What Doctrines Are Essential to Christianity?

How do we determine what doctrines are essential to Christianity and what are areas where Christians may disagree and still consider each other to be Christians? Another related question is how much doctrinal agreement is necessary to remain in fellowship with others in a church? What false teachings should compel Christians to leave a church? How do we discern a true church from a false church? This article will try to answer these questions based on my understanding of the Scriptures and church history. To answer these questions, I have divided Christian doctrines into four categories: 1. primary essentials if denied demonstrate that those who believe such are non-Christians, 2. primary essentials if still denied after rebuke and biblical correction demonstrate that those who believe such are to be treated as non-Christians, 3. ecclesiastical differences which prevent Christians from consistently fellowshipping together, and 4. secondary issues which while important are areas where Christians can disagree and still remain in fellowship together.

1. Primary essentials of Christianity if denied demonstrate that those who believe such are unbelievers:

1. There is only one God

2. Jesus is both fully God and fully man in one person

3. Jesus rose from the dead physically

4. Jesus is a true prophet of God

5. The full deity and personality of the Holy Spirit

6. God exists as a Trinity of persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

7. The divine attributes of God: omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, immutability, eternality

8. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary

9. Salvation comes by trusting in Christ alone for salvation: by grace alone through faith alone apart from human works or merit.

10. The second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead

11. The damnation of the wicked

12. Salvation only comes through Christ

13. Marriage and sexuality is only between one man and one woman

14. The sanctity of all of life

15. The necessity of the Great Commission and evangelism

Those who deny at least one of these: Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Eastern Orthodoxy, Christian Science, Christadelphians, Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarianism, Socinianism, Open Theism, Hyper-Preterism, Universalism, Pluralism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Homosexuality, Gnosticism, Judaizers, Pelagianism, Liberalism, certain forms of Hyper-Calvinism, and other cultic movements and heresies of early Christianity.

2. Primary essentials if denied after receiving correction from the church (Matt 18:17-20) demonstrate that those who believe such are to be treated as unbelievers though it is possible they may still be genuine believers:

1. The inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency, and perspicuity of Scripture

2. The historicity of Genesis and the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch

3. Original Sin

4. The gospel rather than baptism is the instrument of regeneration

5. Justification is by faith alone on the basis of the imputation of the passive and active obedience of Christ

6. Penal-Substitutionary Atonement

7. The rejection of antinomianism and Sandemanianism

8. The rejection of the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel

9. Salvation only comes through faith in Christ

10. Hell as eternal conscious torment

3. Ecclesiastical essentials:

1. Sunday not Saturday as the Lord’s Day

2. Only men can teach and have authority over other men in the church

3. Baptism is for believers only

4. The correct mode of Baptism

5. Non-hierarchical church governance

4. Secondary non-essentials:

1. Predestination, the extent of the atonement, Calvinist/Arminian debate

2. Musical instruments in church

3. Worship styles

4. Communion every week, monthly, or quarterly

5. Wine or grape juice in the Lord’s Supper

6. Continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts

7. Eschatology differences

8. Other issues which may divide denominations and Christians

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