Primary doctrine can be broken down into three different parts. Each of which are perspectives looking back toward the whole. Here they are:
- Universal sin of man
- Unique nature of Christ
- Substitutionary death of Christ
- Bodily resurrection of Christ
- Justification by faith alone
- Authority of the Bible
- Biblical ethics
- Church as the Bride of Christ
- Heaven & Hell
- Return of Christ
- Uniqueness of Christ
- Gender roles
- Sanctity of life
There will hopefully be no arguments on this section. The salvation aspect of primary doctrine is so central to the Christian faith that if anyone believes it is not supremely primary, he is not a Christian.
In Romans 10:9, the Holy Spirit tells us through the apostle Paul "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
In Ephesians 2:3, 8-9 God says "among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
And God says through John in 1 John 2:1-2 "But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
The truths found in these verses are scattered all throughout the Scriptures, as God makes a point to get His message across. The key themes of the salvation aspect are clearly seen: we are all sinners by nature and choice (Mk 2:17, Rom 5:12, Eph 2:3), Jesus paid for the price of our sin with His blood (Rom 5:6-8, 2 Cor 5:21, 1 Jn 2:2), Jesus physically rose again (Lk 24:22-27, Acts 2:31-32, 1 Cor 15:13-15), and that we are justified by grace through faith (Acts 16:31, Rom 5:1, Eph 2:8-9).
That is the message of salvation that we have received and offer to lost sinners. Without this aspect of doctrine, our entire faith falls apart.
Now the primary doctrine gets a little more dynamic, but not as confusing as it will get later (not especially looking forward to trying to explain how secondary doctrine is biblically defined)!
Under the section "dogma" there are doctrines that if opposed, would make a person a heretic. Any denial of the dogmatic doctrines is a call for heresy. Let me illustrate.
In the third century, a man named Sabellius came up with his own unbiblical view of the Trinity which would eventually become what we know as modalism. He said that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were not three distinct Persons in One, but rather one God who distributes himself in three different forms at different times, not simultaneously.
Early in the fourth century, a man named Arius disrupted the biblical view of the Trinity by suggesting that Jesus was created by God before time and is, in fact, a lower being who was not co-eternal with God. This became known as a theology called Arianism.
Both of these men are heretics because they deny the biblical definition of the Trinity. The word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible and the truth theology of God is difficult to comprehend; however, there are some very clear passages to refute Sabellius and Arius.
For instance, in direct opposition to modalism, Jesus' baptism shows all three Persons of God present simultaneously:
"And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'"
Father, Son, and Spirit-- all fully God, yet distinct in function-- present in one place at one single point in time.
In opposition to Arianism, John 1 is clear:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
(vv. 1-3, 14)
For more information on heresy, The Resurgence has a cool page devoted to just that.
As one reads through Scripture and reflects on what is in it, it is only natural for the truths found in it to become a part of normal Christian practice. Several things are given as commands like baptism and prayer (Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38, 1 Thess 5:17). Other things are just truths that affect the way we live like the sanctity of life and human sexuality (Gen 1:26, Ps 139:13, Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9-10*).
Gender roles are also a part of practical doctrinal reflection. This is pertinent in all ages, but especially in the age we are living in today.
Ephesians 5 describes the gender roles within marriage-- wives are to submit to their husbands' authority as the head of the covenant and men are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (vv. 22-25).
1 Timothy 2 describes the gender roles within the church, which provides a template for life in general-- men are to be the leaders, providers, and protectors. Why? "For Adam was formed first, then Eve," (1 Tim 2:13). When Eve was deceived in the garden by the serpent and Adam joined her, who did God come looking for? "But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?'" (Gen 3:9). It was Eve who was deceived first, right? Why didn't God come looking for her? It is because Adam was made first, Eve was made as his helper, and Adam was given the responsibility in the first marriage of all time to lead, provide for, and protect his wife. He failed and we all suffered the consequences.
This aspect of primary doctrine is so important because we can sometimes develop a philosophy that conveys the idea that the salvation aspect is all that matters. The salvation aspect only matters as it pertains to salvation, there are major sanctification issues that mean a lot to God. This is evident by the way He repeats them to us over and over again in His word.
If any aspect of primary doctrine is compromised, the entire Bible can easily become compromised. If the Bible's view on the sanctity of life (practical reflection) becomes compromised, the Bible's authority will soon follow (dogma), and that leaves the door open to throw out important doctrines like substitutionary atonement (which is necessary for salvation).
I know it's cliche to say that this is a slippery slope, but it really is. I've seen it happen with people in the short time I've been a believer and there are countless stories from history.
"We cannot sacrifice truth on the altar of compromise." -Phil St. Germain
I hope you stick with this series and follow the adventure through secondary doctrine and "doubtful things" as well. God bless you!
*A note- there are several other sins listed in this passage besides homosexuality. They are just as evil in their working through human lives; however, sexuality refers to a moral lifestyle that involves sinning against your own body (1 Cor 6:18).
†Practical doctrinal reflection also includes positive things such as love, hope, charity, service, etc. However, these things are not traditionally considered "doctrine," thus they have been left off the chart.