I remember the DTS chapel service. A Professor from Liberty University (then Liberty Baptist College) spoke. He was discussing how doctrine can divide. “If you consider too many issues to be essential issues, then you can have the national convention for your denomination in a phone booth.”
We all laughed. But we got the point. In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. The trick, of course, is knowing what is essential and what is not.
The word doctrine occurs 38 times in the NKJV (4 OT, 34 NT). However, the number varies greatly among translations–from 2 in the NET Bible, to 4 in the LEB, 6 in the NIV, 8 in the HCSB and NRSV, 12 in the ESV, 14 in the NASB, and 50 in the KJV.
Here are some key verses on doctrine (from the NKJV):
“And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:9).
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Rom 16:17).
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3).
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers” (2 Tim 4:3).
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 10-11).
The Lord and His apostles taught that doctrine is very important. I understand the warning about considering too many doctrines to be essential. In the first century, however, the concern was about considering too few doctrines to be essential. The same is true today.
Today some Evangelicals in purportedly conservative churches consider homosexuality and same-sex marriage to be acceptable practices. Some consider eternal security a non-essential doctrine. Others even go so far as to say that works salvation is a non-essential issue.
Unfortunately, the Bible does not give us a list of essential and non-essential doctrines. But there is enough in the NT to suggest that the following doctrines are essential:
- The Lord Jesus lived a sinless life.
- He died on the cross for our sins.
- He rose bodily from the dead on the third day.
- The Bible is without error in its original manuscripts.
- The Bible is the only book that God has given us.
- Justification/regeneration is by faith in Christ, apart from works before or after.
- Jesus will raise believers from the dead before the Millennium.
- He will raise unbelievers from the dead after the Millennium.
- He will judge believers at the Bema to determine our eternal rewards.
- The Lord Jesus will judge unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment to determine their degrees of torment in the lake of fire.
- Believers are accountable to the commands of the NT, known as the law of Christ, the royal law, and the law of liberty.
- Churches are to discipline members who stray morally or doctrinally.
- Jesus was born of a virgin.
- The Jews are God’s chosen people, and Israel will be His chosen nation forever.
- in this life, God blesses obedience and curses disobedience for both believers and unbelievers.
I suppose we might add a few more essential doctrines. But the point is that doctrine matters. We are to hold to apostolic doctrine–the doctrine taught by the Lord’s apostles (Acts 2:42).
Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.