What would you consider the non-negotiables of our faith?

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I am curious what this group of people would consider the non-negotiables of our faith. One of the problems dealing with post-modernism is it is really easy to get swept up in a sea of doubt as things get deconstructed and our foundations get questioned. We certainly do have our traditions and one of the problems in the past is that our traditions were made non-negotiables (seems like Jesus had something to say about that to the Pharisees a time or two). So with a cordial spirit and without bashing our traditions let’s talk about which things our so foundational to our faith that we cannot be willing to give an inch on them. I will toss out an easy one and see where it goes from there.

The Lordship of Jesus Christ.

0 Responses

  1. I would say the basic Christian story (from creation to the second-coming of Jesus) is a non-negotiable. Without the basic story, our identity as God’s people gets lost. Here is a link to an older post on my blog(https://kingdomseeking.wordpress.com/2008/10/02/telling-our-story/) where I discuss the necessity of knowing our story and tell the basic story as I understand it.

    Now let me qualify this a bit. I am arguing that our story is a non-negotiable. Thus the various elements of that story (e.g., God creates, death and resurrection of Jesus) are non-negotiables. However, I am willing to grant some wiggle room for how we might differ in some of our understandings on the specific elements of the story. For instances, a non-negotiable element of the story is the messianic identity of Jesus. If we do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) then we do not have a common faith with each other. However, our understanding of what “Jesus is the Messiah” means might differ. For example, you might understand the Messianic identity as only having soteriological significance while I understand it have both soteriological and other-worldly political significance. I believer we can still share in communion together despite such a difference, for either one of us or both of us could be wrong in our understanding. Another quick example would be baptism (the most divided element of the story among contemporary Christianity). I believe that baptism is a non-negotiable, essential element of our story. But I am willing to allow for different understandings as to the practice and purpose behind baptism and not use it as a reason for withdrawing fellowship. Why? Again, either one or both of our understandings as to what baptism is and what its purpose is could be wrong.

    Any ways, this will be a great discussion. I would like to ask a question about what we consider a non-negotiable (and where to draw the boundaries of Christian fellowship). In 1 Corinthians 8, we find Paul acknowledging that some who will eat food sacrificed to idols will think they are eating a sacrfice to ‘a god’ (v. 7). Thus, it appears that not all Christians in Corinth have not arrived at monotheism yet and yet Paul considers them within the Christian fellowship. However, back in 1 Cor 5, Paul demanded the disfellowship of a Christian involved in immoral behavior (incest). So here is my concern and question: Most, if not all, contemporary discussions of fellowship and non-negotiables surround maters of Christian doctrine. Few discussions surround the matters of Christian moral/ethical living. Should not more attention be given to what moral/ethical behaviors are non-negotiables? If so, what behaviors would be included as a non-negotiable?

    Great thought provoking post Matt!


  2. Matt, not only do I appreciate the disposition with which you address things, but the fact that you are able to do it while still throwing out topics that have the potential to be controversial. Until we start openly talking about these things with one another more, harmony among believers will continue to be impossible it seems. So thank you.

    Personally, I would say that baptism for the remission of sins is a non-negotiable Bible teaching. The Bible makes it clear that without contacting the blood of Jesus (Romans 6:3-4), one cannot be in Christ. I also feel strongly about the young earth (as opposed to the earth being possibly millions of years old) but do not know at this point if that is something that I can bind with no exceptions.

    I appreciate your topic here and look forward to others’ responses. In the past year and a half or so, I have changed quite a bit on a lot of things that I once thought were “non-negotiable.” But one thing I do still struggle with as I have made some of these changes, is where exactly do we draw the line? I want to be more accepting like Jesus was, and do a better job in accepting people for where they are without being judgmental of others who do not see everything exactly as I see them. So I have drawn the conclusion that if I am going to be found guilty of something come Judgment Day (and I certainly will), I would much rather be guilty of being too merciful and compassionate rather than too dogmatic and legalistic. But the Bible does talk about withdrawing fellowship and refraining from the unfruitful works of darkness. So where do we do this and where do we not? In what areas are we not to bend?

    Great topic here Matt. I look forward to continuing to read what others have to say.

  3. @ Rex…

    Would you take the stories of Jonah, Job, or Genesis 1-11 — recognizing them & accepting them as historical FACT — as a non-negotiable of faith? Because I wouldn’t. I’d like to hear your reflections on that.

    F. LaGard Smith wrote an interesting book on this topic some years back. He used family as a cipher for figuring out “Who is my brother?” And he was willing to call others who didn’t agree on some core matters but did agree on others “cousins,” and so forth. For example, I remember him saying how he had a really good Catholic friend who demonstrated a level of faith he’d never recognized in any other person he’d met in Churches of Christ. There was something substantive worth honoring their with some level of family connection. But there was still some sense in which he simply could not consider him a brother.

  4. Although, I would say that the historicity of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (especially death & resurrection) is COMPLETELY essential. I would say that our faith rests or fails on the establishment of those events as historical fact.

  5. Philip,

    I am more familiar with the issues surrounding Gen 1-11 and Job than I am with Jonah. Any ways, I do not read Genesis 1-11 as a strict literal account of history. I probably lean more to the side that Job was not an actual historical person and thus the story of Job is ‘wisdom literature’ intended to convey a message that is true. You refresh my mind on the issues with Jonah.

    So having said all that, to use Genesis 1-11 and specifically the Genesis creation narrative as an example, though read as a figurative story intended to communicate a divine truth (God created), I would not make the various hermenuitical/interpretation issues a test of fellowship. I believe the important issues for fellowship and faith formation is the belief that God created.

    I hope that answers what you wanted me to explain.



    I am curious… Is being cleansed in the blood of Jesus conditioned on whether or not I understand that my baptism was ‘for the remission of sins?’


  6. Hi Rex-

    I would think that one must understand what they are doing when they do it. From the example in Acts 2 of those that were added to the church, it seems that they understood that it was for the remission of their sins when they were baptized. I guess I am forced to admit that I don’t know what they knew or didn’t know. But if Peter told them it was for the remission of their sins when commanding them to do it, then I can only assume that they understood that when they complied.

    Hope that helps


  7. Jason,

    I agree that one must understand what they are doing in baptism but… must that understanding include the typical restoration understanding of ‘for the remission of sins’ (which sees baptism as a prerequisette to forgiveness rather than a response for having received forgiveness prior to baptism) in order for God to grant the individual salvation in Christ?

    My reason for being a thorn in you side:-) is my conern for people placing to much trust in their intellectual knowledge of what God is doing in our baptism rather than simply trusting God (not human intellect) to save even if we fail to understand all the exact things God is doing and times in which God is acting. Like you, I believe that ‘for the remission of sins’ means that one of the reasons for baptism is to receive God’s forgiveness. But, what if I am wrong? If I insist that for baptism to be acceptable that one must have the ‘right’ understanding and I am found to be wrong myself then what does that say about my salvation? I am just concerned that we wind up trusting more in what we know (knowledge) than who we know (God).

    Grace and peace,


  8. Rex-

    You’re not being a thorn in my side. I appreciate the discussion and opportunity of being challenged and learning. I think you ask a legitimate question and I will give it more consideration. I certainly don’t think anything we “do” is the source of our salvation. God’s love and grace takes care of that. But I do believe we need to accept what He has graciously given us. Now what all that entails, perhaps I have it wrong. I will let God sort that out and continue to pray daily that I never misguide someone when talking about Jesus and His kingdom with them. My response has to do with the fact that as I read through the examples of the NT of those being baptized, it appears that it was for the purpose of having their sins washed away. And it seems logical that they would need to understand what they are doing at the time of doing it. All I can say is that those who I have baptized know why they are doing it and that is is for the purpose of their sins being washed away.

    Have a great day! Although I enjoy the discussion, I believe we have digressed from what Matt’s purpose in his blog was. Sorry Matt, 🙂

  9. I think everything said here has been in line with what I laid out above – cordial and without bashing our traditions. What is happening here is one thing I hoped would happen – that we would be able to discuss what we think and explain our differences in a loving manner so that we can all grow and mature through dialog with the community of faith. Our beliefs don’t need to take place in a vacuum. They need to come from scripture and be informed by the community of faith. I think that is exactly what is taking place here.

  10. Just for the record,

    I do believe ‘for the remission of sins’ is a great reason and biblica reason for being baptized. And like many of you, I do try to teach those I baptize what is happening with their sins as they respond to God in repentance and baptism.

    Any ways, I have enjoyed the discussion.

    Grace and peace,


  11. Jason, what do you do with those like William Wilberforce and John Newton who were not baptised as adults, yet the fruit of their lives shines with the redemptive love of Christ?

  12. wjcsydney,

    What can I do with them? I guess the same thing they do when someone is engaged in something with which they disagree. Love them? Pray God’s grace upon them? It is not my job to condemn them to a life of eternal damnation. I’m certainly not trying to do that. I was merely answering Matt’s question as to what I think is a non-negotiable and I thought I would throw out there that I see the scriptures teaching baptism for the remission of sins.

    There are a lot of preachers and writers out there with which I disagree, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the good work they do and even glean the things from their teachings that I can. If given the opportunity, I would hope that I would lovingly try to show them from the Scriptures what I perceive to be a fundamental NT teaching.

    That is really all I know to do!

    God’s blessings,

  13. I would also go with baptism being a non-negotiable to the Christian faith. I am not sure how Romans 2 fits into the mix and God certainly does want transformation of the heart. It seems to me that Christian baptism is so linked in with the transformation process that I cannot discount it. It would certainly be on my list. I really love Jason’s response and perspective of praying for people and treating people with love and grace. I am certainly glad I am not the judge. It is amazing that what is so plain to one person becomes so clouded and uncertain to another person. I cannot help but believe this is often due to the problem of making up our mind before we come to scripture and then keeping or tossing scriptures based on how well they fit our preconceived ideas. So some people reject baptism based on works-righteousness and others say it has nothing to do with works but is a submissive act done to someone by someone else. Same texts but widely different interpretations.

  14. I find the argument provided by John Mark Hicks & Greg Taylor in “Down in the River to Pray” rather compelling to the issue of baptism being a core issue. They bring in the case of II Chronicles 30 — how God accepted the offering of Hezekiah & the nation even though they did not worship as was prescribed in the law. It’s a tough argument to ignore.

    Then again, Ephesians 4:4-6 includes “one baptism” as a matter of what we unify around.

    It’s a tough issue. I don’t look down on anyone for which stance they take on that one as long as they’ve dealt thoughtfully with Scripture.

  15. I find the argument of John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor compelling too. I think it is important for us to remember that there is a big difference between someone who is not baptized according to the teachings of scripture because they were not taught and someone who is not baptized because they just did not want to be obedient to God. In the former case we are talking about a sincere seeker of God (which could even be us) and in the later case we are talking about willful rejection of God (a rebellious heart.

    Having said all that, Matt is right about baptism being so intregal to our transformation that it cannot be ignored, overlooked, or minimized. At the heart of this transformational aspect of baptism is dying to our old self (Rom 6) which is a pretty compelling argument for believer’s baptism. It is also a compelling argument for teaching unbaptized believers to be baptized if they and we really do wish to take discipleship seriously.

    With that in mind, I lament that the Christian tradition I am part of has often minimized baptism or reduced baptism to little to do with anything except getting our sins forgiven so that we can get our ticket to heaven. In this regards, for us baptism has exactly the same function that the ‘sinner’s prayer’ has for the rest of evangelical Christianity. It should not surprise why we find an increasing lack of discipleship among Christians. It is because we have taught them that following Christ is about getting saved and baptism (again sinner’s prayer for most evangelicals) serves only that means.

    In Acts 2, Peter did not stress the discipleship aspect of baptism because the Jews present in Jerusalem for Pentecost were already disciples of God, they just did not believe that Jesus was the Lord and Messiah. Peter knew that all he had to do was convince them that Jesus was the Messiah and they would become as loyal to Jesus as they already were to God. In Paul we find the discipleship element of baptism (‘death to self’) included into his teaching on baptism. Why? Because the Gentiles he was preaching the gospel too were not disciples of God nor devoted to righteous living and therefore they needed to be taught that in baptism they not only were receiving the promise of God’s salvation but also committing themselves to a life of righteousness (discipleship).

    I am convinced the highest motive/reason for baptism is to surrender self (death) so that I can live the life of Christ (hence, ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain’) that God is raising me into. I am equally convinced that this theology of baptism needs to be strongly recovered as we teach people to believe Jesus and become is disciples.

    Grace and peace,


  16. Baptism is not a “get out of jail free” card to be played as we enter the pearly gates…almost like a “gotcha God!” In other words, we certainly cannot live however we want knowing that in the end we have all our bases covered because we have been baptized. Baptism is about transformation, as Rex mentioned Romans 6, and because of that it is imperative that we continue to grow and mature from that point on. Why? Not because we need to have a legalistic view of if you don’t mature you won’t get to heaven. Rather, we mature because we do love God and want to know him more. Maturity is the natural result of a heart that is drawn to God.

    Now regarding exceptions in scripture. There is certainly a precedent that God can do the unexpected. The Hezekiah example has already been mentioned. It certainly stands to reason that God can do whatever he wants to do and it is entirely possible that there will be people in heaven who were not baptized (especially those who died prior to 30 AD right?). I personally do not want to bank on an exception but would rather try my best to be obedient to what God has laid out in scripture. I also don’t want to hinge my obedience on God based on how you translate or interpret eis in Acts 2.

    We all come to scripture with preconceived ideas. I would like to think that I don’t but that just wouldn’t be honest or true. Some come to scripture having been taught baptism is not essential and so they look to scripture to confirm that point of view. So they hold up verses like John 3:16 because it confirms their belief that belief is the only thing necessary for salvation. Hand them Acts 2:38, which doesn’t fit their interpretive framework and instead of allowing scripture to speak plainly for itself they have to dance around and come up with creative interpretive hoops to make the Greek jump through in order to confirm what they already believe. None of us read scripture with a blank interpretive slate and so we all have to be willing to allow our interpretations to be challenge and see if they withstand scrutiny and also see how they fit together with the broader picture of what scripture is trying to tell us. That is why I believe baptism is a non-negotiable because it fits so beautifully into the broader picture of what scripture is trying to tell us about being reconciled with God. The only way around it is if God decides to make exceptions. That is not up to me and I will let God do what he will. In the meantime I will preach and teach the importance of baptism from a similar perspective of what Rex mentioned in his last comment – a fuller, more mature view of Christian baptism and how it fits into what God is doing to redeem mankind and not just a “get out of jail free” card.

  17. Rex, very well put. I couldn’t agree more. It seems to me that if our old person is to die, then a new person would need to resurrect. Paul explains it beautifully in Romans 6:1-4, I think.

    With that said, I agree in that I also think it is tragic how some among us have taught and baptized, as if it alone was our ticket to heaven. There is much more to it than merely dunking one in water. I am afraid that if we are not careful, we almost get into as much of a “baptism only” doctrine as others do a “faith only” doctrine.

    Which brings up another interesting point. I recently went to lunch with one of the baptist preachers in town. Great man and I am so happy I took the time to spend with him. We had a great discussion. He was pleasantly surprised to learn that we don’t teach “works only” or “baptism only” anymore than we would “faith only.” And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that when they teach faith only, we have often misinterpreted that. They don’t believe that one doesn’t have submit to God’s will. Yet, I have always been told that it is what they believe. From my conversation, it seems that he places obedience as part of the definition of faith. Therefore “faith only” is what saves us. That was his reasoning, anyway.

    While I don’t necessarily like the terminology “faith only,” I do wonder if the controversy between that is merely terminology or semantics. After all, “faith only” advocates don’t deny that submission to God’s will and righteousness is necessary.

    Thank you all for your thoughts. I am enjoying this.


  18. Jason,

    I have enjoyed the learning moments when I sat accross the table from another Christian whose church tradition is different than mine. I have often found that what they believe about certain issues and what I was told they believed about certain issues is not entirely the same.

    When I was in Ithaca, NY one of the greatest blessings I had was the ability to gather twice a month with a group of Pastors who came from evangelical/conservative type churches (Bible churches, community churches, Baptist, Assembly of God, etc…). We spent our time in lots of prayer and discussion about our calling as ministers of the gospel. We did not gather to try and win a doctrinal debate over the interpretation of certain passages, though from time to time we would talk about our different understandings of certain passages/issues. We all had the same goal, to see the gospel proclaimed and lived out in our community and so we came together in prayer and study for the purpose of encouraging each other in our own faith.

    I always left those gatherings feeling stronger in the faith than before. Looking back, I think what made a gathering of strange-bedfellows so great was that we all ministered in a truly pagan culture (you must understand the culture of Ithaca and Cornell University). So many of the old mainline churches there had given up almost all, if not all, conviction regarding the truth in exchange for a politically correct gospel that appeases. To find people who actually believe in the truth of the gospel and the truth of the scriptures that bear witness to the gospel meant searching for the minority within society. Somewhere in that search when you find a believer, you stop worrying about what is the name on their church sign, whether they are more influenced by Calvin or Arminius, which verses do they interpret the rest of the bible through (which we all do, as Matt has pointed out), etc…

    Out of that came a great coopertive effort by our congregations for the sake of Christ. On the National Prayer Day, we all hosted a prayer service sponsored by “A Group of Churches that Are Seeking to be Christians” (hmmn… that sounds like familiar language:-}). Rather than praying for the suggested topics from the Naitonal Prayer Organization, we created a list of 7 topics that we relevant to the gospel within our own community. And to God’s glory, there was a great turnout from the public which included people who would not even consider themselves Christians.

    Any ways, I just though I would share that story. In the end, all that we can be is faithful to what we believe is the truth and trust God to act as he has promised. We live in faith with hope. Therefore we do not fear.

    Grace and peace,


  19. Matt,

    I laughed out loud at the “get out of jail free” card & “Gotcha God!” analogies.

    The one I’ve been using with my church family lately is that baptism isn’t just a sin BAIL-OUT — like the recent government bail-outs. It’s quite fundamentally different.

  20. I especially appreciate Jason’s observation about how Baptists (and many other conservative evangelicals) view “faith only.” In my experience, they include repentance and an eagerness to obey in their definition of saving faith in Christ. Their language leads to misunderstandings at times; but if we take the time to listen, things become clearer.

  21. Matt,

    Great question posed.

    Rex and Jason,

    Jason and I are very good friends. You guys are having a great discussion! I haven’t seen it come up yet, but it is something that has guided my approach to the baptism and understanding baptism question for years now.

    I would like to suggest that if there isn’t at least something crucial to an understanding of why one is being baptized (i.e. for the remission of sins), then I really don’t understand why the 12 of Acts 19 needed to be baptized again. Contextually, it seems like long after John’s baptism was no longer efficacious, certain one’s like Apollos were still advocating it (end of Acts 18). Apollos had to be instructed in the way of Jesus. Then, Paul stumbles across the 12 in the place where Apollos had been, Ephesus. Ironic huh? These guys know only John’s baptism.

    I believe there was a fundamental difference between John’s baptism and the baptism of the Great Commission, but both had and now only one has “the remission of sins” in view. If John’s baptism was a baptism “of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4), and Paul suggests it was in Acts 19, then why re-baptize them in the name of Jesus?

    Some have said, since Paul begins his inquiry by asking them about the HS, that that was why they were rebaptized, but I think the NT is pretty clear that people like Cornelius received a miraculous manifestation of the Spirit to speak in tongues, prior to his baptism. Paul, being an apostle, could have imparted those miraculous gifts without having to baptize them if he wanted. I don’ t think that was the basis.

    To me, it was in what they understood about the subject of baptism. The baptism Jesus commission was now the only one that brought remission of sins, not any other. The 12 of Acts 19 apparently didn’t understand that, so he rebaptized them in the name of Jesus.

    These are just my thoughts.

  22. Doug,

    Thanks for joining the discussion.

    John’s baptism was ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ too. What made the baptism Jesus commanded uniquely different from the baptism John was teaching was not that it was for the forgiveness of sins (though both baptisms are for the forgiveness of sins) but that the baptism Peter called the 3,000 on Pentecost to was “in the name of Jesus Christ ” (a baptism that submitts to the Messianic Lordship of Jesus) and accompanied with the promise of the Holy Spirit (the sign of God’s promised salvation).

    The 12 in Acts 19 had not been baptized in the name (authority) of Jesus and thus they needed to profess that allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord through baptism in His name (which I believe is one reason, and a good reason, for baptism). Their lack of baptism in the name of Jesus is evident to Paul by their lacking of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to notice that despite not being baptized in the name of Jesus, Luke still recognizes the 12 as ‘disciples’ (one of two operative words Luke uses to describe the Christians).

    As far as the Holy Spirit is concerned, this was always understood as the sign of God’s salvation coming upon his people which is why Peter quotes from the Prophet Joel on his Pentecost sermon regarding the outpouring of the Spirit. Paul also speaks of the Holy Spirit as the sign of God’s promised salvation (Eph 1.13-14). Thus it seems that in the New Covenant the Holy Spirit serves as the same function for which circumcision served under the Old Covenant, that is the Holy Spirit is the sign of salvation that mark’s people as belonging to God.

    I bring this up because in the book of Acts this becomes very confusing. In Acts 2, we have the Holy Spirit being received upon Baptism. In Acts 10 we have Cornelius and his household receiving the Holy Spirit prior to baptism. Then finally in Acts 19, the 12 receive the Holy Spirit not with their baptism but afterwards from the laying on of Paul’s hands (thus, baptism and the reception of the Spirit were two different events in the sequence of time). I do not know what to make of this except to say that it is humbling and makes me a little more cautious about saying the book of Acts is so cut and dried on the subject of baptism (as the tradition I am part of has historically tried to claim). One thing is clear, when we read Acts as well as the rest of the NT, we cannot deny the utter importance of baptism. Baptism is an intregal part of the gospel that cannot be separated from the saving significance of the gospel. Those who portray baptism as having no important role in God’s saving grace, do so against scripture. On the other hand, those who portray God as being bound within a ‘baptismal box’ that has a once-for-all fixed manner in how and when God saves, must also do so against scripture.

    Any ways, those are just some thoughts of mine. Thanks again for joining the discussion.

    Grace and peace,


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