Berean cogitations

Friday, March 24, 2006

Are the essentials enough?

A few months ago, I met a fellow who occupied a prominent ministry position in his church. Over dinner one night, we got to talking about church doctrine. With passion, this fellow declared, "As long as a church teaches the bare basics--the Virgin Birth, the deity of Christ, that sort of thing--then that's all I care about. I don't give a flip about anything else."

Now, I know that a lot of believers would applaud such a statement. After all, it sounds positively loving and tolerant, does it not? Indeed, I'm sure that his remark was motivated by love and a desire for unity. At the risk of ruffling some feathers though, I find such sentiments to be rather dismaying. To my mind, it's like saying, "As long as a school teaches the very basics--reading, writing and arithmetic--then that's all that matters. Everything else is just fluff." It may seem loving, but it sets the bar awfully low. What a far cry from Paul's exhortation to Timothy, as he urged the young man to safeguard the Ephesians, that they may hold meticulously to the Word and "teach no other doctrine" (1 Timothy 1:3).

Moreover, I think that his sentiment--a distressingly common one, I might add--assumes that the essentials are all that matter, and that everything else is of little consequence. While that's an understandable viewpoint, I believe that it's unwise and unscriptural. There are many teachings that are not essential for salvation, but which are nevertheless of extreme importance. Principles of Biblical exegesis, for example, are critically important; after all, a sloppy approach to exegesis can lead to all sorts of abominable teachings. What about principles for selecting a church elder, for example? Should we "not give a flip" if a church decides to ignore the Biblical command to elect elders who are monogamous and exhibit upright characters (1 Tim 3:8-13)? Or what about the command against being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14)? Is it okay if a church declares that it's okay for Christians to date and marry non-believers?

Just to drive a point home, let's use a more extreme example. There are churches that encourage their members to handle poisonous snakes as a test of their faith. This false teaching will not, by any means, cost someone his salvation, but does that make it acceptable? Certainly not! Once again, we should "give a flip" if such matters are being taught!

Interestingly enough, this person followed up his comment by saying, "I refuse to attend Pentecostal churches, though. That's because speaking in tongues freaks me out!" Notice the reason he gave? Rather than rejecting Pentecostalism on Biblical grounds, he does so because he thinks it's freaky. Such feelings are certainly understandable, but they are not the right way to test church doctrine!

I think that the Christian community should abandon this popular notion that it doesn't matter what churches teach, as long as they hold to the basics. This notion may sound like a loving, Christ-like sentiment -- and indeed, I'm sure that it's typically motivated by love and a desire for unity. I think it's an oversimplification though, and I don't think it's quite what the Bible teaches.