In this edition of “Theology & Culture” we are addressing some theological teachings that are vital to our Christian faith. To some, this topic may not be that important. The fact of the matter is, though, what we believe is crucial. There is a growing trend within the church at large to re-define certain Biblical teachings, from the nature of God to what it takes to become a follower of Jesus, etc.
What we are discussing are what we could term “essential beliefs.” In other words, what are the key doctrines that a Christian needs to believe in order to be saved and to live the Christian life. We grow in our understanding of the Bible after we become believers, and the things we are discussing in this “T&C” are doctrines that are core to the historic Christian faith that we need to believe and hold on to that connects us to the church of our Lord.
Let me explain what I mean with an example from cooking. When it comes to making a meal, we know there are certain ingredients that are necessary to have the meal tasty and complete. You can leave some things out, but to get the full benefit of the meal, you want the right “stuff”, the full list of ingredients. To understand the historic Christian faith, there are certain ingredients, or essentials, that the church has held to over the centuries that has set apart Christianity from other religions.
To be fair, we must note that there are probably various ideas regarding what are essential doctrines (beliefs) that we need to hold to as Christians. There are those who believe that as long as we believe that Jesus is Who He claims to be and that He rose from the dead, even if there are errors or issues in the Scriptures, as long as we have Jesus right, that is the key.
The problem with this statement is that it is within the pages of Scripture, the Gospels in particular, that we read about the life of Jesus. If we cannot fully trust what is written in the Bible as a whole, how do we know that what it says about our Lord is truthful? We can look to sources outside the Word of God that tell us about Jesus and His followers, but they give us limited information. God’s Word fills in many vital details regarding Christ and His life on earth.
Let’s continue. As noted, people will differ on what are essential beliefs when it comes to historic Christianity. The following are my thoughts on what I consider to be key doctrines that must be held to by someone if they are truly a child of God.
You will note that some teachings, such as someone’s view of baptism, thoughts on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are not what I call essentials. This does not mean they are not important topics worth discussing, but we can hold to different views on these and other teachings and still be a part of God’s church.
In the first few centuries of the Christian faith, the church at-large wrote what were known as “creeds”, doctrines that they felt were important when it came to claiming to be followers of Christ. They were at times penned to defend certain beliefs and to answer false teaching that had crept into the early church.
These creeds covered many key theological points. I would encourage you to spend some time reading these for they helped shape what the early church believed. Some of those creeds would include the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. But for the sake of our discussion, let me go over some “essential” beliefs that are vital for any Christian to hold to.
In the points that follow, much more could be added under each heading. Another “T&C” may go into greater detail, but what is noted here are crucial beliefs that have been taught throughout the history of the Christian church, solely based in Scripture alone.
The following are thumbnail sketches of key doctrines:
1) The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture” is God-breathed. Though we do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible, we have enough copies of the Scriptures (full and partial) to reconstruct what the inspired originals most likely said. We can only know about God through His Word. This doctrine is crucial to the Christian faith.
2) The Triune God. Scripture teaches that there is one God yet three “Persons” Who, by nature, are God. That includes the Father (1 Cor. 8:6), Son (Jn. 1:1-2; Jn. 8:58) and Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). 1 John 4:1-3 tells us that if someone denies the Incarnation, they are not true believers. In this view of the Trinity is the belief that God is the Creator of heaven and earth (Gen. 1; Ps. 33:6).
3) The Person of Christ. Though Jesus is a member of the Trinity as noted, Some facts about Him are crucial to the Christian faith. This includes the Virgin birth of Jesus (Mt. 1:23; Lk. 1:35); that He is the God-man (Jn. 1:1-2; Jn. 1:14; Phil. 2:5-11); His death, burial, and resurrection and return (ascension) back to heaven (Acts 1; 1 Cor. 15:1-4); His death on the cross for our sins as our substitute, taking our sins upon Himself (Titus 2:13-14) so that we could be forgiven. Jesus will also return one day for His church and will establish His kingdom.
4) Salvation by grace through faith alone. Salvation is a free gift given to us by God (Eph. 2:8-10). The Scriptures teach that one must repent (turn from their sins) and put their faith and trust in Christ as the resurrected Lord (Rom. 10:9-13), and when we do, we become a child of God. As we saw in our previous point, salvation is predicated on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He died in our place on the cross.
5) The Person and work of the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is God. He comes to live within us the moment that we are saved (1 Cor. 12:13). He teaches and comforts us and convicts us of sin (Jn. 16:13-14). He seals us (Eph. 1:13-14), meaning that we are eternally saved and are guaranteed to receive our spiritual inheritance in the future. The Holy Spirit works in us to make us holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), a work known as “sanctification.”
6) The creation and fall of man. Gen. 1 speaks to the creation of man, made in God’s image. Gen. 3 records man’s disobedience to God and entrance of sin into the human race. This led to both spiritual and physical death. Rom. 5 details the result of Adam’s sin and why Jesus came to bring us salvation and to deal with the issue of death. This would also include the belief that one day, man will be resurrected from the dead, either united with Christ forever or to spend eternity in hell, in conscious eternal separation from God. Hell and heaven are real places.
7) Other important doctrines. Though not necessarily mentioned in the church creeds, other truths are important to the historic faith, though there may be differing viewpoints as to how crucial they are to hold to. For example, the belief in angels, the reality and person of our spiritual enemy, the place of the church in the world, etc. Some of these could be included with the previous points.
This “T&C” does not cover every doctrine but notes several of the truths that are essential for one to believe in if they are a follower of Jesus Christ. We learn more about these as we grow in our faith.