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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


Unity and Excommunication

Introduction: Unity, Excommunication, and Essentials Only
Excommunication: Historical Context, the Gospels (Part 1)
Excommunication: the Gospels (Part 2)
Excommunication: Acts and Romans
Excommunication: Corinthians
Excommunication: Galatians
Excommun.: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians
Excommunication: Paul’s Letters to Timothy
Excommunication: Titus, Hebrews, James, Peter’s Epistles
Excommunication: John’s Epistles, Jude, and Revelation
Excommunication: Biblical Assessment
Excommunication: Historical, Logical Assessments, Conclusions


Part Three: Conclusions
A Historical Assessment of an Essentials Only View
 
Besides contravening biblical teaching, an Essentials Only View is also plagued with historical difficulties. In part two of his article on essential doctrines (available at equip.org) Dr. Geisler himself explains that trying to determine essential Christian doctrines through a historical approach has many pitfalls.
 
What are the essential doctrines of the Christian faith? One way to answer this question, as noted in part one of this series, is to take a historical approach: the essential doctrines are those found in the early creeds of the church. Another way to answer this is to take a logical approach. This approach is better, since it avoids many of the pitfalls of the historical approach, especially the debate about which creeds and councils should be accepted. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part Two), The Logical Approach, JAE100-2, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-two-
 
As the above quote states, part one of Dr. Geisler’s article attempts to establish the essential doctrines of Christianity using historic creeds. As Geisler himself says, the creedal approach has many pitfalls.
 
1. The first problem of the historical approach is articulated succinctly by Geisler as he explains that Christian organizations today “debate about which creeds and councils should be accepted.” In part one of his article Geisler goes through the available creedal information that is commonly used by Christian scholars to establish essential Christian doctrine from post-biblical sources. He refers to three confessions and four councils that are of particular importance.
 
However, Geisler notes that major Christian groups today disagree with one another in regards to which creeds and councils have weight. Roman Catholicism, the single largest Christian organization today, holds twenty one church councils to be binding in regards to the Christian faith. On the other hand, the Eastern Orthodox Church only accepts seven councils. In addition, Christians that follow Anabaptist traditions reject any historical council or its creedal proclamations.
 
A historical approach to the topic of the essentials of the faith begins with the earliest creeds embedded in the New Testament and traces creedal development through the early forms of the Apostles Creed to the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. Unity among all major sections of Christendom is found in the statement: One Bible, two testaments, three confessions, four councils, and five centuries. From here there are divergent views, such as Eastern Orthodoxy's acceptance of seven general church councils and Roman Catholicism's acceptance of twenty-one. Anabaptists reject the authority of any church council but accept in general the doctrines that were declared at the first four councils, based on their belief in sola scriptura (the Bible alone). – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
Herein lays one of the critical problems of a conventional historic approach to defining essential Christian doctrines. The problem is that Christian groups disagree on which creeds and councils can authoritatively speak to this matter. And if Christians can’t agree on which creedal documents or council decrees are binding then we won’t be able to use historic sources in order to arrive at an agreed upon standard of the faith.
 
Any general agreement that does exist on the value of earlier councils and creeds is undermined by disagreement over the authority of later sources. After all, if Christian organizations have the right to reject later creeds or the doctrinal decrees of later councils which other organizations accept, why then would any Christian be bound to accept doctrinal decrees from any council or creed no matter which other groups accept them? Geisler’s preference to employ a logical approach confirms that no viable solutions exist to this dilemma. In other words, historic approaches to determining essential doctrines are untenable because there is no requirement for Christian groups to accept the authority of any council or creedal doctrinal declaration.
 
The historical approach requires an inherently circular selection process in order to establish essential doctrine. Invariably, some historical sources are rejected by one Christian organization or another because that organization disagrees with the doctrinal determinations given in that source. In order to arrive at a set of historical creeds that a large body of Christians today will be willing to accept, one has to select the particular historical documents that certain Christian groups today are likely to accept. Of course, other organizations that may just as sincerely believe themselves to be Christians may disagree with any particular set of creedal declarations. So, in large part, selecting creedal statements to establish essential doctrines is inherently an exercise in circular reasoning.
 
More often than not, and particularly for lay persons, the process can be outlined as follows. First, you determine which modern church groups you want to include as orthodox Christians. The next step is to find out where these groups agree and disagree doctrinally. Next you find creeds and councils that: a) promote what these target groups agree on and b) permit varying opinions where the target groups disagree with one another. In short, the councils and creeds are not identified as authoritative and binding because such traits are objectively apparent and independently established. Instead, the first step is identifying the common denominators among a pool of modern denominations. Then the creeds and councils are identified as authoritative depending on whether each creed or council conform to the bare minimum or exceed it. Outlining this process shows its inherently circular nature.
 
2. A second problem with these types of historical approaches, which restrict essential doctrines to only a few select issues, can be seen by studying the historical data of early church periods.
 
As we have seen, the New Testament nowhere provides a list or limited set of essential doctrines. Passages such as Acts 10:36-43, 1 Corinthians 15:16, and 1 Timothy 3:16 mention some doctrines in a few verses. However, the doctrines listed in these passages are not identical. Likewise, the doctrines mentioned in these lists are not themselves sufficiently explicit in their explanation of doctrine or sufficient in what doctrines they include. At least some critical doctrines are left out of one or all of these passages. Therefore, as Geisler himself states in his examination of these passages, we cannot take these passages to be New Testament listings of essential doctrines.
 
Another creed-like statement is found in 1 Corinthians 15:35…Here, too, the essentials of the gospel (v. 1) are preserved, but there is no reason to believe that these are all the fundamental Christian doctrines. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), The Logical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
Many of the New Testament books and creed-like statements…There are several of these short creed-like confessions. One is found in 1 Timothy 3:16…It contains (1) the deity of Christ, (2) His incarnation (humanity), (3) His resurrection, (4) His proclamation and reception, and (5) His ascension. Brief and important as it is, however, there is no reason to believe that it was intended to state all of the essentials of the Christian faith. It, nonetheless, expresses core Christian doctrines. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
However, there is a considerable gap in time between the New Testament and the earliest known form of the historic Christian creeds that Essentials Only advocates appeal to. The major creeds Dr. Geisler identifies in his article are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The form of the Apostles’ Creed that is used today didn’t come into existence until about 750 AD. But it is very close to an earlier version known as the Gallican Creed, which is attributed to the sixth century.
 
The current form of the Apostles’ Creed did not take shape until about AD 750. 4 It differs little in substance from the Gallican Creed. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
The Gallican Creed. By the sixth century, certain changes had occurred in the Apostles’ Creed. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
Likewise, the next earliest creed is the Nicene Creed. According to Geisler, the earliest form of this creed is dated to 325 AD.
 
The Nicene Creed (AD 325)…The original AD 325 version states (with significant additions to the Apostles): – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
Although earlier versions of the Apostles Creed are thought to have existed, we do not have documentary evidence of the exact form of that creed prior to the sixth century. Therefore, the Nicene Creed is the earliest creed that we have in a documented form. Any careful observer will note that there are around 230 years between the apostles themselves and the Nicene Creed. If the point is to determine what doctrines the historic Christian faith has always held to it is quite a problem to have the earliest documents come 300 years after Christ and around 230 years after the final book of the New Testament was written (approximately 96 AD.)
 
Imagine that someone 1,500 years from now was trying to determine what America always essentially stood for from the earliest times and they limited themselves to material dating from our present time and afterward. Most conservative American Christians today would be uncomfortable with this kind of approach. This is because many American Christians believe that the United States as it is today has slid away from its original Christian values. Likewise, it even more inadequate to attempt to determine what Christians always believed by skipping the first three centuries of church history.
 
There is a great deal of written material available from the first three centuries of church history prior to the Council of Nicaea. Is it responsible or fair to leave out these valuable descriptions of the Christian faith simply because Christians of these eras didn’t get together at a council and make some sort of decree? If the goal is to determine what Christians believed from the earliest times, then it is certainly arbitrary to limit ourselves to particular documents that come several hundred years after the church began. The only possible reason for such a selection is that creedal documents of this time are agreeable to mainstream Christian standards today. But such an approach will always be circular and enable us only to find modern Christianity wherever we decide to look with our filtered glasses (regardless of whether it actually existed their or not.)
 
3. A third problem for the creedal approach to establishing essential doctrines concerns the effectiveness of creeds. The earliest forms of the most ancient creeds do not actually contain the kinds of details that would provide grounds for breaking fellowship with modern groups that are generally considered excommunicable cults or heretics even by Essentials Only advocates.
 
Dr. Geisler provides the earliest form of the Apostles’ Creed in his article on equip.org. No date is given for this document because it is not precisely known. At any rate, an examination of the creed shows that it doesn’t contain a sufficient list of essential doctrines or even an adequately explicit articulation of the doctrines it does list.
 
The Old Roman Creed. The earliest form of the Apostles’ Creed came into existence in Rome: I believe in God Almighty, and in Christ Jesus, His only Son, our Lord; who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary; who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried, and the third day rose from the dead; who ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, whence he cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost, the holy church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, the life everlasting. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
This Old Roman Creed proclaims belief in:
1. God Almighty
2. Holy Spirit
3. Christ Jesus, God’s only son, our Lord
4, The virgin birth by the power of the Holy Spirit
5. Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate
6. Jesus’ burial
7. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day
8. Jesus’ ascension
9. Christ’s sitting now at the right hand of the Father
10. Jesus’ coming to judge the living and the dead
11. The holy church
12. The remission of sins
13. The resurrection of the flesh
14. Life everlasting
 
Such a creed is not even able to discriminate against non-Trinitarian, Arians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarians, or Mormons unless we are willing to assume and require things that are not stated or explained in the creed itself. The exact nature and relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to one another, Jesus’ divine and human nature, whether the Holy Spirit is a person or not, eternal damnation, and many other important biblical teachings are not defined sufficiently in this creed.
 
The current form of the Apostles’ Creed is not much different from the Old Roman Creed. Its only real additions are the identification of God as the Creator of heaven and earth and the statement that Christ descended into hell.
 
The current form of the Apostles’ Creed did not take shape until about AD 750…:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh [Gk. sarx], and life everlasting. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
We must again note that most of the Christian organizations, which Essentials Only advocates separate from, could agree to the doctrinal statements made in this creed. This is especially true if they are allowed to make their own assumptions and explanations about things that the creed doesn’t specifically articulate.
 
5. Likewise, we should note that the inclusion of Christ’s descent into hell is a belief that, according to CRI (in their article critiquing Joyce Meyer), is disputed by historic as well as modern Christianity.
 
“…historic Christianity has debated the issue of whether or not Jesus actually descended into hell…” – The Teachings of Joyce Meyer, DM472, CRI Statement, http://www.equip.org/articles/the-teachings-of-joyce-meyer
 
This is another fundamental problem with a historic approach to establishing essential Christian doctrine. It is the problem of creedal inconsistency. The fact is that creeds differ in regard to what doctrines they list as essential. We cannot use creeds to establish beliefs that are essential for fellowship and then turn around and ourselves dispute whether particular doctrines included in the creeds can be disputed. Once this possibility is acknowledged and allowed that creeds may be in error or may be overreaching, then the idea of appealing to creeds to establish essential doctrine is forfeit.
 
This problem is only compounded when we realize that Christ’s descent into hell is mentioned in the Gallican form of the Apostle’s Creed (sixth century AD), the current form of the Apostle’s Creed (750 AD), and the Athanasian Creed (428 AD.)  
 
The Gallican Creed…: I believe in God the Father Almighty. I also believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell, rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, sat down at the right hand of the Father, thence He is to come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh and life eternal. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
The Athanasian Creed (c. AD 428 or later)…: For the right faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance [essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and man, of the substance [essence] of his mother, born in the world; perfect God, and perfect man; of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood. Who although He be God and man; yet He is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God. One altogether; not confusion of substance [essence], but by unity of person. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account of their works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
One might ask why CRI (equip.org) stipulates that Christians historically have disputed Christ’s descent into hell. One answer is that while Christ’s descent into hell is mentioned in several creeds, it isn’t mentioned in the Old Roman Creed, the Nicene Creed (325 AD), or the Creed of Chalcedon (451 AD).
 
These facts invite important questions regarding our use of the creeds to establish essential doctrines. First, if an earlier creed doesn’t mention a particular doctrine does that give later creeds (or later Christians) license to add it and require it as essential for fellowship? If we allow for this type of addition then we have no means of prohibiting later Christians from seeking to elaborate essential Christian doctrine beyond the items listed in early creeds. In other words, later Christians could add more and more items to the list of “essential doctrines” and break fellowship with other groups over these additions not mentioned in earlier creeds. As such the creeds become useless for fixing essential Christian doctrine.
 
On the other hand if we prohibit Christians from adding doctrines that weren’t articulated in earlier creeds, then we must allow into fellowship anyone who can agree with the stipulations of the earliest creeds. Again, this would require that we admit into greater Christian fellowship many of the modern Christian groups that even Essentials Only advocates would have us separate from.
 
The inclusion and omission of Christ’s descent into hell by alternating creeds from the third to seventh century is not the only doctrinal issue upon which these creeds vary. An obvious look at these creeds shows that the earliest creeds tend to be the shortest and least explicit while the later creeds tend to be much longer and more explicit. These facts again create a catch-22 regarding the use of creeds to establish the essential doctrines of the historic Christian faith. The point is that Christian groups and documents at different times don’t articulate the exact same creedal beliefs. If what was omitted in earlier documents can be added later and Christian groups are free to reject decrees which some more ancient Christian groups hold to be authoritative, then a creedal approach is futile. And an Essentials Only View based upon creedal appeals cannot in any way prohibit Christians today from adding new doctrinal requirements to the list of essentials.
 
3. A third problem for the creedal approach to establishing Christian doctrine concerns creedal statements about the son-ship of the Word of God. Several of the earlier creeds associate the son-ship and begetting of the Word of God with his divine nature prior to creation rather than to his incarnation as a man 2000 years ago. As such, these creeds clearly profess the belief that, in regards to his divinity, the divine Word was somehow eternally begotten by the Father before the creation of the world.  
 
The Nicene Creed (AD 325):
...We believe...in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
The Constantinopolitan Creed. The enlarged, Constantinople version of AD 381 reads (with significant changes indicated in italics):
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
The Athanasian Creed (c. AD 428 or later):
...For the right faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance [essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and man, of the substance [essence] of his mother, born in the world; perfect God, and perfect man; of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1,
 
The Creed of Chalcedon (AD 451):
...Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational [human] soul and a body. He is of the same reality as God as far as His deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as His humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of His deity, and now in these last days, for us and behalf of[nkp54]  our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of His humanness. We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten in two natures; – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
It must be noted that the belief that, with respect to his divinity, the idea that the Word of God was begotten eternally before creation is a novel idea not professed in the New Testament. In contrast to this the bible only associates the son-ship and begetting of the Word of God with his incarnation as a man born of the virgin Mary at a particular point in human history. By becoming a man the Word of God became part of creation (although at the same time remaining fully God and, therefore, remaining beyond creation). In becoming part of creation at the incarnation, the Word of God became the Son of God.
 
This is certainly how these terms and concepts originate in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. John does not introduce, apply, or use the idea of son-ship or begetting until verse 14 where he refers to the incarnation with the words “the Word was made flesh.” Prior to the incarnation, John simply refers to the Word as the Word of God and as God. According to John’s usage, son-ship and begetting are only mentioned after the incarnation. This makes perfect sense.
 
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. 18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
 
Hebrews follows John 1. The opening verses of Hebrews quote Psalms 2 and present the son-ship and begetting of the Word as a particular event that occurred at a specific point in human history. The second portion of verse 5 even says “he will be to me a son” indicating that he was not a son previously or eternally throughout the past. Therefore, the begetting and son-ship is not an eternally existing condition since before the beginning of creation. Furthermore, Hebrews relates the begetting and son-ship to the Word’s coming into the world and being worshipped by angels. The gospels record that the angels worshipped the Word as the Son when he was born as a man in Bethlehem 2000 years ago (Luke 2:10-14).
 
Hebrews 1:5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
 
If the terms “son-ship” and “begetting” originate in the New Testament in reference to the Word becoming a man (incarnation) at a particular point in human history, then it is a doctrinal error for these creeds to assert that the Word was eternally begotten before the world in regards to his divine nature. Two additional considerations make these creedal statements concerning.
 
First, the Council of Nicaea is the first to express the eternally begotten son-ship of the Word of God. This council was chiefly concerned with settling different points of view with regard to the Word. On the one hand, there were the Arians. Arians believed the Word of God was a created being who was begotten by the Father at some point prior to creation. The Arian view paralleled the Gnostic teaching of a created divine being they identified by the Greek word “only-begotten” (“monogenes.”) The Gnostics viewed the Christ spirit as a divinely begotten (or emanating) being who rested on the human Jesus. In contrast to the Arians, other participants in the Council of Nicaea asserted that the Word was not a created being, but rather was eternally God. Both groups proposed drafts to the Council to be approved of as creedal declarations.
 
The Nicene Creed is the result of the decisions made by the council and it reflects the language its participants agreed upon. As the creed articulates the council adopted the position that the Word of God was eternally begotten by the Father and later became incarnate as a man being born of the virgin Mary. Later creeds articulated this concept as it was intended and expressed that, in regard to his deity, the Word was eternally begotten by the Father before the worlds and later became incarnate. Therefore, these creedal statements assert an unbiblical view of the begetting and son-ship of the Word of God and instead reflect a compromise with the language of false teachings originally rooted in Gnostic and Greek religious thought. This is one of the very doctrinal matters that the apostles forbid Christians from allowing in the New Testament. As such, there is good reason to conclude that even these widely accepted creeds contain a doctrinal error on a subject that in anyone’s perspective is an essential doctrine (the nature of the Godhead and Christ’s nature.)
 
All the more problematic is the fact that modern Christians often attempt to use these creeds as a means to discriminate against Christian groups who have a false understanding of the Word of God on this very topic. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses (like the Arians at the Council of Nicaea) believe that the Word of God is a created, rather than eternal being. On this matter, most Christians today (ourselves included) view the understanding of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as biblically erroneous and as requiring their excommunication. A problem arises, however, when one attempts to use creeds to break fellowship over doctrinal issues on which the creeds themselves err. Regarding the doctrine of the begetting and son-ship of the Word of God, there is good reason to be concerned about these creedal assertions. And whether we’re talking about the son-ship of the Word or Christ’s descent into hell, it is a necessary and natural fact that if the creeds themselves are doctrinally compromised or unreliable then they cannot be used to determine correct Christian beliefs. For modern Christians to discriminate against other Christian groups for a false doctrinal view that most Christians and churches today also err on (through their appeals to these creeds) is completely hypocritical.
 
4. Fourth, if our purpose is to establish essential Christian doctrines through a survey of church history, we must at least give some attention to Christian writings of the period before the earliest known creeds. To forego this task undermines the principle of an appeal to the historic beliefs of the church. On the other hand, any investigation of the widely held beliefs of the earliest church will prove injurious to an Essentials Only View and the modern church system.
 
Christians of the first few centuries exhibit a shared agreement without variance on a host of doctrinal issues over which the modern church feels free to differ. We have already provided significant examples of this earlier in our study. For our purposes here it is only necessary to state that Christian writers of the first three centuries universally held to very particular eschatological and soteriological views. In today’s theological terms they were:
 
1. Freewill, NOT Calvinist – They were strongly in favor of free will and human capacity to choose to believe and repent through rational contemplation of scripture and evidence.
2. Progressive Dispensational, NOT Covenant Theology and Traditional Dispensationalism – They believed that Old and New Testament saints both receive an earthly, promised kingdom with Christ present. They were futurist, premillennial, and post-tribulational.
 
Patristic literature, The ante-Nicene period - The Gnostic writers – …pervasive philosophical-religious movement known as Gnosticism. This movement made a strong bid to absorb Christianity in the 2nd century…the church eventually maintained its identity intact…vital issues on which it differed sharply from the Gnostics. Chief among these were…their division of humanity into a spiritual elite able to achieve salvation and, below this elite…people cut off from salvation.” – Encyclopedia Britannica
 
Predestination – History of the doctrine – Church Fathers on the doctrine –
The early church fathers consistently uphold the freedom of human choice. This position was crucial in the Christian confrontation with Cynicism and some of the chief forms of Gnosticism, such as Manichaeism, which taught that man is by nature flawed and therefore not responsible for evil in himself or in the world. At the same time, belief in human responsibility to do good as a precursor to salvation and eternal reward was consistent...The early church Fathers taught a doctrine of conditional predestination...Conditional Predestination, or more commonly referred to as conditional election, is a theological stance stemming from the writings and teachings of Jacobus Arminius, after whom Arminianism is named... – wikipedia.org
 

Premillennialism – (Chiliasm) - The concept of…earthly messianic kingdom at the Messiah's coming was not an invention of Christianity. Instead it was a theological interpretation developed within the apocalyptic literature of early Judaism....For the larger part, Christian eschatology through the second and third centuries was chiliastic. Many early Christian interpreters applied the earlier Jewish apocalyptic idea of…Messianic kingdom…Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian all made explicit references to the concept of a thousand year earthly kingdom at Christ’s coming... - wikipedia.org
 
Patristic Literature (Christianity) - The Apostolic Fathers - But the real key to the theology of the Apostolic Fathers, which also explains its often curious imagery, is that it is Jewish-Christian through and through, expressing itself in categories derived from latter-day Judaism and apocalyptic literature (depicting the intervention of God in history in the last times), which were soon to become unfashionable and be discarded. - Encyclopedia Britannica
 
Millennialism or chiliasmmillenarian beliefs have fallen into disfavor in mainstream Christian theology today, this was not the case during the early Christian centuries. At least during the first four centuries, millennialism was normative in both East and West. Tertullian, Commodian, Lactantius, Methodius, and Apollinaris of Laodicea all advocated premillennial doctrine…Chiliasm was…condemned as a heresy in the 4th century by the Church...nearly universal condemnation of the doctrine over a gradual period of time, beginning with Augustine of Hippo...the virtual annihilation of millennialism from the 4th Century onwards.
wikipedia.org
 
Prophecy, Prophetic and millenarian movements in later Christianity – Though the key leaders of the Protestant Reformation opposed chiliasm, and therefore minimized its effects upon the emergent denominations (e.g., Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican)…” – Britannica.com
 
"Eschatology, Eschatology in religions of the West, Post-Biblical Christianity, The views of AugustineThe millenarian, in contrast to Augustine, had no quarrel with the world as such except that he had found it controlled by his enemies. The millenarian believed that when the imminently expected saviour had defeated these foes, the righteous would share in an earthly paradise, a land of physical, not spiritual, benefits… Augustine's allegorical millennialism became the official doctrine of the church, and apocalypticism went undergroundthe doctrine of Augustine remained unchallenged until the 17th century. The Protestant Reformers of the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican traditions were not apocalypticists but remained firmly attached to the views of Augustine, for whose theology they felt a particular affinityThe Augustinian millennial world view, though it survived the Reformation…" - Britannica.com
 
Millennium – [Lat.,=1,000 years], the period of 1,000 years in which, according to some schools of Christian eschatology, Christ will reign again gloriously on earth. Belief in the millennium, based on Rev. 20, has recurred in Christianity since the earliest times. Today it is held and taught by the Adventists and some other conservative evangelical bodies. Belief in the millennium is called chiliasm by historians of the ancient church. See Judgment Day.” – The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.  2001.
 
5. Fifth, early Christians writing before the church councils explicitly endorsed a requirement for unity that was comprehensive rather than limited. And they likewise endorsed excommunication over a comprehensive rather than limited range of issues.
 
Earlier in our study, we examined 1 Timothy 6:20, where Paul warned Timothy about the “oppositions of science falsely so called.” We noted that the Greek word for “science” is “gnosis” and that this was likely to be an early reference to the religious movement known as Gnosticism, which combined elements from Greek mysticism and Platonism with some of the terms and concepts found in Christianity. We also noted that the early Christian apologist Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who, in turn, was a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus wrote extensively against the Gnostics.
 
"Irenaeus, Saint - c.125-c.202, Greek theologian, bishop of Lyons, and Father of the Church. Born in Asia Minor, he was a disciple of St. Polycarp…He was the earliest Father of the Church to systematize Christian doctrine and is cited frequently by later theologians. Only two of his works survive-neither in the original Greek. Against Heresies establishes Christian doctrine against the Gnostics and incidentally supplies much information on Gnosticism. - Columbia Encyclopedia
 
In fact, Ireneaus quoted Paul’s language from 1 Timothy 6 and applied it directly to the Gnostics.
 
CHAP. XXVI. 2. Let those persons, therefore, who blaspheme the Creator, either by openly expressed words, such as the disciples of Marcion, a perversion of the sense [of Scripture], as those of Valentinus and all the Gnostics falsely so called. – Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK IV
 
2. Let those persons, therefore, who blaspheme the Creator, either by openly expressed words, such as the disciples of Marcion, or by a perversion of the sense [of Scripture], as those of Valentinus and all the Gnostics falsely so called, be recognised as agents of Satan by all those who worship God;Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK V, CHAP. XXVI,
 

1 Timothy 6:20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science (Strong’s number 1108, gnosis) falsely so called: 21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith.
 
Irenaeus specifically criticizes the Gnostics on the grounds that they twisted scripture to fit with ideas that comingled pagan mystical and philosophical concepts.
 
CHAP. XV. 2. By these words they entrap the more simple, and entice them, imitating our phraseology…When they have thus, by means of questions, overthrown the faith of any... - Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK III
 

CHAP. VIII.1. Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures;(4) and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. - Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK I

 
...they have apostatized in their opinions from Him who is God, and imagined that they have themselves discovered more than the apostles, by finding out another god; and [maintained] that the apostles preached the Gospel still somewhat under the influence of Jewish opinions, but that they themselves are purer [in doctrine], and more intelligent, than the apostles."
Irenaeus, BOOK III. CHAP. XII., DOCTRINE OF THE REST OF THE APOSTLES
 
We have repeatedly seen statements from Acts 1, Matthew 28, and Mark 16 that Jesus’ commanded his apostles to teach everything they had learned from him to all men everywhere. And throughout the epistles, we have seen Paul remind Christians in various cities that he had taught the same thing everywhere and that they must keep the teachings exactly as he taught them.
 
In the quotes above, Irenaeus is simply carrying on this tradition from Jesus and the apostles. But his words have dire consequences for the Essentials Only View because he clearly condemns those who seek to “evolve” or change Christian understanding over time and who seek to adapt scripture to fit with this new understanding. Such comments from Irenaeus reflect the New Testament command for Christians to remain in the understanding of Christ’s teachings exactly as it had been taught by the apostles, without the kind of divergence exhibited by the Pharisees and Sadducees toward the Law of Moses or by the Gnostics with regard to the New Testament.
 
But Irenaeus does not stop there. Consider the quote below in which Irenaeus echoes the words of Jesus and Paul by describing how the apostles taught every church “throughout the whole world” “all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man” could learn what the true version of Christ’s teaching is.

 
Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, Book III, CHAP III.

1. It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about.In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles…4. But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ…having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify…CHAP. IV. 1. Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life.(1) For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case?  Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question(2) among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?...CHAP. V. 1. Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth,(7) and that no lie is in Him.
 
Irenaeus’ words confirm the interpretations we have seen throughout the New Testament. According to Irenaeus, the churches in his day retained uniformity of understanding, just as Paul prescribed, and consequently it was possible to easily recognize false teaching as any teaching that diverged from the uniform understanding exhibited by the church everywhere. Ireneaus even testifies that Christians were “bound to avoid” all those whose understanding deviated from the uniform apostolic tradition.
 
The basis of a historical approach to essentials is that it looks at historical creeds and councils as having authority when it comes to the question of which doctrines are required for fellowship and excommunication. But if historical Christian beliefs are relevant to these questions, then the views of Christians who wrote before the time of the councils must also be taken into account. And like the New Testament itself, these writers were explicit that unity required agreement on every doctrine, not just a select few, and that excommunication was warranted for any divergence in belief or behavior. In other words, this earliest record of historic Christian beliefs is completely antagonistic to the Essentials Only View.
 
The point is that either post-biblical considerations of Christian beliefs are relevant and binding or they are not. We can’t disregard widely held beliefs of the earliest centuries because they disagree with many modern Christians today and then require adherence to later Christian doctrinal creeds or councils simply because they are agreeable to our modern theological preferences and denominational friendships.
 
We will conclude our historical assessment of an Essentials Only View by pointing out that seeking to limit essential Christian doctrine using historical sources is an inherently arbitrary and unprincipled endeavor. As such, all attempts to utilize select historical documents to establish doctrines over which Christians can and cannot break fellowship are hypocritical, self-serving, and necessarily require circular reasoning. Jesus condemned the Pharisees and Sadducees who exhibited this same kind of unprincipled, self-contradictory hypocrisy. They disagreed with one another on many theological issues and their only apparent standard for excommunication was when someone disagreed with them regarding issues where they collectively agreed with each other. Such is the fellowship standard that results from an Essentials Only View and its attempt to use historical creeds to define the doctrines that are essential for fellowship.
 
 
 
A Logical Assessment of an Essentials Only View
 
The final criterion that we will use to evaluate an Essentials Only View is logic. We have already seen that an Essentials Only View fails biblical and historical standards. Besides its reliance on circular reasoning, an Essentials Only View fails under the weight of its own logic.
 
In his two-part article on essential Christian doctrines, Dr. Norman Geisler lists 14 doctrines that, in his opinion, are the only issues Christians can rightly divide over. According to Geisler, the strongest and most reliable approach for identifying these doctrines is a logical approach. In fact, the second part of his article is devoted to providing what he believes is the logical basis for identifying only these particular 14 doctrines as essential for Christians fellowship.
 
What are the essential doctrines of the Christian faith? One way to answer this question, as noted in part one of this series, is to take a historical approach: the essential doctrines are those found in the early creeds of the church. Another way to answer this is to take a logical approach. This approach is better, since it avoids many of the pitfalls of the historical approach, especially the debate about which creeds and councils should be accepted. The logical approach simply begins with the teachings of the New Testament on salvation and asks, What are the essential doctrines on salvation without which salvation would not be possible?...Salvation as described in the Bible, based in the deity, death, and resurrection of Christ—which is the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–6)—entails all these essential doctrines, including: (1) human depravity, (2) Christ’s virgin birth, (3) Christ’s sinlessness, (4) Christ’s deity, (5) Christ’s humanity, (6) God’s unity, (7) God’s triunity, (8) the necessity of God’s grace, (9) the necessity of faith, (10) Christ’s atoning death, (11) Christ’s bodily resurrection, (12) Christ’s bodily ascension, (13) Christ’s present high priestly service, (14) Christ’s second coming, final judgment, and reign. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part Two), The Logical Approach, JAE100-2, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-two-
 
However, Dr. Geisler is ultimately not even willing to demand all 14 of these topics as essential.
 
One can believe heretical views on some doctrines, however, and still be saved. Being saved (justified) depends only on believing certain saving truths such as Christ’s deity, His death for our sins, and His resurrection. One may disbelieve the virgin birth, inspiration of the Bible, Christ’s ascension, and second coming, however, and still be saved. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part Two), The Logical Approach, JAE100-2, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-two-
 
Using Geisler’s logic, the virgin birth, bodily ascension of Christ, Christ’s second coming, and the final judgment are not essential doctrines that Christians must necessarily believe in. Thus, Geisler whittles down the list even from 14 to 10 points. But Geisler goes on not only to reaffirm the removal of these 4 items but also to abandon the need for 2 other items, including a correct view of the Trinity and any particular version of human depravity. Ultimately, Geisler ends up with only 8 “essentials,” nearly half of the original number of 14 items.
 

It is not necessary, however, to believe all of these to be saved (justified). The minimum necessary to believe in order to be saved is: (1) human depravity, (3) Christ’s sinlessness, (4) Christ’s deity, (5) Christ’s humanity, (6) God’s unity, (7) God’s triunity, (8) the necessity of God’s grace, (9) the necessity of faith, (10) Christ’s atoning death, and (11) Christ’s bodily resurrection. It is not necessary to believe in (2) Christ’s virgin birth, (12) Christ’s bodily ascension, (13) Christ’s present service, or (14) Christ’s second coming and final judgment as a condition for obtaining a right standing with God (justification). Even some of those beliefs that are necessary may be more implicit than explicit; for example, human depravity and God’s triunity. Regarding human depravity, one must believe that he is a sinner in need of a Savior, but need not believe all that the orthodox doctrine of human depravity involves, such as the inheritance of a sin nature. The deity of Christ, likewise, is involved, which in turn involves at least two persons who are God (the Father and the Son); but there is no reason to think that to be saved one must understand and explicitly believe the orthodox doctrine of the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit who is united with those two persons in one nature (i.e., one God). Many people, in fact, do not understand this doctrine clearly, even years after they were saved. All of the essential doctrines are necessary to make salvation possible, but not all are essential for one to believe in order for one to be saved. All are essential to believe to be a consistent Christian, but not all are necessary to believe to become a Christian.” – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-two-
 
Moreover, each time Dr. Geisler offers a reason for reducing the list of essentials he creates a classic slippery slope and further undermines any logical argument for the necessity of the remaining items on the list. And by designating such persons as legitimate “saved” Christians in spite of their divergent views on these topics, Dr. Geisler is in effect placing them within the family of those we should include, rather than exclude, when it comes to fellowship.
 
In the end, Dr. Geisler’s article provides an example of how vanishingly small the list of essentials is in an Essentials Only View. As the conclusion of his article reveals, Geisler’s concept of the logical mandates for essential doctrines also fails. Geisler admits that the logic of his argument, in fact, would not require someone to necessarily agree to all 14 doctrines. In other words, even Geisler’s essential doctrines aren’t actually essential. As Geisler explains, even some of his “essentials” don’t have to be believed in order for someone to be a true Christian.

 

This list of essentials is so short virtually anybody who calls themselves a Christian must be allowed for fellowship. It would seem that a logical argument to support an Essentials Only View is hardly capable of producing a viable or effective standard for discriminating against any false beliefs and false Christians, even against many historical and modern groups that most Christians  today (including CRI) would want to separate from.
 
Before we move on, it is important to take note that within the confines of Geisler’s attempt at a logical argument for defining essential doctrines, even the Trinity is not necessarily a required belief.
 
“For example, a person who believes in the deity of Christ and the oneness of God is implicitly a Trinitarian, even though he (or she) does not explicitly believe (because he is yet untaught) the formal doctrine of the Trinity. It would seem that such a person who believes the gospel (that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins and was resurrected) can be saved without yet being an explicit Trinitarian.” – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part Two), The Logical Approach, JAE100-2, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-two-
 

It is not necessary, however, to believe all of these to be saved (justified)…Even some of those beliefs that are necessary may be more implicit than explicit; for example, human depravity and God’s triunity…there is no reason to think that to be saved one must understand and explicitly believe the orthodox doctrine of the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit who is united with those two persons in one nature (i.e., one God). Many people, in fact, do not understand this doctrine clearly, even years after they were saved.” – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-two-
 
Such admissions that the Trinity is not required by the logic of an Essentials Only View seem strange given the fact that CRI rejects Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarian Pentecostals as excommunicable heretics on the grounds that they are not Trinitarian. Although we have already finished our historical analysis, it is worth noting the opening line of the first quote below. In that opening sentence, CRI seems to anticipate that the Oneness Pentecostal Church falls within the requirements of the creeds, which vaguely proclaim that there is only one God and that Jesus is fully God without further Trinitarian specifications. Yet CRI rejects the Oneness Pentecostal Church despite its conformity to creedal language.
 
The United Pentecostal Church International teaches that there's only one God, and that Jesus is fully God. Can we therefore regard it as a Christian church? The United Pentecostal Church International- Rejection of the Trinity – Although there may possibly be individuals in the United Pentecostal Church who are indeed Christians, we believe that the church as a whole is heretical. Like other pseudo-Christian groups, the United Pentecostal flatly denies the doctrine of the Trinity.” – Is the United Pentecostal Church International a Christian Church?, CP0603, http://www.equip.org/perspectives/united-pentecostal-church
 
ARE JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES CHRISTIAN? - Conclusion
Finally, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach doctrines that are completely opposed to orthodox Christianity. For instance, they deny the Trinity, that Jesus is God, that salvation is by grace through faith, and that Christ rose from the dead in his own body. Despite their sincerity and dedication, we can only affirm that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians. On Jehovah’s Witnesses, that’s the CRI Perspective. I’m Hank Hanegraaff.” – Are Jehovah's Witnesses Christian?, CP0410, http://www.equip.org/perspectives/are-jehovah-s-witnesses-christian
 
There are several issues here.
 
First, concerning the historical argument for the Essentials Only View, CRI recognizes that the doctrines outlined by the creeds are not sufficient as a measuring stick for who to fellowship with and who to excommunicate. CRI realizes that there are essential doctrinal details that are simply not specified in the creeds.
 
Second, concerning the logical argument for the Essentials Only View, CRI is severing fellowship from whole groups of self-proclaimed Christians on a doctrinal point that CRI’s own article admits ultimately cannot be defended or demanded logically. This kind of hypocrisy is all too typical. Certain Christians are labeled as outside the faith by Essentials Only advocates for no reliable reason. Our point here is not that Oneness Pentecostals or Jehovah’s Witnesses should be included. They shouldn’t. But the main problem here is that without firm logical or historical support CRI itself ends up being the ultimate authority for determining which doctrines and which churches are inside and outside of the true Christian faith. But CRI is just an example. This same process repeats with all Essentials Only advocates because the model itself is baseless due to its inherent flaws.
 
An additional logical contradiction is exhibited by the Essentials Only View’s response to church and denominational division. According to the Essentials Only View of Dr. Geisler and CRI, Christians cannot rightly break fellowship with other Christians over “nonessential doctrines.” In fact, according to an Essentials Only View it is “a great error” to break fellowship over nonessentials.
 
Third, the essential doctrines are the only truths over which we rightly can divide (i.e., break fellowship)…it is a great error for those who hold the truth to be divided where nonessentials are concerned (e.g., Eph. 4:3). – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
 
And yet, the very churches and denominations that an Essentials Only View accepts are themselves divided from one another in communion and fellowship over precisely those doctrinal issues that are deemed nonessential. That is what denominations are after all even though they may pay lip service to accepting one another. This is a blatant contradiction.
 
If Christians and churches are not allowed to separate fellowship over differences on nonessential doctrines, then how can Essentials Only advocates approve of churches and denominations which, in fact, are divided explicitly because of their differences on nonessential doctrines? If such doctrines cannot rightly be divided over, then why do Christians and leaders who subscribe to an Essentials Only View not speak out against the existence of denominations and work towards the dissolution of the denominational church system? On the other hand, if denominational division over these nonessential doctrines is seen as acceptable by Essentials Only advocates, then what value is there in making statements about doctrines over which Christians cannot rightly divide?
 
The fact that many Essentials Only advocates are themselves committed members of (or leaders in) churches and denominations that have officially separated fellowship from other churches over “nonessential” doctrines demonstrates either a sincere (but serious) oversight or perhaps something worse. Essentials Only advocates who are sincere about their convictions would not support any church that engaged in division over nonessentials. This is informative.
 
Rather than criticizing modern denominational churches, Essentials Only advocates typically only get vocal about division when it comes to Christians withdrawing from the denominational church system (such as into house churches.) As such, an Essentials Only View is often only used to support the modern, denominational church system – a system that embodies the very type of division over nonessentials that an Essentials Only View prohibits and condemns.
 
3. A final logical contradiction of an Essentials Only View should also be mentioned before we close this section. As evidenced by their literature (not to mention personal conversations) those who do not subscribe to an Essentials Only View are commonly labeled as divisive. Being divisive is often directly or indirectly associated by Essentials Only advocates as cult-like behavior. This same criticism and concern is often expressed for Christians who depart from the modern church system into a house church environment.
 
Whether implicit or explicit, assertions of divisive or cult-like activity suggest dangerous behaviors that healthy, level-headed, orthodox Christians ought to avoid. Or at least that is the wisdom of the day from Essentials Only advocates. These types of statements are often employed to persuade Christians to remain in the modern church system. In this way, subscribing to an Essentials Only View and attending an institutional church are used as a hidden or unstated essential doctrine. Those who don’t subscribe to an Essentials Only View or go to an institutional church are seen as committing a dangerous error and will, in most cases, be avoided. Of course, such an approach is not typically stated overtly. Nonetheless, these notions are pervasive among modern Christians, especially those within the modern church system which is dominated by an Essentials Only View. And they are blatant contradictions of New Testament teaching which instead labels those who advocate divergent views as divisive, sectarian, and to be avoided.
 
Anyone paying attention and carefully considering the views, words, and actions of an Essentials Only View can reasonably and understandably come to the conclusion that it is simply a self-serving argument. In other words, an Essentials Only View is just an attempt to justify the use of the modern church system itself (rather than the bible) as the canon of the Christian faith. The nature of this agenda is demonstrated by the fact that an Essentials Only View fails biblical, historical, and logical criteria. In reality, the only thing an Essentials Only View succeeds in is providing the modern, denominational church system with an attempted justification for maintaining and approving of its own doctrinal divergences while at the same time casting dispersions on Christians and church organizations that don’t agree with its collective lowest-common-denominator theology. Of course, the inherently illogical and circular nature of this and its clear parallel to the Pharisees and Sadducees is either not addressed at all or not viewed as a concern by Essentials Only advocates.
 
 
 
Study Conclusions
 
As we conclude we want to be sure to point out that excommunication is a process. This process allows for false views and behaviors to be addressed and corrected. These opportunities are important to us as modern Christians because all of us have been trained in religious systems that have some measure of false teaching and false practices. As our own faith and behaviors are corrected we become more able to keep each other accountable as well. We have the responsibility to God and each other to do so. And we have the opportunity to interact with others who may have a false view or a sinful behavior and to try to persuade them to repent. Objectivity and patience are required.
 
Within Jesus’ system of excommunication, a Christian brother who had a false teaching or sinful behavior meriting excommunication could be reinstated to fellowship if they repented (Matthew 18:15-22, Luke 17:3-4.) In accordance with this, the apostles instructed Christians to reinstate into fellowship any excommunicated brother who repented of his sin (2 Corinthians 2:1-11, 7:8-12, 1 John 5:16-17.)
 
The purpose of excommunication is not spite or bitterness. Instead, the purpose is sincere and good. The objective is to keep individual Christians as well as the church accountable to all of Jesus’ teaching by keeping them free from sin and false beliefs, which if left unaddressed will continue to permeate the church in violation of God’s will. (See Matthew 18:15-22, Luke 17:1-4, 2 Corinthians 2:1-11, 7:8-12.) If we are to be Christ’s followers then we must keep his teachings. And Christ taught us to remain in all of his teachings and to excommunicate those who persist in doing otherwise. If we are to be his disciples, we must examine themselves, our families, our friends, our churches, and even our church leaders to make sure that we are all living in accordance with a correct understanding of New Testament teaching. When discrepancies arise we must apply the New Testament procedures for accountability.
 
If we do not address divergences from biblical teaching and instead continue to fellowship with Christians who are involved in them then we forfeit any legitimate justification for breaking fellowship with and condemning anyone else who violates biblical teaching. Furthermore, we do the very thing that Jesus forbids his followers from doing, that is, engaging in the self-serving, hypocritical practices and sectarian differences of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
 
As we close this study on doctrinal unity and excommunication we return again to the idea of the canon. Those of us who believe that the bible alone is our sole and ultimate authority and standard for the Christian faith should, without hesitation, willingly seek to conform ourselves and our churches to that standard. We have seen that the New Testament requires Christians and churches everywhere to be unified and in agreement with a single shared understanding of every doctrine whatsoever that Jesus and the apostles taught. And we have seen that the apostles did teach all of these same things to Christians everywhere. This uniform and universal understanding of correct teaching was conscientiously given by the apostles to the earliest Christian communities for the purposes of maintaining doctrinal fidelity and preventing divergent teaching and sin from entering and spreading in the church.
 
These biblical facts contradict the idea that the earliest church was not given a correct and wholly sufficient understanding of all doctrinal issues. To the contrary, we have seen that the New Testament is not open to doctrinal divergence among Christ’s followers. Likewise, the New Testament consistently instructs Christians to excommunicate any Christian brother or sister who persisted in any belief or behavior which deviated from anything that Jesus and the apostles taught.
 
And the New Testament isn’t silent on the cause of doctrinal division. Rather, the bible plainly states that doctrinal diversification results from seeking after things that were contrary to sound doctrine (being carnal,) to being influenced (knowingly or unknowingly) by false doctrinal views or worldly philosophies, to immaturity, to arrogance, to not being sufficiently familiar with apostolic teaching, to being unskilled or not consistently applying proper methods of scriptural interpretation, or to twisting the scripture to unintended meanings.
 
A study of church history shows that this is, in fact, what happened over the course of the last 20 centuries. At various points in history, Christians began to consider and adopt alternative and divergent doctrinal views, beliefs, behaviors, and practices that contradicted New Testament teaching as it was handed on to the earliest church. According to the New Testament, setting aside these teachings, allowing false views and unbiblical ideologies into the church, and refusing to excommunicate those who persist in sinful behaviors and incorrect understanding will result in the spread of erroneous doctrine and sin among the church. That is the church we live in today. It is one fractured by diverse denominations and doctrinal ideas. And it is a church where sinful behaviors go unchecked and unaddressed. We have even arrived at a point where concern about the prevalence of doctrinal divergence and sin in the church is seen as inappropriate and where taking action against these things is considered wrong.
 
It must be stated emphatically that the bible itself is the canon, the rule and only authoritative measure for the Christian faith – all of it, every verse and every doctrine in the New Testament is part of the canon. The bible defines what true Christianity is and what every Christian must believe. We must stop attempting to replace the bible with a shorter canon of the faith in the form of later creedal declarations and modern church norms both of which are measurements of mere human invention. We cannot simply cut the measuring rod of the Christian faith to a practical size so that we can effectively accommodate and approve of the doctrinal diversification and sinful behavior that exist in the church today. We cannot slice and gut the 27 books of the New Testament canon down to a few bullet-point creedal phrases that fit on half a printed page and say, “only these phrases are necessary, not the rest of what Jesus and his apostles taught.”
 
Instead, we must discard the pragmatic and untenable justifications of an Essentials Only View and return to the New Testament standard. We must follow New Testament requirements for total doctrinal unity and for the excommunication of those who persist in divergent doctrinal views, behaviors, and practices.
 
As we close we want to briefly mention two quotes from John and Luke. The quote from John 6 is referring to another subject. Nonetheless we think it is applicable here. Excommunication is a difficult command that demands a great deal from us personally as individual Christians and corporately as the church. It is a hard teaching. Who can bear it? Like the disciples in John 6, we have a choice to make when faced with a demanding and difficult teaching from Jesus. Do we follow what Jesus asks it because it is the only way to receive eternal life? Or, do we let Jesus’ teaching offend us and instead call him Lord even though we don’t do the things that he taught?
 
John 6:60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? 62 What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. 65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. 66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. 67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? 68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
 
Luke 6:6 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
 
We will close this study with a list of doctrinal issues for which the New Testament requires a correct understanding for fellowship and requires excommunication for deviation. As we can see the list is virtually exhaustive in its scope. In other words, Christian fellowship should be based on total doctrinal agreement. Likewise, Christians can be excommunicated for persisting in virtually any doctrinal view, behavior, or practice that violates anything whatsoever taught in the New Testament.
 
The following list is not intended to be absolutely exhaustive. It is merely intended to provide an accurate conception of the large scope of the New Testament’s doctrinal requirements for Christian fellowship and salvation. Other doctrinal issues or specifics could be added. (For an examination of what we believe is the correct understanding of biblical teachings on these issues please see the rest of the studies on this website.)
 
1. Doctrinal issues related to the Trinitarian nature of God, one God who is three distinct, co-equal, co-essential, and co-eternal (uncreated) Persons: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.
 
2. Doctrinal issues related to the Person of the Word of God and his incarnation as a man wherein he became God’s Son, his being a descendent of David, his birth from the virgin Mary, his sinless life, his death by crucifixion, his burial, his physical resurrection, his bodily ascension into heaven, and his accomplishing our atonement and providing the only means for the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and fellowship with God.
 
3. That God the Father, Word, and Spirit alone are the Creator of all that was created and which exists through the process made known to us predominantly in Genesis 1 and not reinterpreted through or to fit with popular, shifting cultural ideas.
 
4. Our need for Christ to provide a means to save us through the forgiveness of our sins and to reconcile us to God so that we can live forever in fellowship with God.
 
5. Doctrinal issues related to any teaching or view espoused by Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism including: their conception of Christ, their conception that the earth and material existence is inherently evil and salvation is escape from earthly material existence into a non-earthly, heavenly existence, their conception of salvation as independent of men’s free choice or rational contemplation of evidence including scripture but solely through a divinely-determined, direct impartation of enlightenment from God without the involvement of human will.  
 
6. Doctrinal issues related to various soteriological teachings including: proper teaching on baptisms (water baptism and baptism the Holy Spirit), whether God wills for all men to be saved or only some, whether men are born innocent or guilty of sin, how salvation is accomplished for individual men (how election works), how people come to faith, the role that hearing the message of those who preach plays in salvation, God’s foreknowledge and how it works with regard to who will be saved and God’s purpose in Christ, whether God’s will can be resisted, a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty, whether someone who believes can choose to no longer believe and forfeit their salvation, whether sinful men are capable of freely choosing to believe and repent, whether man’s will or rational contemplation of evidence plays any role in salvation, belief, and repentance, and any other topic that today is debated by Calvinist/Reformed theologians and Free Will/Arminian theologians and which Paul wrote about in his letters regarding these subjects.
 
7. Doctrinal issues related to eschatology including: whether a human soul and consciousness survive the physical death of the body, the rapture, the resurrection of the dead, the coming of the Antichrist, Christ’s return, the coming of the kingdom of God, whether Christ will be present physically on earth during the kingdom, final judgment, the sequencing and timing of these end times’ events in relation to one another, as well as whether any of them have already occurred or are yet to occur.
 
8. Doctrinal issues related to what salvation is and what it is to not be saved including: the nature of the kingdom of God, our inheritance in the kingdom of God, the timing of the coming of the kingdom of God, whether Old and New Testament saints together both inherit the same thing, whether salvation involves the reception of the earthly land promises given to Abraham by faith, and the eternal damnation of those who do not believe in Christ and repent.
 
9. Doctrinal issues related to forgiveness and repentance from sin including: fornication, adultery, illegitimate divorce, illegitimate marriage (or remarriage), homosexuality, covetousness, greed, materialism, any practice identified as idolatrous in the Old Testament, speaking abusively or inappropriately, drunkenness (intoxication), lying and bearing false witness, stealing and theft, speaking evil, making false accusations, and blasphemy, taking violent retribution, and murder.
 
10. Doctrinal issues related to improper church practices including: instructions concerning the practice of miraculous gifts and if these gifts are legitimately occurring in the church today, divergence from New Testament requirements for leaders and instructions on financial practices such as whether tithing is required, church leaders (and other Christians) not having a job to provide for themselves but instead being totally supported financially by the church; inappropriate church gathering formats and activities including not practicing the communion meal as instructed in the New Testament.
 
11. Doctrinal issues related to gender roles: the headship of the husband, head coverings, submission of women, and restrictions against women teaching and speaking in church gatherings.
 
12. Doctrinal issues related to the changing of the Old and New Covenants, what is required under the New Covenant, what may be carried over from the Old Covenant, and what things were not required from the Old Covenant including circumcision, dietary laws, and feast days.
 
13. Doctrinal issues related to pacifism, living at peace, not participating in the civil administration of justice (government), obeying government, and paying taxes.
 
14. Doctrinal issues related to the inerrancy, reliability, sufficiency, perspicuity, and sole authority of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles as contained in the New Testament texts.
 
15. Doctrinal issues related to requirements for Christian fellowship and excommunication and divergence from the understandings and views taught by the apostles to the earliest churches as recorded in the New Testament.
 
16. Those who cause sectarian divisions by diverging from a correct understanding of New Testament doctrine as it was taught by the apostles to the earliest Christian churches.