Contending For The Faith

November 25, 2008

Concerning the Notion of “Secondary Doctrines”

Filed under: doctrine — Lynda O @ 8:31 am
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In my continual study of the Bible, and also following the latest “news” from Reformed Evangelical leaders, one issue that keeps popping up is how many such leaders want to narrow the scope of “essential Christianity.”  As a recent blog pointed out, for instance, Phil Johnson wants to qualify which doctrines are essential and which are secondary, apparently based on his own standards and categories.  In Johnson’s case, though he affirms the truth of premillennial eschatology, he backs off from a firm stand and says it is not an essential doctrine.   A few weeks back, I learned from a friend that R.C. Sproul said that biblical creation was not an essential doctrine.  In both cases, these men do affirm the correct biblical understanding, but then want to back off from any claims to absolute interpretation.

The trend certainly began with those who, using the same reasoning as theological liberals, purposely reject the plain teaching of certain scriptures, such as creation.  It’s easy for such pastors to “justify” their differing view, on the grounds that it’s okay to believe differently on anything and everything outside of “the essentials of salvation” (essentials which must necessarily be defined by each person).  After all, the heart of the gospel is that you accept Jesus as your savior, trust in His atoning work, the substitutionary death on the cross, and, as the Bible says, if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth, you will be saved.  Yet even there distinctions emerge, especially the core of Arminianism versus Calvinist / Reformed / Sovereign Grace understanding of God’s sovereignty in election.

The overall direction of American evangelicalism has gone from general Arminian man-centered free will, to “gospel lite” entertainment, to embracing post-modernism and the emerging church; and thus God’s word is watered down more and more.  Reformed preachers have stood out as the exception, going against the trend by upholding the great doctrinal truths, preaching and teaching the word of God in far greater depth than what passes for such at the average American church.  Even here, though, it seems that the pressure of society to get along and compromise has started to wear down even the best preachers, many of whom will simply not even preach on subjects outside of a limited sphere, sticking to subjects they understand and that are considered non-controversial: the Doctrines of Grace, the soteriology and “sola scriptura” cry of the Reformation.  (I’ve heard other bloggers comment on this too, the restricted preaching range of the Sovereign Grace organization.  Then again, when it comes down to it I’d rather that they don’t preach on a particular subject, than to preach it incorrectly.  If they really don’t understand what the scripture is saying, since they haven’t taken the time to really study the matter, they won’t be able to preach what they don’t know.)

My own experience and growth as a Christian has shown clearly, though, that for true believers, God will bring more light and understanding, so that the Christian will come to love and embrace all of God’s word, desiring to study and know the truth more and more.  If a person thinks differently on some point, over time God will make that issue clear and bring the person into conformity with God’s word.  When a person comes up against a clear teaching of scripture and then purposely rejects it, one has to wonder, why?  To quote Jim McClarty (from an MP3 of a mid-week study class), “God’s people are not offended by God’s word.  God’s people will happily accept anything that’s in this Bible. God’s people love God’s word.”  As I’ve heard many times, the saved person doesn’t ask, how much do I have to do to get by? how much effort is enough to be a Christian?  No, the Christian desires perfection and freedom from sin, to love God truly with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength.

Jesus told us that the gate is narrow that leads to life, whereas the broad path leads to destruction.  When I hear Reformed preachers, even the ones that get the truths right, back off by saying “this doctrine isn’t essential,”  lessening the scope to just the soteriology of a right relationship to Jesus, it sounds an awful lot like the unregenerate person asking “how much do I have to do to get by?”  In the name of Christian unity, they compromise the importance of God’s word and attempt to widen that narrow gate.

In such a dark world, such weaknesses of godly men lead me to even greater thankfulness for the men who uphold the truth and importance of God’s revealed word, those who hold to the higher view of scripture, men such as John MacArthur; and previous generations of pastors such as Charles Spurgeon and John Bunyan, examples for us to follow.  The even greater reminder, of course, is not to put our trust in men, but in God alone, who sustains and upholds all things.  For even these great men would surely fall, too, but for God’s wonderful grace.

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