Michael Patton has listed three criteria that determine whether or not a doctrine is essential or not. A question I’m sure most of us has asked ourselves in the promotion of unity. He concludes that all three below are needed for a doctrine to be considered essential. Click here to read what he says about each.
Included in this credo is the belief that there are certain doctrines that are “non-essential” or non-cardinal. These are those that, while important to varying degrees, are not damnable in the proper sense. About these doctrines there can be legitimate disagreement within Christianity. We are to have liberty with regard to such doctrines. This means that we are not to properly or formally divide over them. We are to have grace.
This all sounds really nice. I have heard this touted from the Evangelical mountain-tops for quite some time. The difficulty always comes when we begin to discuss one key question: What are the essentials? Who decides? The Pope? Your local church pastor? The SBC? My private interpretation of the Scripture? Alas, with such a question, the divisions start all over.
In essentials, unity. Sounds nice, but impractical. Right?
1. Historicity: Does the doctrine have universal historical representation?
2. Clarity (Perspicuity): Is the doctrine represented clearly in Scripture?
3. Explicity: Does the passage of Scripture explicitly teach that a certain doctrine is essential?