One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks the other whether such-and-such a point “really matters” and the other replies: “Matter? Why, it’s absolutely essential.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Over the past year or so I have become increasingly sensitive to the incredible amount of infighting between Christians who self-identify as conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals. Furthermore, it seems to me that much of these internecine debates are over secondary, even tertiary disagreements which shouldn’t generate such heated, hateful rhetoric.
Nevertheless, the dreaded “You’re denying the Gospel!” trump card is played shamelessly and often—even with non-Gospel issues.
But what are the essentials of the Christian faith?
In my mind, the essentials of Christianity are those teachings which were and are accepted or affirmed by all Christians, in all places, in all times. The following beliefs, in my estimation, fit the bill.
1) There is one living and true creator-God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Please note: this is not necessarily full-orbed Trinitarianism which took time to formulate.)
2) Jesus Christ was and is fully God and truly human.
3) Jesus Christ died on the Cross to save sinners and He physically rose from the dead.
4) Scripture is God’s inspired word. (I say scripture and not “The Holy Bible” because the earliest Christians lived while the New Testament was being written and transmitted. Furthermore, there is disparity between what some believers accept as canon.)
It’s true: the devil is in the details. Thus, when considered more deeply, Christians may even disagree concerning the above four dogmas. (For example, not all Christians ascribe to the same atonement theory or theories. That is, we may be disagreed as to how Christ’s death saves sinners, but not that it does.)
I realize some will be most dissatisfied with my essentials. They will consider my list an exercise in reductionism or compromise or perhaps something worse still (if there be such a creature).
But what happens to the “communion of the saints” when we elevate nearly every doctrine to the status of an essential? We effectively narrow the fellowship to those who believe exactly as we do. This seems more cultic than Christian. (For those wondering if I’m truly your brother in Christ…yes, I’m talking about you.)