Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine

Comment: Chart source = ESV Study Bible - article = "Biblical Doctrine - An Overview". Section below is cited from this article.
The ability to discern the relative importance of theological beliefs is vital for effective Christian life and ministry. Both the purity and unity of the church are at stake in this matter. The relative importance of theological issues can fall within four categories:
  1. Absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith
  2. Convictions, while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church
  3. Opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over
  4. Questions are currently unsettled issues.
Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations:
  1. Biblical clarity
  2. Relevance to the character of God
  3. Relevance to the essence of the gospel
  4. Biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it)
  5. Effect on other doctrines
  6. Consensus among Christians (past and present)
  7. Effect on personal and church life.
These criteria for determining the importance of particular beliefs must be considered in light of their cumulative weight regarding the doctrine being considered. For instance, just the fact that a doctrine may go against the general consensus among believers (see item 6) does not necessarily mean it is wrong, although that might add some weight to the argument against it. All the categories should be considered collectively in determining how important an issue is to the Christian faith. The ability to rightly discern the difference between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will keep the church from either compromising important truth or needlessly dividing over peripheral issues.
Comments: Here's the flaws that I have often seen in Christian Fundamentalism:
  • Everything is of equal importance
  • The Pastor is the final authority (instead of the Scriptures!) (it's never stated like that ... but the Pastor is considered the "interpreter-in-chief")
  • One cannot disagree with the Pastor (or else will be shunned and shunted!)
  • There's a certain degree of "group think" where everyone in the church is expected to agree on all things
  • Opinions are preached as absolutes


  1. Example 1: I do not believe that the OT laws of tithing are for the Church. That does not mean that I do not give. And it does not mean that I do not give generously and regularly (faithfully). Tithing is not frequently in a church's doctrinal statement (it's not in our's) but is often preached as if it is a settled doctrine. I address my views on giving in my doctrinal statement.

  2. Example # 2: Frankly in Fundamental Christian circles to even say that one does not believe in total abstinence from alcoholic beverages marks one as a drinker.

    I don't believe the Bible calls for total abstinence from alcoholic beverages. I address this in my doctrinal statement.

    In the chart above - it's an opinion! Not an absolute.

  3. Phil. 4:5: "Let your reasonableness be known to everyone" (ESV)

    It's one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog - there aren't many reasonable Christians who claim the fundamentals of the faith. Contrary to what some may believe, you can be reasonable without compromising.


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