If I found that in Holy Scripture there were doctrines even of less value than the great points of our Christian religion, I should still think it were my duty to bow my judgment, and to turn my intellect to the reception of God’s truth just as God set it forth. 

Theological discussions regularly land on questions of so called essential and non-essential doctrines. Doctrines are often placed into first level, second level, and tertiary categories regarding matters of importance. I find those distinctions, rightly understood and applied, to be generally helpful. 

Baptism and women pastors, for example, are two doctrinal matters often consigned to second-level theological concerns and, therefore, considered non-essential regarding salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Non-essential does not mean unimportant. It means that one might be orthodox on matters concerning the essential gospel and yet have great differences from other Christians on so called “nonessential” theological points. That said, all secondary matters are not created equal as to their potential outcomes. For example, it is significantly more common than not for theological egalitarians, regarding the office and function of a pastor, to ultimately embrace liberal theology. 

Most Christians in Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches believe that second-level doctrinal matters do not in themselves keep people out of the kingdom of God. However, they believe that second-level doctrines separate them denominationally from our Presbyterian friends, for example, on the issue of baptism. Baptism is important but it is not essential to salvation (assuming one holds that it is not a work performed to earn salvation). 

Yet some Baptists who separate denominationally from Christians who disagree with them on baptism are nevertheless willing to maintain denominational ties with those who embrace women pastors. This is an inconsistent position. The SBC has spoken clearly and without equivocation on both the doctrines of baptism and the office of pastor. Below are two statements from The Baptist Faith and Message 2000

“Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”

“The Southern Baptist Convention holds that baptism is for believers only and that it is a matter of obedience, and a “prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” The official statement of the SBC is that one cannot be a member of an SBC church unless they are baptized [immersed in water] following their faith in Christ.” 

Regarding the office of pastor,

“It’s [the church] two scriptural offices are that of pastor/elder/overseer and deacon. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

To be a church in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention means, according to the Baptist Faith and Message, that they profess to believe that secondary doctrines are vitally important. Therefore, one would think that if a church jettisons baptism as a requirement for local church membership or allows for women to be pastors over their congregation that they would not be in friendly cooperation with the SBC. 

One would think . . . 

Are non-essentials essentially important? Do they matter? Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist, had something to say about nonessentials. I give him the final word. 

“Some will say, ‘You make too much of nonessentials.’ That is a thing I frequently hear— non-essentials! There are certain things in Scripture they tell us that are non-essentials, and therefore they are not to be taken any notice of. Doctrinal views, and the baptism of believers, for instance, these are non-essential to salvation, and therefore, is the inference which follows according to the theory of some, we may be very careless about them. 

Do you know believer in Christ, that you are a servant? And what would you think of a servant who should first wittingly neglect her duty, and then come to you and tell you that it is non-essential? If she should not light the fire to-morrow morning, and when you came down, she were to say, ‘Well, sir, it is non-essential; you won’t die through the fire not being lit;’ – or if, when she spread the breakfast, there was no provision there but a crust of bread, and nothing for you to drink, what if she should say, ‘Well, sir, it is non-essential you know; there is a glass of water for you, and a piece of bread, the rest is non-essential’ — if you came home and found that the rooms had never been swept, and the dust was upon them, or that the bed had not been made, and that you could not take an easy night’s rest, and the servant should say, ‘Oh ! it is non-essential, sir ; it is quite non-essential.’ I think you would find it to be non-essential for you to keep her any longer, but extremely essential that you should discharge her. 

And what shall we say of those men who put aside the words of Christ, and say, ‘His precepts are quite non-essential?’ Why, methinks because they are non-essential, they therefore become the test-points of your obedience. If you could be saved by them, and if they were necessary to your salvation, your selfishness would lead you to observe them; but inasmuch as they are not necessary to your salvation, they become tests of your willingness to obey Christ. If the Lord had left a record in his Word — ‘He that believeth and picks up a pebble stone shall be saved,’ I dare not neglect to pick up the pebble stone. And if I found that in Holy Scripture there were doctrines even of less value than the great points of our Christian religion, I should still think it were my duty to bow my judgment, and to turn my intellect to the reception of God’s truth just as God set it forth. That idea about non-essentials is wicked and rebellious. Cast it from you; go without the camp. Be particular in every point. To the tiniest jot and tittle seek to obey your Master’s will, and seek his grace that you may walk in the way of his commandments with a perfect heart.

 But then, if you do walk according to this rule, others will say, ‘You are so bigoted.’ Thus reply to them: ‘I am very bigoted over myself, but I never claim any authority over you. To your own Master you stand or fall, and I do the same.’ If it be bigotry to hold decisive views about God’s truth, and to be obedient in every particular, as far as God the Spirit has taught me, if that be bigotry — all hail bigotry! — most hallowed thing! The thing called bigotry, is that which inclines one man to bind another’s conscience. The duty of all men is truly the same; but then I must not make my conscience the standard for another; it must be the standard for myself, and I am not to violate it: ‘He that knoweth his Master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ Take thou heed, therefore, that thou doest his will when thou knowest it; but if another, not knowing his will, should reprove thee, be thou ready to give an answer to him that speaketh to thee with meekness and fear. But be not harsh with any man; thou art not his master. Be not stern with those who differ from thee, for thou art not made the judge of mankind; thou art not arbiter of right and wrong. Leave others to be as conscientious as thyself, and believe that a Christian man, though he may differ from thee, is as much sincere in his difference as thou art in thy dissent from him. Yet be careful, that no unhallowed charity compel thee to lay down the weapons of thy warfare. Be careful that Satan does not deceive thee and make thee to be charitable to thyself. Be charitable towards every other man, but never to thyself. Forgive every other man the injuries that he doeth, but forgive not thyself. Weep, lament, and sigh before God, and so may he ever help thee thus to go forth without the camp.”

From Spurgeon’s Sermon

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