Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 10, 1951

Essentals And Incidentals In The New Testament Religion

Murray Marshall, Frederick, Oklahoma

Apparently it is difficult for many among us to differentiate between essentials and incidentals. What with the present definite drift toward apostasy and modernism on the one hand and the legalistic binding of human customs and ideas as law and gospel on the other hand, it well behooves all who love the Lord and the truth to take a fresh look at the difference between essentials and incidentals.

We have in mind to make a clear analysis of this difference, giving numerous specific examples, and touching on several controversial points. Among these points we shall deal with teaching the Bible in classes, the number of cups in communion; and the present controversy over centralized control.

Such a study should be especially helpful to our younger brethren and those whose instruction may not have included these points. We have carefully considered these things, believe that we are on sound ground and trust that what we present will be helpful to all. If in this series we should deviate from the line of sound doctrine and logical thinking, we shall appreciate correction on each and every point where we may fail to present the truth.

Essentials are things "absolutely necessary" or "important." An incidental is something "subordinate to a principal things. (New Testament Century Dictionary) One of the principles of the Restoration Movement has been "Unity in essentials; liberty in incidentals." We consider this a scriptural motto.

All of the commands our Lord has addressed to us in the New Testament are essential, "absolutely necessary" and "important." Christ has given no non-essential commandments.

That the church worship God is essential, "absolutely necessary;" it is commanded of God. (John 4:24) But where the church worships, the place of worship, is incidental. It can worship in a home, a rented building or hall, its own building, built or bought, or even under a shade tree. The place where the congregation worships is incidental. So is the number of congregations in a given locality. The Scriptures do not specify the place of meeting nor the details thereof; nor do they designate the number of congregations to be in a given locality. These things are incidental, or "subordinate to" the command to meet for worship.

Again, it is essential to preach the gospel; it is commanded. But the holding of a protracted meeting is an incidental; it is only one of a number of ways of carrying out the command. The Bible does not specify the details for conducting a ten-day revival. In fact it does not mention a ten-day revival, nor give the hours for the services. It does not mention radio broadcasts. But we realize that all of these are right, because they are incidentals to the essential, to the command laid upon us to preach the gospel of Christ.

Incidentals are not additions. Incidentals are not wrong. Additions are wrong. Anything unscriptural is not an incidental, but an addition or innovation. Incidentals are things "subordinate to" the essentials, to the commands. When the way of doing the essential is not given (either by precept, example or necessary inference) then it may be done in any way, any way that does not contradict the Scriptures. The way, in such cases, is an incidental. Also, anything used in carrying out the command is an incidental, such as a blackboard in preaching, a seat of worshipping, or a songbook in singing.

When the Scriptures tell us how to carry out a command, then the way, the how, is essential, too. And there is no other scriptural way to carry out that command. If, however, we are not told how, then the way, the how, is incidental.

God has commanded us to "go" preach the gospel, but he has not specified the vehicle or means of travel. The means of travel is incidental. We may scripturally go by foot, by car, by airplane or any other way. To present it in a syllogism, we have:

We are commanded to go.

When we travel by car, we are going. Therefore, when we travel by car, we are obeying the Lord.

But God has commanded us to praise Him and specified that it is to be done by the act of singing. He has specified the way to praise Him, in music. Hence, there is only one way to acceptably offer musical praise to God, and that is the way he has specified. If we add another way of praising him, another kind of musical praise, we are guilty of introducing an addition or innovation into New Testament religion. God has specified that man praise Him by singing. (Eph. 5:19; Hebrews 13:15, etc.) This excludes praising Him by playing. Playing, or instrumental music, is not an incidental, but an addition. Just as vocal music is a kind of music, so instrumental music is a kind of music. Neither is subordinate to the other; both are principal things. And God has chosen which of the two he wants men to use in worship: singing is the essential way of praising God; the only scriptural act of musical praise to God. Playing is a man-made addition, an innovation, a corruption of scriptural worship. If we are determined to follow the New Testament religion, we must do what God teaches in the way He teaches, when He has specified or given the way.

(Next lesson: "A Number of Essentials and Incidentals")