The Essential/Non-Essential Doctrine Debacle
Unity is the Current and Future Relationship of God and His People
In a previous chapter, I detailed that the LORD is unity and regards His Word in the same manner. His Word, like Himself, is utterly indivisible.
As I mentioned in the Introduction, there are a few key passages that establish this truth:
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!
And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be One, and His name One.
1 Cor 15.25-28
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
But, it is an important detail of the Scriptures also that this nature of unity applies to the LORD’s chosen people. Notice how this truth is expressed in these beautiful NT references:
For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
1 Cor 10.15-17
I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Only fools could read passages like these (and there are many others!) and come away with the intentional distortion that, somehow, someway, the One Lord could give to us His One Word (a revelation of Himself!), but then somehow quietly contradict His own nature when He allows us to carve it up into “essential” and “non-essential” pieces! The very thought, much less its abundant and typical implementation throughout so-called conservative, evangelical churches, is nothing less than blasphemy of the highest order! Only fools could, in the face of the truth of the unity of God within Himself and with His people, overrule that current and future unity in favor of the sham of a “pseudo-unity” that makes a priority the mutual relationship of so-called brothers over their relationship with the Lord and His Word.
[Personal Note: In August of 2016, I met with a Senior Elder at a large-ish church in Plano, TX, specifically to discuss this issue. During the course of an ~50 minute discussion, within the context of “fellowship”, I made the comment to him that “There is no fellowship without doctrine.” He was genuinely stunned and interrupted the conversation long enough to actually record that thought on paper as an expression of his shock! My impression of that moment was that he had never before heard—or even had thought—about such an assertion. To him, fellowship between believers did not need or imply doctrinal unity; instead, fellowship was somehow its own entity independent of doctrine, that it somehow could be established and maintained in a "doctrinal vacuum".
Of course, the “how and why” that they could call themselves “fellowshipping believers” would truly be an oxymoron: “believers” in what, exactly, and “fellowship” around/within what? Was it:
- Their own courteous, "spiritual" dealings with one another?
- The fact that they all attended the same church?
- The fact that perhaps they shared a meal together occasionally?
- The fact that they naturally tended to spend time with one another, perhaps based on age, marital status, children, common interests and activities?
- The fact that they would deliberately avoid discussions and adherence to those ‘pesky’ and ‘controversial’ doctrines that "tend to divide"?
- The fact that they had, in effect, created a “mutual admiration” society, a spiritual "safe space” [to borrow current cultural language]?
Where was the lasting and permanent unity, a unity based on truths that do not change, a unity based on the very nature of the LORD they profess to serve? Their self-styled “unity” truly was a “vapor that passes away”, a product of their own humanistic and vapid imagination.]
You remember that Solomon was very careless in his latter life and did not keep the LORD’s commandments as his father David had. Because of his idolatry, the LORD prescribed a punishment:
1 Kin 11.9-12
Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son.
From the time of Rehoboam until the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 AD, what we know as national Israel remained divided into the portions of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) and Israel (the Northern kingdom). Remember that the Northern Kingdom was carried off by the Assyrians in approximately 722 BC; only those who immigrated south before that time into Judah remained of those 10 tribes (and, there is ample biblical evidence to support that not only did that immigration occur, the remnant of those “lost tribes” will exist in the Last Days).
[Detailing this assertion from the Scripture will be left for another article.]
The main point is that Solomon’s and Rehoboam’s sins brought division.
But, while this condition has existed for nearly three thousand years, it is not permanent; the divided nation will be reunited.
There are two distinct, but related, steps; the first is restoring both Israel and Judah to their native land:
Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,” declares the Lord, “they will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again. At that time they will call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of the Lord,’ and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance.
Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.’
The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book. For behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah.’ The Lord says, ‘I will also bring them back to the land that I gave to their forefathers and they shall possess it.’”
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast. As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord.
Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and in the place where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” it will be said to them, “You are the sons of the living God.” And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint for themselves one leader, and they will go up from the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.
But now I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days,’ declares the Lord of hosts. ‘For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things. It will come about that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you that you may become a blessing. Do not fear; let your hands be strong.’
However, merely restoring Israel and Judah to their native land simply is not enough, any more than a common constitution ensures the unity (political or otherwise) of the individual people who live under that constitution (as the current political climate in the US amply demonstrates). No, their re-unification must be much deeper, much more significant; it must and will be organic.
And this leads us to the second point and is precisely what the LORD will accomplish because of His great compassion and plan for national Israel:
“With weeping they will come, and by supplication I will lead them; I will make them walk by streams of waters, on a straight path in which they will not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn. ” … “Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a delightful child? Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him; therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,” declares the Lord.
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger, in My wrath and in great indignation; and I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in safety. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.
It will come about that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you that you may become a blessing. Do not fear; let your hands be strong.
The LORD will accomplish this spectacular feat by giving them a new heart—a heart that is one with His own!
There is only the one Law of God because there is only One God who established that Law. When He ultimately restores a divided Israel, it will be because of, and based upon, His own Unity.
You’ll look in vain to find even a hint of “essential” and “non-essential” doctrine in the Scriptures, the equivalent of a “theological buffet” from which the then restored Israel will get to pick and choose between what it likes in contrast to what it considers too controversial or inane to believe. When the LORD fulfills and applies His New Covenant with Israel, it will be with an Israel perfectly unified with the LORD who saved them. Unified, in fact, with all believers of all time.
[EDIT Apr 2023: Late last year I posted a new article A Biblical Rebuttal of "The Fulfillment of the Promises of God" by Dr. Richard Belcher. It is a detailed and very critical review of Covenant Theology. There are 2 chapters in that article that would be useful to review here: