I love cowboy movies. They are just plain fun to watch. Westerns always have a few necessary components. Obviously there is the climatic gunfight. There usually is a break-neck horse chase. There should always be a heroine or woman worth fighting for. And generally there needs to be a barroom brawl in which the hero gets beat up.
One of the best lines I ever heard in a movie occurred when a kid asked the hero “Hey, who gave you that black eye?” The hero looked right at the young boy with an unflinching gaze and forcefully said, “No one gave it to me, I earned it!”
I guess one of the reasons to like western movies is that the line between right and wrong is clearly drawn in the sand, and when it is crossed then the time has come to take a stand and let the chips fall where they may. Regrettably, churches today are losing their capacity to not only draw a line in the sand on moral issues in society, but to even take stands for doctrinal issues within the church. Many seem to believe that “tolerance” and “peace” are the most important things for a church to hold to, and under no circumstances should anyone endanger them. Well there are times when we should take public stands in our churches, even at the expense of unity and peace. Below is a list of some of these non-negotiables.
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul said that if Jesus has not risen from the dead then Christianity is a vain faith and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15.12-19). The doors of every church should be locked if Jesus has not bodily risen from the dead. But he has risen, and he now sits at the Father’s right hand mediating on our behalf. The bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is a non-negotiable for anyone who would call themselves a Christian.
- The divinity and incarnation of Jesus Christ. The apostle John stated that anyone who denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh was of the spirit of anti-Christ (1 Jn 4.1-3). The scriptures are clear; Jesus is literally the incarnation of God in the created realm (Jn 1.1-18; Col 1.15, 19; 2.9; Phil 2.5-11; Heb 1.1-3). The confession that Jesus is fully man and fully God is a non-negotiable for any claiming to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The Trinity. If you review the doctrines of any major historical denomination of Christianity you will notice that they all have a Trinitarian declaration. Christianity confesses and proclaims that there is one God who has revealed himself in 3 persons who are united in essence, nature, and being. This unity and diversity within the Godhead is a mystery that is hard to fathom, but there are other complex truths that are also hard to fathom, but nonetheless exist. For example, take “love” and “justice”; we know that they exist, but can you explain how they exist? You cannot, and so it is with the Trinity. Christians do not profess that God is one person who reveals himself in 3 different ways at different times, but that God is one who co-exists in 3 different persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—all are equally divine and perfectly one while sharing the same essence and purpose (Matt 28.19). Although each member in the Godhead simultaneously functions differently in the created order, they all are equally divine. Any true believer can accept no less; consequently, neither should they tolerate any fellowship that would promote anything contrary to this essential truth.
- That salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone. Salvation is not received or earned by humanly participating in the ordinance of a church (i.e., baptism or communion); neither is it the reward of human effort or endurance. It is only received after one repents of his or her sin and personally entrusts themselves and their sin debt to the Lord Jesus Christ through his substitutionary death on the cross. This redemption is a gift that God freely offers all and any who would receive it by faith, and his offer is completely a gift of his grace. In other words, it is a gift that is completely undeserved, and its reception by the desperate sinner can in no way be perceived as a meritorious act (Eph 2.8-10).
The above 4 truths are non-negotiable for anyone who would call themselves a Christian. There are others, such as that God exists, that there is an afterlife, a final judgment, etc., etc. But these confessions are so fundamental that to mention them would be elementary. Indeed, even these listed above are elementary, but the fact is that some churches and denominations today are losing sight of the fundamentals of the faith. Below are 3 more items that I would argue are doctrines worth fighting for; regrettably there are some that are not sure that these also are worth defending publically.
- The exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed to be the only person through which anyone could be reconciled to God (John 14.6). Paul wrote that if there was another way to God then Jesus died needlessly (Gal 2.21). And John said that if anyone does not confess personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ then they do not know the Father (1 Jn 4.1-6). If someone professes that there are ways to be saved other than a personal faith in Christ then he or she is either misguided and needs to be discipled into the truth, or they are a false believer and should be avoided.
- The inspiration and authority of Gods word, which is the Bible. The division of the Christian church between Protestantism and Catholicism largely rests on this one issue. It is ironic that the Roman Catholic Sir Thomas Moore once said “I never intend, God being my good Lord, to pin my soul to another man’s back, not even the best man that I know this day living: for I know not where he may happen to carry it.” Believers must not abdicate their consciences to the decisions of others no matter what positions they may hold in a church. Our sole authority for the rightful belief and practice of the Christian faith is the Bible and not submission to the offices of man-made religious institutions, whether they are local churches or worldwide denominations. The freedom of conscience to follow God’s word is a doctrine referred to as “the priesthood of the believer.” It simply means that each believer has the capacity through the indwelling Holy Spirit to rightly discern God’s will for himself or herself, so long as their decisions do not contravene God’s written word. Consequently, if someone demands that you submit to any doctrine, profession, or behavior contrary to God’s word then it is your duty to respectfully rebuke them irrespective of what office they may hold.
- The security of the believer. I hold this doctrine as something worth fighting and possibly “loosing” for because to proclaim otherwise is to rob the gospel of its glory and suggests that human will is greater than the power of God. Jesus himself said that anyone who has received eternal life through faith in him will never again be exposed to the threat of eternal damnation (John 5.24). Paul clearly promised that there is no longer any condemnation for those who have been justified through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 8.1). And Peter wrote that we have received by God’s power an imperishable promise of eternal life through Christ (1 Pet 1.3-5). If salvation can be lost by an act of human volition then it cannot under any pretense be described as “imperishable,” “eternal,” or under the control of the “power of God.” Consequently, this is a doctrine worth taking a public stand for against those who would declare otherwise.
This is my list and I’m sure there are others that I have failed to consider. Nevertheless, it is time for true believers to start taking public stands for these fundamentals of the faith when confronted in churches by others advocating contrary doctrines. Some may ask is this really necessary? Yes it is! One of the least known scriptures is 1 Corinthians 11.19, where Paul wrote, “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” Paul said that conflicts within congregations are a necessary part of protecting the flock and identifying those who are truly in the faith. Did Paul want the body to experience harmony and unity? Of course he did—but never at the expense of doctrinal purity. Just a word of warning, don’t be surprised when after taking a public stand for the true faith that at times you “lose.” It will happen and it will bother you, but don’t let it do so for long. Jesus himself was took your nails and hung on your cross; consequently, the very least you can do for him is to earn a black eye.
By: Dr. Monte Shanks.
Dr. Shanks is a professor with Liberty Seminary online.