(This article is a continuation of the article: Dangerous Christians) There is a very popular saying in the church today that has been around in one form or another for a few centuries now. Its origins are a subject of some dispute and different groups disagree as to exactly who is the author. It is commonly thought that Augustine is the author but there is apparently some evidence to the contrary. Regardless, allow me to quote and comment on this very popular saying which I would like to remind you is not a verse in the Bible.
"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
Sounds nice and it holds some truth but it also holds a dangerous misconception. It does not explain the essentials that it mentions. There are two categories of essentials. First and foremost there are the super essentials of salvation. These are the doctrines that the Bible teaches regarding salvation and eternal life. Secondly, there are the lesser essentials of Christian living, where the Bible teaches us specifically how we are supposed to (and not supposed to) behave as Christians. Both are essentials. The first category is essential for salvation and the second category is essential to live and function properly as a Christian.
If a Christian does not live and function properly as a Christian, then it is impossible for that person to live and function as a healthy part of the church.
Even though the word “salvation” is not mentioned in the “in essentials unity…” saying, salvation is strongly implied. The word “essentials”, as this saying is commonly interpreted, is commonly thought to refer exclusively to the doctrines of salvation. Because of this, this popular quote gives the distinct impression that everything in the Bible beyond salvation is OPTIONAL in the Christian life. If that were true, then the Apostle Paul would not tell us to avoid Christians who are disobedient to the Scriptures in other areas.
14And if any man obeys not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. 2Thess 3:14-15 Since Paul says that these unruly people are to be counted as brothers, we know that they are in fact Christians. As Christians, we know that they at least believe in the super-essential doctrines of salvation otherwise they would not be saved and would not be considered brothers. For example, among other things, we know that these people who Paul says to stay away from must at least believe in Jesus Christ from their hearts and believe that He rose from the dead otherwise, as the Bible makes very clear, they could not be saved. Therefore this verse is referring to Christians who are disobedient to the written Word in other areas. This is the basis for why Paul says that they should be avoided and ashamed.
These are the dangerous Christians that the popular “in essentials unity…” quote has whitewashed and covered with false liberty and a license to categorize anything in the Bible that they disagree with as “non-essential” or “secondary” doctrine, in others words optional doctrine. What this means is we basically have a bunch of Christians running around yelling that salvation is all that is needed to live lives that are pleasing to God and properly operate as the church. No, salvation is all this needed for eternal life. Obedience to other teachings in the Bible, specifically the doctrines of Christian living as found in the New Testament, is necessary for a healthy Christian life. These people constantly play the “secondary doctrine” card, proclaiming “as optional” anything the Bible teaches that they don’t like or don’t want to obey.
By making the “lesser” essentials of Christian living optional the doors of the church have been throw open wide for apostasy to come flooding in. Furthermore, the book of 2nd Thessalonians is simply part of the overall Bible and there are many other verses in the Bible that command obedience to God and specifically to His written Word overall. So by common sense, we know that 2Thess 3:14-15 is not limiting the requirements of Christian obedience only to the book of 2nd Thessalonians. This verse is therefore applicable to any professing Christians who refuse to obey the clear teachings of the Bible.
A Christian has to be doing something pretty bad for the Apostle Paul to say that they should be ashamed and that other Christians should stay away from them. And we see exactly what the Christians described in 2 Thess 3 are doing that is so bad that we must avoid them. They have departed from sound doctrine in areas other than salvation and instead are obviously following and promoting teachings other than the teachings of the Bible. This is the main attribute of a dangerous Christian. Of course ultra dangerous “Christians” are those who are not even saved yet claim to be Christians but 2Thess3 is not referring to these people. Many Christians rightly agree that staying away from such a person is mandatory. But this passage of Scripture shows us that Christians who refuse to obey the Scriptures, even in areas other than salvation, are worthy of disfellowship and therefore must be avoided. If salvation alone were enough for living a life that is pleasing to God on this earth, then this and other Scriptures like this would simply not exist.
Let me say this in a slightly different way: If the doctrines of salvation alone were enough for Christians to know how to properly live the Christian life, then other doctrines and obedience to the Scriptures in other areas would not be needed. There would be no such thing as an unruly Christian and the Apostle Paul would not have told the faithful in the church to stay away from the unfaithful. Of course we know this is not the case. Other doctrines are in fact needed and there really is such a thing as a dangerous Christian. Today such departures from Scripture are so widespread and commonplace that these things have become socially acceptable in most professing Christian circles. Many have redefined the requirements of Christian living and they teach a whole new protocol for how we are and are not supposed to behave as Christians. They have replaced the teachings of the Bible in this area with man made teachings, just like the Pharisees of old did.
In Mark 7, Jesus told the Pharisees:
8For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things you do. 9And he said unto them, Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition… 13Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which you have delivered: and many such like things you do. Mark 7: 8-9, 13
The Doctrine of Optional Doctrine
The “in non-essentials liberty” error creates a doctrine that is not found in the Bible. We can call this error, “the doctrine of optional doctrine”. But nowhere in the Bible do we find such a doctrine or find any doctrines to be optional. The Bible teaches that all doctrines are mandatory. None are presented for us to decide whether or not we want to personally follow them.
Also, the Bible makes no specific distinction between primary and secondary doctrine. However we know by common sense that the doctrines of salvation are more important than the doctrines of Christian living. Because, if one is not saved, then everything else is meaningless. In other words, even if someone is obedient to every doctrine of Christian living but they do not believe the doctrines of salvation, they cannot be saved. Of course it would be impossible for a non-Christian to properly obey the doctrines of Christian living. One needs to be a Christian just to understand them. However, even though the doctrines of Christians living can’t save you, that doesn’t mean that they are unimportant. That doesn’t mean that these doctrines are not specifically necessary to live a healthy Christian life.
Disobedience to the doctrines of Christian living is a main area where there are big problems in the church today. We are plagued with unhealthy Christians who are walking around infecting all who they touch.
Many Christians have stopped at salvation and have gone no farther. They are truly Christians but they are not walking the walk and therefore they are producing little if any fruit. These are likely among those who the Apostle Paul said would be saved as by fire:
11For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 1 Cor 3: 11-15 Many Christians have a few of the ideas of “being” a Christian down pretty well but they don’t have the function down well at all. And, because they don’t have the function down, they only have the idea of “being” a Christian down in a very academic and rudimentary sense. Therefore they don’t have a deep sense of who they already are in Christ. These are very deceived Christians, self-deceived as a matter of fact. Many of them hear and learn all kinds of “Bible stories” as head knowledge but they do not do or obey what they hear and because of this very little trickles down into their heart as deep belief and “heart knowledge”.
22Be doers of the Word and not hearers only thereby deceiving your own selves. James 1:22
Lastly, churches exist and are formed every day where the leadership decides what is right and wrong behavior for that particular church as a body. In a power in numbers mentality, such churches act as if by virtue of overseeing a quantity of people, that they somehow have the rights to do as they please. So they play fast and loose with the Bible, claiming obedience to Scriptures while they disobey the Bible and teach others to do the same. Because some of these churches do understand the doctrines of salvation and some aspects of evangelism, they are able to lead some people to salvation (praise God), but if these churches hadn’t done so already, they then immediately lead these same souls to their leaders as masters of Christian living.
Contrary to popular belief, leading someone to the Lord in faith unto salvation is not a license to then lead that person away from the Lord in their Christian walk, indoctrinating that soul into the traditions and teachings of men.