It is one thing to acknowledge the importance of distinguishing between doctrinal essentials and doctrinal non-essentials. Most affirm this. It is another thing to have the discernment and a grid by which this is done. Many don’t understand this.
There are a number of those who have recommended ways this can be done, and though there are some different nuances, most affirm similar principles. Some of those general, introductory principles are the following:
- There is a complexity to this issue – one must approach it with conviction, being assured there is truth that matters, and humility, knowing truth exists apart from me and I may not have the determinative understanding or the final say about that truth.
- Purity and Unity both matter – purity of doctrine and unity of fellowship (Ps. 133; Eph. 4:3, 13; 1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; Tit. 2:1). True unity is rooted in doctrine, and true doctrine will lead to true unity.
- Truth is given/revealed, and thus it is received (1 Thess. 2:4). We have been entrusted with the gospel, which means we are responsible/accountable to God for how we steward it.
- Unity is both given and a goal, something we have received by virtue of being adopted into the family of God and something we are to protect and pursue (Eph. 4:1-3).
- All truth is true and important, but not all truth is equally important. There are some truths that are “of first importance” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-5).
- How we think about these matters and respond to them are a mark of our spiritual maturity or immaturity (Eph. 4:11-16).
In addition to these general principles, there are also some guidelines that are more pointed that address the various ways the doctrine is considered essential, how we respond to those believing or espousing the doctrine, and how we process the distinctions between individuals and the church and then, finally, how we evaluate these matters. We will consider those tomorrow.