AN INTERNATIONAL MINISTER'S MANUAL
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART SIX - DOCTRINES
During one of our recent leadership seminars in East Africa a minor doctrinal question arose among the delegates. I allowed time for a discussion to take place. After a few minutes, several of the pastors began showing unkind attitudes. The doctrinal issue was indeed minor, but some of those present were showing emotions and attitudes nearing the divisive point. I injected myself into the discussion and put the issue in its proper perspective. However, what I saw disturbed me. It was brothers and sisters in Christ behaving very negatively towards each other over what is a non-essential doctrine of the Christian faith.
Let me make it clear that I think doctrinal discussions are generally very beneficial and necessary. We often receive mail from pastors from all over the world which contains questions about various doctrinal issues. But few of the questions we are asked are important enough to divide the body of Christ. Why? Because they do not involve what I call essential doctrines. I define essential doctrines as those which are absolutely foundational to Christianity. By foundational, I mean that without them the very foundations of Christianity would be distorted.
For example, the deity of Christ (the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God) is a foundational doctrine. All of Christianity accepts this doctrine. If someone says he or she is a Christian and does not believe Jesus is the Son of God then that person is not really a Christian.
There are many doctrines that are less essential to the existence of Christianity. One example of a less essential or non-foundational doctrine is church government. Some Christian churches are ruled democratically with every member of the church voting on all issues. Other churches are governed by elders while still others are ruled by a regional bishop. All these forms of government are biblically permissible.
Communion is another doctrine in which there are legitimate differences. Some churches use wine for communion while others use only grape juice. Sanctification is still another such doctrine. Is it instantaneous or is it progressive?
There are legitimate differences of opinion regarding these non-essential doctrines. But there are those foundational doctrines about which we cannot, indeed must not, tolerate differences. It is those other non-essential doctrines about which we should not be so dogmatic and unyielding in our beliefs. When we take a dogmatic position on non-foundational doctrine we run the risk of improperly dividing the church.
In this chapter we will identify and briefly describe what we believe are the essential doctrines or truths of Christianity. We will examine the essential doctrines concerning Jesus Christ, the doctrines of the Trinity, Salvation, and the inerrancy of Scripture. All of us who are leaders in the Christian Church need to know and understand these doctrines and their importance.
The belief that Jesus is the Son of God is universally held among all Bible believing Christians. The Apostles John and Mark testify to Jesus' Sonship. (Jn 1:34, Mk 1:1) The Apostle Paul concurs. (Acts 9:20) The writer of Hebrews goes on record with his affirming testimony. (Heb 4:14, 7:3) We also have the confession of Martha and the testimony of the Roman Centurion at the crucifixion. (Jn 11:27, Mk 15:39) Even demons gave witness to His Sonship! (See Mat 8:29, Mk 3:11 and Lk 4:41.) Most significant of all, we have the testimony of Jesus, Himself.
They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?"
He replied, "You are right in saying I am." (Lk 22:70 NIV) (See also Rev 2:18.)
The Apostle John even tells us why Jesus came: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) The principal work of the devil was, and continues to be, the separation of man from the Creator God through sin. John goes on to tell us just how important Jesus is to us, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 Jn 5:12 NIV)
Another essential doctrine that all Christians must believe is that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was born of a virgin. We believe the accounts in Scripture that clearly state that the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary and that, as a result of that occurrence, she conceived a son.
Isaiah foretold this event some seven hundred years earlier: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (Is 7:14 NIV) The birth of Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.
Both Matthew and Luke record the event based on their individual investigations. Luke wrote,
". . . since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." (Lk 1:3,4 NIV)
Here is a portion of what Luke wrote about the virgin birth:
But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. (Lk 1:30-35,38 NIV) (See also Matt 1:18-25.)
Many times I have heard people discuss the issue of Jesus' virgin birth. Invariably someone asks, "Why is it so important to insist that Jesus was born of a virgin? Even if He wasn't, that doesn't take away from His teachings and the life He lived." Humanly speaking that's very reasonable, but theologically speaking, it's false. It is extremely important that Jesus was virgin born. Why? Because it was necessary that Jesus' blood be pure.
Let us examine the importance of the blood of Jesus. Our covenant with God, that is, the New Covenant, rests upon the shed blood of Jesus. At the Last Supper Jesus told His disciples, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Lk 22:20 NIV)
The writer of Hebrews described Jesus' offering of His own blood for the sins of all mankind to His Father in heaven:
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. (Heb 9:11,12 NIV, emphasis added.)
God, by the Holy Spirit, caused Mary to conceive. The blood created by that union took on the sinlessness of God rather than the sin of Adam and of humanity. Of course we understand that, genetically speaking, Mary contributed to the formation of Jesus' blood. But for the first time since the creation of Adam a sinless seed formed the blood that flowed through the veins of a man, the God-man Jesus. It is that which caused Jesus' blood to be holy and sinless.
Technically speaking, God has only two sons, Jesus and Adam. (God adopts those of us who are born again as His sons and daughters.) Thus there are two groups of people in this world, those of us who are born again in Jesus and those who are not (they are the group under Adam). So we, as humans, are corporately either in Adam or in Christ. (Paul persuasively makes this argument in Romans, 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.)
We know that Adam caused man to be separated from God because of his sin. When Adam sinned he entered into a sinful, corrupted state. Since all of mankind flows from Adam, all men are inescapably sinful. (Rom 3:23) There is a spiritual law that says "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness [of sin]." (Heb 9:22) A man (Adam) had caused this separation, therefore a Man must correct it. Paul put it this way, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam [Jesus], a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor 15:45 NIV)
Our very salvation depends on the purity of the blood of Jesus because the perfect blood sacrifice offered to the Father had to be sinless. No other man's or woman's blood could suffice. Why? Because we all are sons of Adam with his sinful blood flowing through our veins. That's why it is absolutely vital that Jesus be conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by man.
If Jesus were not born of a virgin, His blood could not have provided the sinless sacrifice. With no perfect sacrifice, we human beings are still under the sin of Adam and there is no salvation!
Scripture teaches that, although Jesus was fully God, and part of the Trinity as God the Son, Jesus was also fully man when He lived on earth. The title Jesus gave Himself was "Son of man." Many theologians believe Jesus based this title on one of Daniel's visions:
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan 7:13-14 NIV)
Jesus had every attribute of a man. He was born, He had a childhood, He had a family, and He functioned fully as a member of that family before He began His public ministry. During His brief public ministry every account we have of Him portrays Him as fully human: eating, sleeping, walking about, socializing, and praying as did every other Jew of the first century. The miracles He performed and His oneness with the Father does not in any way negate Jesus' humanity. These aspects of Jesus were in addition to His being fully man.
We have already seen that Jesus had to have sinless blood, not in the line of Adam, to be an acceptable sacrifice for mankind's sins. But Jesus also had to lead a sinless life while here on earth as the second requirement for that perfect sacrifice. Jesus came ultimately to free humankind from the curse put on it by the sin of Adam. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). In order to free humans from that death, Jesus had to be pure at birth, and to maintain that purity all during His lifetime. It was only then that on the cross, He could be the perfect and complete sinless sacrifice needed to defeat death!
Scripture tells us:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. (Heb 4:15 NIV, emphasis added.)
Had Jesus ever committed a sin, He would have failed in His mission and joined Adam's fallen race. Thus, Jesus had to come as a man, but had to also live without sin in order to qualify as Savior.
The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, in addition to the virgin birth and the Deity of Christ, are major foundation stones upon which Christianity stands. In fact, without His death, burial and resurrection, Christianity could not exist.
There are those today who wish to deny these facts as folklore, superstition, or the invention of early Christian leaders. Such thinking has its origin in the pit of hell.
1. The Death of Jesus We have already established that Christianity and our very salvation securely rests in the New Covenant, or Testament, purchased by Jesus with His own pure blood. But Jesus had to die in order to execute His will and testament to mankind. The writer of Hebrews states it this way:
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living . . . so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people. (Heb 9:15-17, 28 NIV)
All four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, give vivid accounts of His death as well as His burial and resurrection.
2. The Burial of Jesus
There are those today who admit to the crucifixion of Jesus, but claim that He didn't really die on the cross. But proof of Jesus' burial is absolute evidence of His death. The Jewish leaders who instigated the crucifixion of Jesus unwittingly became certified witnesses to His burial. They went to Pilate with this request:
"Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead.
This last deception will be worse than the first."
"Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. (Mat 27:63-66 NIV)
So we also have the Roman government as well as the Jewish Sanhedrin both attesting to the burial of Jesus. Finally, virtually every secular history book of that period acknowledges that a man named Jesus lived in Israel and died there. So, even the world's historians know that Jesus lived and died! The only thing they do not acknowledge is His resurrection. 3. The Resurrection of Jesus Most tragically, there have been those through the centuries who have denied Jesus' resurrection just as many of the Jews did in Jesus' day. But if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then there is no eternal life for us. It is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that defeated death! It is His resurrection that is the surety of our own resurrection and eternal life with Him in heaven. The Corinthian Church heard that there was no resurrection. Here is how Paul refuted that lie in his letter to Corinth:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:12-22 NIV)
All four Gospels record the resurrection. The first chapter of Acts references Jesus' many appearances after His resurrection. Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to more than five hundred believers at once after His resurrection. (See 1 Cor 15:6.)
Even the very Jews who had Jesus killed became strong witnesses to the resurrection. To lose the person you were charged with guarding was an offense punishable by death for a Roman soldier. But when Jesus resurrected and the angel came to roll the stone away, the soldiers fainted from fear! Here is Matthew's account of what happened.
The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men . . . some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." (Mat 28:4,11-14 NIV)
The final essential doctrine concerning Jesus is that He will come again. When Jesus was taken up into heaven, the disciples were staring up into the sky as He disappeared. Two angels suddenly appeared. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11 NIV)
The following are a few more of the Scriptures that make direct reference to His return: 1 Cor 4:5; 1 Thes 3:13; 2 Thes 1:10; 1 Jn 2:28; Rev 1:7.
No one knows, nor are we to know, when Jesus is going to return. But we do know from Scripture that when He does return, we must be ready. "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thes 4:16 NIV) Even so, come Lord Jesus!
It is absolutely essential that every Christian believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Interestingly, we do not find the word "trinity" in Scripture. However, it comes closest to describing what the Bible tells us about the Triune God.
The late theologian Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield states, "There is only one and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is purely a revealed doctrine. That is to say, it embodies a truth which has never been discovered, and is indiscoverable, by natural reason. With all his searching, man has not been able to find out for himself the deepest things of God. . . the human heart cries out for the living God in whose Being there is that fullness of life for which the conception of the Trinity alone provides." 45
Many people believe that the clearest reference in Scripture to the Trinity is found in Matthew's Gospel when Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . ." (Mat 28:19 NIV) The Apostle Paul speaks of the Trinity in his benediction to the Corinthian Church, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." (2 Cor 13:14 NIV) Peter also references the Trinity. He wrote, "Who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood." (1 Pet 1:2 NIV) Thus, we see clear references to the Trinity in the Apostles' writings.
The early church fathers preserved the doctrine of the Trinity. From the second century on, various church creeds and the edicts of numerous church councils bore witness to the belief in the Trinity. The leaders of the Reformation continued to affirm the Trinity. Finally, Bible believing theologians today accept the Trinity as the only truly valid descriptive concept of the Triune God whom we serve.
All Christians need to know and have an understanding of the attributes and nature of God, our Father, as revealed by Scripture. As we take this brief look at God, we must keep in mind that it is impossible for man to fully understand Him. As Paul said, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror." (1 Cor 13:12 NIV)
Scripture tells us that God is the Eternal God and the Lord of heaven and earth. (Rom 16:26 and Mat 11:25) Our God is the One true God who said, "I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God . . ." (Is 45:5 NIV) He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. (Deu 10:17) He is a consuming fire. (Deu 4:24) He is a God who knows no limitations; with Him all things are possible. (Mk 10:27; 14:36) He is the Eternal King. (Mat 25:34) He is a God who knows the hearts of men. (Lk 16:15) He is a God who knows our needs. (Mat 6:8,32) He is the God of all comfort. (2 Cor 1:3) He is near us whenever we pray to Him. (Deu 4:7) He fights against our enemies to give us victory. (Deu 20:4) He is a jealous God. (Deu 4:24) He is love. (1 Jn 4:8) He is life. (1 Jn 5:20) And He is light. (1 Jn 1:5) This is the God we serve!
God the Father is the preeminent member of the Godhead of the Old Testament. The only references to the person of Jesus in the Old Testament are the veiled references made by prophecy 46. I find only 79 references to the "Spirit" of God in the Old Testament.
As we examine the Old Testament, we see that God began a progressive revelation of Himself to the Israelites as the one true God. We find numerous examples of God speaking directly to various Old Testament leaders revealing Himself to them.
Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he commanded them to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. (Exo 6:13 NIV)
Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. (Is 7:3 NIV)
Without question God the Father was the dominant member of the Trinity in the Old Testament.
God is the Father of His son, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3) We know from Scripture that Jesus existed with the Father before the world began. Here is how the Apostle John reported Jesus's preexistence as well as His role in the creation of the world:
In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that is made. (Jn 1:1-3 NIV)
"He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Col 1:14-17 NIV)
Simply stated, Jesus was and is God incarnate, or God in human flesh. As such, He is the second person of the Trinity.
Near the end of Jesus' earthly ministry His teaching about His relationship to the Father intensified. At one point Philip asked Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? (Jn 14:8-10 NIV)
On another occasion Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." (Jn 10:30 NIV) Jesus' priestly prayer in the gospel of John is very revealing. He prayed,
". . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (Jn 17:21-23 NIV)
Thus Scripture clearly states that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He was not, as some claim, merely "a good man." In fact, if He is not God, He was not a good man but rather the opposite! Because if He is not God, as Scripture asserts, then He was the world's greatest deceiver! There is no middle ground. He is either one or the other.
It is Jesus' Deity which qualified Him to be the only acceptable sacrifice for sin. As we discussed earlier in this chapter, our very salvation hinges on the fact that Jesus is God.)
The Spirit of God was present in Genesis during the creation. God identified this Spirit as "My Spirit." (See as an example Gen 6:3.) The reality of God's Spirit extends throughout the Old Testament although His visible work among the Israelites appears somewhat limited as compared to the New Testament.
In the Old Testament, the Spirit "came upon" judges and warriors to enable them to perform extraordinary tasks all of which furthered the will of God on earth. (See Jdg 11:29.) The Spirit bestowed skill and wisdom upon man. (See Exo 31:2-4.) He also spoke through God's servants, the prophets, throughout the Old Testament proclaiming the word and will of God to man.
In the New Testament we see the Holy Spirit as coming upon the Virgin Mary at the conception of Jesus. We also see Him descending on Jesus at His water baptism. In Luke Jesus announces the Spirit has come upon Him to preach, to release prisoners, to recover sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. (See Lk 4:18,19.) And, of course, we have the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2.
Today the Holy Spirit continues to be the agent by which we as believers are baptized into the body of Christ. (1 Cor 12:13) The indwelling Holy Spirit becomes the cleansing agent for each believer, convicting us of our sin. He is also the agent by which believers are able to enter into greater power and truth. (See as examples Lk 24:49; Jn 16:13; Acts 1:8; Eph 3:16.)
The doctrine of Salvation is another essential doctrine for every Christian. We know from Scripture that Jesus came to save man from his sin. He said, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Lk 19:10 NIV) Jesus came as Savior for all mankind. But not all of mankind will be ultimately saved. John put it this way, "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." (Jn 1:12 NIV)
To understand salvation it is important to understand and accept the universal sinfulness of man. Why? Because as a prerequisite to receiving salvation each of us must first admit that he or she is a sinner. The Bible says, ". . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23 NIV) In fact, all who are sons of Adam are sinners, and that includes the entire human race.
There are those who will either deny that sin exists, or who admit that sin may exist, but deny that they themselves ever sin. Both these beliefs are wrong, contrary to the Bible, and will ultimately defeat salvation if not corrected. These people fit into the same category as those who see themselves as "good" and take the position that God will surely not turn away from heaven someone if that person has been "good" during his or her lifetime. Again, this is wrong thinking and will ultimately defeat the call of salvation if not corrected.
It is very common today to hear, "It doesn't really matter what your religion is, all religions lead to heaven. We all serve the same 'god.'" These words sound good. They sound so agreeable, so unifying and comforting, don't they? But they are lies! Tragically, if one believes them, they become fatal lies. Here is another horrible lie, "If I fail in this life, I will reincarnate into a new life and try again." This lie is from the pit of hell! The Bible says, ". . . it is appointed unto men once to die . . ." (Heb 9:27 KJV, emphasis added.)
When we examined the essential doctrines concerning Jesus, we saw that before Jesus came and offered Himself as an acceptable sacrifice to God for sin, there was no salvation for man. Scripture also makes it quite clear that Jesus is the only way to personal salvation for each individual human being. Peter, while preaching of the healing power of Jesus to the Jews after the healing of the lame man in the book of Acts said, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 NIV) In John 10, Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the gate of entrance.
Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved" (Jn 10:7,9 NIV) Personal Salvation
Now let's ask the question, "How does one become a Christian? Is it simply that he or she agrees with the general teachings of Christianity? Is it through church membership? Is it by being a member of a family that is Christian?" The answer to these questions is a resounding, "NO!"
The Bible gives us the absolute and only answer. It is found in Romans:
But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Rom 10:8-10 NIV)
Thus to become saved, first, a person must believe he or she needs salvation. That in itself is an admission of the guilt of sin. Second, he must believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and that He is indeed the risen Savior. Third, she must confess Christ as her Savior . . . "Jesus is Lord." Simply stated, it is a heart-mouth action. The heart believes, the mouth confesses. And it is a universal call to every human being on earth.
Let us briefly address the issue of the various procedures different churches require of their people when it comes to salvation. For example, one church may hold a confirmation ceremony, another may require a formal confession of Christ before the congregation, while another church may require the sinner's prayer be spoken in front of a witness as proof of salvation. These procedures are not in and of themselves wrong as long as they encompass what the Bible requires, that is, the personal acknowledgment of sin, the fact that Jesus is the risen Savior, and then asking Jesus to be your personal Lord. In other words, Jesus as the only way to salvation is the essential doctrine here, the various procedures different churches may require are the non-essential doctrines which flow from it. The key issue is the heart's decision to accept Christ. However that is manifested to others is not as important.
Let me close this section with one final thought. I am not so sure God is quite as formal as we tend to be when it comes to an individual and his or her salvation. Paul stated, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Rom 10:13 NIV) We must be very slow to judge someone else's personal process of salvation. Only God knows the heart! Saved Only By Grace Through Faith
Now let's explore the question, "Exactly how do we receive Jesus and thereby enter into salvation?" The Word says,
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:8 NIV, emphasis added.)
Grace has its origin in God and is extended to man. Although grace is very hard to define, it as been described as God's unmerited favor toward man. Harper's Bible Dictionary 47 makes the word "grace" synonymous with God's favor or His mercy toward mankind, and especially toward the church. It is this grace that is God's part. It is God's grace that makes salvation available to us.
But faith is our part. In its simplest form, faith is the ability to believe what God has revealed to us in His word. For purposes of salvation, faith is the belief that Jesus died for our sins and that because of that death, He is capable of saving us from hell if we call on His name. Here is how Paul put it, "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." (Rom 10:10 NIV)
This great salvation Jesus purchased for us comes to us by God's grace based on our faith. Thus we are given the incredible privilege of experiencing the reality of salvation by God's grace through faith.
The final essential doctrine we will examine is the inerrancy of Scripture. It is vital for every Christian to believe that the Bible in its original form is the very word of God. There are those who claim that the Bible is not infallible, that it contains errors. Then there are others who say it is just a good book from which we may learn moral lessons. These people are in error.
A more subtle assertion is the claim that the Bible "contains the word of God." But even if someone believes that the Bible "contains the word of God," then that means that only certain parts of the Bible are the word of God. The question then becomes, "What part of it is God's word?" Even asking that question means that anyone who reads the Bible may pick and choose what he subjectively believes is God's word and is equally free to reject other parts.
The Bible itself makes the most definitive statement as to its Divine inspiration:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16,17 NIV)
The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, infallible in their original texts, and are the authoritative rule of faith and conduct. (2 Tim 3:15-17; 1 Thes 2:13; 2 Pet 1:21)
Today's church isn't the only one wrestling with the problem of essential doctrines. As the church began to grow in the second century, false doctrines (such as Gnosticism) began to find their way into church teaching. To counter this error, early church leaders taught the people a "creed," or a standard confession to solidify the basic truths of Christianity. This creed was and continues to be called the Apostles' Creed. Here is a commonly accepted version of the Creed to which Christians adhere. It is known as the Received Form and dates from about 460 A.D.
"I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of Heaven and Earth; and in Jesus Christ His only (begotten) Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead [sic], and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven; and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick [living] and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic [universal] Church; the communion of the saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen." 48
God calls His followers to be in fellowship with any other believer who holds Christianity's basic foundational doctrines as truths. In order to maintain proper fellowship in the body of Christ, it is vital for us to recognize and understand those essential doctrines which are required for true unity as Christians. But mature believers may genuinely differ on other non-essential doctrines and still maintain a bond of Christian love, fellowship and mutual respect. The non-essential doctrines upon which reasonable, Bible-believing men and women may disagree should never cause a breach in our unity.
Let us close with Jesus' prayer for all of us,
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me,that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (Jn 17:20-23 NIV)
45. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. Page 3012.
46. The Angel of the Theophany. In the early part of the Old Testament there is an angel known as "the angel of the Lord." This angel is theologically known as The Angel of the Theophany. He made many appearances to various people such as Abraham, Hagar, Jacob, Joshua, and Gideon to name a few. This angel usually spoke in the first person as God Himself. Some theologians believe, though we cannot say with certainty, that Jesus was the angel of the theophany. Scripture simply calls him, "the angel of the Lord."
47. Harper's Bible Dictionary, Harper & Row, Publishers, San Francisco, page 357.
48. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. Volume I, Page 204.