Question: "What is dogma?"
Answer: Dogma is defined as “a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.” In Christianity, dogma is the body of biblical doctrines proclaimed by and accepted by Christians. The dogma of the Christian religion is that which is preached from the pulpit, taught by Christian leaders, and believed by followers of Christ. To be orthodox, Christian dogma must align with the teaching of the Word of God.
The three most basic dogmas of the Christian faith, those which all Christians are taught and must believe, are what separate Christianity from all other religions. The three are the deity of Christ (John 1:1, 14), His substitutionary death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:21), and salvation from sin by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8–9). All other religions reject Christ’s deity and teach that salvation is achieved and/or retained by some form of human works.
There are many other Christian dogmas, including the doctrines of the Trinity; the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture; the virgin birth; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and others. But the three doctrines mentioned above are the core doctrines of the faith, for upon them rests the eternal destiny of every human being. We may differ on the role of the Holy Spirit or misunderstand the Trinity, but denying the nature of Christ and His sacrifice for sin rejects the only hope we have for eternal life (Acts 4:12).
To be “dogmatic,” that is, to have a strong set of beliefs about faith and doctrine, is often frowned upon in today’s pluralistic culture. Yet believers in Christ are commanded to be dogmatic: “Brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings [the dogma] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Being dogmatic about Christianity is seen by many as divisive, unloving, and closed-minded. Let’s examine those charges in light of the undeniable dogmas of the faith.
Is Christian dogma divisive? Definitely. It divides truth from error, sound doctrine from heresy, and spiritual reality from wishful thinking. Dogma also recognizes and accepts as true the divisions that exist in the many opposites of Scripture: light and darkness, good and evil, law and grace, faith and works, sheep and goats, wisdom and folly, life and death. Christian dogma is also divisive in that it separates those who accept by faith Christianity’s basic tenets from those who deny them. As Christians, we are not to be divisive in our attitudes toward others, but we must cling to truth. Clinging to truth requires rejecting falsehood. “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1Thessalonians 5:21, ESV).
Is Christian dogma unloving? Far from it. In fact, it is the epitome of love. It begins with God, who so loved the world that He sent His Son to provide salvation from sin (John 3:16). Christian dogma is based on the love of Christ, who died on the cross out of love for His people (John 15:13). Furthermore, it manifests itself in the love of Christians for God (Mark 12:30) and for one another, as commanded by Jesus (John 13:34). To clearly proclaim Christian dogma is the most loving thing we can do because it shares with others the only means of escaping an eternity in hell.
Are those who believe in Christian dogma closed-minded? Dogmatic Christians are often called closed-minded or narrow-minded. But Christianity, by its very nature, is a closed and narrow faith (see Matthew 7:13–14). Jesus declared Himself to be the only Way, Truth, and Life and that no one comes to God except by Him (John 14:6). This statement eliminates all other faiths and religions from consideration.
Dogma is important; it does make a difference what we believe. The key to being dogmatic without being abrasive is, first of all, to carefully choose which dogmas are worth debating and which ones are not, and, second, to always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity.”