3 Levels of Doctrine 12

Just finished reading a book by Al Mohler called He is Not Silent. Very good book that I’d recommend to anyone involved in ministry, even though it is effectually written for pastors. One particular thing that stands out to me is the three levels of doctrine defined by Mohler as:

  1. Level 1 – Essentials of the Faith.  This level includes things like the virgin birth, the Trinity, the Resurrection, and the deity of Christ. If we don’t get these right, we can’t really consider ourselves Christians.
  2. Level 2 – There is room within level two for disagreement, but these are serious enough that we couldn’t really worship together on a regular basis if we did not agree. Things included in this group may be infant baptism, charismatic gifts, and position on predestination.
  3. Level 3 – These are non-essential to the Faith. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important or shouldn’t be discussed. It simply means we won’t have to break fellowship over a disagreement. One thing that pops in to my mind on this level would be eschatology.

The reason I bring this up is because it seems like some here only recognize Level 1 and Level 3. You either push to call someone a heretic, or you don’t think it’s worth making a fuss about.  That makes discussion particularly tough for me, because I would say most of the disagreements that I share on this site fall into Level 2. I’m not saying the person in error can’t be a Christian. I’m not calling them a heretic or a false prophet. However, for the most part, I’m not nit-picking either. I’m pointing out (sometimes in a light-hearted manner) things that I consider to be very serious issues. I point them out because I think these issues need to be addressed by each individual believer, and sadly, some modern leaders seem to want them swept under a rug.

I want to hear from you. Which issues fall into each level for you? Is this completely subjective, or is there a biblical standard to follow? Does it matter at all, or is it enough for one to confess belief in Jesus?

12 thoughts on “3 Levels of Doctrine

  1. JT Aug 25, 2009 12:48 pm

    Nice post, Downing!

    I like the categorization of the levels of disagreement. And that’s the clearest explanation I’ve heard yet on why you won’t call Noble or Furtick heretics, yet you continue to publicly criticize their ministry.

    I agree that level two disagreements make it difficult for believers to fellowship together regularly. Although it certainly isn’t impossible.

    However, I don’t think level two disagreements necessitate public criticism of a pastor’s or church’s ministry.

    For example, there are many great pastors and churches who practice infant baptism (with which I disagree). People come to Christ at those churches. People grow in their faith at those churches. Far be it from me to criticize the ministry that God is working through them, simply because I might disagree with the way they do church! I might privately discuss the theological or methodological differences with a pastor from that church (if he will meet with me), but I certainly don’t think it is appropriate to wage a public campaign to discredit the ministry being done at their church!

    I guess that is where we differ. I have no problem publicly proclaiming that Benny Hinn is a heretic and is leading people astray. God commands us to call out heresy. But God’s work is not being done when we publicly tear down the ministries of those with whom we have level two disagreements.

  2. James Downing Aug 25, 2009 12:54 pm

    Well said JT. I am thinking about it and will comment more fully in a little while.

  3. Paul Aug 25, 2009 1:05 pm

    I would say level 1 would be basic tennents of the faith..agree with you there. I might would include inerrancy of Scripture.

    Level 2: I would say baptism, elections vrs. free will, Doctrine of the Church, miraculous gifts, Chuch government, etc.

    Level 3: agree with eschatology (as long as it isn’t some abstract, crazy interpretation)

  4. James Downing Aug 25, 2009 2:15 pm

    Alright JT – Good start for the discussion. I appreciate the level-headedness. First of all, about public criticism: If that pastor is unavailable for private criticism, then public is sometimes the only avenue. Still though, I think all three levels are worthy of discussion, and for the most part, I don’t see where it is helpful to hide names. Speaking in generalities only causes confusion.

    My problem with alot of what is going on in modern churches is that the leadership has placed itself above any real accountability, and then make tons of errors with these level 2 issues. Their members tend to ignore these issues because of the seemingly great results the ministry is getting in other areas. Personally, i think these level 2 issues are too great to ignore. When this is the direction of the church in general, it concerns me for the future. If we are so eager to overlook Level 2 issues now in the name of “success”, what will be asked to ignore next?

    Paul – I definitely think inerrency is a level 1 issue. However, I think inerrancy has to be defined something like “The Bible means exactly what it is supposed to mean.” My understanding of a passage or passages may be flawed, but that doesn’t take away from the inerrancy of the Scripture. I’ve just seen to many people get dogmatic about things that they totally had wrong.

  5. James Duncan Aug 25, 2009 3:31 pm

    JT, from what I see, the Turnstile Church basically says that #2 and #3 aren’t worth talking about AT ALL. PPers are trying to say that these things are still worth taking stances on and talking about.

    Downing, where would you put the Reformation in this rubric?

  6. James Downing Aug 25, 2009 3:39 pm

    Duncan – If broken down into specific points, I may see some give…but overall, I’d say Level 1.

  7. JT Aug 25, 2009 5:16 pm

    This is an interesting discussion.

    Take salvation, for example. My first reaction is that the doctrine of salvation is a slam-dunk level one doctrine. But upon reflection, there are disagreements on certain aspects of the doctrine of salvation that are level two, or even level three.

    Duncan- Your criticism that the so-called turnstile churches don’t think levels two and three are worth talking about is a bit off. Although I’m pretty sure the leadership at NewSpring would argue that obeying the great commission is more important than discussing level 2 and 3 doctrinal disputes, there are numerous occasions that I can cite where NewSpring is explicit on level two and three issues. Three examples:

    1) You cannot become a member without having been baptized by immersion as an adult (or as a child who confessed faith in Christ). If you were previously sprinkled or baptized as an infant, NewSpring requires baptism by immersion before you can become a member. <>

    2) The tithe is taught to be a 10% gift that is expected of all followers of Christ. <>

    3) The “Our Beliefs” of NewSpring includes a firm stance on eternal security: “Because God gives man eternal life through Jesus Christ, the believer is secure in that salvation for eternity. Salvation is maintained by the grace and power of God, not by the self-effort of the Christian. It is the grace and keeping power of God that gives this security. (John 10:29, II Timothy 1:12, Hebrews 7:25; 10:10-14, I Peter 1:3-5)” (Level 2)

  8. Paul Aug 25, 2009 5:25 pm

    I would put the reformation tennets in level 1.

    I disagree with JT. All aspects of salvation are at a 1 in my opinion. for example, many evangelicals are denying penal substitutionary atonement…i.e. the work of jesus on teh Cross was him receiving the full wrath of God for sin. This is not negotiable for to deny this aspect of the gospel is in essence preaching a different gospel. The cross is where the love of God and his holiness come together perfectly. to deny one is creating a different gospel. There cannot be common ground with churches/individuals when the gospel and the work of Christ are compromised in this way.

  9. JT Aug 25, 2009 8:48 pm


    I had a feeling that would open a can of worms.

    Let me put it this way: I know people who each say that salvation comes through “believing”, “receiving”, or “repenting”. They all mean slightly different things by using these words to define salvation. None of them completely agrees with any of the others.

    None of them hold heretical beliefs, in my opinion.

  10. Paul Aug 25, 2009 8:58 pm


    If I undersand you correctly, using such words as you listed in describing salvation interchangeably is not heretical. For the most part, your saying the same thing…I agree wtih you there (although I do not see “receiving” in the Bible, but we’ll put that in 3 🙂 However, like i mentioned, when dealing with the doctrine of salvation, one must ask is that person’s teaching a “different gospel”. my example was in penal substitutionary atonement. It’s like comparing the teaching of salvation of Rob Bell/Brian Mclaren with that of John Piper or Al Mohler. They are two radically different “gospels” being preached because one denies P.S. atonement and the others do not. THat is why i think doctrine of salvation is a 1. hope that clarifies.

  11. Micah Taylor Aug 26, 2009 1:35 am

    I picked this book up a couples weeks ago… nowhere near getting to read it though…

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