On heretics and core doctrine

A little announcement of intent: my current plan is to work my way through a statement of faith, fleshing out various doctrinal positions so that I have a written and accessible record of my beliefs on both core and secondary doctrines. This post is intended as a sort of preface to that series.

Going through 2 Peter right now in the Trial series means that there is lots of talk about false teachers and other heretics. It’s one of those big, scary issues that a lot of people like to ignore or gloss over because it’s so uncomfortable a topic. Almost nobody likes using the word “heretic,” and the ones that do generally like using it a bit too much. It’s a very harsh, very specific term, however – which means it is easy to define. A heretic needs to meet two criteria, and it’s really quite common to see the term used incorrectly when one does not apply. So before I begin to address the ideas of core beliefs or start work on a statement of belief, I’d like to define some terms.

1) A heretic must claim to be a Christian. An atheist is not a heretic. He is an atheist. If you don’t claim to be a musician, I can scarcely hold it against you when you can’t play “Mary Had a Little
Lamb” on the piano.

2) A heretic must reject a core Christian doctrine. Driscoll calls these “primary doctrines,” defined as doctrines that are critical to the Christian faith. If someone denies any of these doctrines, they would be by definition not a Christian. This is in contrast to secondary doctrines, which would be those doctrines on which Christians can disagree while still being united in Christ.

So, what are the core doctrines?

I mentioned in an earlier post that the Nicene Creed was a good way to summarize the core beliefs of Christianity, but sometimes the language of the Creed is a little unclear and disputed. So, let me clearly restate here what I believe to be the core, fundamental doctrines of Christianity:

  1. The Bible is, in its entirety, the verbally inspired and totally infallible Word of God.
  2. Man was created in the image of God, but because of Adam’s original sin is fallen, inherently sinful and rebellious against God, and is unable to remedy this condition.
  3. God is eternal and triune; one God in three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  4. Jesus, who is fully God, became also fully man (without ceasing to be God), was born of the virgin Mary, led a sinless life, died a substitutionary death for mankind, physically rising from the dead three days later, and then ascending into heaven, where he still is, and he will return again one day to judge the living and the dead alike.
  5. Salvation is obtained only by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and is not effected by nor enhanced by any works which we do.

I believe these are a good summary of the essential doctrines of Christian faith; I will expand more on them later, but know that in future post, when I refer to “core doctrines,” these are the doctrines I speak of.

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