Thursday, February 21, 2019

Is Theology Poetry? - the nature and necessity of the development of doctrine


In the January 20, 2019 thread I linked to Gordon Carle's doctoral dissertation, "Alexandria in the Shadow of the Hill Cumorah: A Comparative Historical Theology of The Early Christian and Mormon Doctrines of God" (link). The primary content and context of the dissertation, "is a comparative study of the theological and historical development of the early Christian (Pre-Nicene) and Mormon doctrines of God." The post gave rise to a robust discussion concerning which of the two above paradigms has been the more faithful development of the divine revelations recorded in the Old and New Testaments, with a focus on anthropomorphism.

The issue of the development of doctrine has been one of the major topics explored here at AF for over a decade now, with 55 prior posts delving into the subject (see THIS LINK). However, the issue of the relationship between anthropomorphism and development of doctrine was not explored until the above referenced thread. My current studies into this topic has brought to light an essay presented by C. S. Lewis to the 'Socratic Club'—an Oxford debating society—back in 1944. 

This essay provides some fascinating contrasts between theology, mythology and poetry; but it is page 10 where the issue of doctrinal development begins. Note the following:

What did the early Christians believe? Did they believe that God really has a material palace in the sky and that He received His Son in a decorated state chair placed a little to the right of His own? — or did they not? The answer is that the alternative we are offering them was probably never present to their minds at all. As soon as it was present, we know quite well which side of the fence they came down. As soon as the issue of Anthropomorphism was explicitly before the Church in, I think, the second century, Anthropomorphism was condemned. The Church knew the answer (that God has no body and therefore couldn’t sit in a chair) as soon as it knew the question. But till the question was raised, of course, people believed neither the one answer nor the other. There is no more tiresome error in the history of thought than to try to sort our ancestors on to this or that side of a distinction which was not in their minds at all. You are asking a question to which no answer exists.

It is very probable that most (almost certainly not all) of the first generation of Christians never thought of their faith without anthropomorphic imagery, and that they were not explicitly conscious, as a modern would be, that it was mere imagery. But this does not in the least mean that the essence of their belief was concerned with details about a celestial throne room. That was not what they valued, or what they were prepared to die for. Any one of them who went to Alexandria and got a philosophical education would have recognised the imagery at once for what it was, and would not have felt that his belief had been altered in any way that mattered...

The earliest Christians were not so much like a man who mistakes the shell for the kernel as like a man carrying a nut which he hasn’t yet cracked. The moment it is cracked, he knows which part to throw away. Till then he holds on to the nut, not because he is a fool but because he isn’t. (Pages 10, 11 - LINK to PDF)

Those who are familiar with John Henry Newman's, An Essay On The Development of Christian Doctrine, will most likely discern his motif of organic development in Lewis' essay.

Before ending, I would like to issue a challenge of sorts: take Newman's famous seven notes concerning doctrinal development—Preservation of Type, Continuity of its Principles, Its Power of Assimilation, Its Logical Sequence, Anticipation of its Future, Conservative Action Upon its Past, and Its Chronic Vigor—and apply them to the two different paradigms contrasted in Carle's dissertation.

Hope to hear from those folk who take up the challenge soon...


Grace and peace,

David

Monday, February 11, 2019

"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" - Jewish Midrash concerning Genesis 1:26


Over the weekend, I read Jacob Neusner's, Judaism When Christianity Began (link to Google Preview). 

Given the recent AF topic on corporeality and God, I felt compelled to share the following selection:

The Torah's single most important teaching about God is that humanity is like God, so Genesis 1:26: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." God and the human being are mirror images of one another. Here we find the simple claim that the angels could not discern any physical difference whatever between man—Adam—and God:

Genesis Rabbah VIII:X
A. Said R. Hoshaiah, "When the Holy One, blessed be he, came to create the first man, the ministering angels mistook him [for God, for man was in God's image,] and wanted to say before the latter, Holy, [holy, holy is the Lord of hosts].' (Page 29)

This brought back to mind an essay by Neusner which I read back in the late 90s—"Conversation in Nauvoo about the Corporeality of God"—which was published in volume 36.1 (1996) of the BYU Studies Quarterly. I grabbed the issue from my collection, and on page 14 found the exact same Midrash quote referenced above—which I must admit, I had forgotten. (PDF copy available online HERE.)

I think many folk will find Neusner's book and essay of interest...


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Lactantius on the figure/form of God


In the previous thread the dissertation by Gordon Allen Carle, which I linked to, has elicited a robust discussion concerning the issue of whether or not God in some sense has a 'body'. An important element of the topic concerns whether or not any extant writings of early post-apostolic Christians support the view that God in some real sense possesses bodily form. Support for God having bodily form is explicitly found in the extant writings of Tertullian and in the collection of Jewish Christian writings commonly known as the Clementine literature. A consensus of Patristic scholars also believe that Melito of Sardis held to the belief.

In the above referenced discussion the question of whether or not Lactantius affirmed the notion that God has a bodily figure/form was raised. One of the participants—TOm—included Lactantius with Tertullian and Melito as those folk who affirmed a bodily form of God. This was the first time I had seen Lactantius associated with the view. TOm related that he inherited this understanding from two sources: first, The Harvard Theological Review article, "Augustine and the Corporeality of God" by Griffin and Paulsen [link]; and second, The Catholic Encyclopedia entry, "Anthropomorphism". The HTR article merely mentions the name along with Tertullian (see page 107). The following is an excerpt from the TCE entry:

Anthropomorphites (Audians)

A sect of Christians that arose in the fourth century in Syria and extended into Scythia, sometimes called Audians, from their founder, Audius. Taking the text of Genesis, i, 27, literally, Audius held that God has a human form. The error was so gross, and, to use St. Jerome's expression (Epist. vi, Ad Pammachium), so absolutely senseless, that it showed no vitality. Towards the end of the century it appeared among some bodies of African Christians. The Fathers who wrote against it dismiss it almost contemptuously. In the time of Cyril of Alexandria, there were some anthropomorphites among the Egyptian monks. He composed a short refutation of their error, which he attributed to extreme ignorance. (Adv. Anthrop. in P.G., LXXVI.) Concerning the charges of anthropomorphism preferred against Melito, Tertullian, Origen, and Lactantius, see the respective articles. The error was revived in northern Italy during the tenth century, but was effectually suppressed by the bishops, notably by the learned Ratherius, Bishop of Verona.  (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I, 1907, p. 559.)

Once again, we have merely the mention of Lactantius, with no reference/s to his extant works. But the TCE entry prompts one to, "see the respective articles." Under the "Lactantius" entry we read:

Another treatise, "De Ira Dei", directed against the Stoics and Epicureans, is supplementary to the "Divine Institutions" (II,xvii,5) and deals with anthropomorphism in its true sense. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII, p. 736.)

"De Ira Dei"—The Anger/Wrath of God—is one of Lactanitus' minor works. It had been over three decades ago since I last read Volume Seven of the Nicene and Post-Nicene series, which contains the English translations of many of Lactantius' works, including his De Ira Dei. I pulled down the volume from the self a couple of days ago and found the following:

But we say that those fall from the second step, who, though they understand that there is but one Supreme God, nevertheless, ensnared by the philosophers, and captivated by false arguments, entertain opinions concerning that excellent majesty far removed from the truth ; who either deny that God has any figure, or think that He is moved by no affection, because every affection is a sign of weakness, which has no existence in God. (Lactantius, A Treatise on the Anger of God, Chapter 2 - NPNF 7.260 - bold emphasis mine.)

An, 'ah hah moment' for sure! Next step for me was to find out what the Latin reading was. From Migne's Patrologia Latina we read:

qui aut figuram negant habere ullam Deum (Migne, Patrologiæ Cursus Completus, Tomus VII, Columns 82, 83.)

Armed with the Latin and Google, I found two contributions that are germane to our issue at hand. From the first:

Lactantius, as is usual with him, displays considerable acuteness in detecting the weak points of his adversary's argument ; but a deficiency of soundness and clearness in his own views. He describes the steps towards Truth, from each of which he represents the fall into fatal error as prone and easy ; and he shows how low were the attainments even of those among the philosophers who made the nearest approaches to right opinions. But in speaking of those who attributed absolute quiescence to the Deity, he himself employs language from which it may not unfairly be inferred that he considered God to have both a body and bodily affections. "They entertain sentiments wide of the Truth, who deny that God has any shape, or can be excited by any feeling ." (Jacob Henry Brooke Mountain, A Summary of the Writings of Lactantius, Page 133 - bold emphasis mine.)

And the second:

The crudest form of anthropomorphism, proceeding from a misapprehension of the expression "Image of God" in Genesis, represented God as Man per eminentiam. It was held by Melito, bishop of Sardis in the second century, who wrote a book entitled περί ἐνσωμάτου θεοῦ, which treated not, as some suppose, of the Incarnation, but of the corporeity of God in a sensuous human figure, as Origen testifies. Somewhat more refined is another form according to which God was conceived of as an ethereal being of light. This view is maintained in the Clementine Homilies, and even by Tertullian ; notwithstanding the depth and purity of his religious feelings, he says—"Who shall deny that God is a body, although God is a Spirit.";* He maintains that there is nothing uncorporeal, except what does not exist.† Spirit is Body of a peculiar quality.‡ Some have tried to excuse him as if he only wanted another word in order to express real existence. But this is certainly unfounded. The errors of thought and language here exactly coincide. Tertullian, with his vivid religious feeling and his robust realism, knew not how to separate the ideas of Reality and Corporeity. We remark similar representations in Lactantius, who combats those who deny that God possesses form and affections. When we read in writers of this period that God is sine corpore, it does not follow that they conceived of him as a purely spiritual Being, but possibly they only meant to express a contrariety to earthly bodies. (Neander, The History of Christian Dogmas, Vol. 1, pp. 103, 104 - bold emphasis mine.)

And so, it seems that Lactantius must be included with the Clementine literature, Tertullian, and Melito as one of the early Christian writers who believed that God exists in some bodily form.


Grace and peace,

David

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Terminology: trinitarianism, unitarianism, monotheism, polytheism...


Over the last few weeks, I have been in one of my 'reading modes', spending hours each day researching the issue of terminology concerning theology proper—i.e. the doctrine of God. My last post touched on the issue of 'dueling definitions' concerning unitarianism and trinitarianism. Informed discussions concerning unitarianism and trinitarianism should also include an in depth examination of the following labels/terms: monotheism, polytheism, henotheism, monolatry, triune, trinity, tritheism, modalism, monarchianism, adoptionism, Arianism, homoian, homoousian, homoiousian, monoousian, anhomoian, divine, divinity, Godhead, being, nature, essence, substance, person, ousia, hypostasis, prosopon, autotheos, el, eloah, elohim, adonai, the tetragrammaton, et al.

I suspect most folk think that the definitions for many of the above labels/terms are 'set in stone'; however, such is not the case—especially so when one attempts to classify the various theological systems of individuals, sects and religions throughout history. For instance, Arianism has been termed by many as unitarian, while some say it is polytheistic. John Calvin has been called a tritheist by some folk, but a modalist by others. The list of such contrasts can be multiplied into dozens of examples. Hope to write much more on such issues in the near future...

For now, whilst my research continues, I would like to share links to two works I have recently read—and are germane—first, a dissertation by Gordon Allen Carle, titled:

Alexandria in the Shadow of the Hill Cumorah: A Comparative Historical Theology of The Early Christian and Mormon Doctrines of God [LINK

The following is the abstract from the dissertation:

This work is a comparative study of the theological and historical development of the early Christian (Pre-Nicene) and Mormon doctrines of God. For the Christian tradition, I follow a detailed study of the apostolic period, followed by the apologetical period, and then conclude with the pre-Nicene up to around 250 C.E. For the Mormon tradition, I cover the period beginning with the establishment of the Mormon Church in 1830 and conclude with its official doctrinal formulation in 1916. I begin this work with a chronological examination of the development of the Mormon doctrine of God, commencing with Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon and concluding with his revelations and additional translations of those books that make up the Pearl of Great Price. I then examine Brigham Young's single theological contribution, followed with the speculative contributions of Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, John A. Widtsoe, B. H. Roberts, and concluding with James E. Talmage. This section covers chapters two through four. In chapters five through seven, I examine the theological contributions of Ignatius of Antioch, then Theophilus of Antioch, and conclude my study with the theological contributions of Origen of Alexandria. For the Christian tradition, I trace the development of the pre-Nicene theologians' struggle to explicate the theological and philosophical implications regarding the divinization of Christ within the context of monotheism. At the end of chapters five through seven I include a succinct, comparative study of each father's doctrine with Mormon doctrine. This work will also address the major theological and historical factors that influenced both the Mormon and traditional Christian doctrines of God. Further, I contrast both theological systems and discuss their basic differences and similarities. My conclusion is that the fundamental difference between these two theological systems rests upon their foundational conceptions of reality as absolutist or finitist. The Mormon theological system rests upon a materialistic and monistic conception of reality, whereas traditional Christianity's system rests upon a dualistic conception of reality. In Mormon materialism , the Trinity is divided as individuated Gods; in Christian transcendence, the unity of God may only be maintained, while acknowledging the separate existences of the Persons, if the nature of God is understood as an incorporeal substance.

Carle's, conclusion "that the fundamental difference between these two theological systems rests upon their foundational conceptions of reality as absolutist or finitist", is not a novel one, but the research which leads him to this conclusion is the most exhaustive I have yet to read. [For a number of related papers which delve into the absolutist vs. finitist distinction see this Google search]

The second contribution is a thesis by Anthony R. Meyer titled:

The Divine Name in Early Judaism: Use and Non-Use in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek [LINK]

Note the following abstract:

During the Second Temple period (516 BCE–70 CE) a series of developments contributed to a growing reticence to use the divine name, YHWH. The name was eventually restricted among priestly and pious circles, and then disappeared. The variables are poorly understood and the evidence is scattered. Scholars have supposed that the second century BCE was a major turning point from the use to non-use of the divine name, and depict this phenomenon as a linear development. Many have arrived at this position, however, through only partial consideration of currently available evidence. The current study offers for the first time a complete collection of extant evidence from the Second Temple period in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek in order answer the question of how, when, and in what sources the divine name is used and avoided. The outcome is a modified chronology for the Tetragrammaton’s history. Rather than a linear development from use to avoidance, the extant evidence points to overlapping use and non-use throughout most of the Second Temple period.

Those folk who share my interest in the history of God's unique name, will greatly appreciate this exhaustive work.

Back to my studies...


Grace and peace,

David

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Dale Tuggy vs. Beau Branson: "Dueling Definitions"


It had literally been a number of months since I last checked in on Dr. Dale Tuggy's website, Trinities - Theories About the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This last weekend—almost as an afterthought—while engaged in some online research for an upcoming post on the issue of polytheism and the Church Fathers, I clicked on the Trinities link in the right side-bar of AF. The first displayed item was 'Podcast 245 - Response to Branson Part 3 - Dueling Definitions'. This immediately caught my interest given the past conversations I have had with Dr. Branson. Turns out that Podcast 245 was actually the seventh in series focusing on Dr. Branson. The following are the links to all seven podcasts:


The first four podcasts are edited versions of Dr. Branson's presentation/PowerPoint series, "Monarchy of the Father". Links to the original series HERE.

In part 1 of Dr. Branson's presentation, he contrasts his definitions of trinitarianism and unitarianism with those of Dr. Tuggy. Note the following:

MY [Branson's] DEFINITIONS

(TB) A Trinitarian Theology says that:

● (1) There are exactly three divine "persons" or individuals. Nevertheless,

● There is exactly one God.

● (So, the persons can't all = the One God).

● (Presumably each one bears some important relation to the one God or has a "claim" to being called "God," but our definition won't settle how that works.)

(UB) A Unitarian Theology says that:

● (1) There is eactly one divine "person" or individual, and

● (2) There is exactly one God.

● (Presumably these will just be identical, or at least, "numerically one," but again we won't rule on that point in our definition.

TUGGY'S DEFINITIONS

(TT) "A trinitarian christian theology says that

● (1) there is one God,

● (2) which or who in some sense contains or consists of three "persons," namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

● (3) who are equally divine, and

● (4) (1)-(3) are eternally the case."

(UT) "A unitarian Christian theology asserts that

● (1) there is one God,

● (2) who is numerically identical to the one Jesus called "Father,"

● (3) and is not numerically identical to anyone else

● (4) and (1)-(3) are eternally the case."

Running the risk of over-simplification, it seems to me that the foundational divergence between Dr. Branson and Dr. Tuggy concerns how broad and/or narrow one is to define both trinitarianism and unitarianism. Branson believes that Tuggy's definition of trinitarianism is too narrow, and that his definition of unitarianism is too broad. Tuggy's assessment is just the opposite—he believes that Branson's definition of trinitarianism is too broad, whilst his definition of unitarianism is too narrow.

It subsequent posts, I hope to offer some of my own musings concerning our topic at hand (the Lord willing). For now, I am going to 'stick my neck out' by stating that I believe history offers more support for Branson's views than Tuggy's.

Grace and peace,

David

UPDATE: On 12-10-18, Dr. Tuggy, posted another podcast in his series on Dr. Branson. This eighth installment—podcast 246—can be accessed via THIS LINK

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 6 - identifying the unnamed lecturer


As promised in Part 1 of this series, the time has come to reveal the unnamed lecturer quoted in that post—B. H. (Brigham Henry) Roberts.

B. H. Roberts is probably the most prolific author that has emerged from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Back in 2011, Deseret News published a list of the "Top 10 LDS 'Intellectuals'" (link), and B. H. Roberts was #1 in that list, attesting to the high level of his contributions.

Truman G. Madsen, in his biography Defender of the Faith - The B. H. Roberts Story, had the following to say concerning Roberts massive, literary output:

Roberts total literary output included well over thirty books, three hundred articles in such publications as the Improvement Era, the Millennial Star, the Juvenile Instructor and the Contributor, and over a thousand sermons and discourses. Not included in this count are numerous tracts, pamphlets, and sermons published in various newspapers and magazines. (Page 441)

To my knowledge, I have in my possession all of Roberts published books; plus a good portion of his "three hundred articles", dozens of his discourses/lectures and sermons, and some of his tracts and pamphlets. Included in my collection of Roberts' contributions was the discourse which is the source of the excerpt I provided in Part 1 of this series. Titled, Mormonism and Christianity,  the discourse was delivered by Roberts at Salt Lake City, Utah, January 23rd, 1898. This discourse is included in volume 5, of the 5 volume Collected Discourses Delivered By President Wilfred Woodruff, His Two Counselors, The Twelve Apostles and Others—Compiled and Edited by Brian H. Stuy, First Edition, 1992—pages 376-388 (the excerpt being from the opening of the discourse, pp. 376, 377).

The selection published in Part 1 ended with the following:

This was the great question [i.e. Is Christ divided?] which the Apostle of the Gentiles propounded to those Saints in Corinth, among whom divisions began to appear. These divisions, however, were incipient as compared with those which exist in Christendom today; and if those divisions existing in the primitive Church at Corinth called forth this stern reproof from the great Apostle of the Gentiles, I sometimes wonder what he would say to torn, distracted Christendom of today! Would he not with increased emphasis demand of this Babel that exists now in Christendom, an answer to the question, Is Christ divided?

The plain inference of this Scripture, of course, is that Christ is not to be divided; that men are under condemnation who say that they are of Paul, or of Cephas, or of Apollos. It plainly declares that the Church of Christ is to be one.

Roberts then continued with:

Yet, as men look upon Christendom in its divided condition today, they very naturally find themselves somewhat perplexed with this confusion that exists concerning the Christian religion...(Page 377)

Now, the "divided condition" that Roberts correctly discerned 120 years ago, was more pervasive in his day than in Paul's; and the "divided condition" in our day, is significantly greater than in Roberts'. (Does not reason demand that Paul's "great question" has even more relevance in our day?)

The rest of Roberts' discourse is devoted to what he believes is the most consistent solution to Christendom's "divided condition"—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Roberts' support for his view begins with the affirmation of a Great Apostasy. Though all non-Apostolic See churches—i.e. churches which are not direct descendants of those great churches founded by Christ's apostles and historically perpetuated via apostolic/episcopal succession—hold to some variant of a Great Apostasy, Roberts' understanding is one of a TOTAL APOSTASY, which in turn demands a restoration rather than a mere reformation to correct.

After affirming this TOTAL APOSTASY, Roberts provides his interpretation of the four marks/notes which have been used throughout the history of Christianity to identify the Church that Jesus Christ founded—apostolic, one, holy, universal. Roberts' interpretation of what constitutes a church as 'apostolic' is unique, in that he believes his church actually has living apostles. He then goes on to link the issue of 'oneness' with those who follow the direction and guidance of those living apostles.

And so, though some commonality exists between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view of 'unity and the Christian Church', with other interpretations, ultimately, their view remains unique.


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, October 19, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 5 - Reflections from two Independent Baptists—Kent Brandenburg and David Cloud


In this post, I will be re-publishing the reflections from two Independent Baptist pastors concerning the issue of unity and Christian Church. First, from Kent Brandenburg (originally posted January 6, 2012):


>>Last week, I happened upon a website (link) providing some 35 sermons from the last two years of the "Word of Truth Conference". One of the sermons in particular caught my eye: John 17 and Unity, delivered November 10, 2010 by pastor Kent Brandenburg (link). I have done a good deal of study on this chapter, so I sincerely wondered what an independent Baptist pastor had to say. What I learned from his sermon was that he agreed with my understanding on many key points. In an effort to stimulate others into taking in the entire sermon, I shall provide a few extracts:

Beginning ff-

John 17 and unity. Anyone who wants to understand unity between Christians must consider Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17. I think this is an important point: Biblical separation and Biblical unity will mirror each other. Obviously Biblical separation will never violate Biblical unity; Biblical unity will never violate Biblical separation.

8:54 ff -

What's the unity that Jesus Christ was praying for here? All right. If we're going to understand what unity is, that unity is the unity that he wants between people, is the unity in this chapter.

12:05 ff-

The unity we desire should be the same as what the Lord Jesus Christ prayed for here...

Do you want the unity that Jesus prayed for?

What was it?

13:27 ff -

Some believe Jesus prayed only for a spiritual unity. When I read commentaries on John 17, almost every single commentary differs on what they believe Jesus was praying for here. I'm talking about, if I read 25 commentaries, I can read 25 differences on what they think Jesus was praying for here. Is the Bible something we can't understand? Is the Bible not perspicuous? And I think it kinda drives me crazy; I mean, how, how is it that we can have so many opinions about what he is praying for here? How do I know that 26, let's say I am at number 26, why is 26 right? Why are the 25 wrong, and I am right? Can you know? Because I mean as you read the commentaries there are so many different viewpoints, how could people, how could we be sure that people can even know based on that.

15:01 ff -

Some believe Jesus prayed for a spiritual unity found in their position in Christ...Ummm so he prayed only for people in Christ to have spiritual unity is what their belief is in John 17. Others assert this is a practical unity among all believers. All believers have a practical unity. Some teach that. OK. But I'm just telling you some people teach that. In order to have it they concluded a need to coalesce around a few important doctrines with which true Christians should and will agree; and the number is shrinking. The number is increasingly smaller, until you can put the doctrines on the head of a pin that you have to agree on, basically to have what the Bible teaches on unity; and really what's on the head of the pin is blurry, you can't even quite make out what, what it is.

23:44 ff -

If there's unity between all believers, I don't see it.

[End of extracts]


Amen!!!>>



The second is from David Cloud (originally posted December 9, 2010):


>>Now, back to Tuesday's email. The author of the email was David Cloud, an independent Baptist author, lecturer, minister. The email that I received was also published online at Cloud's "Way of Life Literature" website (HERE). Cloud, as so many Protestants of the period delineated above by Hollman, does not like Meiderlin's now famous phrase; from his email/online essay, we read:

The modern evangelical philosophy is often stated by the dictum, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”

Though commonly attributed to Augustine, it was actually first stated by the 17th-century Lutheran Rupertus Meldenius (a.k.a. Peter Meiderlin).

It became the rallying cry of the Moravians, who did many good things but retained such Roman heresies as infant baptism and a priesthood and promoted unity above the absolute truth of God’s Word.

It was adopted by the Fundamentalist movement of the first half of the 20th century. As a movement Fundamentalism focused on unity around “the fundamentals of the faith” while downplaying the “minor issues.” The objective was to create the largest possible united front against theological modernism.

This dictum has also been an integral philosophy of New Evangelicalism. They might stand for ten or twenty or thirty “cardinals,” but they refuse to make an issue of the WHOLE counsel of God. Particularly when it comes to one’s associations, they believe that there are “non-essentials” that should not get in the way of unity.

Many Independent Baptists are buying into this error.

And a bit later:

There is no support in the Bible for the “in essentials liberty” doctrine. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to teach converts “to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:20).

The Apostle Paul reminded the elders at Ephesus that the reason he was free from the blood of all men was that he had preached the WHOLE counsel of God (Acts 20:27). The more plainly you preach the whole counsel of God, the less likely it will be that you will join hands in ministry with those who hold different doctrine.

Paul instructed Timothy to keep the truth “without SPOT, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14). A spot is a small, seemingly insignificant thing. That particular epistle contains commandments about such things as the woman’s role in ministry, which is widely considered a “non-essential” today. Paul taught Timothy to have an entirely different approach toward such teachings.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2 Paul said to the church at Corinth, “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in ALL things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” This passage deals with hair length and the Lord’s Supper, which are widely considered to be “non-essentials” today, yet Paul praised the church for remembering him in all things.

We know that not all doctrine has the same significance and weight, but none of it is “non-essential” in any sense.

I challenge anyone to show me where the Scripture encourages the believer to treat some doctrine as “non-essential” or to “stand for the cardinal truths and downplay the peripherals.”

Some try to use Romans 14 to support this philosophy, but Romans 14 does not say that some Bible doctrine is non-essential. It says that we are to allow one another liberty in matters in which the Bible is silent! The examples that Paul gave were eating meat and keeping of holy days. Those are things that the New Testament faith is silent about. There is no doctrine of diet in the New Testament, so it is a matter of Christian liberty.

This reminds us that the only true “non-essential” is a personal opinion not based solidly upon Scripture.

Jude instructed every believer to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). As Jude didn’t delineate what part of the faith is to be defended, the obvious meaning is that whatever aspect of the faith is under attack at a particular time, God’s people should rally to its defense rather than pretend that it is a “non-essential.”

Since the Bible doesn’t identify a “non-essential” doctrine, who is to say what this might be?

The fact is that once one adopts the “non-essentials” philosophy, his list of “non-essentials” tends to grow as time passes and as his associations broaden.>>


Kent and David have given us plenty to ponder...


Grace and peace,

David