This is a series to further explain the articles of “A Conservative Christian Declaration.” .
We affirm that the center and apex of Christian faith and fellowship is the whole counsel of God, including right belief, right living, and right affection (Deut. 6:1–9). We further affirm that the transmission of biblical Christianity necessarily involves the preservation and cultivation of the entire system of faith (Acts 20:27).
We deny that belief in the gospel alone is adequate for healthy Christian worship, fellowship, and devotion.
The gospel forms the boundary of Christian fellowship: outside the gospel, no Christianity and no Christian fellowship can exist. Those who agree on the gospel, however, still disagree about many issues. Some of these issues are relatively trivial (for instance, the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6); others have greater importance.
About these issues, we affirm that two ditches must be avoided. On one side are those who raise every issue to the level of the gospel. Disagreements on secondary matters (such as views of the ordering of events during the end times) are made tests of Christian fellowship. This kind of “everythingism” diminishes the importance of the gospel. It writes everything in characters that are bold and uppercase; by emphasizing everything, it emphasizes nothing. Consequently, the “weightier matters of the law,” the “first and greatest commandment” is brought down to the level of the least important matters.
On the other side are those who grasp the central importance of the gospel and therefore insist that all else is inconsequential. In such cases, views of baptism and the table, church order (including polity, membership, and discipline), eschatology, and many other doctrines and practices are minimized. We wish to push back against such essentialism: these “secondary” doctrines and practices, while not always necessary to the being of the church, are of vital importance to its well-being.
We contend that “gospel minimalism” harms churches, not because of what it emphasizes, but because of what it neglects. Therefore, while affirming the place of the gospel as the boundary of fellowship, we insist that the whole counsel of God is the center of fellowship, and that pursuit of this center is of irreplaceable value for worship, fellowship, and devotion. Furthermore, this center is not merely doctrinal. It includes elements of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy.