Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Secondary, Tertiary, or Essential? (part four)

What About the Passages Used to Defend the Ranking of Primary and Secondary Doctrines?

One will not find the "doctrine" of primary and secondary, essential and non-essential, in the history of Christian doctrine. I once heard a preacher say, "If it’s new it’s not true, and if it’s true it’s not new." This doctrine is a new one and it isn’t true. The modern compromiser invented it to allow for a false unity among all those who profess to believe in Christ. Now many espouse it and agree that it is found in Scripture. They take the doctrine primarily from a handful of texts and then a few other principles. At no time in history until relatively recently has this been a doctrine or taught from these texts.

Matthew 23:23, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
Luke 11:42, "But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
Matthew 5:19, "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 23:23 does not condemn tithing. What the Lord Jesus Christ does denounce is tithing to the neglect of the weightier matters. The Pharisees were particularly fond of tithing on mint and cummin, two rather small condiments, especially in light of other more significant profit they had gained that required tithing. They were guilty of acting as though they cared about the most intricate details of law-keeping, when they did not actually care to keep the law. They were hypocrites. They chose the laws that were the most showy yet with the least cost to themselves.

Keeping God’s laws was a means by which an Israelite could love God and his neighbor. However, the love of God and his neighbor were the internals that really mattered to God. The Pharisees passed over love for God (Luke 11:42). They wanted just to look good. If someone kept all the law only to be impressive not out of a desire to please God, he was missing the point of the law. His lack of earnestness would very often manifest itself in leaving the laws unkept that most revealed that love for God and others. Jesus mentions those: " judgment, mercy, and faith." He says that these were "weightier" (barus). Barus is found only six times in the New Testament, and its understanding was "heavy, burdensome, grievous, or difficult." Some parts of the law were more difficult than others. Tithing of mint and cummin wasn’t the heavy lifting of the law, the more difficult portion. It was easy to tithe on these tiny herbs. Pharisees were more disposed to do the easier things that they could do in their own strength. It would count as law-keeping without being as difficult as obeying other of the laws.

Of course, this was not a basis for not tithing or disobeying any other law of God. The Lord Jesus Christ taught that it all was important, which was in line with what we have already seen throughout Scripture. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 5:19, "[W]hosoever shall do and teach [the least of my commandments], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." The tertiary doctrine people react to what Jesus said with "Look, look, look! Jesus said that some of the commandments were lesser than others." Then they build a whole system of belief and practice from it. Matthew Henry writes concerning this: "It is a dangerous thing, in doctrine or practice, to disannul the least of God's commands; to break them, that is, to go about either to contract the extent, or weaken the obligation of them; whoever does so, will find it is at his peril." This is exactly what these ‘non-essential’ people do with their attitude and teachings. They "disannul the least of God’s commands."

The laws were not given by God for His people to pick and choose what they wanted to obey and what they didn’t. What is ironic is that this is exactly what the essential/non-essential and primary/secondary proponents want to do. They are involved, just like the Pharisees, in ranking the laws and choosing what is important to keep and what isn’t, what is vital over which to separate and what is not. They are especially fond of obeying those laws of God which are very difficult to measure. They want the strong emphasis on the internal because the internals are impossible to judge by anyone else. Their "sincerity" instead, among other things, is what is most important. Not necessarily that they even do what God says, but that they really do "love Him," despite their disobedience.

1 John deals with this mindset. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:2, 3). Interestingly enough, "grievous" (barus) is the same word translated "weightier" in Matthew 23:23. People who love God will not find any of his commandments to be weighty. What makes them weighty is attempting to keep them without loving God. Certain teachings of Scripture are more difficult because the world hates them, and as a result, Christians will become more unpopular when they keep them. Certain truths do not fit into the culture. Some are just hard to do.

One of their points is: "Why should we let certain teachings in Scripture keep us from getting along with one another? It is more important, greater, that we have unity with one another than that we do every single thing that God said." Where is this found? Where is this view of unity found? It isn’t found anywhere in Scripture. It’s another invention. This is how and why these primary/secondary folks turn these passages on their head. They don’t want to be judged in every matter by others. It’s tough being in the minority, knowing that most people don’t get along with you because of what you believe. There is a false sense of security that we feel in numbers. This same kind of feeling was what often lead the king of Israel and Judah to make alliances with pagan nations as a means of protection. It was a chief reason why David numbered the people in 2 Samuel 24; you know, "strength" in numbers. People look for the affirmation of popularity to make them feel good. Of course, it isn’t living by faith, so it doesn’t please God (Heb. 11:6).

We don’t determine the truth by popular vote. We shouldn’t relegate certain truths to lesser status because they won’t be as easy to agree upon. We believe them and practice them because God said them. We should understand that the truths that could most hinder our numbers and affect "unity" will be the ones that are the very ones upon which God wants us to take our stand. It isn’t so much that those truths are more important than other ones. They require a stronger stand because they are the ones being opposed, so we have more at stake in their protection. That probably makes them weightier, that is, more difficult to keep. We should not abandon them because they are difficult.


Bill Hardecker said...

Excellent treatment of "wieghtier matters of the law." Thank you very much.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Wow! I think you make a tremendous case for not making a reductionist categorization of primary versus secondary doctrines!

I've commented over at the sfpulpit.com blog on Dr. MacArthur's 3 part series on "Essential" doctrine. And I've been wrestling with this mental puzzle for a while now. I prefer your approach. There's biblical support for it. And it's easier to live out.

Thanks for taking the time to detail the reasoning you have against "left-wing" legalism. It's persuasive.

Although I would admit that categorizing doctrines is persuasive as well.


Anonymous said...

I know this is an old blog, but i came across it while studying Rom 14. and noticed that you didnt address it.
Paul seems to see the meats wine issue as tertiary doesnt he? Pick one and believe it?

The reason i came up to this blog through googling the matter is because im trying to decifer this: Biblically if I see a brother in continual sin I am to come rebuke/reprove him, and then eventually the church sets him outside their fellowship until he repents. correct?

However, the weaker brother in rom 14 clearly percieves his brother is in sin (although he is incorrect) and is told not to judge the stronger.

So how do you know when your the weaker brother and need to leave the stronger be, and how do you know when you need to be doing all you can to keep your brother from sin?

Kent Brandenburg said...


When you get into Revelation 2-3, Jesus warns harshly against eating meat offered unto idols. Why? It isn't tertiary to be a stumbling block. If it is tertiary, then how could Jesus say in the gospels that it would be better to put a heavy stone around your neck and jump into deep water than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

Regarding your last question, we must get the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the church, and church leadership on these issues. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 said concerning these matters, be ye followers of me.

Thanks for coming over.

Daniel said...


I don't think you understand the position of the believer in Christ. What is the tithe but a tax? I think you probably have never done an in-depth study of the OT tithe. If you had you wouldn't say the things you are saying here!

First of all, Abraham was not commanded to tithe, and secondly he did not tithe of his own property, but of the property of Sodom and Gomorrha. There is no evidence that Abraham ever tithed of his own property. Look, if I ever save a city of gays from slavery, I will tithe of their property, because I want to be like Abraham.

The point of the inclusion of this passage in Hebrews is not to teach tithing, but to show the superiority of the Melchizedek priesthood over the Levitical priesthood.

The OT Tithe was ALWAYS to be in agricultural products, and there was a 20% penalty if they converted their goods to cash.

Have you brought your agricultural products to God's storehouse? Where is that storehouse, I would like to know? It used to be in Jerusalem.

In the passage in Malachi, they were actually tithing, and yet God accuses them of robbing Him IN their tithes! They were bringing their sick, blemished and lame animals as their tithe, but it still was a tithe! So how does this apply today? If your dollar bill has a rip in it, would that count?

The Christian Church does NOT have a command to tithe, but rather here is the rule for Christians;

6 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. 7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

If the law of tithing is still in effect then it is a necessity, but Paul says there is no necessity!

As a partner in the gospel with God He gives His Children the right to administer His funds, and to make decisions about where to spend it!

Here is the other principle spoken by Jesus Christ Himself;

Luke 14:33
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

"Cannot" is a very big and all encompassing word! The rule in he Church-Age is 100%, not a mere tenth! If you are keeping 90% for yourself, you cannot be His disciple!

I Corinthians 10:31
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Here is a book you should read. Matthew Narramore has graciously put the whole book on-line for you to read for free. I would recommend that after reading it you should buy a hard copy and share it with others!