Today, we frequently hear references to this idea:
In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.
The idea behind this statement has become the mantra and dominant influence among many who claim Christianity. This sentiment ultimately amounts to churches creating lists where doctrine is divided between “essentials” (points of fellowship with others) and “non-essentials” (those things where diversity/liberty of opinion is allowed). The goals are to create an environment of charity where churches feel they have room to grow in their understanding of Scripture and to facilitate advancement of the kingdom in unity. However, the result that is produced is just the opposite.
Rather than continuing to pursue growth and the understanding of truth in the areas of diversity, churches become inclined to teach or think about only those things in the “essentials” category. A bigger problem however, is that such a list also creates a delineation as it relates to the Gospel. The so-called essentials represent the bare minimum a Christian must obey if they are to enter heaven; whereas the non-essentials—are just that—things not necessary for salvation. The essentials v non-essentials is a Gospel issue.
However, God has not created such a list. There is no separation of essentials and non-essentials in Scripture. A sound believer accepts that if God saw fit to reveal it, He expects Christians to obey it. Nowhere in Scripture do we find “optional” commands, in fact, we find the exact opposite:
Deuteronomy 29:29: “The revealed things are for you and for your children.” This is the closest that we come to a list of non-essentials. The non-essentials are contained in the truth that has NOT been revealed. Everything that has been revealed is essential, revelation establishes obligation.
2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” If all Scripture is inspired, profitable and necessary for the man of God to be adequate and equipped for every good work, is it not essential?
Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Not part of what was written, not some, not most, but everything that was written was for our instruction.
Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” According to Jesus Christ, discipleship is defined as obedience (observance) to all (not some) of God’s commands. Again, everything is essential!
All of the word of God is important and God’s people need all of it. A sound church is determined to not set people in the broad way, the way populated by those who do not obey all that Christ has commanded (Matthew 7:13). Jesus himself recognized that there will be a large number of people who claim the name of Christ but who also segregated Scripture into essentials and non-essentials. He foretold that at the future judgment, there will be many who cry out, “Lord, Lord”, but who are then condemned. These individuals might have followed the commands that they thought to be essential, but in the end, they do not inherit eternal life because they did not do all “the will of the Father”. In other words, they practiced “lawlessness” in the areas that were deemed to be “non-essentials” (Matthew 7:21-23).
This is why the issue of church membership is so important. Hebrews 10 says that we are not to be, “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some…for if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Does this not teach church attendance as not only a command but also one which will determine our eternal state—yet how many have church membership on their “essentials list”? Does this not prove (along with a whole host of other commands which seem to never darken the doorway of such lists, i.e. 1 Timothy 5:8) that nothing can be taken for granted – that all of God’s commands are essential – essential to the Gospel – the true Gospel that demands complete obedience to Jesus as Lord?
Let us therefore not turn to the right or to the left, or be so arrogant as to think that we can treat as secondary what God has made primary – which is all of His Word. Hellfire and eternal separation from God is on the line and we must do exactly as He says! 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
All is essential, all is the Word, all is authoritative and all is needed if we are to be found as true Christ followers on that great day when we stand before His throne.