Larry Ray Hafley
For years, denominational preachers and brethren such as LeRoy Garrett and
the Carl Ketcherside have argued that we may have differing views of "doctrinal
matters," but that we must agree on the essential elements of "the gospel." In
other words, one group may play a piano in worship and another may not; one
might practice sprinkling while another church insists on immersion. Such
"doctrinal issues" are irrelevant. However, they say, we must agree upon the
"essentials" of the gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ). Let
us examine this subject in light of Acts 15 and Galatians 1 and 2.
Paul spoke of those who would "pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:6-9).
When they do so, he said, they are preaching "another gospel." Further, when the
gospel is perverted, when "another gospel" is substituted, the result is that
souls are "removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ" (Cf. Gal.
1:6; 1 Cor. 1:9; and Gal. 3:1; 5:7).
According to the distinction under review, by "perverting" the gospel and
preaching "another," Paul must have had reference to a perversion of the facts
of the gospel, i.e., the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. If it be
true that the gospel consists of those primary facts alone, while everything
else is "doctrine," then the apostle must have been referring to a corruption of
those basic gospel features. But was he? No, and here is why:
(1) The specific corruption of the gospel is outlined in Acts 15 when
"certain men...said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye
cannot be saved" (v. 1; Cf. Gal. 2; 5:1- 4). When they did this, the apostles
said, "certain (men)...have troubled you with words, subverting your souls,
saying, Ye must be circumcised and keep the law: to whom we gave no such
commandment" (Acts 15:24). In the Galatian letter, Paul agreed that the effect
of their "doctrine" was indeed subversive of their souls. "Ye are," he charged,
"fallen from grace" (Cf. Gal. 1:6; 5:4).
Thus, one could teach "doctrinal" error (circumcision, law keeping) and still
be guilty of perverting the "gospel." But how is that possible if the gospel
only consists of three basic facts while all else is doctrine? Those who make
that distinction between gospel and doctrine need to tell us!
(2) When the apostles refuted the binding of circumcision, they did so "that
the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Gal. 2:5). Observe, that to
deny the doctrinal error of circumcision was to establish "the truth of the
gospel." How, though, could that be possible, if the gospel is simply Christ
crucified, buried and risen? If the doctrinal error of circumcision had been
tolerated, the gospel would not have continued. That being so, those who
distinguish between "gospel" and "doctrine" are guilty of making a false
(3) Peter's separation from the Gentiles caused him to walk "not uprightly
according to the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:14). However, if association with
the Gentiles involves "doctrinal" matters only, and not issues of the "gospel,"
how could his behavior be said to be contrary "to the truth of the gospel"?
Peter certainly did not deny the "core" gospel facts, yet he walked not
"according to the truth of the gospel."
Conclusion: The "doctrinal" error of circumcision resulted in a
perversion of the "gospel" and negated the saving power of the "cross" (Gal.
1:6-9; 3:1; 5:1-4, 7, 11; 6:12-14). Therefore, it is not true that we may be in
error in doctrine and remain true in the gospel.