The word doctrine comes from the Greek word didache: “teaching.” A doctrine is a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative.
Robert M. Bowman defines doctrine as the “[c]ontent of teaching intended to be accepted and believed as truth.” 1
In most religions, certain doctrines are considered essential to the belief system.
These central, or key doctrines form the primary basis of the belief system. Denial of one or more of these essential doctrines would compromise the religion. Someone who denies one or more central doctrines would therefore not be accepted as a genuine follower of that faith.
In Christianity, the term orthodoxy refers to “The body of essential biblical teachings. Those who embrace them should be accepted as Christians.” 2
The opposite of orthodoxy is heresy, “[d]octrine which is erroneous in such a way that Christians must divide themselves as a church from all who teach or accept it; those adhering to heresy are assumed to be lost, although Christians are unable to make definitive judgments on this matter.” 3
• Individuals who – while claiming to be Christians – reject one of more central doctrines of the Christian faith are considered heretics.
• Groups which reject one of more essential doctrines while claiming to represent Christianity, are considered – theologically – cults of Christianity (Note the difference between theological and sociological definitions of the term ‘cult.’)
- Central doctrinesof the Christian faith are those doctrines that make the Christian faith Christian and not something else.
- The meaning of the expression "Christian faith" is not like a wax nose, which can be twisted to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean.
- The Christian faith is a definite system of beliefs with definite content (Jude 3)
- Certain Christian doctrines constitute the core of the faith. Central doctrines include the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and salvation by grace through faith. These doctrines so comprise the essence of the Christian faith that to remove any of them is to make the belief system non-Christian.
- Scripture teaches that the beliefs mentioned above are of central importance (e.g., Matt. 28:19; John 8:24; 1 Cor. 15; Eph. 2:8-10).
- Because these central doctrines define the character of Christianity, one cannot be saved and deny these.
- Central doctrines should not be confused with peripheral issues, about which Christians may legitimately disagree.
Peripheral (i.e. non-essential) doctrines include such issues as the timing of the tribulation, the method of baptism, or the structure of church government. For example, one can be wrong about the identity of "the spirits in prison" 1 Peter 3:19) or about the timing of the rapture and still go to heaven, but one cannot deny salvation by grace or the deity of Christ (John 8:24) and be saved.
- All Christian denominations — whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant — agree on the essential core. The relatively minor disagreements between genuinely Christian denominations, then, cannot be used to argue that there is no objectively recognized core of fundamental doctrine which constitutes the Christian faith.
– Source: Source: Alan Gomes, Cult: A Theological Definition, excerpt from "Unmasking The Cults" Zondervan Publishing Company (May 11, 1995)