The Scripture warns us not to make disputes over “opinions” that Christians may validly hold, even if they are wrong (Rom 14:1). Being that people with these varying opinions had Christ die for them (Rom 14:15) we may conclude that they may be properly called Christians. However, which doctrines may be a matter of opinion and which are outright heresies?
This is a simple question, but I cannot give a simple answer because the Scripture does not address it completely. However, allow me to offer the following speculations:
- Jewish Legalism. Any doctrine that the Scripture calls “anathema,” such as following the Jewish Law, probably can affect the salvation of a Christian. The Epistle to the Galatians comes to mind. It is worth noting, however, that Justin Martyr thought that such Jewish Christians can “probably” be saved.
- Christological heresies that undercut faith in Christ. More specifically, this would mean a doctrine that worships Christ only in name. Arian, Gnostic, and Mormon heresies obviously have Jesus, but it is not the same one as the true Jesus Christ.
- Antinomianism. The Scripture is replete with warnings against flagrant immorality, so clearly antinomians will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
- Forsaking the Assembling of Believers. Heb 10:26 states that those who do not worship with other Christians cannot be saved.
- Apostasy. “Those who endure to the end will be saved.” Need I say more?
We have a list of stuff that Christians dispute about which are not on the above list. Depending who you speak to, if you believe the following you are a heretic and cannot be saved:
- Intercession of the saints and prayers to these saints.
- Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
- Monarchical Ecclesiology.
- Merits/good works play a role in salvation (one’s salvation is improved by works, one is not put in right standing with God by works).
- Belief in a purgatory.
- Necessity of partaking in the sacramental life of the Church.
- And much, much more I am sure!
Now, my readers, many of you will say these doctrines are wrong. However, that is not the point of this article. The point is whether belief in any of these things can put one’s salvation into question.
The Scriptures do not condemn to hell anyone for believing the above things. Even the intercession of the saints is not condemned in the Old Testament, as the practice as taught in Catholicism and Orthodoxy is not a matter of necromancy (no one is “consulting the dead,” Deut 18:11 and using them for fortune telling–this the Scripture condemns.) So, if the Scripture does not condemn it, how do we know it is wrong?
Well, we do not know perfectly. But, we can surmise that at a bare minimal if the majority of the Church for all time believed in a specific doctrine, such as the Real Presence of Christ, it cannot damn the believer without calling into the question of pretty much all Christians for all time.
We need to think long and hard about this when we consider a doctrine so objectionable that we break communion over it.
So, just as I argued before that historical consensus is a valid means of interpreting Scripture in light of our hard hearts, historical consensus is also a valid means of discerning which doctrines are, at the very least, disputable and not worthy of so much fighting and division.
As for my bullet-pointed list above, I will not answer the question here whether these doctrines fit that criteria. I leave it to you to delve into that matter.