I have updated this post as a part of my ongoing presentation on issues regarding the life of Evangelicalism, especially with regard to its doctrine. If you are familiar with my thoughts on the issue, you will notice that I have one added criteria (#2). 

“In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” These are the words of obscure reformer Rupertus Meldenius (often wrongly attributed to others). They form somewhat of an Evangelical credo. Evangelicals have traditionally believed that there are certain doctrines that form the core of the Christian faith. They are called “cardinal doctrines.” They are what we might call the sine qua non—the “without which, not”—of the Christian faith. In other words, there are certain doctrines that when denied, by definition, evidence a person does not have the basic core beliefs that must be present to some degree in the truly regenerate.

Included in this credo is the belief that there are certain doctrines that are “non-essential” or “non-cardinal.” These are those that, while important to varying degrees, are not damnable in the proper sense. About these doctrines there can be legitimate disagreement within Christianity. We are to have liberty with regard to such doctrines. This means that we are not to properly or formally divide over them. We are to have grace.

This all sounds really nice. I have heard this touted from the Evangelical mountain-tops for quite some time. The difficulty always comes when we begin to discuss one key question: What are the essentials? Who decides? The Pope? Your local church pastor? The SBC? My private interpretation of the Scripture? Alas, with such a question, the divisions start all over.

In essentials, unity. Sounds nice, but impractical. Right?

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 constitutes 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.

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

This first criteria is one of historical agreement. This is a form of “consensual faith” (consensus fidelium). This criteria of universal consensus follows the canon of Saint Vincent of Lérins (died c. 445): 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 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 the Catholics and the 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 they are often explicit regarding that which is of essential importance. For example, 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).

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. 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.

With this in mind, I propose that this test be the first test applied to those who wish follow me in my proposals for Evangelical Apostolic Succession.

The next step would be to define that which is uniquely “Evangelical” to add to these core doctrines. In other words, this would define what are the cardinal issues for Christianity that would be included in any Evangelical credo. The next would be to find out what distinctives would need to be added to this to make an Evangelical creed. I actually believe that this step is the more difficult.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. 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. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    93 replies to "What are the essentials to Christianity? Four Criteria"

    • EricW

      Of course, “priest” is a cognate of “presbyter”.

      non-sequitur.

      Just because the word “priest” derives from presbyteros does not mean that the RC and/or EOC office of priest is the same as an “elder,” or is “Apostolic” or “essential to Christianity” because the NT writes about “elders.”

    • John

      Eric, it was also a non-sequitur to talk about “the office of priest”, as if we are expected to be shocked at some non-biblical office. Being Greek Orthodox we call our elders presbuteroi when in Greece, and priest in the west, since the presbuteroi have always been thus called in the west.

      So I can say with certainty that the office is the same, because our presbuteros hops on an aeroplane, and arrives in the west a priest. And when he gets home he is presbuteros again. And the office has not changed since the early church.

    • EricW

      John:

      Yes, it has changed.

      And the early church changed from what Jesus and the Apostles established.

      I’m not asking or expecting you to be shocked, just to recognize that while “priest” and “presbyteros” might be interchangeable among Greek Orthodox today, the terms were not interchangeable to Jesus and the Apostles. To read current or even centuries-long Greek Orthodox Church or Eastern/Oriental Orthodox Church practice back into the New Testament is anachronistic.

    • John

      “just to recognize that while “priest” and “presbyteros” might be interchangeable among Greek Orthodox today, the terms were not interchangeable to Jesus and the Apostles.”

      Well naturally, since priest is an English word that hadn’t been invented in the time of Jesus and the apostles. But when it was invented it was done so to describe English presbuteroi.

    • EricW

      John:

      I guess my point is that “priest” usually translates hiereus (Greek) and cohên (Hebrew), not presbyteros, and to say that presbyteros = priest suggests a sacrifice-performing/officiating role for the presbyteroi, a role/function that is not found in the NT or established therein by Jesus or the Apostles. It leads to reading into the NT use of the word presbyteros a function/role it only later acquired. When one says that a priest is a presbyteros, and vice-versa, while the former may be true in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the latter (i.e., equating the presbyteros to a hiereus or cohên, where what is offered is the elements of the Eucharist, which are or become the real body and blood of Jesus via the instrumentality of the “priest” and/or the Holy Spirit as besought by the “priest”) is a post-NT development related to changed/changing views of the Eucharist.

    • Neal A.

      Very nice, very helpful post. I’m apologize in advance that this post is so long – things like this happen when I start thinking about a topic this interested and needed. I’m still trying to grow in the area of short, pithy comments :).

      My original question was how do we determine who qualifies as the Church under criterion 1? Numerous factions have claimed to be Christians, but have been rejected by “insiders.” That is, after all, part of the point of delineating essentials. If we were to consider all who claimed to be Christians as genuine Christians, we’d find very few doctrines that meet the universal acceptance clause.

      The discussion has helped clarify this for me (so my thoughts below) but I’d still appreciate feedback.

      Protestants are notable here, because, like the heretics, they rejected established “essentials,” some of which might be said to be to meet the universality and historicity clauses (actual presence for example). Yet, we (protestants) tend not to exclude ourselves from the body of Christ.

      This is important test case because one vital purpose of a list of “essentials criteria” is to establish who may rightly call themselves Christians. Moreover, the criteria should permit the church to be self healing: that is, to recognize and exclude doctrines which are mistakenly accepted as central or, more problematically, to introduce doctrines that are latent, but not explicitly present in historical teachings.

      The key element in the case of protestants is that they have demonstrated (to the satisfaction of many) that certain doctrines which were regarded as essential fail to meet the criteria of perspicuity and scriptural centrality, and hence are not essential. Gnostics, full preterisists, Pelagius, and Arius have been less compelling in arguing that the doctrines they challenged are not clear or central in scripture.

      A quick sanity check is in order. Does this make sense? Are we right to exclude the Gnostics, et al. from the community that is included in the universality criteria while we allow protestants (relative newcomers with merely 500-600 years of history) to remain. I think the answer is yes.

      Assuming I’ve understood the point correctly, essential doctrines are those which, if denied, place someone or some institution outside the pale of Christianity. John’s argument requires that Protestants be considered essentially not Christian. I think far more people would find that stance problematic (even if we exclude protestants) than would believe that that actual presence is essential. Majority vote is no way to decide doctrine (or any other intellectual question) but it can serve as a nice sanity check. We’ve had 600 years to ponder the issue, and we don’t seem inclined to reject protestants as not Christian, even if many believe that they have fundamental errors in their doctrine.

    • John

      “I guess my point is that “priest” usually translates hiereus (Greek) and cohên (Hebrew), not presbyteros”

      Since the reformation it has. But in older English translations like Wycliffe, it was priest. And of course, English presbuteroi continued to be called priests.

      “to say that presbyteros = priest suggests a sacrifice-performing/officiating role for the presbyteroi”

      I’ve discussed this with people before, and the fact is most English dictionaries would not make that claim.

      “(i.e., equating the presbyteros to a hiereus or cohên)”.

      Of course, if a hiereus must offer sacrifices, what of the priesthood of all believers?

      The fact is, hiereus comes from pagan Greek usage and does not imply anything about sacrifices.

      Cohen also comes from the culture surrounding the Jews, and doesn’t particularly imply anything about sacrifices either. And Ex. 19:6 says that all Jews are Cohen.

      “is a post-NT development related to changed/changing views of the Eucharist.”

      That is of course, an opinion, not a fact.

    • EricW

      “[the latter (i.e., equating the presbyteros to a hiereus or cohên, where what is offered is the elements of the Eucharist, which are or become the real body and blood of Jesus via the instrumentality of the “priest” and/or the Holy Spirit as besought by the “priest”)] is a post-NT development related to changed/changing views of the Eucharist.”

      That is of course, an opinion, not a fact.

      As is the belief that the doctrine/practice of the Eucharist that is held/performed by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches comes unaltered from Jesus and the Apostles and is not a changed view of it.

    • John

      Uh huh. But when the church fathers are “unanimous” as JND Kelly put it, from Ignatius in 105AD onwards, from Rome to Greece to Alexandria, one would have to put forward a theory of how everybody got it wrong at the exact same time in the exact same way. Your side, lacking an explanation really makes it impossible to believe. It would be as plausible to claim that somebody corrupted the NT text everywhere at the same time in the same way.

    • cheryl u

      John,

      I think I may be a bit lost in this conversation. In your last comment above, are you saying that what has been believed universally since Ignatius onward is belief in the real presence in the Eucharist or belief that the priest is instrumental in some way in changing the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ?

    • John

      Cheryl: well both in that Ignatius said that only the bishop and those he authorizes can serve the Eucharist, and Clement writing even earlier than Ignatius writes of “the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have presented offerings” and he parallels the work of the presbuter with a Levite priest “For to the high priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity.” Justin Martyr says that the Eucharist is “consecrated by the word of prayer”. Cyprian mentions that “when the sacred rites were completed and the deacon began ministering to those present, when its turn came to receive, it turned its little head away as if sensing the divine presence” and “”The priest who imitates that which Christ did, truly takes the place of Christ, and offers there in the Church a true and perfect sacrifice to God the Father.”.

    • EricW

      John:

      Do you believe that one must believe in the Real Presence in order to be a Christian?

      If “yes,” what must one believe about the Real Presence (you can pick more than one):

      1. That the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus during the Liturgy?

      2. That the change in the bread and the wine is a consequence of the priest asking the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ?

      3. Something else? If so, specifically what?

      4. Something more? If so, specifically what?

      5. Something less? If so, specifically what?

      Priest (in a low voice): Together with these blessed powers, merciful Master, we also proclaim and say: You are holy and most holy, You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You are holy and most holy, and sublime is Your glory. You so loved Your world that You gave Your only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. He came and fulfilled the divine plan for us. On the night when He was betrayed, or rather when He gave Himself up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy, pure, and blameless hands, gave thanks, blessed, sanctified, broke, and gave it to His holy disciples and apostles saying:

      Priest: Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.

      People: Amen.

      Priest (in a low voice): Likewise, after supper, He took the cup, saying:

      Priest: Drink of it all of you; this is my Blood of the new Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

      People: Amen.

      Priest (in a low voice): Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming.

      Priest: We offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all.

      People: We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, Lord our God.

      Priest (in a low voice): Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.

      Priest: And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ.

      Amen.

      Priest: And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ.

      Amen.

      Priest: Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen.

      Priest: So that they may be to those who partake of them for vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of Your Holy Spirit, fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, confidence before You, and not in judgment or condemnation. Again, we offer this spiritual worship for those who repose in the faith, forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.

    • cheryl u

      John,

      I truly do not get it. I see nowhere in the New Testament, either in Jesus teaching or in the teaching of the Apostles that the priest has any part in changing the elements of the Eucharist into the real presence–body and blood of Christ. We are told to take eat and drink as this is His body and blood. Whether you take that in a more literal fashion or in a symbolic way, I simply don’t see that the priest has to do anything to accomplish any such change.

      Do you know of a Scripture that says a priest must do that? If not and it is not so taught in the Bible, how can one say that it has been so believed from Ignatius onward and therefore can not be wrong?

    • Neal A.

      Crucially, I think, the Real Presence fails the third criteria that Michael laid out: it is not clear clear from scripture that this belief is essential to Christianity. Therefore, it makes little difference if the first criteria holds (or first and second, which I think is a harder case to make, since many Catholics currently believe that Protestants are in fact Christian). As per Michael’s criteria, the Real Presence is not AND NEVER WAS essential, regardless of what all Christians at one point believed.

      That might be cause for rejecting Michael’s criteria. If one is committed to the belief that denying the Real Presence means that one is not a Christian, then the Real Presence gives an existential argument that the criteria incorrectly exclude an essential doctrine. Thus, the criteria are not valid. Keep the doctrine and move the protestants into the heretic column.

      On the other hand, admitting that the Real Presence is not essential, does not imply that it is wrong, unimportant, or not essential to the Catholic tradition (however you want to determine what is essential to Catholics). It simply says that denial of this doctrine does not amount to a fundamental rejection of Christianity.

    • John

      Cheryl: Jesus said “do this” to the apostles, who are the first episcopate. I might just as well query you where anyone other than the episcopate gets this instruction. Of course I’m not reliant on sola scriptura. The scripture doesn’t say everything explicitely which is why Protestants argue over paedo baptism.

    • John

      Neal: The real presence might (arguably) not be clearly essential, however it clearly may be essential ( jn 6 etc), which is of course the problem with Michael’s criteria. A parallel problem with Protestants are Lutherans who believe in baptismal regeneration vs Salvation Army who don’t baptize at all. Baptism might not be clearly essential, but it clearly may be essential judging by Lutheran theology.

      And who is a Christian seems to obscure Michaels objective of essential Christian doctrine. Does baptism in some form fulfill Michael’s criteria? Clearly yes I think. So are salvation army Christian?

    • Neal A.

      John,

      I think the primary point is to ask how can we identify doctrines that are essential to Christianity, not doctrines that are essential to any particular faith tradition within Christianity. Not all important doctrines are essential to Christianity. I believe a previous commenter questioned whether inerrancy and infallibility (two central doctrines of the Evangelical movement) are essential. Despite my firm commitment to those doctrines, I tend to agree – they are important but not essential.

      As for baptism, that deserves further investigation. I’m not familiar with the salvation army as a distinct faith tradition but rather as a service organization, so I can’t offer any informed comments on the specifics of their theological system.

      My guess, is, however, that this is a bigger topic than makes sense in this context, since I suspect we have very different conceptions of baptism.

    • cheryl u

      John,

      Yes, they were told “do this in remembrance of me,” but I don’t see Jesus saying that they had to in any way be responsible for changing the elements into His real presence. That was my question and my problem. That doesn’t fit with my understanding of the doctrine at all.

    • steve martin

      Cheryl U.,

      Pardon the interuption, but don’t you think that God could make Himself be present in bread and the wine of Communion?

      After all, many people believe that He is actually present and living in their hearts?

    • John

      “I don’t see Jesus saying that they had to in any way be responsible for changing the elements into His real presence.”

      Of course not. God does that part. What they have to do is proclaim “this is his body”.

    • cheryl u

      John,

      In #61 above the question I asked you was regarding priests having a part in changing the elements into the actual body and blood of Christ. And you answered in the affirmative! Now you say they don’t. Either I am misunderstanding you 100% here or you are saying two different things as this conversation progresses. Clarify again? (It was your last clarification that made me think you believed this!)

    • EricW

      cheryl u:

      My understanding is that the Roman Catholic Church considers the priest to have the power/authority to change the elements when he pronounces the words of institution (“this is my body”).

      The Orthodox Church (John’s church) regards the change as being done by the Holy Spirit some time after and as a result of the epiclesis, calling upon the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine the body and blood of Jesus.

      However, since only an Orthodox priest (or bishop) can perform the Eucharist, it does seem that in the Orthodox Church a priest is a necessary part in changing the elements since they cannot have a liturgy or Eucharist except as conducted by a priest or bishop. So while the priest isn’t exactly necessary to change the elements, there is no Eucharist without a priest, and the priest is the one who invokes/prays the epiclesis that calls upon the Holy Spirit to change the elements.

      Thus, there is a distinction between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches in regard to where and with whom the power resides to change the elements. In the Roman Catholic Church it resides in and with the priest. In the Orthodox Church, the Holy Spirit alone has the power to change the elements, but it occurs during a liturgy conducted by a priest.

      Also, in the Roman Catholic Church, the mass can be said by the priest alone and for himself alone – i.e., he can confect and partake of the Eucharist all by himself – whereas in the Orthodox Church a priest by himself cannot have a liturgy; there must be a “church” – i.e., at least one other Orthodox person who participates in it so the “body” is present.

      So while a priest seems to be absolutely necessary in the Roman Catholic church to change the elements, in the Orthodox Church a priest is by default necessary, since without a priest there is no liturgy/Eucharist, even if the priest doesn’t have the authority/power to effect the change.

      Or so I think.

    • steve martin

      Lutherans believe that God’s Word of promise (this IS my body…this IS my blood) attached to the elements (by God) is what cause the elements to actually contain that which they promise.

      It is not the pastor, or the priest, but God Himself who makes this happen.

      In our church, a lay person could preside over th Sacraments, but it is most often done by the pastor for good order.

    • Michael Williams

      Hebrews 11 recounts many faithful servants who, along with Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others are undoubtedly in Heaven now, for they knew God and trusted Him without yet knowing the person of Jesus Christ or the Church in that earlier dispensation. Through knowing God, they now know Christ, as Jesus proclaimed of Abraham rejoicing over “His Day”. The thief on the cross did not partake of the Eucharist as you describe it, however you define it, possibly another dispensation. Are you saying that anyone who receives Christ on their deathbed without recieving the Eucharist or being baptized cannot be saved? The thief believed on God, without fully understanding who God is. Though we may know Him, none of us know or understand God completely or perfectly, though we may now know that He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “Only Believe.” The thief recognized that he was a sinner. He asked God, in Christ, to forgive him, accepting by faith that Jesus was LORD and Savior, and Jesus saved him. He was born again! Love God and Love your neighbor as your self. All the Law and the Prophets hang one these! Are these not the “essentials” of Salvation and Christianity? According to the Bible, we are all among the “priesthood of believers” if we are believers indeed, but it is God who Saves!

    • John

      “Are you saying that anyone who receives Christ on their deathbed without recieving the Eucharist or being baptized cannot be saved?”

      Surely we must distinguish between what is normative and what is exceptional. Is it possible someone could be saved, but never in their lives go to church? Or be baptised? Or read the bible? We can only talk about what is normative in the Christian life, and leave the rest up to God. Otherwise Christianity is bare minimalism.

    • steve martin

      God can make the stones shout if He so desires.

      He can save apart from baptism, but He also saves through baptism.

      We baptize because Christ commanded it, and because the scriptures tell us of it’s efficacy.

    • geekborj

      The Scriptures (OT and NT) gives us an idea how the ancient Church developed into: (1) accepting non-Jewish, Gentiles, into the Church, (2) assignment of spiritual offices that have authority over morals and faith, (3) conquering the world by being able to preach and build a church in Rome, the then center of the world trade and politics, and many more.

      #s 3 and 4 seem to contradict the idea that the Bible is written and interpreted by the Spirit and hence not that clear unless willed by God. Hence, while some parts are clear enough, there are things that are written that even the writer might have not understood it (e.g. Revelation/Apocalypse) but only because the Spirit told them to. Hence, being “clear” and “explicit” should not be there. When the Apostles accepted Gentile Baptism and rejected Circumcision Law for the Gentiles, these were not at all based on their Scriptures (OT) but because of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church through their leadership.

      Indeed, history will give us hints as to how the current “flavors” of Christianity came about. Who and when did your “church” began existing? For what reasons was it “built”? I think Bro. Michael did a good point for #s 1 and 2 here.

    • Bryan Cross

      Michael,

      Your list does not include anything (explicitly) about the Church, and about who holds teaching authority in the Church. Without a designation of who holds teaching authority, then no list of essentials is any more authoritative than any other list. Yours is then just one man’s opinion in a sea of opinions.

      Also, your list seems to rule out the possibility of development, as Newman describes it.

      In the peace of Christ,

      – Bryan

    • DB Willis

      I have not read all of the postings, but I read the original article, which I enjoyed.

      One observation: Someone asked about how does this square with the Trinity? I would say the Bible does not explicitly teach the “doctrine of the Trinity”, however, the Bible is fairly explicit that the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. One does not have to be Trinitarian per se to accept the above statement. So I would say that one does not have to have a Trinitarian understanding to be saved–however, I believe they still must accept the deity of the Father, the Son, and Spirit.

      A question: using your criteria, what does this say about baptism by immersion into Jesus? If we understand by definition baptizo is to “dip, plunge, immerse” (as opposed to rhantizo)–since baptism has had universal acceptance by the church from the first century on, since it is commanded and presented as normative in the biblical text–is the practice essential?

    • DB Willis

      Oh, and lest anyone get the wrong idea: as one poster said we must distinguish between normative and exceptional. I believe it was John…and Steve’s comment is a good explanation (he can save apart but he also saves through)…

      As far as the nature of the eucharist is concerned, I do think the 3rd principle comes strongly into play: is this clearly expressed in scripture? A simple reading of the texts seem to indicate an actual meal where bread and wine are included. Jesus is portrayed as present as host. This is the Messianic banquet where all are welcomed. It is amazing how through the centuries we have changed a meal into a pinch of special bread and sip of wine (or juice depending on your view of alcohol) that almost seems to be magical. And I apologize if I am being offensive to some who post, I really don’t mean to be. But I think the simplest reading of text demands this was once a full meal rich with metaphoric power that due to abuses was cut down to a purely symbolic ritual.

    • Chris Weimer

      My question was how did you arrive at those (see other post) essentials.

      Your response:

      “Scripture: Is it explicit stated and is it clearly presented
      History: Is it explicit stated and is it clearly presented”

      So the next question is thus:

      Whose scripture and whose history?

    • C Michael Patton

      First, do you accept the Scriptures as inspired or believe that Christ rose bodily from the grave? Please don’t misunderstand; I am not pulling out a trump card, but trying to focus so we don’t waste time speaking from our respective presupposition and then failing to get anywhere because we are having the wrong conversation (I do this a lot).

      My basis for accepting the authority of Scripture has to do with my belief in Christ resurrection and the implications of his involvement in history. If you can’t go there with me, then the conversation that we need to have is concerning Christ’s resurrection. Its a methodological issue first.

    • Chris Weimer

      The answer to both from my perspective is no.

    • Michael T

      Chris,
      Sorry to interject myself in your and CMP’s conversation, but I have a couple questions out of curiosity.

      1. Do you consider yourself a Christian or wish to have this title applied to you?

      2. Do you disbelieve Christ’s resurrection story based upon the simple scientific fact that dead people don’t rise from the dead or some other factor?

    • Chris Weimer

      Hi Michael #2:

      “1. Do you consider yourself a Christian or wish to have this title applied to you?”

      No.

      “2. Do you disbelieve Christ’s resurrection story based upon the simple scientific fact that dead people don’t rise from the dead or some other factor?”

      Not entirely. Yes, that’s part of the story, but also because there’s not good enough evidence to contradict the scientific fact.

      However, this is entirely unrelated to my point that Michael Patton’s list of essentials for salvation was constructed with circular logic. Why get off on the tangent of my beliefs?

    • Michael T

      Curiosity was all….carry on

    • Chris Weimer

      And curiosity is a mighty fine reason in my opinion. 🙂

      Chris

    • Chris Weimer

      By the way, 1st Michael (Patton), if I’m in violation of the rules (it seems like, perhaps I’m misreading, that this blog isn’t an appropriate venue for dialogue…) just let me know.

      Chris

    • Michael T

      Hey Chris,
      Just a thought I had last night, but was too tired to post (it was 4am) which may either muddy everything or clarify things. I think you might be confusing two issues.

      1. The first is what things are essential for salvation according to historical Christianity. Every historical movement, religious or otherwise, has had founders which described the beliefs of the movement and what was necessary to be a part of that movement. In addition they have often defined who is outside that movement and who they are against.

      2. The second issues is whether or not this historic Christianity accurately represents the historical figure of Jesus (I guess I’m assuming here that you believe Jesus actually existed in some form, but I don’t think this is too much of a stretch since most scholars do). It is hypothetically possible that historic Christianity as traditionally understood at some point diverged from the truth about who Jesus was and what his teaching were. In contrast maybe Arius or the Gnostics got it right (now I personally don’t believe this to be true for numerous reason, but it is hypothetically possible and someone could come to different conclusions then me). However, if the Gnostics were right and historic Christianity is wrong this would not change what the essentials for salvation were according to historic Christianity it would just make them wrong (in the same way that a Muslim would believe they are wrong).

      I think ultimately this is about how we define words and I know of no other way to define a word used to define a historical movement then by the beliefs of those who founded the movement in the earliest years. If I was trying to describe “Historical Communism” and define who is a Communist according to this I would do so by reading the writings of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, Yet this is of course circular again since I’ve had to decide ahead of time who the real communists are and thus I’ve excluded some people and my assumption has predetermined the result about who is and isn’t a Communist. To accept your argument about CMP’s reasoning being circular would negate being able to define the beliefs of any historical movement (again having nothing to do with whether or not those beliefs are right).

    • C Michael Patton

      “Whose scripture and whose history?”

      God’s given to the church. Which church? The one that God said the gates of hell would not prevail against. Which one is that? The one that the gates of hell have not prevailed against being defined by the consensus fidelium of the Vincention canon. Those who have trusted in Christ according to the consesus of faith as expressed through Scripture and history (explicit and clear).

    • […] Here are the four tests/questions that Patton sets out (you can read his whole argument over on his blog… here I am quoting directly): […]

    • Gregory

      Each lover of JESUS needs to express HIS/LOGOS reality. Paul expressed it….Christ and HIM crucified was the sum of this expression. Kinda like what the thief on the cross experienced. No time for any sacrament/human action except for a yielding in the reality of Christ. So what is Christ like and what did HE do for us and why? We can look to the scriptures. Historically the Gospels, Acts and Revelation have a nice narrative with the Epistles dropping the details. I think the epistle of Ephesians is high ground. We are made alive in Christ…..but GOD……I really don’t have time for carnal churchianities debates when we have HIS love letter to us NOW. Learn greek first and read Erasmus for yourself like Luther and Tyndale did. Maybe this would be the start to understanding the Nature of JESUS and HIS politics….

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