Monday, February 13, 2006

Essential Truths, Secondary Issues

Someone recently sent me a paragraph of which every word was spelled incorrectly. Each of the words began and ended with the correct letter, so I could read it easily. Since I could read it, did it really matter if the words were spelled correctly? After all, I got the essential truth. Isn't spelling just a secondary matter? Tell that to your English teacher; see if it works. If I ever get picked up for speeding (not likely, smiles), I can let the police officer know I was obeying the essential truths of state law. I stayed in my lane, didn't bump into other cars, and didn't hurt anybody. Think that will fly with law enforcement?

I recently read this, and it sounded like so many other things I've heard said by others: "They are a great example of standing up for the essential truth of the gospel, and kidding around about secondary issues." We are supposed to applaud that. First, it is essential truth, not just truth. Second, they are secondary matters. If someone tried to cull this from Scripture, they would probably use these: "You . . . have omitted the weightier matters of the law . . . . Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel" (Matthew 23:33, 34). Or, "Which is the first commandment of all?" (Mark 12:28) Those are the only places one could find something to contribute to this doctrine. Nothing in the Bible says "essential truths." Perhaps at best the two references above, which are the only ones of their kind in all of Scripture, back up some kind of doctrine of "secondary issues." In their context, however, they seem to be targeting the internal versus the external, that the internal things take priority over the external things. In other words, if you are going to pay attention to something, you don't look at the external things to the exclusion of the internal things. This does not mean that the external things are unimportant or should not be taught and enforced. The Lord meant to show the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

Professing Christians have taken that point and relegated certain truths of Scripture to secondary status. In most cases, it seems that the basis for doing so is solely subjective. Whatever a close-knit group of buddies thinks is secondary is, well, secondary. Does this please Christ, that huge numbers of His truths have been put in cold storage? No. While certain passages do hint at priorities in Scripture, others tell us that every single thing the Bible says is important; like these: "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19); "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20); "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" (John 15:10). "Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he" (Genesis 6:22); "And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul" (Deuteronomy 3o:2); "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" (Joshua 1:8).

If you didn't read those verses above--just skipped them---go back and read them. Those are really only a sampling, but they say something entirely different than the reduction of truth. God seems to look as everything He said as important, and it isn't for us to relegate some of what He said to a secondary issue or as essential and non-essential truth. Why would anyone do that anyway? It can't be because they love the Lord. It must be to make room for their own form of Christianity or to protect some false view of unity. In the wrong view of unity, doctrine is dumbed down for the sake of getting along. Getting along is the one doctrine that can't be compromised. Anyway much more can be said here, but for now, just reject this essential-truth-secondary-issue kind of view.


Anonymous said...

How would you respond to this article?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I really wish I knew who anonymous was. I think those that just don't want to register with blogger should at least pick the "Other" option where you can insert your name without a link to a blogger profile.

Kent Brandenburg said...


To start, for your information, I'd be glad to believe what you espouse if you show me from Scripture. This will probably sound rough, but it seems that you start with reason, history, and experience, before getting into very light arguments for something seemingly so important. I've thought of and read this as a historico-rationale apologetic. First, you start with reason (common sense). Scripture itself is reasonable, but I'm not going to be judged by reason (Mt. 12:48). I agree that deity is an essential doctrine. The Sabbath has clearly been rescinded. I've never met a Sabbatarian who didn't have many more unscriptural beliefs and practice. You use history, or at least your view of it, when you make the point about evangelicals distinguishing between fundamental and secondary doctrines. If I'm not wrong, you are saying that some things are not worth separating over. I contend that the passages that hit this subject don't make these kinds of distinctions (Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5; Eph. 5:11; Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; Rom. 16:17,18; etc.). Isn't it amazing how much the Bible says about this? Why ignore following those passages explicitly? I would say then, at least for purposes of your article, you use a kind of smear job by using the term "quasi-Christian cult." I have to take your word for it, even though I don't know these people. This is authority by experience or even by ad hominem attack. So far, you've used reason, history, and experience as your authority. These same kind of people, you say, believe you are going to hell if you disagree with them. That is extreme; hard to believe that is anyone's position, but it is extreme. Why is anyone extreme? If they don't believe and practice the Bible, then they are extreme, but if they do, why are they extreme? Because you don't like it? Respectively I say, shouldn't someone who uses reason, history, and experience to start an argument be viewed as extreme?

I agree that the no-proposition-is-worth-defending-group is the biggest and fastest growing. I don't know anyone who doesn't say there aren't priorities in Scripture. My concern is that in the reductionist view, also the view of the Pharisees (which is the greatest?), we become the authority on what is important. Why not make it all important? What's bad is when it is a fleshly attempt to keep low or high standards. I see this hierarchy of truth position as nothing other than prioritizing a view of unity above all others, a view of unity that doesn't even fit a proper exegesis of Scripture. People want to be big and will give up doctrines in order to get that way and then stay that way. They simply marginalize the separatists by calling them something like a "quasi-Christian cult."

I appreciate that you say that this is implicit in Scripture. I mentioned the "gnat" passage in my blog and I think I got the historic/grammatical context correct. Jesus was prioritizing the heart. The gospel takes priority because people can't understand any of Scripture or please God until they receive the Holy Spirit [your 1 Cor. 15:3 argument] (Rom. 8:9). I agree that greater condemnation or judgment enters into deciding what is a priority. I don't agree that gnats are doctrines unrelated to heaven and hell; that's speculation on your part. I agree that the foundation is a priority to that which is built on it. None of these means something is more important than something else. This is not just semantics. Romans 14 deals with issues that are non-Scriptural issues that are matters of conscience for one person but not for another person. I don't agree this is "undeniably a point of doctrine." The teaching of Romans 14 is important, but non-Scriptural positions are not.

You looked for resources that discuss these in depth. You should look to historical and contemporary books on separation if you wanted more on it. I have a lot to say about it if you were open to a discussion, oh, and if this is you who wrote the article. I have also written a lot on it. I believe someone can be consistent when they take a Scriptural view. God has not made it impossible to keep certain doctrines.


Jeff Voegtlin said...

Did 'anonymous' just post and run, or is he going to interact with this issue? Or is there interaction about this going on somewhere else that I'm unaware of?