Essentials and Distinctives

Tom Ascol

Part 1: Introduction

Essentials and Distinctives. Both have their place in our lives and it is very helpful to be able to sort them out. For example, all living people share certain essential, human characteristics--those things without which we would not be human. We have a heart that circulates blood and lungs that bring breath into the body, all part of the respiratory system that God has designed to sustain physical life. We have a brain and nervous system that allow us to think and to feel. And we are made in the image of God, possessing a spiritual nature, fashioned in a way that we might enjoy a relationship and communion with God. Take any of these characteristics away, and you no longer have a living human being.

Every person also has distinctive characteristics, which set us apart from other people. These traits are not essential to being human, but they tend to distinguish us from each other. We may have different hair color or skin color. Our ethnicity may differ. Some may be physically tall while others are short. One person may be out-going and gregarious, while another is reserved. If you were asked to identify some essential human characteristics you would not put on your list things like "brown hair" or "brown eyes" would you? Why not? There two reasons:

1. Some people don't have brown eyes or brown hair and so your description would unjustly exclude them.

2. Other creatures do have brown eyes and brown hair, such as horses or dogs, and your description would wrongly include them.

When we talk about essentials, we are talking about basics, about fundamental elements, that which is the essence of a thing. The very essence of humanity consists not in external things like eye color or skin pigmentation. Rather, it consists of things like a sophisticated neurological system and most importantly, of being made in the very image of the God who created us.

Now, if you want to talk about certain types of people, such as the Ascol family or Caucasians or Hispanics, then it would be appropriate to consider characteristics beyond those which are essential, like skin or hair color. It is important to know the difference between essentials and distinctives.

This is particularly true with regard to true religion--Christianity. What is essential to biblical Christianity? And what are the distinctives of various types of Christians? We are Baptists. As Christians, we hold to certain things that are essential to our faith. As Baptists, we hold to certain things that distinguish us from some other Christians. It is important to know what distinctives characterize a Baptist. But it is more important to know what essentials characterize a Christian.

This month we are beginning a study on Essentials and Distinctives--Christians Essentials, and Baptist Distinctives. Over a series of several articles I want to consider two questions:

1. What is a Christian?

The answer to this question will focus on the essentials of biblical Christianity. What does it take to be a Christian? What are the experiences or beliefs which must be present if one is to be a real Christian?

2. What is a Baptist?

Here we will focus on the distinctives of our Baptist convictions. Baptists are not the only Christians in the world. We are a part of the larger family of Christians. But, as a part of that family, we do have some biblical convictions which distinguish us from other believers. Our distinctives are important, but they are not as important as the essentials.

Next month we will take the first question, "What is a Christian?" (a true Christian, biblical Christian), and begin defining some essentials. The first essential ingredient of true Christianity that we will examine next month is regeneration, the new birth.