We Evangelicals talk a lot about essentials and non-essentials. Rightly so. We talk about distinguishing between those areas in our faith – those doctrines – which are central or “cardinal” doctrines, and those which are not so important. However, we often have trouble when someone asks us to define, distinguish, and defend this whole “essentials/non-essentials” distinction.

I have written on this many times, but I am going to attempt to be somewhat comprehensive here. That translates to “long article forthcoming.” But I think that this exercise is representative of a pressing issue in Christian discipleship. So put on your seat belt. It is going to get bumpy.

At the Credo House of Theology (our headquarters in Edmond, Oklahoma), right when you walk in the front door, you see written on the wall the Latin words in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. Translated into English, this means, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This phrase (often wrongly attributed to Augustine) comes from an otherwise obscure German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century named Rupertus Meldenius. It has served as a place holder for a sort of Evangelical credo or statement of faith (hence, it is the first thing you see at the “Credo” house). It expresses the idea of orthodoxy and grace existing together. It reminds us that there are essential Christian beliefs and there are those matters of lesser importance.

I remember hearing a pastor once say concerning doctrine, “You are either one-hundred percent right or one-hundred percent wrong. There is no in-between and there are no gray areas. God is not confused or unsure. Why should we be?” While this might be true concerning God, for us, things are different. For now, we see in a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). While we have our share of those with more of a fundamentalist mindset, who have a thousand lines drawn in the sand in the name of truth, we also have our share of liberals, whose mindset compels them to erase as many lines as possible in the name of grace or love. We must be careful, balancing grace and truth.

Defining Essentials and Non-Essentials

Paul spoke about those things that are “of first importance [protois]” (emphasis mine). Christ spoke about straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matt. 23:24) and the “weightier things of the law” (Matt. 23:23). The very existence of creeds and pithy statements of faith in the Bible evince the truth that there are many issues that are of “first importance.” Here are a few examples of biblical creeds and succinct statements of faith:

Deut. 6:4:
Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone.

1 Cor. 12:3:
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor. 15:3-7:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (emphasis mine)

Phil. 2:6-11:
[W]ho, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

1 Tim. 3:16:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Heb. 6:1-2:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

1John 4:2:
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.

Each one of these represents an early summary of Jewish/Christian belief, focusing in on the most important issues.

As I said, this is one of the things that (should) distinguish us as Evangelicals. We are those who unite around those things that we believe are the weightiest, the things that are the most important, while we (should) give (some degree of) liberty in the non-essentials. I often tell people that there are some things which I believe that I would die for; there are some things which I believe that I would lose an arm for; there are some things which I believe that I would lose a finger for; and then there are some things which I believe that I would not even get a manicure for.

Like in all areas of life, we need to learn to choose our battles carefully. But in order to do this, we must first come to know the difference between essentials and non-essentials.

But (as the criticism goes) it is not that easy to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. More importantly for now, many Evangelicals have simply never been exposed to this and therefore practice their theology in a much more legalistic way, believing every conviction that they have to be representative of a hill upon which they should die.

Here I want to elaborate upon and expand the discussion a little bit. While we need to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, we also need to recognize that there are different types of essentials. Along with this goes my belief that there are different ways to “break fellowship” based on our beliefs. In other words, not all essentials are equal. Some are essential to the very foundation of Christianity, but some are only essential to a particular denomination or expression. This will require different types of breaks in fellowship.

Let me start with a chart, then I will briefly break it down:

 Essential for salvation: These are the most essential doctrines of all essentials. This includes what every Christian should always be willing to die for. In essence, if someone does not believe the doctrines that are “essential for salvation,” they are not saved. Hence, it is at the center of the circle.

What I include:

  • Belief in God (there is no such thing as an atheistic Christian)

Issues pertaining to the person and work of Christ:

  • Belief in Christ’s deity and humanity (1 John 4:2-3; Rom. 10:9)
  • Belief that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy (1 John 1:10)
  • Belief that Christ died on the cross and rose bodily from the grave for our sins (1 Cor 15:3-4)
  • Belief that faith in Christ is necessary (John 3:16)

As with all of them, I am sure that there are some ancillary matters that could be included, but this gives you the key doctrines. Without these, you simply don’t have any sense present of what it means to be a Christian.

Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy: These include beliefs “essential for salvation” but are broader in that they express what has been believed by the historic Christian church for the last two thousand years, no matter which tradition. This is expressed by the Vincentian Canon (434 A.D.): “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” The exception of fringe movements has never been valid for this canon. It is simply asking, “What have all Christians everywhere always believed?”

Some of what I include:

  • The doctrine of the Trinity as expressed at Nicea
  • The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union (Christ is fully man and fully God) as expressed at Chalcedon
  • The belief in the future second coming of Christ
  • A belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  • A belief in God’s transcendence (his metaphysical distinction from the universe)
  • A belief in God’s immanence (his present activity in the world and our lives)
  • A belief in God’s sovereignty (while there are different ways to define sovereignty, this basically purports that God is in control)
  • Belief that Christ is the only way to a right relationship with God
  • Belief in eternal punishment of the unredeemed

To be sure, some of these doctrines “develop,” or mature, but their maturation is only in relation to their seed form which preexisted their more mature expression. (For more on this, see here.)

Please notice that these are essential, even if they are not as essential as those expressed in the previous category. In other words, these do not represent negotiables. These are still cardinal doctrines.

But we could also include in this section a grouping entitled “Essential for Historic Orthopraxy.” This would include all of those practices and sins about which the church has been united in its belief. This would include humility, helping the poor, belief that homosexuality is a sin, issues of stewardship, respect for the imago dei (which would deem abortion wrong), and the need to evangelize the lost.

Essential for traditional orthodoxy: Again, these will necessarily include all of those from the two previous categories, but add some distinctives of their own. Essentials here will include all of those that are foundational to one of the three main Christian traditions: Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism. These are beliefs that distinguish one tradition from the next, but are not absolutely essential from the broader Christian worldview expressed above.

Some Protestant distinctives would include:

  • General belief in the major pronouncements of the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 AD)
  • Belief in the necessity for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
  • Belief that justification is through faith alone on the basis of Christ alone
  • Belief that Scripture alone has ultimate and final authority on all matters of faith and practice
  • The canon of Scripture made up of 66 books (excluding the Deuterocanonical books)

Some Roman Catholic distinctives would include:

  • Belief in transubstantiation (the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Christ)
  • Belief that justification is through faith and works
  • Belief that both Scripture and unwritten tradition have ultimate authority as they are interpreted by the Magisterium
  • Belief in the authority of twenty-one ecumenical councils
  • Belief that the Pope is the infallible vicar of Christ
  • Belief in the Marian dogmas
  • Belief that the canon includes the Deuterocanonical books

Some Eastern Orthodox distinctives would include:

  • Belief in the infallibility of the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 AD)
  • Belief that the liturgy of the Church is part of the Gospel
  • Rejection of substitutionary atonement and the imputation of Adam’s sin
  • Salvation by grace through faith as God works these out through our unification with Him (theosis)
  • Traditional inclusion of the Deuterocanonical book (although there is some debate about this)

Again, for each one of these tradition, these represent essential distinctions which, while not as cardinal as those in the previous two categories, are important nonetheless.

Essential for denominational orthodoxy: This will be similar to the above, but one step down in importance, dealing as it does with the particular and peculiar denominational expressions by the various Protestant traditions.

Some examples:

  • Credo-baptism, i.e., Baptism is only for believers (Baptists)
  • Infant baptism (Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans)
  • Unconditional election (Reformed and Presbyterians)
  • Arminian theology (Methodists, Nazarenes)
  • Belief in the continuation of the Charismatic gifts (Pentecostals, Church of God)

While these might be considered worthy of breaking local fellowship in practice, they are not important enough to break ultimate fellowship. In other words, these represent legitimate debates that should not affect our unity.

Important but not essential: These are those beliefs that do not describe any particular tradition necessarily. They are important, but not that important.

Some examples:

  • Beliefs about particulars in the creation debate
  • Belief whether the books of Jonah and Job are historical accounts
  • Beliefs about the authorship of 2 Peter
  • Belief about particular end-time schemes (i.e. premillennial, amillennial, post-millennial)
  • The order of books in the canon
  • Which translation of the Bible to use from the pulpit
  • Which Gospel was written first
  • How often one should celebrate the Lord’s supper
  • Whether or not Christ taught in Greek or Aramaic

Not Important: These are beliefs that people have concerning Christian doctrine that are not important for any expression and do not affect Christian devotion or spirituality.

Some examples

  • The date of Christ’s birth (Christmas)
  • What kind of music to play at church
  • Whether to use real wine or grape juice at communion
  • Whether to hold Saturday night services
  • Whether or not John the Baptist was an Essene

Pure speculation: That is just what these are – speculation. We just don’t know one way or another, nor does it matter.

Some examples

  • Did Adam have a belly-button? (yes, he did…it would just look funny otherwise)
  • Belief in the eternal destiny of pets? (except I know my dog Rocky is going to heaven)
  • What was God doing “before” creation? (creating hell for those who speculate such things)
  • Will there be meat to eat in heaven? (we can all hope)
  • Will there be sex in heaven? (we can all hope more)
  • How long was it before Adam and Eve fell? (two hours after Eve was created . . . ask me why some other time)

So far, my purpose has been to stimulate a deeper level of thought about the difference between essentials and non-essentials. Really, I just want to convince you that there are different levels of essentials and non-essentials.

Now (take a deep breath), let’s move on and talk about the criteria which makes a doctrine essential.

Defending Essentials and Non-Essentials

So far so good? I can hear the objections:  “This all sounds really nice. But who decides what are essential doctrines and non-essential doctrines? The Pope? Your local church pastor? The SBC? Al Mohler? Or is it my private interpretation of the Scripture? Alas, with such a question, the divisions start all over. “In essentials, unity.  Sounds nice, but impractical.”

I don’t think we have to be so pessimistic about this. I actually think that there are certain criteria that most thoughtful people can agree constitute the foundation of our faith – the essentials. I have them narrowed to four in no certain order. It is important to note that I am persuaded that all four must be present for a doctrine to be considered essential for salvation or essential. These criteria would pertain only to the first two circles: 1) Essential for salvation and 2) Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy.

1. Historicity: Does the doctrine have universal historical representation?

This first criterion is one of historical agreement. This is a form of “consensual faith” (consensus fidelium). This criterion of universal consensus follows the canon of Saint Vincent of Lérins mentioned above: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, “that which was believed everywhere, always, by everyone.” In other words, an essential cannot be something new like the doctrine of the Rapture. Neither can it be something that has lacked historic unity by Christians across time like the perpetual virginity of Mary. As well, it cannot have limited geographic representation, like certain Eastern liturgy. The question here is, Have all Christians of all time everywhere believed it?

2. Explicitly Historical: Does the history of the church confess their centrality?

This is like the first but differs in an important way. Here we are saying that if the history of the church has not explicitly confessed this as a central issue, then it is not. For example, the history of the church may confess that the Christian worldview includes a firm confession of a belief in the historicity of the Flood narrative, but it has never been a part of the central teachings to the degree that a denial of such is a damnable offense. When combined with the first criteria, the exception cannot define the rule. The point here is that we take seriously God’s work in the history of the Church through the Holy Spirit. If the church has universally believed that a certain doctrine is both true and central to the Christian faith, that doctrine deserves serious consideration as being among the essentials.

3. Biblical Clarity (Perspicuity): Is the doctrine represented clearly in Scripture?

One of the principles that the Reformers sought to communicate is that of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. The Reformers did not believe that all of the Scripture was clear (a misunderstanding of the doctrine of perspicuity), but that all that is essential for salvation is clear. In short, if something in Scripture is obscure, then it is not essential. Augustine even held to such a principle stating that one must not build doctrines on obscure passages (On Christian Doctrine). For example, one should not build essential doctrine on what the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 16:19) are, or what it means to be “baptized for the dead” (1 Cor. 15:29). Unfortunately, both Catholics and Mormons have done just that. If a passage is obscure, no essential doctrine can be derived from it.

4. Explicitly Biblical: Does any passage of Scripture explicitly teach that a certain doctrine is essential?

The Scriptures speak about a great many things, but it is explicit regarding that which is of essential importance. For example, as I noted before, Paul says to the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4; emphasis mine). The “of first importance” tells us that Christ’s death and resurrection “for our sins,” from Paul’s perspective, are essential components of Christianity. Without such, according to Paul, there is no Christianity (1 Cor. 15:12ff). As well, the Gospel of John speaks about the importance of faith. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18). This passage explicitly makes faith central.

Again, these four criteria, I propose, must all be present. I think I am committed to this. If one or more is lacking concerning a particular doctrine, I believe that it is not possible for one to legitimately argue for its core necessity. (But again, this does not mean that the issue is not important.) As well, all four feed off each other and are somewhat self-regulating. In other words, if someone doubts whether something is clear in Scripture, all he or she has to do is look to history.  If something is not clear in the Scripture, we will not find that it passes the test of historicity. This is why it is of vital importance that Christians not only be good exegetes, but also good historians.


For some of you, this is the first time you have been exposed to this way of thinking. I pray that you consider the major points of what I am saying even if you do not agree with the details. I am not an ecumenicist, but I don’t think that we should have ill-will or break fellowship with people unnecessarily. I do believe that we have the right and obligation to define what it means to be “Christian.” While I don’t think we should over-define it to the point where our circle of fellowship is so small that it only includes “you and those two,” we need to be careful, as under-defining our faith is just as dangerous as over-defining it. It is very easy to slip into theological maximalism (fundamentalism) or theological minimalism (liberalism). But we are Evangelicals. This means that we are “centrists,” uniting around the most important issues and giving varying degrees of liberty in less important issues. While it is true that because something is non-essential this does not make it negotiable, it is also true that because something is believed strongly does not make it central.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    101 replies to "Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell"

    • Derick Harper

      Where would women in leadership roles, including teacher, deacon, elder, pastor, etc. fall?

    • Ed Kratz


      That is a good question. While there are certain things that the church has been on historic agreement about until recently, they don’t seem to qualify as essential to me. This would be one of them. In other words, I don’t think I could make too strong of a case that this issue falls under either essential or historic orthodoxy. I would be apt to put it under denominational orthodoxy, but I could be wrong.

    • […] Doug C. Michael Patton, writing at Parchment & Pen (highly recommended), takes on the idea of what is essential in Christianity and what is non-essential. Further, what is essential for salvation vs what is essential for historic Christianity or vs a […]

    • Darrin

      //What I include:
      Belief in God (there is no such thing as an atheistic Christian)//

      Hebrews 11:6.

    • Darrin

      Also – isn’t this (from the essential for salvation part)

      //Belief that faith in Christ is necessary (John 3:16)//

      … the same as this? (from the Historical Christian Orthodoxy part)

      //Belief that Christ is the only way to the Father//

    • david carlson

      This would be a great pdf (hint, hint)

    • Ed Kratz

      Great reference Darrin. Updated!

    • Ed Kratz

      David, after my editor takes this to task, I will do so. Good idea. (It normally takes her about a day or so. Most people would wait to post until it has gone through the editing process, but not me! #nopatience)

    • david carlson

      would you say the act of baptism is one of historical or possibly traditional orthodoxy but the method is denominational?

    • Ed Kratz

      Yes, I think that that is a good way to put it.

    • theholyferret

      You list that Roman Catholic’s believe that “justification is through faith and works.” This is erroneous. The Roman Catholic Church teaches in no uncertain terms that Justification is achieved by Christ’s grace alone.

      From the CCC 1996: “Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of divine nature and of eternal life.”

      I’d also point out that Eastern Orthodoxy has the same teaching on the Eucharist as the Catholic Church.

      Some of this isn’t bad, but I take issue with the protestant obsession with “what’s necessary for salvation” that’s at work here. Like you’re entering into a bargain with God and negotiating your end.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “While there are certain things that the church has been on historic agreement about until recently, they don’t seem to qualify as essential to me.”

      This answer with regards to Biblical Patriarchy in the home and church (cf. Danvers Statement) falls a bit off the mark.

      I’d submit that Biblical Patriarchy falls under either “essential for historic Christian orthodoxy” or “essential for traditional orthodoxy” given that the RCC and EOC and Reformation Protestantism were uniformly against WO, women’s ordination. And in the case of the RCC and EOC, they still and probably always will forbid WO.

    • Rick

      “Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy…Please notice that these are essential, even if they are not as essential as those expressed in the previous category. In other words, these do not represent negotiables. These are still cardinal doctrines.”

      What does that line consist of? In other words, it sounds like one may not be aware of those doctrines on initially coming to the faith, but what happens if one rejects them (or some of them) after being presented with those doctrines?

    • Seth R.

      Michael, doesn’t your last four points basically turn status quo, biblical sufficiency/closed canon into the truly most defining characteristics of what you consider a true Christian to be?

      What if we don’t accept those assumptions?

      I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to point out that neither of those concepts are biblical either.

    • Undergroundpewster

      That was a big nutshell. Well done and thanks for the effort.

    • jwy


      Just what presupposition (“assumption”) would you propose (“accept”) as an ultimate standard for Truth?

    • Seth R.

      I merely pointing out that “historical consensus” doesn’t really work as some sort of ultimate slam-dunk argument.

      There are plenty of ideas out there that most humans have been wrong about for centuries.

    • jwy


      It seemed pretty clear to me in your first post that you were questioning the ultimate authority of the Bible to determine the defining characteristic of Christianity. Now you suggest that “there are plenty of ideas out there that most humans have been wrong about for centuries;” but by what standard are you making that determination? What ‘ultimate authority’ are you appealing too? If not Scripture, then what? If you’re going to make such a bold, ‘objective’ truth claim, then please tell us by what ‘authority’ you can claim epistemic certainty.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides


      FYI, Seth R. is a staunch Mormon and a Mormon apologist.

    • Seth R.

      TUAD, the rejection of Biblical sufficiency for all human belief and historical consensus is hardly a uniquely Mormon position. It’s also found within diverse Protestantism. So I don’t think this needs to be a “Mormon” debate.


      Who says I am advocating for an “ultimate measure” of all truth to begin with?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      I didn’t say this was a Mormon debate.

      I’m merely informing JWY that you’re a Mormon.

    • jwy


      If Scripture doesn’t rightfully determine the defining characteristics of Christianity, then what does? You’re making ‘objective truth claims.’ Are you claiming to have achieved epistemic certainty? If so, unless you believe you are omniscient, then you must appeal to some other ultimate authority beyond yourself. If it’s not you, and it’s not Scripture, then what is it?

    • jwy

      Seth…’Publish or Perish’
      “I define intellectual arrogance as anti-intellectual arrogance. I am guilty of intellectual arrogance if and when I do not hold myself accountable for my beliefs – when I insist that I am right, and you are wrong, but I refuse to offer a rational defense of my convictions, when I have no intellectual standards. To be intellectually arrogant is to be both dogmatic and irresponsible inasmuch as I don’t have the arguments to back up my dogmatism. On the one hand I assume an air of intellectual superiority while, at the same time, withdrawing into a shell an unreasoning obstinancy when my vaunted beliefs come under fire. But the Christian faith has always had a strong apologetic component. We make a reasoned case for what we believe.” – Steve Hays

    • Seth R.


      Don’t dictate terms of the debate to me.

      I’ll decide for myself how far I wish to participate. You will not.

    • John Metz

      Thanks for this post. It is a valiant effort to define a very important subject that is far too complex for a single post. I encourage you to do more.

      I wonder if you should include a statement about 1 Cor. 13:5 — “Test yourselves whether you are in the faith; prove yourselves. Or do you not realize about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are disapproved?” What do you think?

    • patriciazell

      I would think the most essential part of our faith is cleaving to God. After all, He is our life and that life is why Christ died on the cross (Deuteronomy 30:20, John 10:10). Christ obliterated the dividing wall between God and the human race (represented by the veil in the temple) and he destroyed the one who holds the power of death, the devil (Hebrews 2:14). If we concentrate on cleaving to God, everything else will take care of itself.

    • Paul D. Adams

      Well done! Our historical conditioning has much to do with what we see as essential.

    • EMBG

      I always find it very interesting when people want to creep the categories.

      I would say that the roles of women in the church is a matter of denominational orthodoxy and the roles of women in the home fall under “important but not essential.”

      But those who want to creep the categories would put patriarchy on par with Trinity. There’s just not the evidence for it biblically and whatever the consequences of denying traditional roles, it doesn’t touch the heart of the gospel.

    • […] actually like the latitudinarian understanding because I think it does a better job of dealing with "non-essentials." But I don't think that latitudinarianism was the original view of the post-Reformation church and I […]

    • jim

      EMBG, I tend to agree….role of woman is not on par with trinity or any of the essentials mentioned by Michael. I view Patriarchy within the context of slavery. It was common for the day, strictly cultural, many will disagree but this issue and the discussion will continue and I believe end up with what we see happening today…more acceptance within the church bodies.

    • De oppresso liber

      (1) why do you believe the ‘role of women’ (in leadership roles I presume) ‘is’ and/or ‘will be’ gaining more acceptance, and (2) do you see this as a positive development?

    • I agree with you—it is extremely important for us to be able to define between the “essentials” and “non-essentials”…but most of the time, it’s extremely difficult for us to do so. I’m grateful that you took the time to delve into such a fascinating, albeit confusing, subject. You make some very valid points. I plan on printing this out and reading it again tomorrow to reflect on it further. Thank you for sharing!

    • […] Michael Patton has, by far, my favorite item of the week.  Seeking a way to find a middle ground between being doctrinally sound while embodying unity and grace, Patton creates a rubric for separating the essentials from the non-essentials in terms of doctrines and beliefs.  What beliefs are required for a person to rightly be considered a Christian?  On what questions can two believers disagree while remaining in fellowship within the united body of Christ?  His schematic here is brilliant, and provides a sound basis for classifying our disagreements and questions and debates. […]

    • Sean

      Great article, Michael. While witnessing to Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses it’s been thrown in my face that evangelicalism is obviously wrong because of our disagreements and denominationalism. I counter that I believe it is the way God has chosen to keep the church true by allowing disagreement on non-essentials while adhering strongly to the agreed upon essentials of salvation. Because there is no cultish top-down “infallible” doctrinal authority like the Church Prophet or Pope that can define doctrine apart from the Bible, which is our authority, we have a truer standard of what is and is not essential. It is easily demonstrated that over time the “infallible” authority will become at odds with the previously chosen “infallible” authority. With the Bible as our standard this is much less prevalent.

    • Seth R.

      Sean, would you consider Moses to be a creepy cult leader?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Sean, would you consider Joseph Smith to be a creepy cult leader?

    • rayner markley

      Even the most ‘essential’ doctrines may be understood differently by some people. Jesus said the characteristics of followers of his were unity and love. And it’s not unity in doctrine; it’s unity in love. Doctrines have the ability to divide us. Love does not divide—cannot divide.

    • De oppresso liber


      (1) You said…”Even the most ‘essential’ doctrines may be understood differently by some people.” Well, I say…so what! Essential doctrines (Truth) still exist, no matter what some people might think.

      (2) Jesus called the church to both ‘unity’ and ‘purity.’ We are called to unity in light of the ‘Truth,’ and that Truth is revealed to us in Scripture and is expressed in ‘doctrines.’

      (3) Doctrines (based on Truth) do divide…they are supposed to!

    • De oppresso liber

      Wayne Grudem in ‘Systematic Theology’ defines ‘unity’ and ‘purity’ as:

      Purity: “The purity of the church is its degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct, and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church.”

      Unity: “The unity of the church is its degree of freedom from divisions among true Christians.”

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “Love does not divide—cannot divide.”

      o This looks like a doctrine.

      o I’ve seen love divide. Example. Some perverts love pedophilia. Most folks don’t love pedophilia nor the perverts who love pedophilia. There’s a division between pedophiles and the people who don’t love pedophiles.

      o Christ divides people.

    • De oppresso liber


      I just perused your posting history for the last few years at ‘theologica’ and you sound like a scratched up record playing the Beatles song ‘All You Need Is Love.’ Are you a single issue voter? C’mon, let’s get to the bottom of your true issue: What doctrine of knowledge do you hold? What are your epistemological presuppositions? Why do you seem to hold concepts of ‘objective truth’ and ‘Biblical Inerrancy/Sufficency’ with such contempt?

    • Sean

      Seth, I would consider Moses a cult leader. A cult does not necessarily need to have a negative connotation and the word “creepy” appears nowhere in my post. The difference between the cult-leader Moses and your prophet (and former prophets) is that he was actually sent by God. His position of leadership and authority was authenticated by miracles, and he brought a message from the I Am, a God that the Israelites already knew. Having explained that, I won’t be led down one of your LDS rabbit trails meant to take the attention off the fact that Mormons are required to have blind faith in their current prophet and disregard the glaring contradictions between current and former prophets regarding what was once established LDS doctrine. You are required to follow your prophet even if what he tells you tomorrow contradicts what he told you today and neither the Bible or your own LDS scriptures can constrain the content of his revelation.

      TUaD. I would consider JS a lying profiteer,…

    • Seth R.

      Sean, thank you for the clarification – even if your use of the word “cult” is one that almost no one in the real world uses.

      Aside from the bare question-begging in your response, I would note that your characterization of the interplay between scripture, tradition and modern LDS prophets is completely off-base. Neither is my faith any more blind than yours or anyone else’s on this forum.

      However, I don’t think it would be appropriate to debate these issues here – as it would constitute a major threadjack.

      I would appreciate it if you made an effort to stay on topic, and not try to use me as a means to derail the discussion here.

    • Zoro

      Seth…do you think of yourself as some sort of modern day theological Zoro? Because when it comes to these blogs, you jump in, make your quick, snarky, detracting comments and then you get right back out, never staying around to defend them; since you brought up the topic of thread-jacking. Just ask ‘jwy,’ I think he would likely concur.

    • Zorro

      Seth…talk about ‘thread-jacking’! I think you have mastered the Mormon guerrilla warfare blog tactic…you know, you jump in on every blog, say a few quick, snarky, disparaging remarks, full of vague innuendo, all designed to distract the conversation from the author’s insightful content, then you shirk the responsibility to intelligently and respectfully defend your positions. Just ask ‘jwy,’ I think he would concur.

    • Zorro

      C’Mon Blue…If you’re going to censure, 1) be consistent, 2) cite the offense, and most of all, 3) follow your own rules and remedy’s…

      “If anyone violates these rules, the blog administrators will be forced to suspend your privileges. While this has no effect on your salvation, we will send you a t-shirt that says “I got suspended from Parchment and Pen . . . Oh yeah baby.” 🙂

    • Michael T.

      “Love does not divide—cannot divide.”

      This is only true if your understanding of love is nothing more then warm and gooey feelings. Of course this type of love bears no resemblance whatsoever to the the fierce, jealous, and pursuing love displayed by the God of the Bible.

    • rayner markley

      We agree that theological doctrines are divisive. Yet Jesus doesn’t want Christians to be divided. So how do we overcome that problem? It’s not likely that Christians will reconcile the differences, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t instill uniform beliefs in us. Jesus’ remedy seems to be in the direction of love; His wish was that his followers would love one another as He had loved them. According to Michael’s chart, all the beliefs presented there are Christian. All the believers are Christians. Some doctrines are contradictory; a person cannot accept all of them. But a person can and must relate to all the Christians there, and I would ask What’s wrong with love? Although it may sound scratchy, the sign at Credo House properly reads ‘…in all things, charity.’

    • rayner markley

      Truth unites and divides,
      Yes, it looks like a rule or doctrine. I’m not opposed to doctrines themselves, but doctrines don’t make Christians.

      I doubt that either of us would consider pedophilia to be an example of love. Especially by the standards of I Corinthians 13, where love doesn’t seek its own benefit.

      Christ divides Christians from non-Christians. Surely you don’t mean that He divides Christians from each other.

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