture. The Primary Non-Essentials are those teachings that the Bible does not declare as essential to salvation. However, to openly deny them is evidence of lack of regeneration since they are the fruit of the regenerate mind and heart.
Denominational Division
The rise of denominations often results due to differences of opinion on these issues, though they are not restricted to them.
Secondary Non-Essentials
Any of them can be denied or affirmed, and regeneration is not is questioned.

16) Predestination, election, limited atonement, and free will.
17) Communion every week, monthly, or quarterly, etc.
18) Saturday or Sunday Worship.
19) Pre, mid, post-trib rapture.
20) Premillennialism., Amill., Postmill., partial-preterism.
21) Continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts.
22) Baptism for adults or infants.
23) Musical Instruments in church.

Comments: The subjects in the Secondary Non-Essentials area whether affirmed or denied have no bearing on the status of a person before God. They are opinions - various positions held. Unfortunately, it is in these non-essentials that many denominational differences result.
 
Liberal interpretation problem.
Examples of bad biblical interpretations.
Christian Heresies
These do not contradict the essentials but do contradict non-essential teachings.

Generally, those who hold to these positions should be avoided and urged to repent.

22) Universalism (See, Can a Christian be a universalist?)
23) Open Theism.
24) Annihilationism.
25) Possession of Christians by demons.
26) Christians are to be healthy and wealthy by the fact of being Christians.
27) Women pastors and elders.
28) Willful sin cult teaching where a single willful sin forfeits all hopes of salvation.
29) Must belong to a certain church to be a true Christian.
 

Comments: Affirming the doctrines in this grey section are signs of a significant lack of understanding of biblical theology. Nevertheless, believing them does not negate salvation.

 

  • 1. Different false religions define being born again differently
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.