Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine

The ability to discern the relative importance of theological issues is vital to the health and unity of the church. There are four categories of importance into which theological issues can fall:

  • Absolutes: Define the core beliefs of Christian faith.
  • Convictions: While not core beliefs, these may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church.
  • Opinions: Views or personal judgments generally not worth dividing over.
  • Questions: Currently unsettled issues.

The category into which each theological issue falls should be examined in light of eight different considerations.

  1. Biblical clarity
  2. Relevance to the character of God
  3. Relevance to the essence of the gospel
  4. Biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it)
  5. Effects on other doctrines
  6. Consensus among Christians (past and present)
  7. Effect on personal and church life
  8. Current cultural pressure to deny a teaching of Scripture

All of these categories should be evaluated collectively when determining how important an issue is to the Christian faith. Proper discernment between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will spare the church from either compromising essential truths or dividing over trivial squabbles.

This article is adapted from Life's Biggest Questions by Erik Thoennes.

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