“Essential” Doctrine vs “Non-essential” Doctrine?

(“Essential” Doctrine vs “Non-Essential” Doctrine?) Bible Question

Question:

“Our young adults and youth are being taught about the ‘essential’ doctrines as opposed to ‘non-essential’ doctrines. The material they are studying lists belief in God and water baptism as essential, but among the non-essential doctrines are listed instrumental music, celebrating holidays in worship, etc. How can we decide which teachings are essential?”

Answer:

Thank you for your question. Really the answer is very simple. If God said it, it is essential. If He is not the author of it, it is not done by His authority. Frankly, I am very much afraid of anyone who arrogate to himself the right to decide what part of God’s word we should respect and which part can be safely ignored. Let us look at the examples you gave.

Belief in God is essential because God says so:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him . . . For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Hebrews 11:6 and John 3:16; New International Version)

And God’s word says, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned . . . Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38a)

We believe and teach that baptism is essential to salvation because God says so. Now, for one who believes the Bible is the word of God, that is not difficult.

But what of the two examples of the so-called non-essential doctrines? The doctrine that we can safely use instruments in the worship of God is not only a “non-essential” doctrine, it is one that is diametrically opposed to God and His authority.

You see, too many people want to reverse the process by which we decide what God approves. They want to say that God will accept things that He has not specifically forbidden. But this ignores the principle of authority. God has not authorized instruments of music in worship, and He has always forbidden that which is not authorized (Leviticus 10:1, 2; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 John 9 – 11; etc.).

In the same way, He has not authorized “special days” in the worship of the church (Galatians 4:9 – 11), and those who practice such do not do so with the authority of God.

The entire question comes down to this:

“Should we do what we want, or should we accept what God has said?”

As long as we are determined to do things our way, each person decides for himself what is “essential” and what is not. That means that God’s authority is not only ignored bur is flagrantly rejected. And we thus become our own authority.

I know that many people claim that certain teachings (or practices) are not “salvation issues”. But the truth is that what God says is authoritative, and to ignore what God says – on any subject – and do what we want instead, is definitely a “salvation issue”. After all, who gives any person the right to decide for himself what is essential about what God has said?

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Is It Right To Seek Vengeance?

(Is It Right To Seek Vengeance?) Bible Question

Question:

“I have a hard time reading some of the Psalms. The writers often beg God to bring vengeance on their enemies. But, Jesus taught us to love and pray for our enemies.”

Answer:

“O Lord, God of vengeance,
God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of the earth,
Render recompense to the proud.
How long shall the wicked, O Lord,
How long shall the wicked exult?”

– Psalms 94:1 – 3 (New American Standard Bible)

I have chosen this Psalm from among many that describes situations in which vengeance is called for. You will notice in this text, God is described as a God of vengeance. This coincides with the New Testament. . .

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” – Romans 12:19

It is God’s task to bring judgment on people, not ours. The apostle Paul goes on to say what our task is when people are evil around us. . .

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”Romans 12:20, 21

God will take vengeance on evil doers. God had the right to do so. And the knowledge and wisdom to do so. We cannot see into people’s hearts. So, our job is to treat people right in all situations, even when they are mistreating us.

Yet, it is important to know that godly people can seek justice (or hunger that right prevail). For good to win, evil must be defeated. It is not wrong to hunger for the day God does act and bring vengeance (justice, retribution). Paul himself expressed this attitude. . .

“For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:6 – 8

Paul wants to see justice done, and says it is only right that God deal with those who act unjustly. It is not up to you or me to judge or bring vengeance on others. As you noted, our task is to pray for them and be Christ-like toward them. But, I can still long for justice and seek God’s wisdom to bring it about.

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Is There An Unforgivable Sin?

(Is There An Unforgivable Sin?) Bible Question

Question:

“In a recent sermon I heard, the preacher said there is no unforgivable sin. He quoted 1 John 1:8 – 10. But what about Matthew 12:31, 32 (where Jesus clearly says one sin will be not forgiven)? The preacher contends Matthew 12 applied only to the people to whom Jesus was speaking at the time.”

Answer:

“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

– Matthew 12:31, 32 (New American Standard Bible)

Jesus seems clear and unequivocal in His message. Anything but blasphemy against God’s Spirit will be forgiven. To reject God’s Spirit and blaspheme against the Spirit will be held to one’s account forever. Who is Jesus speaking about and does it apply to us?

It is important to put these verses in their proper context. Jesus is being accused of being in league with Satan (Matthew 12:24). His critics contend that the miracles Jesus performed were from Satan’s power. Jesus said it alright to misunderstand the work of Jesus (the Son of Man). But to attribute the work of the Spirit to Satan is blasphemy.

The Spirit’s work was designed to create faith and demonstrate the presence of God. God was clearly present in the miracles and teachings of Jesus. To not quite grasp what that meant and to stand in the way of Jesus was not unforgivable (Matthew 16:22, 23). But to attribute the clear and powerful work of the Spirit in Jesus’ ministry to Satan was an act that could not be forgiven.

The reason it was unforgivable has nothing to do with Jesus’ power to forgive. It has to do with the state of mind of the blasphemer. If a person rejects the testimony of the Spirit of God (in the life, work and teachings of Jesus and His followers), then that person has no hope of knowing God.

God is present in the form of His Spirit in the life of Jesus. To reject the presence of God is to cut oneself off from the only source of salvation. Those who reject the Spirit’s testimony by calling it evil, cannot be saved since they have rejected the one source of salvation.

That was certainly true of Jesus’ audience. The Pharisees who attacked Him had no hope of being saved until they accepted the testimony of the Spirit concerning Jesus. It is still true with those today who reject the Spirit’s testimony in the revealed Word of God. Those who call the Bible evil, who despise its teaching, will not and cannot be forgiven, until they repent and accept the message of God.

Simply put: any sin can be forgiven. But those who persist in rejecting the witness of God’s Spirit have no hope of forgiveness. They are not beyond God’s power to save, but have removed themselves from God’s reach by rejecting Him.