And faith in this Christ – the Christ revealed in Scripture – is necessary: “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water: what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (vv.36-37). This man believed with all his heart in the One Philip had been preaching about in such detail. He believed the truth about Christ – which means he believed “the doctrine of Christ” (2 Jn. 9). He could not have been saved without believing the truth about Him. For there are numerous false Christs, but only one true Christ of God. Ask a Papist if he believes in Jesus Christ and he will say yes – but it is “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4), a false Christ, not the Christ of God. Ask a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult, a Muslim, or even a Satanist, if they believe in Jesus Christ, and all will answer yes – but not one of them believes in the true Christ as He is revealed in Scripture.
When the Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30,31). But again this was not merely some brief statement, given in a vacuum and without any context to it. For it goes on to say, “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house” (v.32). They properly explained to Him who Christ is and what He came to do. They preached those doctrines about Christ, sin, salvation, etc., which are necessary to be known and believed for salvation. To believe in Christ, to truly and savingly believe in Him, we must know who He is.
Thus there are doctrines which must to some extent be known and believed before one may be saved. They are such doctrines as the following: that all men are dead in their sins, deserving of hell; that there is only one true God; that this one true God exists in three divine Persons (the Trinity); that God the Father gave His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die in the place of sinners; that Christ is both God and man; that He is the only way to the Father, and eternal life, and there is no salvation in any but Him; that Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, died on the cross in the place of sinners, rose again from the dead, and ascended back to heaven, where He lives forever; that doing good works will not earn salvation for anyone; that to be saved a man must truly repent of his sins, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart.
And for fellowship to occur, there must be agreement on these doctrines!
However, again it is vital to be crystal clear. All this is not to say that a man must have a full and perfectly clear understanding of all these things before he can be saved. Even after many years of walking with the Lord, believers are still learning and growing daily. “A perfect knowledge of Christ is not necessary to true faith: otherwise true faith would be impossible” (John Dagg). The basics must be known and understood; but the finer points and the deeper aspects of these essential doctrines may not be known before conversion.
A man must know, for example, that God is a Trinity; but in order to be saved he does not need to have a perfect grasp of all aspects of the great doctrine of the Trinity. That would be expecting too much, and would be utterly unreasonable. After all, even a young child may be saved (2 Tim.3:14)! Yet a child is unable to understand the finer points of the deep things of God. But if he is truly saved he will receive them as he matures in understanding. And this is true of any other believer as well. Salvation is the same for adult or child: by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.
5. Other Doctrines Essential for Fellowship
There are also doctrines which, although not essential to be known and believed for salvation, and which may not be understood until after conversion, are nevertheless of such a nature that no true child of God, once he is properly taught them, will reject or oppose them. They are doctrines which have to do (for example) with the being of God in His three Persons, the Scriptures, salvation, etc. There is in fact no true Christianity without them – and therefore they are essential for fellowship to occur as well. A man who claims to be saved, and yet rejects them once he has been taught them, must not be received as a Christian. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 9-11).
It is one thing if someone is merely ignorant about such doctrines of the faith, due to lack of teaching. No Christian on earth has perfect knowledge of all the truth of God’s Word, and each one is learning and growing all the time. As was stated above, even a child may be saved from his sins (2 Tim. 3:15), and yet children are unable to grasp and understand many of “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). But it is quite another thing if one who professes to be a Christian has been taught these doctrines of the faith, yet still rejects them and opposes them. His rejection of God’s Word reveals a heart far from God. The child of God loves Christ and His Gospel, and therefore longs to learn more and more about the Lord and His truth, and to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). He will always welcome further knowledge. “A perfect knowledge of Christ is not necessary to true faith: otherwise true faith would be impossible…. But the true believer delights in Christ, just so far as he has knowledge of him; and desires to know more of him, that he may be more filled with his love” (Dagg). His prayer is like that of Elihu in Job 34:32: “that which I see not teach thou me.”
Let us consider just a few examples.
The Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures
There is the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. One does not have to clearly grasp the truth about precisely how the Bible was divinely inspired before one can be converted to Christ. But will a converted man reject and deny the truth on this matter, once he is taught it? Of course not. To do so would reveal an unregenerate heart. For it is from the Bible alone that we derive our knowledge of the true Gospel. If the Bible is not divinely inspired, then we have no infallible standard, and one man’s teaching is as good as another’s. And if we do not know precisely which books are inspired, then we may not yet have them all, and of those which we do have we may be mistaken about some of them. Nothing would then be certain.
Therefore, spiritual fellowship with those who deny this truth would be sinful fellowship.
The Fuller Revelation of the Person and Work of Christ
There are doctrines pertaining to the Person and work of Christ our Lord and Saviour, the deeper aspects of which a man would not necessarily know before the Lord draws him to Himself – such as Christ’s eternal Sonship, to give just one example. But having been converted, once he is properly taught this truth would he then reject it? No! To do so would be to embrace heresy even when the truth has been presented to him. And should fellowship be maintained with such a one? No, certainly not.
The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit
There is the truth regarding the Person and work of God the Holy Spirit. Before a man is converted, he may not know all that much about the Holy Spirit. After all, we are saved by faith in Christ, and it is Christ, in His Gospel, who is preached to the sinner. Although the Holy Spirit is mightily at work in our salvation, one simply may not know that much about Him before being drawn to Christ. Some men Paul met in Ephesus were true Christians (Acts 19:1); but they said, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (v.2). Now they had certainly heard of the Person of the Holy Spirit, from the Old Testament Scriptures and from John the Baptist’s teaching. But they knew nothing about His extraordinary and miraculous gifts, which were given in those times. Their knowledge of the Holy Spirit and His work was partial and incomplete, but they were still true believers.
But should anyone, professing conversion, who denies the Deity, Personality or work of the Holy Spirit, be accepted as a Christian? Certainly not! For He is a divine Person within the Godhead. And without His work none can be saved, for He applies the saving benefits of Christ’s death to the soul. Spiritual fellowship with such a person would be contrary to the will of the Lord.