Home > C. H. Spurgeon, doctrines, postmodernism, Worldview > Non-Essential Doctrines: The Test of Obedience

Non-Essential Doctrines: The Test of Obedience

September 11, 2012

In response to the many compromisers, who want to pick and choose which doctrines to believe – or even to rank the doctrines in importance by tiers, finding the “essential” things a person must believe in order to be saved — comes this great answer from Charles Spurgeon.  Such unbelief is nothing new, the same today as in Spurgeon’s day, and still so relevant and true in every area of biblical doctrines, where professing Christians sin in unbelief by rejecting “part” of what God says.  So the next time a liberal-minded preacher uses the line that “not all Christians believe this” or “it isn’t essential to believe this” in regards to what the Bible reveals to us (including such things as the Genesis 1 creation, and many other doctrinal points), remember this point and illustration from Spurgeon.

From sermon #359, “The Tabernacle—Outside the Camp”:

Some will say, “You make too much of non-essentials.” 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 if a servant 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 tomorrow morning, and when you came down, she were to say, “Well, Sir, it is non-essential; you won’t die though the fire is not 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 nonessential.”

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, I think because they are non-essential, they therefore become the test 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!

  1. September 11, 2012 at 11:32 am

    A good reminder. There remains the problem of what ALL the essentials are.

    • September 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      Very true, Bography… and a whole separate topic there. But well said here by Spurgeon, regarding the careless/reckless attitude, the minimalist approach: what’s the minimum I have to believe in order to be saved?

      • September 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

        With many the maximum is to be good and kind.

  2. September 12, 2012 at 6:23 am

    While I can understand what Spurgeon was saying, I think that some things are essential in defining a Christian believer while others beliefs or doctrines are not essential, assuming that other sincere students of Scripture come up with different understandings. In the first category I place the gospel…Jesus death, burial, and resurrection…the deity of Christ…the authority of Scripture. In the second I might place the pre-tribulation rapture, tithing, even Sunday worship. The non-essentials may be arguable from Scripture but they should not be fellowship breakers.

    • September 12, 2012 at 7:58 am

      That is really a separate issue, whether or not we “break fellowship” over the minor differences — and different people have different views regarding what are the “minor issues.”

      Let’s remember the point of what Spurgeon is saying here: the “non-essentials” do become a test of our obedience to God. Do we really believe God in all that He said, and do we think it important to study and learn what God has revealed to us in His word? Many of these doctrines are not “essential” required knowledge for salvation–but they are part of God’s word, and the things we learn about as we grow in God’s grace and wisdom and knowledge. We are not to remain infants, spiritual babes, forever. Just as the human child does not (should not) remain an infant, the spiritual child grows up, beyond the milk to the richer meat of doctrine.

      What often happens is that people decide that a particular issue is “not essential” and therefore they take a post-modern attitude, that said particular issue must not really be clear and certain (an attack on the clarity of God’s word), and we can just be lazy and ignore those doctrines, reasoning that because something isn’t “essential” for salvation that makes it optional and unimportant.

      • September 12, 2012 at 11:27 am

        Take two important issues: the contrary views concerning 1. baptism and 1. the future of ethnic Israel (premillennialism). Some say these are not essential doctrines. I don’t agree. The problem for me is why do many good Christians differ so, being convinced that their view is right. There can only be one correct view. And as I said they are pivotal doctrines (as far as I understand).

        While I’m on the topic, I’m reminded of Spurgeon’s view of Arminian “free will” (in coming to faith). He said in this regard, what begins in the flesh ends in the flesh. I balk at that view because many I admire such Paris Reidhead (his “Ten Shekels and a shirt” – listen to it), my favourite preacher, are Arminians.

        The problem for me is that God obviously blinds good Christians. Or what?? But what then to make of “When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth” (John 16).

  3. September 12, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Agree, Bography, and I too hold that the future of ethnic Israel is one of the basic, pivotal doctrines. Romans 11 alone is perhaps the greatest concentrated teaching concerning God’s plan for the ages / the Divine Purpose.

    Yes, that is the conclusion I have come to as well, that God is the one who has blinded some Christians, not revealing everything to them. Not every believer, for reasons God alone knows, is willing to accept all that is taught in scripture, especially in the area of premillennialism and future Israel. I’ve even read others who note this (such as J.C. Ryle, S. Lewis Johnson) who observed that it evidently is part of God’s overall purpose that — just as at the time of Christ’s First Coming the Jews were primarily focused on His Second Coming, so it will be that at the time of Christ’s Second Coming most Christians will be spiritually asleep and unaware of what is about to happen… and somehow it all fulfills God’s plan.

    Tony Garland said it well, too, in a blog comment I came across once: “… CT, in many cases unwittingly, serves to lead today’s people of God into a position of ignorance (or denial) regarding His continued promises to Israel such that they, prior to the second coming, will find themselves in a similar position to those Jews who were out-of-step with Biblical revelation regarding the suffering Messiah at His first coming – inadvertently, but sadly, in opposition to what God is doing in their time of history.”

    We have to trust to God’s sovereignty, but it is something that does perplex me.

    • September 12, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Well said. What about the Arminian view that where there’s a will, there is definitely not – as the Calvinists think, OY VEY? Know any one with an explanation, ’cause by best friend is an Aaaghminian?

      • September 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm

        hmm, not sure I follow you on that one, what you’re referring to.

      • September 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm

        The arminian says, “where there’s a will, there’s a (human) way (to be ultimately saved). In contrast, the Calvinist (Jew – moi) says, “where there’s a will. there is oy vey!” It seems you haven’t come across the expression “oy vey.” Now that is not good for one who believes that she is going to be grafted into Israel.

      • September 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm

        From John Jewel’s “Apology of the Church of England,” (ebook) which I read this mo.

        Constantine the emperor affirmeth, there were such a number of variances and brawlings in the church, that it might justly seem a misery far passing all the former miseries, when also Theophilus, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Augustine, Ruffine, Hierom, being all Christians, being all fathers, being all catholics, did strive one against another with most bitter and remediless contentions without end, when, as saith Nazianzen, the parts of one body were consumed and wasted one of another, when the east part was divided from the west, only for leavened bread and only for keeping of Easter day; which were indeed no great matters to be strived for, and when in all councils new creeds and new decrees were continually devised. What would these men (trow ye) have said in those days? Which side would they specially then have taken? And which would they then have forsaken? Which gospel would they have believed? Whom would they have accounted for heretics, and whom for catholics? And yet what a stir and revel keep they at this time upon two poor names only of Luther and Zwiglius because these two men do not yet fully agree upon some one point, therefore would they needs have us think that both of them were deceived; that neither of them had the gospel; and that neither of them taught the truth aright.

  4. September 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Lol! Well actually, grafted into the Jews’ Olive Tree, the root of which is the Abrahamic promises… but we still all have separate national identities into eternity. I think I’ve come across “oy vey” (as in the Bodie Thoene Jewish Christian fiction…), but not the saying “where there’s a will, there is oy vey.”

  5. September 13, 2012 at 7:27 am

    While I would have to agree that there must ultimately be a single RIGHT doctrine or teaching on everything, the longer I study the less prepared I am to assert that my particular view in an area must be that one. Part of the reason for that is the realization that the question is bigger than the words of Scripture itself…we all bring presuppositions and methods of interpretation to the text which are not specifically spelled out anywhere in the Bible. I have personally come to hold that Scripture should be understood in context and as it would have been interpreted by the original hearers…the idea that God does not hide secret messages in the text for future generations to discover and what he meant then is still what he means today. Yet I find sincere Christians (they have been around from the first few centuries of the church) who see allegorical and symbolic meanings in many OT passages. Our differences have nothing to do with a question of inspiration or the authority of Scripture, yet we do differ. How can I say one or the other is RIGHT on the authority of Scripture…the ultimate authority?. And even so I can fellowship with them, even as I can enjoy and sympathize with your readings.

    • September 13, 2012 at 10:59 am

      Tom, Augustine of Hippo is arguably Christianity’s greatest theologian, yet he was wrong – as all Catholics are – about baptismal regeneration. As you say, let context be your guide.

      • September 13, 2012 at 11:19 am

        Yes, bography. Augustine was also wrong in his attitude toward the supernatural/miraculous (influenced by the pagan spiritual mysticism of early Catholicism), as you may have seen from my FB (Facebook) link today…

  6. September 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm


  7. September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Lynda, i posted this comment on Nathan’s site (the author of the article on Augustine) thinking I was speaking to you.

    “TY Linda for directing me to your FB article on Augustine. as you saw on your website, we were both thinking of him today, like at least a thousand others, so, alas no miracle – today.”

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