Fundamental doctrines are fundamental because they are essential to believe and damnable to deny. They bring conviction and provoke rebellion. They affirm truth and expose error. They are preached by those who love the truth and rejected by those who hate it. Either way they demand a response from everyone who claims faith in Christ.
Paul wrote, “No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Christ Himself embodied or established every doctrine that is essential to genuine Christianity. Those who reject any of the cardinal doctrines of the faith worship a christ who is not the Christ of Scripture.
How are the fundamentals of the faith personified in Christ?
With regard to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, He is the incarnate Word (John 1:1, 14). He upheld the written Word’s absolute authority (Matthew 5:18). Christ Himself established sola Scriptura as a fundamental doctrine when He upbraided the Pharisees for nullifying Scripture with their own traditions: “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. . . . You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:6–9). Our Lord had much to say about the authority and infallibility of the Word of God. John MacArthur, Reckless Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994) 113–114.
Implicit in the rejection of biblical inspiration and inerrancy is the indictment of Christ’s character. You cannot affirm the truth of all He said without recognizing His affirmation of God’s Word as entirely true. Christ’s words establish the accuracy and exclusivity of Scripture as fundamental doctrines. Furthermore, His works establish fundamental doctrine, as John explains in his book Reckless Faith:
In the doctrine of justification by faith, it is Christ’s own perfect righteousness, imputed to the believer, that makes the pivotal difference between true biblical justification and the corrupted doctrine of Roman Catholicism and the cults. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). It is also why Paul wrote that Christ is become to us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), and it is why Jeremiah called Him “The Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). The Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, is our righteousness (Jeremiah 33:16). That is the very essence of justification by faith alone, sola fide.
Of course, all the fundamental doctrines related to the incarnation—the Virgin Birth of Christ, His deity, His humanity, and His sinlessness—are part and parcel of who He is. To deny any of those doctrines is to attack Christ Himself.
The essential doctrines related to His work—His atoning death, His resurrection, and the reality of His miracles—are the very basis of the Gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1–4; Hebrews 2:3–4). Reject them and you nullify the heart of the Christian message.Reckless Faith, 114.
The fundamentals of the Christian faith are not man-made parameters. They were not invented by legalists who want to enforce their litmus test for salvation. As we have seen throughout this series, they are essential truths drawn faithfully from Scripture and embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The apostles also recognized this, as John MacArthur points out:
The fundamentals of the faith are so closely identified with Christ that the apostle John used the expression “the teaching of Christ” as a kind of shorthand for the set of doctrines he regarded as fundamental. To him, these doctrines represented the difference between true Christianity and false religion.
That is why he wrote, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Far from encouraging union with those who denied the fundamental truths of the faith, John forbade any form of spiritual fellowship with or encouragement of such false religion (2 John 10–11).Reckless Faith, 114–115.
It is telling that even after His departure from earth, Jesus Christ remained the central character for the rest of the New Testament. The apostle Paul spoke for all of Christ’s disciples when he said, “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:22–23). Indeed it was the Christ-centered nature of apostolic preaching that the Pharisees were determined to suppress (Acts 4:18–20). They knew, as did Paul, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were the essence of all Christian doctrine.
Recovering the Spirit of Early Fundamentalism
The pioneers of fundamentalism carried on that uncompromising apostolic resolve. They sensed the urgent need to defend foundational biblical truths against the rise of liberal theology. Their lives were not distinguished merely by opposition to worldly activities but also by a love for God’s Word and the sacredness of His saving message. Because those truths remain the same, and because Satan’s assaults on them continue, Christians need to recover the spirit of early fundamentalism. John MacArthur stresses that very point in the following video:
In spite of Satan’s assaults, we can rest assured that fundamental Christian doctrines are unshakeable truths. We must hold fast to these treasured truths and not blow about in the breeze of public opinion and bow to the Baal of tolerance. As John MacArthur explains:
Nothing is more desperately needed in the church right now than a new movement to reemphasize the fundamental articles of the faith. Without such a movement to restore true biblical discernment, the true church is in serious trouble. Compromise on essential doctrines represents one of the most serious threats to evangelicalism in our day.
We need to stand in the twenty-first century as a clarion voice of truth in the spirit and heritage of our fundamentalist predecessors.Reckless Faith, 117.