The Question: Who decides on what is "major" and what is "minor". Isn't all truth of major importance to God. If you decide what is of major/minor importance, then how can you know that you (or your pastor, or someone else you respect - or listen to) is speaking/teaching the truth? If someone else respectfully disagrees with your beliefs, interpretations, etc. (and similarly uses the Scripture as the basis for their belief), how can you say who is right and who is wrong? I can't find any pastor of a non-denom church who can answer that for me (they all think that they are right!).
The Response: Terms like 'major' and 'minor' are an unfortunate choice when discussing truth. Truth often is subjective and/or situational and, in some circumstances two people might make true statements about the same object which, when compared, would appear to be exact opposites, yet both would be situationally and subjectively true. Consider this example: Were I to say that rutabaga tastes good, I would be speaking the truth, as far as I am concerned. If asked her opinion of rutabaga, my wife would say that rutabaga tastes awful, and she would be speaking the truth, as far as she is concerned. It also would be true to declare that different people have different opinions concerning the flavor of rutabaga. All these opinions would be true, yet they will not all agree. I can't tell you where God stands on the various truths regarding things like rutabaga.
The above example may appear a bit foolish, but I think it may help to understand how people can become confused over more significant issues, such as biblical truth. I am not convinced all subjective or situational truths are of major importance to God. I do not doubt, however, that the foundational truths upon which the Christian faith is built and upon which our very salvation hinges indeed are quite important to Him. As to who determines which truths are foundational, why I would say that it is God Himself, and He makes His decisions known in the Scriptures.
What is a foundational truth? Let us consider just one of them: The deity of Jesus Christ and that he was "begotten not made"
In the Scriptures, God tells us, repeatedly of the divinity of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. For example:
Similar clear declarations may be found at: John 3:16 and 18, 5:21-23, 10:30 Luke 3:16, 4:12, 4:34, Et Cetera.
That Jesus Christ is deity and the only begotten Son of God is a foundational truth. Anyone who does not hold to this understanding fails the most basic test of Christianity. On the other hand, though all the words in Scripture convey biblical truth, not all truth is foundational. For example, God commanded the princes of Israel to establish fair measures, yet knowing and believing this is not foundational to the faith nor a requirement for salvation (Ezekiel 45:10-11).
As for how one might know whether someone is speaking/teaching truth, Scripture provides the answer:
This is the way to validate what you are taught. Do as the Bereans and “search the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Granted, properly searching the Scriptures is no easy task. To properly search the Scriptures, one must learn hermeneutics and approach the Word of God honestly and prayerfully, without a preconceived notion of what he wishes to discover. The result of a proper study is a sound exegesis of the passage under examination.
At times, it does seem that just about every pastor has his own idea of how a biblical passage is to be understood. All too often, this is the consequence of improper hermeneutics; by searching the Scriptures while bringing one's personal theological biases to the study. Like the writings of Nostradamus, much of Scripture is vulnerable to 'personalized' interpretation. This changes nothing. God's truth is untouched, though those who interpret it may teach false doctrine.
Many who lay claim to the title 'pastor' or 'preacher', etc, are self-called and have little or no preparation for the ministry. They seem to operate on their own feelings, prejudices and ideas of what God 'really meant to say.' Christ warned us there would rise up false teachers and false prophets.
Many of these consider themselves to be evangelicals. I do not believe it accurate to consider the storefront, or temple, or 'church' such false teachers raise up to be a separate 'denomination.' Many of such people may be motivated by misguided zeal and really are believers, though the harm they do and the confusion they create are very real. Others, such as Jim Jones, David Khoresh, etc., seem motivated by other imperatives. And then there are the 'media ministers,' many of whom appear motivated only by power and riches.
In the Roman Catholic Church, there are clear rules in place for dealing with those who fail to adhere to the teachings and doctrines of the RCC. We see these in the documents of the various church councils, in the Code of Canon Law, and elsewhere. Those who will not accept Rome's position on what she appears to consider foundational doctrines are punished by 'just penalties,' not limited to anathematization, excommunication, defrocking, confiscation of property, denial of inheritance, etc. Though outsiders may view what Rome calls 'schismatics' as 'denominations' under the Catholic umbrella, many do not. It seems there are few, if any, Catholic 'denominations,' because those who do not conform to Rome's rules are anathematized, excommunicated – expelled from the ranks of Roman Catholicism. They no longer are Catholics.
Unfortunately, there is no way in a free nation to defrock or shut down many of those who hold to and teach false doctrine. And so the misinformed and intentionally deceitful continue corrupting the Word of God. The solution? Do as the Bereans.
I have often encountered the argument that such confusion is not possible within the Roman Catholic Church, for the RCC is incapable of error when teaching from the deposit of truth Christ left in the Church's charge. In order to accept that this is so, one must first accept that Christ entrusted biblical truth only to the Roman Catholic Church. And there is where it breaks down, for the only source for this position is the Roman Catholic Church itself. The Teaching Authority has discovered in Scripture passages that she uses to 'validate' the RCC position on this and other issues. When sound hermeneutics are applied to these passages, however, Rome's doctrine fails the test of authenticity.
What it all boils down to is that, under specified conditions, the ordinary and the extraordinary Magisteria are incapable of teaching error on matters of doctrine and dogma. And how do we know this? Because the Magisteriuim has told us it is so. And what does the Magisterium consist of? Why just a collection of fallible men, scattered all over the globe, teaching what they believe to be doctrinal truth. The RCC says the Holy Spirit guides the Church and keeps her from teaching error. That is the same thing the multitude of non-Catholic preachers and teachers say. How do we find the truth? DO as the Bereans.
You asked, “how can you say who is right and who is wrong? I can't find any pastor of a non-denom church who can answer that for me (they all think that they are right!).” That is a question everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, should ask themselves. Trust the teachings of no man, regardless of what affiliation he claims, how he dresses or what promises and threats he makes. Listen to what he has to say, then go to the Holy Scriptures – not the Word of God as Rome understands it (Sacred Scriptures AND Sacred Tradition) and prayerfully seek what God says.
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