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Some Essentials and Non-essentials

“For Moses truly said to the fathers, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3: 22 , 23)

Just after Peter delivered the second recorded sermon at Solomon’s Porch following the healing of the lame man, having to them announced Jesus and him crucified, he then quoted Moses as found in Deuteronomy 18, as we have set before you.

Take a moment to look at this statement. The Prophet that was to be heard would be like Moses, yet this prophet’s word would be even stronger than the word of Moses. I wonder how? I think this can only be taken to mean that the prophet would be greater in stature than Moses and that his word would be greater in consequence even than was the Law of Moses. Beyond this it is noted that he should be heard in ALL things whatsoever he would say; and the binding behind that word, the end of either obedience to it or of rebellion against it would be sure and swift and not subject to any discussion. That means that he should be obeyed. No wonder the Bible says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Based upon this reading, I would like to look at some essentials and non-essentials as concerns Christianity. I know that you have heard expressions like this before: that there are essentials and non-essentials when it comes to serving God. And I think that this is a common notion that most of the world has when it comes to obedience to God. Many say: there are things mentioned in the Bible, but you don’t have to respect all of them, and so there are essentials and non-essentials in the word of God. Now I want you to know that I don’t believe this at all and I hope that you don’t either.

I believe in the Bible as the inerrant word of God. And therefore I believe what Moses said just as much as I believe what God said about Christ and what Christ and his apostles said. And I believe that what we just listed was – “For Moses truly said to the fathers, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”

If there was nothing else at all said in the scriptures, I should get the picture from this one sentence that if I will not hear this prophet (and who else could he have been referring to except Jesus) that I will be destroyed. I hope that registers with everyone reading this.

There are no idle expressions in the book of God. And on our understanding of these things and the accepting or rejecting them hangs all eternity.

So with that before us, lets identify some essentials and non-essentials in serving God. Let’s start with the essentials in the gospel plan of salvation. That there is a plan is simply beyond any serious dispute and that we need to be in line with it is covered completely and thoroughly in God’s word.

The parts of Gods plan mentioned in his word starts with the hearing of that prophet we had just read about. Paul states in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” and the writer James states that we are to receive the “implanted word which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

So I have to clear my mind and listen to the word of God. Now he didn’t say listen to the preacher or the televangelist or to my neighbor, although that might in some way be helpful; and he didn’t say a thing about the form that you take in the word of God from whether as a book, tape, CDROM or by computer version. But I am simply told to hear the word of God. That is the essential part. Is there anything inessential mentioned in that statement? No. Nothing else is on that very short list. Therefore the manner by which I receive the word is a non-essential and left off to me to decide as the essential is to hear what God has put to mankind.

Next I am told to believe in what I take in from God’s word: to have faith in God, his Son and in his word. Hebrews 11:6 states this point rather efficiently: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

I am not asked to cull his message or to mow it over with my opinion – I am told to seek it out and to believe it and accept it (as it is) so that I will please God. Therefore an essential part is belief. There are clearly no non-essentials mentioned here either. It says nothing about how to decide what parts I should believe and accept – it simply implies throughout that I should believe all of it, as it plainly states that all of it is God’s will for me. It remains unqualified as to parts or believing in pieces of it or in any right to dispose of any piece of it that perhaps doesn’t suit me.

Next I must repent. “Except you repent you shall all likewise perish (Luke 13: 3 and 5).” This one is as inconvenient as can be.

But what is essential to repentance? That I must do it is all. Repentance is a turning away – away from sinful or disapproved behaviors and inconvenient pursuits, as listed by God through his word. That means I must stop one thing and trade up to a better set: leave the bad out for the good. Which behavior or sin can I leave off repenting from? It seems nothing is said at all about doing anything except repenting and turning to God. How many inessential things to repenting are noted? That would be none. Look though you may you’ll not find an exemption from repentance. And what did Moses say would happen to those who would not hear that prophet?

I am told to confess Christ as Lord and as the Son of God. That I am told to do both is also beyond any reasonable dispute. In Matthew 10:32-33 the Lord said this, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” In Matthew 16:15-17, the following is recorded: “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” There is no inessential stuff there either.

Here comes the one lots of folks have trouble with —baptism. So what does the word of God say about baptism? Well first it says that everyone who believes must be baptized (Acts 2:38 and 41). It states that baptism is immersion and that the medium is water (that is after all what the word means – see Acts 8:38 ). And it states that it is both for putting on Christ as savior and to wash away sins (Galatians 3: 26 and 27, Colossians 2:12 , Acts 22:16).

Now, what is not essential with baptism; what can be dispensed with? It doesn’t say a thing about where I must be baptized or by whom, and it doesn’t say what time of day it should be or who should be witness to it. Let’s look further: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Who said that? Jesus said it. So that must be done. Luke says that the apostle Paul did the following: Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Then that must be done, but which is the correct wording to use?

Because it doesn’t list the exact same words said in each case does that make it a different baptism? Does use of the same words or some exact words constitute a proper baptism? For me, I think the essential is that I must be baptized into Christ, and whether or not the one doing the baptism may say it one way and the other has no effect on me if I am being baptized for the correct reasons. He can get it right either way. It simply says that I should be immersed in the name of Jesus, as Peter or Paul had said, or as Jesus said it, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2: 38 and 19:5). Jesus is right, but his words dont make Peter and Paul wrong, and vice versa, because they spoke as they were given to through Christ and by his authority. It is not the correctness of the stated words or a formula of the tightness of the words that is the point — it is a showing or response in question, and appeal of a clear conscience towards God in being obedient to Christ and being baptized for the remission of sins (1 Peter 3:21).

The essential part is in the doing of it, in the immersion, and in the reason for why a person is baptized – being baptized into Christ, to put on Christ. I just cannot leave that off. The inessentials are in how it is stated that they are being baptized into Christ (as long as what may be stated is correct in noting the true purpose of baptism). I also know that whether they are baptized at my church building or in yours, or in my pool, bathtub or in your ocean is non-essential. That the vessel used, and by whom the immersing is accomplished, or in how many witnesses there may be is all non-essential. God’s word has nothing at all to say about any of that.

Many people doing the baptizing state the words of Christ mentioned above in Matthew 28:19 and some baptize simply “into Christ” as mentioned elsewhere (such as in Acts 2:38). I do know that no formula is ever explicitly stated. But even with that, I don’t know that you have to “say” anything at all over someone being baptized. I don’t see it taught anywhere that what is said by the person performing the baptizing is an essential to the salvation of the person being baptized. The essential teaching had better be done prior to baptism. The salvation of anyone lies in their acceptance and in doing what they have been given by God. Unfortunately, I do know some folks who would enforce the rites they have come to honor over others, or state that “the baptism didn’t take” because their idea of a formula wasn’t followed. For me, I am glad that I never qualified for my expert badge as a member of the “baptism police force” and so I will leave all of that off for others to sort out and will just encourage people to call upon the Lord and to be baptized into Christ. That is the essential part and the rest is non-essential. The essential part is in confession and repenting, then to be immersed into Christ and to rise up to serve Christ and God.

What’s that text we read at the beginning? “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” I suspect that some people have never thought of the connection between pieces of scriptures – and that certainly they have never thought of the consequences of that last one.

If you do these things you will have accomplished a good part of what is referred to in that text. Then you may have some time left over to work on identifying some of the other non-essentials.