Summary: The distinguishing doctrine for the Christian Faith is the teaching about Christ. Identifying that doctrine and understanding its meaning is vital to the Faith.
“I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”
“Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.” Christians who are willing to jettison or ignore doctrine, thinking that by so doing they demonstrate love for the brothers, are detrimental to the cause of Christ. Love for God is revealed through willingness to obey Christ. Love for God—real love, love motivated by the indwelling Spirit of God—will prove to be greater than every desire for ease that keeps us from confronting error.
The stand of Baptists forebears in days past is the stuff of legends. The actions, often extreme but always taken to maintain doctrinal purity, included advocating separation from parent denominations, such as was the case for the Baptist divine Charles Spurgeon, who resisted doctrinal drift in the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Others imposed strictures against professing Christians willing to tolerate or even to embrace error. The Redstone Baptist Association debarred Alexander Campbell for teaching the heresy of baptismal regeneration and dismissed the Brush Run Baptist Church. These saints from a bygone era were willing to hold individual Christians accountable for their beliefs and actions, accountability that is thought extreme today because of its rarity.
If our forefathers erred on the side of strict discipline in their practise of the Christian Faith, we modern Christians have a tendency to err in the opposite direction through our failure to oppose heretical beliefs and actions that deny the transforming power of our Lord among His people. Undoubtedly some of those preceding us in the Faith were extreme and far too strict in their pursuit of doctrinal and ethical purity, but contemporary saints often appear to exercise scant discernment. We seemingly accept almost any error, if only we are not pushed out of our personal comfort zones.
Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John during the First Century of the Faith. The elder from Smyrna related an account that demonstrated John’s firm insistence upon doctrinal integrity. The aged Apostle went into a bath at Ephesus, and seeing Cerinthus, the Gnostic-Ebionite heretic, within, ran out without bathing, and exclaimed, “Let us flee lest the bath should fall in, as long as Cerinthus, that enemy of truth, is within.”