Peripheral Matters

By Bobby L. Graham

In dealing with geometric figures like a circle, words like “core,” “center,” and “periphery” are sometimes used. The core or center of a circle is fully understood by all, while its periphery might not be as well understood. “Periphery” refers to the outer part of the circle, that area lying close to the outer edge.

In recent years I have increasingly been reading about “core” matters and “peripheral” matters in relation to the will of the Lord as set forth in the Bible. The idea held by many is that there are some matters of New Testament teaching that are at the very center of God’s will, and that all must accept these matters; it is also contended by them that matters besides these “core” matters lie beyond the center and are not essential to salvation. “We don’t sweat the small stuff’ was used by one proponent of this idea. One familiar with the old teaching of a distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine” will recognize the similarity between these two concepts. The same weaknesses plague both of them as well.

The chief weakness of this teaching is that it disregards the authority/dominion of Christ. To dethrone Christ is the ultimate insult to the Son of God, for he is God’s gift to the church as head over all things, as well as exercising authority over all dominions (Eph. 1:20-23). When Jesus sent his disciples to evangelize the world, he instructed them to teach and baptize people and then teach them to observe all things commanded by him. What plainer statement of the all-encompassing rule of Jesus Christ could one find? Whatever Christ has taught, either personally or representatively through the apostles, becomes his will for all people. Unless he distinguished “core” matters from “peripheral” matters, there is no such distinction. Where is such a distinction made by him? Some might refer to his teaching about weightier matters in Matthew 23, but there he made it clear that those matters not as weighty as others must still be done. Weighty matters are thus classified because they under gird those things not as weighty; no reference is there made to some as essential and others as non-essential.

A second fault (weakness) concerning this teaching is that it puts man into God’s place. If there is such a concept as “adding insult to injury” in the spiritual realm, it would be to replace Deity with humanity after Deity is removed from the position of dominion in one’s thinking and life. After all, who but human beings decide which matters are essential (core) and which are peripheral? Whenever a person makes a decision that something is not necessary to pleasing God, he takes a fatal step toward spiritual suicide, one reminiscent of ancient Israel: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns  broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). This is the very spirit of error foretold by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “Who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”

The religion of Jesus Christ is not a cafeteria religion in which people can select what they wish to believe and practice, but a complete yielding to Jesus as the Christ after one has renounced (denied) himself to follow Christ (Matt. 16:24). No human being has the power to legislate for the Lord or disregard divine legislation. What all should seek to do is to think God’s thoughts after him, for this is the essence of faith and faithfulness.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 20 p. 5
October 16, 1997