“A Study of Distinguishing Between Essential and Secondary Beliefs of Christianity”

This study is a result of my Pastor’s sermon on Sunday, July 20, 2014 in which he dealt with how we handle secondary teachings. It was a good message. I asked him as I departed how do we determine what is primary and what is secondary. He smiled and thought that would be a good study so I set out to study this matter and share some thoughts!

Note: A framework for this graph came from a study by Matt Slick (see below for link to his page). Using Matt’s framework I have added to his and made my own points.

These are my views and you may disagree with me on both the points and how I categorize them but I believe everyone should develop a list similar to this.

1) Essentials beliefs that are foundational to being a genuine Christian

The Bible is the Word of God and His revelation to us.

There is only one God (Exodus 20:3; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8).

Jesus is both God and man (John 1:1, 14; 8:24; Col.
; 1 John 4:1-4).

Man is sinful and cannot be redeemed apart from the work of Christ

Salvation is by grace through faith (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 3:1-2; 5:1-4).

The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Gal. 1:8-9).

Jesus rose from the dead physically (John 2:19-21; 1 Cor. 15:14).

Jesus is the only way to God the Father (John 14:6, Acts 4:10).

2) Primary beliefs are those that the Bible does not necessarily declare as essential to salvation; however, to affirm otherwise may be evidence of lack of regeneration since they are foundational to the Bible and the fruit of the regenerate mind and heart. I am sure there are strong arguments for moving some or all of these to the essential category above and some may feel they can be moved to a catergory below. These are issues that in my view require separation, that is if one does not hold to these I would have a hard time having genuine Christian fellowship.

God exists as a Trinity of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Non-Trinitarians deny this

Jesus was born of the Virgin

So often it seems once the Virgin birth is denied other critical doctrines are also denied

Jesus is the only way to God the Father (John 14:6).

 I could easily place this in the essential category

Moral integrity as expressed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).

Can one willfully continue to ignore and break God’s moral law and claim to be regenerated?

Fidelity in marriage in heterosexual relationships.

This is one that probably would not have been considered 10 or more years ago. It was practically universally understood that marriage was between a man and a woman. When I was growing up and in my younger years of ministry it was not even in the conservative/liberal continuum. Everybody understood that marriage was between a man and woman!

Failure to recognize the sanctity of life, including the unborn.

Indeed I do not believe that a person can knowingly accept the pro-abortion position and be genuinely regenerated.

The condemnation of sexual immorality.

Sexual morality when I grew up and for most in that generation was understood that sexual activity was moral in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. Premarital, extra-marital, homosexual and other deviations were seen as immoral. I see no Biblical reason to change this understanding.

Inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.

I hold to the full inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture and feel it’s a solid foundation of belief. I feel once one begins to accept that the Bible may have errors it’s very hard to stop and becomes arbitrary as to what the errors are.

View of creation

I hold to the plain teaching of Scripture on this matter accepting Genesis account as literal. It seems to me once you begin to accommodate it’s very hard to stop. I struggle whether this should be placed in this category or in the category below. Within my own denomination many now hold to a Theistic evolution type view.

Whether water baptism is necessary for salvation (Acts

These are those who believe that baptism is essential (baptismal regeneration). I hold that it is the norm and should be practiced but is not essential.

3) Important: These are issues in which earnest Christians who hold to the above essential and primary beliefs may hold varying viewpoints on. These may be strong enough to require a separation but should still be seen as disagreement among genuine Christians. These issues vary by region and one’s background. These are doctrines and practices that one may consider very important but are not essential to salvation. Examples include:

Doctrine or practice

My view (which may differ from yours!)

The deeper issues of how God works such as predestination, election, limited atonement, and free will.

Certainly there have been denominational separation because of these beliefs but I am content to just believe God and get all this sorted out with the understanding I will have in the future!

Whether to worship on Saturday or Sunday

Strong views are held on this matter. My custom has always been Sunday worship. I am of the belief that the practice of the early church was to worship on Resurrection Day but I have met seventh day worshipers who I believe have earnest faith.

What one believs about the various endtimes viewpoints such as Pre-, mid-, post-trib rapture or Premill., Amill.,
Postmill., preterism.

Because of my background and who taught me I am pre-trib, pre-millinial but this matter should not separate!

Whether one holds that there is a continuation or cessation of the charismatic type gifts.

I have been influenced by and hold to the continuation viewpoint but nevertheless spiritually benefit from those who hold the cessationist outlook. Of course among what is considered charismatic there is a lot of variety

Whether baptism is for adults or infants.

I was raised in a church that practiced infant baptism and was baptized as an infant. I accepted Christ in high school and all my discipling has been of the belief in believer’s baptism (not necessarily adults)

Attitude toward divorce and remarriage (Still in agreement that marriage should be a livelong commitment but what to do about those who do divorce as Christians or come into the faith divorced)

This was a huge issue in our denomination about 30 years ago. Initially whether to accept into membership, then local church leadership then ministry.)

Whether to have musical Instruments in church.

All churches I have ever been a part of have used instruments but some Christians believe in singing w/o instruments.

How churches are governed (known as church polity), pastoral role, who owns the property, etc.

I have served churches governed congregationally. After seeing the property disputes of mainline churches that depart from the faith and then demand a huge settlement if a Bible faithful local church leaves the denomination to keep there own building I would not support such a method!

Moderate use of alcohol

We were both raised in homes and have practiced abstinence from alcohol. This was (and still officially is) the viewpoint of my denomination as well as many others. I realize now there is a current “liberty” outlook among many Christians, especially younger, now hold. That is drinking in moderation is fine. But we have no regrets in holding and teaching a view that abstinence is the best policy. I can see no evidence that drinking alcohol has become safer and makes life better but I have seen plenty of evidence otherwise!

Body tattoos and piercings

My have things changed! This may also go in the category below. I have several friends with earnest faith who have chosen this.

View of modern Israel

In my circles we tend to support Israel in part due to the Bible prophesies, in part due to the history of oppression of the Jewish people, in part a tiny nation surrounded by enemies although amazingly others are called them the underdog! I recently had a discussion with a man who sees Israel as the aggressor.

Justice/compassion view of liberal Christians

Liberal Christians tend to assert they hold the view of justice and compassion and thus conservative are not for justice and compassion. This is not true but rather what we see as just and compassionate. But it’s
easy, and sadly in our sound-bite age effective, for them just to assert, “you just don’t care about people.”

I am sure there are many other doctrines and practices that fit into this category

4) Secondary non-essentials (although I realize this is the 4th category) These are issues that people may have very strong feelings about and may even influence the type of church one attends. These issues vary by denomination and even within denominations, background, region and age. Some issues important to some are never even considered by others. However these are not issues that determine salvation.In my pastor’s message this last Sunday this is the category he was speaking of.

Whether to practice Communion weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually.

This is a preference. In the denomination I served as pastor the custom in most churches was monthly. The church I presently attend it seems is quarterly. To me I prefer at least quarterly

Music style in church (hymns or choruses, traditional or contemporary, what types of instruments, etc, etc, etc!!!)

For the record my preference is congregationally dominant vocals, although I am not opposed to instruments (I can sure do without loud drums though!) I enjoy singing music from all generations including our own., that is old hynms and doctrinally sound contemporary

Dress: This covers a lot and differs from region to region and age to age. Early in our experience it was women not wearing pants. I have a pastor friend who was raised with a belief in not wearing shorts (something that never occurred to me)

Most would agree  that dress should be modest but of course this is a matter of opinion. I personally regret whatever happened in the last 15 or so years where people come to church in all manner of dress. I suppose I am old-fashioned but I still believe people should treat church as special at least Sunday morning


This was never an issue in churches we have been in till we moved to the Lancaster area where it has been and for some still is an issue. Depending on where you live you may be thinking “What’s a headcovering?”

So many other examples could be used here and I am sure there are many in this category I have never heard of.

For instance when I first moved to the northeast Pennsylvania youth camp allowed “mixed bathing” (boys and girls swimming together) while the district to the south forbade it.

When Brooksyne grew up the women had long hair, often placed in a bun. This was considered part of expressing one’s faith.

The degree in which the Lord’s Day is kept consecrated.

This esteem has practically crashed in my lifetime. Still some hold it very sacred, others attend church and then feel free to do anything just as any other day. Of course many do not even attend church services and in many of the larger churches have an option to attend Saturday evening anyway. My view: I feel we were stronger morally when the day was set aside!

I came across the following resources in my study

http://carm.org/doctrine-grid (Matt Slick who gave me the idea of using the graph)












http://drmarkk.blogspot.com/2013/08/is-gay-issue-secondary-theological-issue.html (Excellent perspective)



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