It is quite common for community churches to speak of and publish their “core beliefs” – these to them are the immutable truths that those seeking fellowship with them must agree upon. Other teachings not included in their list are not “core,” and are not to be a basis for them to determine fellowship. As an example, a core belief may be faith in Jesus Christ, in both His deity and His humanity, but baptism in their mind may be viewed as optional, or, if deemed essential, its purpose or meaning may be understood differently by those in their fellowship. Such an approach to fellowship and unity cannot be found in the New Testament.
But let’s go a step further. In the past, some brethren have adopted similar approaches. They have started by stating that the gospel is one thing, while the doctrine of Christ is another. Then, they say, we must be united upon the gospel but not upon the doctrine of Christ. They say we should overlook “doctrinal differences” and unite simply upon the gospel. This false belief has arisen at various times under different names, such as “unity in diversity” and “grace/unity”. The approach to unity is false, as its premise is false – the premise that gospel and doctrine are different. The Bible makes no such distinction.
The New Testament teaches us that the terms gospel, doctrine, the faith and truth are used interchangeably and refer to the same body of information. Making a distinction between gospel and doctrine is man-made.
In Colossians 1:23, Christians are taught to continue in the faith and not be moved away from the hope of the gospel.
In 1 Timothy 1:10-11, Paul wrote to Timothy regarding things contrary to “sound doctrine according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” How would one define the difference here?
In Galatians 2:5 and 14, Paul wrote of the truth of the gospel.
Paul longed to preach the gospel to the saved in Rome (Romans 1:15), saints (1:7) who had, in baptism, already obeyed that form of doctrine to which they have been delivered (6:17). From these verses we see that obedience to the doctrine puts one into Christ, and the gospel is preached to the saved. On the other hand, Mark 16:15 contains a command to preach the gospel to the lost, while Acts 2:42 shows that the doctrine was taught to the saved. Both gospel and doctrine are said to be taught to both the lost and to the saved.
The faith includes the truth initially obeyed to be saved (Acts 6:7), and it also includes teachings regarding the Christian’s responsibilities (1 Timothy 5:8).
The truth includes what must be obeyed to become a Christian ( 1 Peter 1:22), but it also includes truth that Christians must continue to follow (Galatians 5:7).
Furthermore, those who cause divisions contrary to the doctrine are to be marked and avoided (Romans 16:17). This verse poses a real problem for those who claim we must be united upon “gospel” but not upon “doctrine.”
Gospel, doctrine, the faith, and truth are complementary terms for the same body of information, just as church, body, kingdom, and family all describe the church of Christ. “Gospel” means good news. “The faith” describes how the gospel is a system of belief in Christ. “Doctrine”, which simply means teaching, emphasizes how the gospel is a body of truth to be taught. And “truth” highlights that the gospel is spiritual truth in opposition to lies and false religion.
It is a fool’s errand to try to find in the Bible a distinction between gospel and doctrine. Let us not try to make one.
Beware lest some try to teach some distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine” in an attempt to justify a unity that is based on some arbitrary “core” beliefs. Instead, the Lord expects His children to be united upon the gospel, the doctrine of Christ, the truth, “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
– Larry Jones