Criticism can help. Some doesn't help at all -- for instance, name-calling, like the scoffers do of 2 Peter 3:3. A few weeks ago I wrote again on the essential and non-essential doctrine
, and it was linked at an online forum
, whose owner, Aaron Blumer, wrote a short critique. I'm happy he wrote it, because it sheds light on the subject. Here's what he wrote:
Essential for what?
I'm sure he means well, but the reasoning is messed up... and putting all truth on the same level of certainty and importance is far more damaging than even incorrectly discerning how truths relate to one another.
That everything is not equally clear in the Bible is indicated in the book itself (e.g. 2 Pet. 3:16)
The revelation God has given us includes evidence of priorities. Since it relates ideas to one another, and encourages us to use reason to relate ideas to one another, what truths are essential and nonessential to other truths is part of what God has revealed.
It is impossible for everything to be essential for everything else. This should be self evident. You could be stranded on a desert Island with only fragments of Genesis and John and still be able to discover the gospel and come to faith in Christ.
"Essential" is a synonym for "necessary" and it can never stand alone as a concept. The question the term always begs is "essential for what?" The fact that Mary who sat at Jesus feet in Luke 10 is the same Mary who poured perfume on Jesus' feet in John 12:3 is essential for something or it would not be revealed. But you could definitely get your Marys mixed up and still fully understand and live the gospel.
Since violations of commandments in the Law of Moses have penalties of varying severity, yes, I have to accept that they do "rank commandments in heaven." (See also Matt. 23:23, in which Jesus clearly indicates that some matters are weightier than others... and that failing to see these differences is a serious error.)
I wish he had interacted with my actual post, which exposed what Jesus said in John 8, or with the other exegesis I've done on the subject. Not one person has yet done that. Years ago, Phil Johnson promised he would and didn't. I get why someone wouldn't. Their teaching is totally debunked by scripture. Nonetheless, I'm happy that Aaron did at least what he did. Let's think about it together anyway.
To start, the essential and non-essential doctrine directly relates to justifying doctrinal and practical error for the sake of keeping together coalitions. If men unify around essentials and separate only over essentials, they will have a bigger group, it's true. That's what motivates the doctrine and it is what it is all about. However, does the Bible teach that? One should be asking if that is taught somewhere in scripture. If someone does not start with that understanding, he is not going to get a correct evaluation of the essential and non-essential doctrine. I want to take Aaron's critique one point at a time.
Aaron says my reasoning is "messed up," but he doesn't deal with what I wrote. He doesn't point out anything in particular that I've written (except for one minor one that I will mention later), any quote, to show how it is "messed up" in its reasoning. In so doing, he erects a straw man, which isn't uncommon. Much of what he writes here is just a distraction, or what some people have termed, "a red herring."
By nature truth is certain. It's the truth. It is certain. I'm not talking about what isn't true, but what is true, which is certain. There is no such thing as a sort of certain truth. You either are a disciple of Christ or you are not. The idea that that are various levels of certainty to truth fits a postmodern view of the world.
Certainty and importance are not the same subject. The Word of God is truth, so it is certain. The word "important" doesn't occur in scripture, so "importance" as it applies to scripture must be defined. What is someone saying when he says that one doctrine is more important than another? Depending on how someone defines that, I could agree to it. For instance, I would rather someone murder me in his heart than physically to murder me, so that I'm not breathing any more. I still get to breathe when someone murders me in his heart. The death penalty doesn't apply to mental murder, so that means mental murder isn't important, right? Murdering in the heart is important to God. It will condemn a person as much as physical murder will.
I have no problem discussing priorities. Before I start talking about particular acts of obedience to someone, I might deal with his salvation. Salvation is foundational, but is it more important than sanctification? Aaron uses the word "damaging" and then doesn't explain it at all. I see ranking of truths as more damaging than not ranking them. If someone does all of them, because he believes they are all certain and they are all important, what damage has that done? On the other hand, someone ranks "truths" as to certainty and importance, and then doesn't do the "unimportant and uncertain" ones. Aaron is saying that the former is damaging and the latter is what? Not damaging? The latter is what happens because of the essential and non essential doctrine.
Let's say that I agree with Aaron that not all parts of the Bible are equally clear, or as Peter wrote, some parts are harder to be understood. Does that mean we are exempt from the parts harder to be understood? That is the essence of the essential and non-essential doctrine. If it's harder to be understood, some people get a pass. Some things can't be understood, but that is not the Bible. The Bible can be understood, just that some parts are harder than others. Was Peter saying, "You're not responsible for those hard parts"? Of course not. Just the opposite. He's saying that false teachers choose those texts in particular to attack in order to cause doubt about the second coming, because they think they can do more damage with passages harder to be understood. The essential and non essential movement picks up where those false teachers left off: "You can doubt the second coming because the prophetic passages are harder to be understood." Aaron seems to agree along with most evangelicals today. Their essential and non essential doctrine says that same sex marriage is a non essential.
The desert island argument isn't Bible. Would I want people to have John instead of Leviticus? Sure. So what? That argument doesn't mean John is either more certain or more important than Leviticus. For someone who isn't saved, I start with salvation passages in the Bible. It's true. Again, that doesn't make them more important or more certain. All through John I see Jesus say that He does everything that the Father tells Him to do. The people who follow Jesus will do the same. When Jesus said, "continue in my word," was He saying, "Continue in my essentials," or "Continue in what is certain," or "Continue in what is important"? No. The essential and non-essential doctrine makes Jesus the Lord of the essentials, which He, the Lord, doesn't determine. We do. That is messed up reasoning.
You can still be saved if you don't properly label the correct Mary in the Gospels, or "mess your Mary's up." What does that prove? Does that prove that you can sprinkle infants? I would agree that you can still be saved and not know exactly what happened to Jephthah's daughter. That is not an argument for ranking doctrines. It is not necessary to know Esther to be saved. That doesn't say that Esther isn't certain or important. All of this is a red herring or a strawman, because that's not the point of the essential and non-essential doctrine. The messed up reasoning is the following: since I don't separate over a mislabeling of Mary in the gospels, then I don't separate over mode of baptism or eschatology. We have a basis for thinking that all of the Bible is certain and important I've already long ago laid out many biblical arguments that have never been answered.
The only place Aaron touched on the article I wrote was in my side argument that in heaven they do not rank doctrines. By saying that, I'm saying that in heaven they do everything that God said to do. Aaron's argument against that is that they do rank doctrines in heaven because the Old Testament gave different severity of punishment to different crime. Heaven still does everything God said and if someone in heaven decided to rank a doctrine as less important and didn't do it, he would be banished from heaven. If we do the will of God on earth like they do in heaven, we will do all of it.
At the end of Hebrews 6, God says that different rules apply to what God says than what man says. Man needs two or three witnesses to verify the truth. Man needs oaths to verify his promises. God cannot lie, so He doesn't need witnesses or oaths. The punishments of the law were set up for sinful men, because men violate those laws: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, life for a life. Those punishments taught justice, equal retribution. You couldn't take more or less for the crime committed. That didn't mean that taking an eye wasn't serious or unimportant. You still took an eye for an eye, but you couldn't take a life. Not taking a life didn't mean that taking a tooth was unimportant or uncertain.
In Hebrews 2, the punishments under the law were sure, they were certain. That was an argument for not escaping the neglect of the salvation spoken by the Lord and those who heard Him. If someone took a tooth in heaven, he wouldn't be in heaven any longer, because not one sin is allowed in heaven. This is why in James 2:10, James says that one offense of the law, any point of law, is an offense of all the law -- all of it. I'm saying that Aaron's reasoning is messed up.
Aaron says that Matthew 23:23 justifies the essential and non-essential doctrine, because Jesus said that the Pharisees did not obey the weightier matters of the law. The word for "weighty" is barus, which has the understanding of "more difficult," that is, "heavier." Something that is heavier is harder to do. The Pharisees ranked God's laws. This is a big irony here. The Pharisees were guilty of ranking laws by those that were the most difficult for them to do and those that were the least difficult. Tithing of little herbs was easy for them, and so they did that. What was impossible for them, weighty, they didn't do. A Pharisee couldn't keep all the law, so he ranked it and kept what he deemed important.
I call what the Pharisees did, "left wing legalism." If you can't keep the law, then rank the law, so that you can keep it. Reduce the law to that which you can keep, because the whole law is impossible to keep. This is the legalism of the Pharisees, mimicked by the essential and non-essential doctrine of Aaron and others.
There was one other comment, you can read, by William Dudding.
He calls me a Diotrephes (3 John) for my exposure of the essential and non-essential doctrine. Is that messed up reasoning? What I'm saying is that Diotrephes cast people out of a particular church. In other words, he skipped all three steps of Matthew 18 to kick someone out of a church. Our church has never done that. In every practice of church discipline, we have gone through three steps and the third step is the church, not one person, removing someone from the church. In other words, I have never done what Diotrephes did. Ever.
With that in mind, what is Dudding talking about? What have I cast people out of? It's hard to understand, but that is the nature of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. They are so twisted and corrupted in their thinking, so unscriptural, that you can't even understand what they are talking about. That passes for acceptable teaching for most of them.
Perhaps the SharperIron crowd just ignores Dudding or what he said stands as acceptable interpretation and application of 3 John.
Let me give you an easy illustration to grasp the damage and danger of the essential and non-essential doctrine, why it is popular, and how it attacks the truth. Someone breaks a small window in our house. The police visit and tell me that they can't or won't do anything about it, because it isn't important enough. If they had broken a big picture window, then that would get their attention, but the small window, they won't do anything about. As a result, people do what they want and get away with it. No one needs to point it out, because it isn't essential.
This is where our culture is. Someone broke my car window and no one cared. If they had murdered someone, that would get police attention. Certain doctrines and practices have become meaningless with the essential and non-essential doctrine until now the churches have same-sex marriage on their hands. This is what they have done. They own this.