Introduction to the General Articles

There are some things that every Christian must believe. These are called the "cardinal doctrines," meaning the major central doctrines that must be accepted by everyone in order to be a true Christian. These have been listed in several different creeds. Every Christian believes the following:

  1. There is one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons in one God.
  2. There is one Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
  3. There is only one begotten Son of the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was eternally one with the Father, but was manifested in the flesh for our salvation, becoming completely man while remaining completely God.
  4. Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, and died on the cross shedding His blood for our sins.
  5. Jesus rose again in His body from death and ascended into heaven, but will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  6. The Holy Spirit is with us always, convicting the world of sin, and strengthening the universal church, which is the body of Christ on earth.
  7. All men and women are by nature sinful and in need of forgiveness of sins through the atonement of Jesus Christ and in need of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. All this is freely offered by God's grace through faith.
  8. The Bible is the inspired word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and is the ultimate standard of our faith.
  9. The bodies of all believers will be resurrected for eternal life with God forever.

However, in addition to the above nine cardinal doctrines, there are other secondary doctrines about which true Christians have disagreed. These secondary doctrines do not change our central belief in Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). These secondary teachings are about the ceremonies and practices of the church, and about the meaning of certain passages of Scripture. True Christians have believed differently about these secondary doctrines.

Some may say: "Why don't we simply look at the Bible? Why not write just what the Bible says?" But that is exactly the problem! What does the Bible say? True Christians have drawn different views from the same verses. Nor does the Bible answer all the questions we can ask. On many of these subjects it is impossible to be certain which is the correct view. If the Bible was perfectly clear on these secondary issues, there would not be so many different opinions among Christians. It is not honest or fair to the serious Bible student to keep him in ignorance of ideas that many true Christians believe are correct. This commentary is a Bible study aid, not a catechism or statement of faith for a particular church or denomination.

The majority of the General Articles that follow deal with these secondary doctrines, about which true Christians have had differing opinions. In these articles, the Bible student should focus on the text of the Bible above all. Thus, in each of the controversial articles, the main Bible verses related to that subject are presented first. Then there is an explanation of the problem, followed by a brief description of the main viewpoints held by different Christians. Each Bible student should also go to his or her pastor or teacher for further instruction regarding their own church's practices and beliefs.

Some may fear that discussing these questions will bring division. On the contrary, remaining in ignorance of these matters increases the risk of division. When there is ignorance of the views of other Christians, misunderstandings and ill feelings easily arise, and divisions result. The entire history of the Christian church shows that it is ignorance or intolerance of others' beliefs that has split churches.

A major principle of these articles is that a person can be a true spiritual Christian in spite of having differing beliefs on these secondary matters. When that principle is accepted, then ill feeling and accusations will cease. Mature Christians have learned to accept differences of opinion on these matters. In many churches and organizations, Christians with widely different beliefs have learned to walk in fellowship, and they worship, pray, and work together for the glory of God.

None of us is perfect in all that we think or do, but we should keep on pressing toward that goal. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:15-16).