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Are All Doctrines Equal?


This article is part two of our five-part "Doctrinally Faithful" Text-Driven Podcast and article series throughout the month of October.



In my previous article, “What is Doctrine?” we defined doctrine as the act of teaching or curriculum that one holds to concerning a particular subject. Essentially, doctrine is developed by asking the question, “What does the Bible teach about a particular subject?” With so many potential doctrinal positions, it is important for us to think through essential doctrines. Therefore, the topic for this article is to explore the question, “Are all doctrines equal?” I will go ahead and state my bias up front. I believe that all doctrines are equal and not equal. Now, I understand that sounds like a non-answer to the question, “Are all doctrines equal?” But, if you would allow me an opportunity to explain, I think you will see this position as being plausible.


In order to defend the notion that all doctrines are equal and not equal, it will be important for me to treat each answer separately. Therefore, in section one, we will look at how every doctrine is equal. In section two, we will look at how every doctrine is not equal. Finally, in section three, we will see how those two statements can be true through what is called a doctrinal triage.


All Doctrines Are Equal

Every doctrine is equal to one another. Such a bold statement would cause some to tremble with fear. Others would simply see the statement as misinformed legalism. In their minds, it is impossible for every doctrine to be equal. Before raising any judgment, let me offer my position. All doctrines are equal because all parts of Scripture are equal.


Doctrine is given not by man. Man does not create doctrine. Instead, man interprets the writings and teachings of Scripture in an organized manner in order to share what God says about a subject. Man organizes God’s thoughts about a subject. This is important for us to grasp.


Understanding that doctrine comes from God is what makes all doctrine equal. There is no part of Scripture that is any less important than another part of Scripture. Scripture affirms the total importance of every word. Consider with me several of these passages:

  • 2 Timothy 3:16

  • Isaiah 40:6, 8

What these passages demonstrate is that every single word of Scripture is important. Therefore, the importance of every word in the Bible means that every doctrine would then be important as well.


All Doctrines Are Not Equal

All doctrines are equal in that they all possess the words of God and every word of God is an important word. For every part and parcel of Scripture will endure forever. However, at the same time, not all doctrines are equal. This might seem like a contradiction, at first glance. If you will allow me to present my argument, I think you will see where I am coming from with the assertion that all doctrines are not equal.


I want us to think in medical terms. In the medical field, there is a concept of triage. A triage is a ranking system by which doctors attend to more serious injuries before addressing other injuries. Typically, a triage is seen in a hospital’s emergency room. Let’s consider this fictitious illustration for just a moment. Suppose that you are sitting in the emergency room of your local hospital with a broken arm. Your pain is manageable, but you need attention. As you wait in the emergency room to be seen by a doctor, an ambulance arrives. Offloaded from the ambulance is a man who has been in a terrible automobile accident. It is obvious that the patient is in excruciating pain. There has been a significant loss of blood, and if the patient does not go into emergency surgery, it is likely that there will be a loss of life.


Keep in mind that your arm is still broken. All of this is happening right before your eyes. Would it be acceptable for the doctors to bypass caring for you at that moment in order to care for the man who just arrived in the ambulance? I think all of us know the obvious answer. Doctors should save the life of the man from the ambulance before attending to patients who have non-life-threatening ailments.


What this fictitious illustration shows is the use of a triage. Sometimes there are situations that are more pressing than others. This does not mean that the person with the broken arm has any less of a broken arm. However, comparatively, the broken arm is not equal to the man needing emergency surgery. When you evoke a triage system, you are not challenging the truthfulness of anything. Instead, you are categorizing on the basis of what is first essential or necessary.


A Theological Triage

To help us think in a triage manner, I want to propose a three-fold structure for our argument: 1) Doctrines of Faith, 2) Doctrines of Community, and 3) Doctrines of Non-Essentials.


Doctrines of Faith

The Bible labels the doctrines that pertain to one’s faith as being of “first priority.” Consider what Paul says to the Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the gospel is a primary doctrine. Having a correct understanding of the gospel is essential. If your understanding of the gospel is wrong, then the consequences are devastating. Therefore, the gospel is to be viewed as an essential core doctrine of Christianity.


If the gospel contains the core doctrines of Christianity, then the question becomes what doctrines are essential to the gospel. Here is a list to get us started:

  • Justification by faith and not by works

  • Nature of Jesus as truly God and truly man

  • Work of Jesus as God’s righteous substitute for sin

  • The doctrine of God as Trinity

  • Doctrine of Man

  • Authority, Inerrancy, and Sufficiency of Scripture

Each of these aforementioned doctrines are of critical importance to Christian orthodoxy. Many of these doctrines were debated in the earliest of centuries pertaining to the church.


Doctrines of Community

The second-tier of doctrines that are equally true but function subservient to the doctrines of faith are concerning the Christian community. These second-tier doctrines relate to the topic of Christian fellowship.


There is much debate among the broader evangelical community about certain doctrines that do not pertain to one’s standing before God, but rather how one relates to those around him. The community of believers by which someone is in fellowship through a local congregation. Therefore, primary to the second-tier doctrines is ecclesiology (Doctrine of the Church).


Under the auspice of ecclesiology comes topics like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, office and function of church officers (pastors and deacons). As you can imagine these topics have created significant territorial lines between groups of people. For instance, some groups hold to a literal presence of Jesus in the administration of the Lord’s Supper. Others, on the other hand, understand Scripture rightly as teaching a memorial view. Another example would be baptism. Some understand it to be appropriate to practice infant baptism. Others see Scripture as teaching that baptism is a confession of one’s faith.


Within the context of baptism, there is a group within evangelical churches that understand baptism as being salvific–baptismal regeneration. Those holding to baptismal regeneration are denying a first-tier doctrine. A person holding to baptismal regeneration has denied justification by faith in favor of justification by works. Therefore, a person holding to baptismal regeneration would not be teaching an orthodox tenet of Christianity.


What is important to keep in mind when distinguishing between tier one doctrines and tier two doctrines is the impact the doctrine has on salvation. Additionally, we need to remember that tier two doctrines do not define one’s salvation, but rather demonstrate one’s community of fellowship within the body of Christ.


Doctrines of Non-Essentials

The final category that we need to consider in our doctrinal triage are the doctrines of non-essentials. These doctrines should have no bearing on one’s fellowship within a local church. Christian brothers and sisters should be able to disagree on non-essential doctrines and still remain in community with one another. Here are some third-tier doctrines that should not create division among believers:

  • Church music

  • Eschatology views

  • Bible translations

Unfortunately, some of these topics have contributed to churches being divided and the Kingdom being disgraced in our society. It is a shame when one’s music preference becomes so significant that it is viewed as important as justification by faith. Or that a certain Bible translation is the litmus test for one’s admittance into a Christian fellowship. These non-essential doctrines are truly non-essentials. They can be fun to debate, but they should not be the cause of Christian hostility among one another.


In conclusion, I would urge you to study doctrine. Study all the doctrines of Christianity. Make it part of your personal study to want to know more about biblical doctrines. As you read and study, let me just encourage you to utilize a doctrinal triage. This will help you see the doctrines of “first importance” while also remaining in the Christian community over non-essential doctrines.




To learn more in this series entitled "Doctrinally Faithful," listen to the Text-Driven Podcast at https://open.spotify.com/show/58S8Z1wSnubt8AVFkH3e1k.



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