Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. One of the major projects I began this summer was to draft a sample doctrinal statement that was detailed, precise, well-worded, and well-documented with verse references. The statement I ended with is almost certainly more detailed than most churches would like, and most likely contains a combination of doctrinal beliefs no one shares but myself. However, the goal of the exercise was to produce a detailed statement that was worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church. I’d like to share my statement, posting a section at a time, and at times make comments pointing out key features and specific wording that I found to be crucial for the precise articulation of the view and for the protection of the church from false doctrine.
What we Believe(1)
Section 1 — The Scriptures
We believe that the Bible (the 66 canonical books of the Old and New Testaments) is, in the original manuscripts, the inerrant and infallible Word of God, inspired equally in all the words and all the parts. God graciously revealed Himself to mankind by directing men to record, utilizing their own individual personalities and writing styles, the very words of God to mankind, without any mixture of error. As the Word of God, the Bible is the absolute, sufficient, self-authenticating source, standard, and measure of truth, and the binding, inceptive, and final authority on all matters to which it speaks. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, moral, religious, or redemptive themes, but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.(4) The Bible is the center of true Christian unity, and the supreme standard by which all human life and conduct will be evaluated and judged. We affirm and hold to, in full, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. (5)
We believe that the Bible was designed for our practical instruction and is sufficient to equip and mature believers. It is to shape the Christian’s beliefs, morals, and affections (6). Being the defining authority for doctrine and discipleship, the Bible, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit and the caring body of Christ, is entirely sufficient for every spiritual, relational, or emotional problem (7).
We believe that the Bible is an objective, propositional revelation (8), and is rightly interpreted by using the normative, plain-sense hermeneutic of grammatical-historical exegesis (8). The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself. We affirm and hold to, in full, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.
(Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 30:5; Matthew 4:4; 19:4; Mark 10:3; John 17:17; Romans 3:4; 15:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:19–21; Revelation 22:18–19)
- “What we Believe:” There are varying opinions on the wisdom of this wording. Many hold that a church should only require members to “agree to be governed” by the doctrinal statement, rather than actually agree with it. I understand the pragmatics behind this approach. But the fact that it is usually for pragmatic purposes is what concerns me. It’s just easier to not try to have a group of people all agree on doctrinal issues (doctrine divides right?). But because I believe one of the main purposes of the doctrinal statement is to provide for unity among the church, I think we have to structure the doctrinal statement as what this church believes, and what thus unifies this church. Perhaps in a world where doctrine doesn’t really matter, I could be a fellow member of a church with someone who disagrees with me on the spiritual gifts, or on Calvinism, or the Millenium. But doctrine divides precisely because truth matters. And I understand the primacy of the gospel, but we are not called to stay merely contemplating the gospel; we are called to move on to maturity, and to dig into the Word and seek to understand it more fully. So I don’t see how a church that plans to do that can retain a full-throated functional unity, and at the same time not worry about agreeing on what the Bible teaches (even if you separate out the essentials and non-essentials, it still gets messy). I don’t know. It just seems like a church-split (based on groups who agree with each other!) waiting to happen.
- Defining “the Bible:” It’s important to define what we mean by “the Bible,” since we want to exclude other “holy” books, such as the book of Mormon, or the Apocrypha.
- “Inceptive:” I know this sentence is wordy, and I know no one uses the word “inceptive” anymore, but I think it conveys the intended idea well. Most doctrinal statements claim that the Bible is the “final authority.” While that is certainly a position I affirm, what often happens is that Christians seek knowledge and understanding from any other source, and then weigh it against Scripture at the end of the thought process. What we need to understand is that Scripture is not only the final authority, it must be our starting point — it’s our first authority, because knowledge comes from God. In fact, everything comes from God. We mustn’t look around for truth and then check it against what Scripture has to say; what makes Scripture the standard of truth is that God’s word is the very source of truth. I could (and need to, and perhaps will soon) write an entire post explaining this better, but in short, in other words, I’m a rather committed presuppositionalist, and I think saying the Bible is our inceptive authority and the source of truth conveys it well. As Graeme Goldsworthy says, “By definition, a final authority cannot be proven as an authority on the basis of some higher authority. The highest authority must be self-attesting… Either we work on the basis of a sovereign, self-proving God who speaks to us by a word that we accept as true simply because it is his word, or we work on the basis that man is the final judge of all truth. The Christian position, to be consistent, accepts the Bible is God’s Word…” (for more on presuppositionalism, see especially here, here, here, here, and here)
- Authority in history and science?: This will be a controversial claim for sure, but is in fact the historic orthodox and standard evangelical view of inerrancy (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church), and this statement is taken almost verbatim from the Chicago Statement (the defining statement on inerrancy). The Chicago Statement also says, “We affirm that since God is the author of all truth…the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else” (Article XX). If the Bible is the Word of God, we can trust what it says no matter what it is talking about! (also see this article)
- Chicago Statement: You may have a succinct statement such as this in your doctrinal statement that references another document which goes into fuller detail on a given subject. In so doing, you can save a lot of space in your own statement, but the referenced document legally becomes equally binding on the church as well.
- This is a uniquely conservative distinctive. Most evangelical Christians will affirm that the Bible should shape our beliefs and morals (usually), but many have not even given thought to how the Bible ought to shape and cultivate rightly-ordered affections within us as well.
- A faithful theology of Scripture leads to a firm conviction of the absolute sufficiency of Scripture. To get started on understanding the biblical counseling ‘model’ and its view of the Bible’s sufficiency for discipleship, I urge you to watch these interesting and enjoyable videos of Nicolas Ellen.
- In other words, not merely a story, or metanarrative, or helpful lesson, that we just need to find our place in, or need to discover what it means for us.
- A consistent plain-sense hermeneutic is, I believe, the hermeneutic that Scripture itself establishes, and is the only hermeneutic that faithfully and simply takes God at His word, and understands Scripture in the way one normally interprets any other kind of literature. For more info, I’d highly recommend Dr. Henebury here, here, here, and here.