“Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head:
they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).

Pillar vs. Peripheral Doctrines

by Rick Tyler
That which we believe relative to the Holy Scriptures constitutes what we refer to as our doctrinal position. Doctrine is defined in the Oxford American Dictionary as "a principle or set of principles and beliefs held by a religious or political or other group." In the instance of the orthodox Christian faith, that doctrine or "set of principles" is ostensibly founded and rooted upon the words of divine revelation as contained in the pages of the Holy Bible. Christian individuals and groups both express and adhere to doctrinal beliefs and positions that deal with a wide variety of issues and subjects. Included within that overall body of doctrinal positions are those which constitute the absolute foundations of the true historical Christian faith.

This select grouping of scripturally based beliefs can be accurately and appropriately defined or labeled as the pillar doctrines of the faith. They are absolute and non-negotiable in nature. They are essentially unambiguous and unmistakably vivid in terms of how they are set forth within the pages of Holy Writ. They are so profoundly pivotal in nature that deviation from a strict belief in them clearly disqualifies one from laying claim to the title of a true Christian believer. A person who denies any one of the pillar doctrines of the Christian faith is in fact unregenerate, agnostic, heretical or, in many instances, all these things rolled into one! And what, you might ask, are the specific pillar doctrines of the true Christian faith? The simple answer to this question is that those doctrines which pertain directly to the matter of the divinity of Jesus Christ are the pillar doctrines. By strict biblical definition, a true Christian can only be one who subscribes without reservation to these same doctrines.

Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God and this vital truth is borne out in John 1:1-5 which says, "(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) The same was in the beginning with God. (3) All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (4) In him was life; and the life was the light of men. (5) And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Among other references, the truth of the Godhood of Jesus is also plainly set forth in Colossians 1:15-17, where we read, "(15) Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: (16) For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and inbisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: (17) And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" and in Colossians 2:9, which states, "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." There can be no doctrinal deviation from this great and momentous truth! All those who reject the essential truth of the deity of Jesus Christ are in the realm of the unregenerate and the infidel, regardless of how sincere they might be.

GETTING MORE SPECIFIC

Now that we have established the broad parameters that comprise the generalized definition of what we are alluding to when we refer to the pillar doctrines of the faith, we must proceed to focus with greater specificity upon those positions in their individual context. The first pillar doctrine we will touch upon is that of the triune Godhead. According to 1 John 5:7, "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one." From a scriptural standpoint, it is unequivocal and indisputable that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are unified as One in the person of the Godhead, despite the fact that this magnificently sublime truth transcends man’s ability to fully comprehend. To deny the triune Godhead is automatically the equivalent of rejecting the truth of the deity of Jesus Christ. There can be no two ways about this reality and, therefore, the doctrine of the trinity clearly qualifies as one of the pillar doctrines.

A second example of pillar doctrinal truth is that of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Luke 1:26-35 establishes with the utmost of clarity that the Christ child would be born of a virgin mother, conceived not by normal procreative processes, but instead by the miraculous work and intervention of God the Holy Ghost. The obvious reason for the necessity of a virgin birth is so that the genetic inheritance and transmission of sin nature could be avoided. Had Mary conceived after normal physical relations with a man, her offspring would have been both human and fallen in nature. Jesus was of the "seed of Abraham," (Hebrews 2:16) but His nature was at the same time sinless and divine. To be anything less would have disqualified Him from fulfilling the prerequisites of messiahship. Hebrews 9:14 states: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, "(18) Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; (19) But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." 1 Corinthians 5:7 instructs us that "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us." Just as the passover lamb of the old covenant was required to be spotless and devoid of blemish, so too must Jesus be of a spotless or sinless nature. Such a reality can only exist if Christ is, in fact, the incarnation of Almighty God! Those who would deny the doctrinal truth of the virgin birth cannot lay legitimate claim to the title of Christian. Indeed, the reality and utter essentiality of the virgin birth is one of the pillar doctrines of true Christianity.

The third area of scriptural truth that must be included in the classification of pillar doctrine is the matter of the inerrancy and inspired nature of God’s word, the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 emphasizes that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Yes, the Bible is God’s holy and inspired Word. It is His divine revelation to man and to believe in anything less than its absolute accuracy and infallibility places an individual in the devastating position of being lost and adrift in a sea of error and confusion. If the truth of the inerrancy of Scripture is denied, there can be no basis or foundation for the establishment of other vital doctrinal truths such as the divine nature and Godhood of Jesus Christ.

Before moving forward to discuss the matter of peripheral doctrine, we would be remiss to not make mention of one final area of scriptural consideration that would also seem to pass the litmus test of being pillar-type doctrine. In certain circles of fellowship today, the notion has been embraced in widespread fashion that there are no spirit beings or bodies celestial (1 Corinthians 15:40), neither angelic nor demonic. According to this school of thought, Satan himself is not an actual being, but rather, he is the equivalent of man’s sin or "adversary" nature. The biblical passages that contradict and disprove these inane theological notions are profuse and prolific in number. Nevertheless, large numbers of otherwise sincere persons have bought into these gross heresies. I hasten to add that heresy is not too strong a word to describe the deviations from the truth in question. As we know, Matthew 4:1-11 renders an account of how the Devil tempted Christ in the wilderness after His completion of a 40 day fast. The account in question is specific and detailed in nature. To deny the existence of a literal, substantive Devil in this account is tantamount to establishing the necessity of a sin nature being possessed by Jesus Christ. If such were not the case, then how would the temptation have even occurred in the absence of a literal Devil? It is quite apparent that the "no devil doctrine" is nothing less that a back door mechanism to accomplish the erosion and undermining of the truth of the Godhood and sinless perfection of Jesus Christ. For this reason, we can safely conclude that the doctrinal truth concerning the reality and existence of spirit beings is also to be counted among the pillar doctrines of the true Christian faith.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF PERIPHERAL DOCTRINE

Pillar doctrines are non-negotiable and not on the table for debate and disputation. Peripheral doctrines, in contrast, cover a broad waterfront of issues and points of consideration that touch virtually every area and aspect of our lives and existence. These doctrines are not of the nature that to waver or disbelieve in them would place one in danger of failing to meet the basic requirements of the new covenant Christian faith. Doctrinal areas that would qualify as peripheral in nature would include, but not be limited to, modes of baptism; standards of dress, grooming, and modesty; manifestations of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, as well as the outworking of certain spiritual gifts and miracles in the period beyond the days of the early church; questions regarding sabbaths and holy days; issues pertaininsg to varying forms and modalities of worship; applications of the manifold tenets and aspects of the mosaic law in the life of the family, the community, and the nation; the relationship of the Christian to civil authority and government; and the multifaceted dimensions of eschatology and the important subject of the end times.

It is an unfortunate fact that professing Christian believers are very quick to divide and separate over doctrines of a peripheral nature. To coin a phrase, they tend to "major on the minors" and, in the process, schism and fragmentation within the body of Christ become the absolute order of the day. John Wesley was once greatly moved by the motto to which the Moravian Christians professed to adhere, which was summarized as follows: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, but in all things love." It is often easier said than done, but we today would do well to seek to emulate the tenets of that simple creed. Yes, the "essentials" or pillar doctrines are to be absolute and immutable in our midst. When we are dealing with the matter of peripheral doctrines, however, we must avoid assuming the posture of condemnation and condescension. While not going so far as to fail to make known our beliefs and doctrinal stances in a comprehensive context, we must allow sufficient latitude for healthy debate and even disagreement relative to the matter of peripheral doctrinal issues. By adopting a position of humility and teachability, we might even broaden our own horizons and have our eyes opened to significant truths that we previously failed to properly consider or understand.

"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up."
James 4:10

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:13-14

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