What Is Necessary for a Christian to Believe?
According to the Reformed understanding, all twelve articles are under the heading “gospel.” This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a narrow sense of the gospel (as sketched above), but it does mean that, when we answer the question of what must be believed, we do not stop at the narrow sense of gospel. We include in it the doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine of God, a doctrine of creation and providence, of sin, of Christ, of salvation, of the church, sacraments, and last things.
Our doctrine of God is intimately connected to our understanding of man, salvation, church, and worship.
Modern evangelical answers to this question have focused on Christ to the exclusion of these other doctrines, but in Reformed theology they’re all connected. Our doctrine of God is intimately connected to our understanding of man, salvation, church, and worship. The Reformed faith, however, is biblical and catholic, i.e., we believe what the Scriptures teach about God, man, Christ, salvation, etc., as understood by the church in all times and places.
In contrast, for evangelicals, so long as one affirms a personal relationship with the risen Christ, everything else is negotiable. It is not even always certain what an evangelical means by “Christ.” Is she referring to the Christ of Scripture and history, confessed in the Creed, or to the Christ of subjective, mystical experience?
The Reformed answer to the question, “what must a Christian believe?” is not minimalist, but neither is it maximalist. We don’t ask Christians to believe everything possible. We ask them to believe all that is necessary. There are limits to what may be set as a condition of salvation. There is a hierarchy of beliefs. They aren’t all equally ultimate or necessary. There are fundamentalist groups that require adherents to believe that the King James Version of the English Bible is the only acceptable translation, but that’s not a necessary belief. The King James Version is a wonderful piece of work, but it’s just one translation among many.
The Geneva Bible pre-existed the KJV, the Tyndale translation pre-existed the Geneva Bible, and we’ve had many fine translations since 1611. Others would set the length of creation days as a necessary belief. One is certainly entitled to one’s opinion about the meaning of the “day” in Genesis 1 and 2, but historically the emphasis has been on the reality of the creation days and upon the truth that we are created and not the Creator.