Some of the confusion arises, it seems to me, because of a failure to distinguish between what one must believe in order to become saved and what one may not deny and still be regarded as saved. We are all born as spiritual babies into the kingdom of God. Some come in by dramatic conversion and some by a more gradual process. There is no rule of thumb as to the character of the circumstances by which God saves people. God cannot be put in a box by his creatures in that way.
For example, we are virtually all born again as Arminians. It is the belief system closest to our natural condition and provides the most easily digestible milk upon which new babies can grow. But there comes a time of weaning when the solid food of the gospel of grace must be applied to the whole panoply of our unfolding spiritual life. We have to grow up. There was no harm in the milk. In fact, it was good for us in the right time. But an exclusive diet of milk becomes increasingly harmful to those who are growing up into adulthood. Eventually we come to see the overarching sovereign hand of God in more and more things, and we begin to realize that our salvation was a work of God affecting even our will to receive Christ.
The child of God does not know all the truths to begin with – especially the deeper truths. Yet he is still a child of God. To be safe, however, this child must take the part of the child – as Christ Himself indicated. The child does not pontificate upon things of which he knows nothing. He is inquisitive. He is open. He is receptive. What he does not know or understand he will inquire about. He may get it wrong and need correction. But he grows and learns. And each does so at a unique pace so that some mature exceptionally quickly, while others take years. Some even die in childhood.
So, newborn Christians are not born theologians. They come on the simplest of terms. They are convicted of their sinfulness, they hear the gospel of Christ, they believe and come to Him for forgiveness and reconciliation to God. For them there is no ordo salutis. They are perishing and they take the way out that is made available. You don’t stop to read the fire code while the building is burning around you.
The matter of the fundamentals becomes much broader as Christians grow. It is one thing not to know the great foundations of the faith and quite another once having been made aware of them, to deny them outright. God has ordained a church body in which there are always some who are mature and many who are at various stages along the way. It’s not really rocket science. The younger learn from the older. The spiritual novices learn from the spiritually mature warriors. And God holds the mature more accountable than He does the babes. Teachers, Pastors and Elders are held to the highest standards by God Himself.
For those purporting to be something in the faith (having answered the call to positions of responsibility in the body) to deny fundamental truths about which a novice is merely ignorant is an abomination. It is not hard to see why. The sheep learn from the shepherds. If the shepherds have it wrong the sheep will likewise fall into error. So, if a shepherd stumbles over a fundamental and will not receive correction from his peers or from the body at large then he is to be rightly and speedily removed from the position of influence and, ultimately from the body itself.
Similar standards apply to every one else in the whole body throughout the entire maturing process. Not to understand is one thing – but to actively deny what is commonly held as a fundamental truth requires immediate attention and correction – up to and including disfellowshiping.
So there is a distinction to be made here. That distinction is to consider what is necessary for entrance into the kingdom and what may not be actively denied by its professing citizens. Leadership, in all its forms, is an extreme case in which the active denial of fundamentals is most deadly. It follows, therfore, that it is at the leadership that the buck first stops. A rotten and dying fellowship is most likely indicative of an apostate or heretical leadership. The most damaging corruption always starts from the top down.
None of this answers what the fundamentals actually are. In some future posts I am going to take a stab at defining them as an exercise for my own faith. They say that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Just remember that my definitions are based upon what a professing believer may not deny – and not necessarily what he must believe simply in order to pass from death to life.