Composing a Doctrinal Statement [Church and State]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I shared my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement a church might use that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.

I’ve recently been working on an additional point, covering the relationship between church and state, and the political nature of the local church. I’d like to take the time to make notes on my wording choices, as I did with the other sections; but for now, I’ll share what I have in its entirety, and I welcome any questions or suggestions.

Church and State: We believe the church and state ought to remain distinct as institutions. God has delegated certain authority to various spheres, or governments—namely, the household, the local church, and the civil magistrate. Neither the family nor the church exists by the permission of the state. Nor does the civil magistrate bear the authority of the keys of the kingdom to declare individuals as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Nor should the church swing the sword as a civil authority.

This distinction between the institutions of church and civil government ought not be construed, however, to mean that religion and politics should, or can, be separated. The religious convictions of individuals ought rightly to shape and direct their every action—including the policies, strategies, penalties, and measures employed by those in governing positions. Christians ought to seek to influence for good the public square, including the policies of the civil magistrate, through whatever course be available to them. Nor ought this be construed to mean that churches must not speak to political issues. Within the commission to make committed and competent disciples by teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded, churches are to teach what accords with proper justice, righteousness, mercy, and peace. Churches ought also to call upon the magistrate to uphold justice and to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ, demonstrating the peace and righteousness of the coming King, to whom the nations owe their fealty.

The ordinance of the civil magistrate is established by God in Genesis 9 as the means for man to uphold civil justice under the administration of the Noahic covenant. The governing authorities that exist are in place by the providence of God to punish evildoers and to protect the lives of the innocent under their watch. God has delegated to the civil magistrate the power of the sword in order to be a servant of God for good, to establish the justice and tranquility needed for their people to be secure in their person and property and to pursue virtue and godliness. The civil magistracy receives its authority from the ordinance of God, and rulers must never presume to act above or outside the Noahic commission, recognizing rather that they too are subject to the justice mechanism of the Noahic covenant. God has delegated the authority of the sword to civil government for certain ends only, and its rule is legitimate to the extent it pursues just ends by just means.

The church is not the kingdom, but is an outpost, or embassy, of the coming kingdom. Jesus has been given possession of all authority in heaven and on earth; he has been declared Lord over all creation. However, the political reality of his reign is not yet being exercised until he returns in power and glory to sit upon the throne in Jerusalem, thus establishing justice and peace over all nations. As an embassy of Christ’s coming kingdom, the church does not swing the sword for itself, but it does speak on behalf of the coming king who will judge the nations at his return. As such, the church has a prophetic ministry to proclaim Christ’s lordship, and to teach the nations the proper standard of justice. The civil magistrate ought to govern by the standard of Scripture, as taught by the local church, so as to uphold justice and minister for good as ordained by God; yet the church is not to coerce the state, just as the state is not to coerce the church.

Christians are to render submission and respect unto the governing authorities in all things lawfully commanded by them. The Christian’s first and highest allegiance is to Jesus Christ, though Christ calls us to seek the well-being of the country in which we reside and to submit to the governing authorities. The Christian must not obey rulers when they command that which Scripture forbids, or forbid that which Scripture requires. We are to offer supplications and prayers for all who are in positions of authority, that under them we might lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness, piety, and dignity—which ought to be the aspiration of all men.

It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto. In the managing thereof, they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth. To that end, they may swiftly carry out the just retribution of the wicked, and may lawfully wage war, upon just and necessary occasion, for the defense of borders. We affirm the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

(Genesis 9:5–7; 41:39–43; 1 Samuel 8:10–20; 2 Samuel 23:3–4; Nehemiah 12:26; 13:15–31; Psalm 2; 82; Proverbs 8:15–16; Ecclesiastes 8:11; Jeremiah 29:7; Daniel 2:48–49; Matthew 14:4; 16:18–19; 18:15–20; 22:21; 25:31; 28:18–20; Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14, 19; 19:11–27; Acts 5:29; 17:6–7; 24:25; Romans 1:5; 13:1–7; Ephesians 1:20–23; Philippians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:10–12; 1 Timothy 2:1–4; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–17)

What is the Church’s Social Responsibility?

I believe the primary mission of the local church to the lost is to provide not material, but spiritual relief by proclaiming the good news of eternal life by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In times of crisis, our primary mission as the local church is to offer comfort, hope, and biblical counsel to help people respond to trials and suffering in a way that glorifies God and helps them grow to better know, love, and follow Christ.

This position is rather unpopular in our current climate, especially in light of the recent conversations surrounding social justice and the gospel. One of the issues that I’ve seen rise to the surface in the midst of the vitriolic attack, debate, and defense of the SJ&G Statement, is a failure to distinguish between an individual Christian’s responsibility and interaction with the world, and the local church as a corporate body holding the keys of the kingdom. That distinction is crucial in understanding our role in the community, culture, political sphere, and world.

It’s challenging to sort through the various factors at play in seeking to understand the church’s social responsibility, and especially difficult to articulate this position, for a number of reasons. I encourage you to prayerfully consider this list of resources as you seek to understand the church’s responsibility, our responsibility as individual Christian citizens, and the relationship between evangelism and material aid.

The Social Responsibility of the Local Church and the Mission of Missions

Series on Christians, the Church, and Culture

Are All Biblical Commands Corporate?

My Church Loves the Poor, So I Don’t Have To

Discontinuity, Israel, and the Church

Mercy Ministry is not Kingdom Work

Responding to Tragedy by Giving Money (practical steps)

The Call to Minister to the Poor

Dispensationalism, Keller, and the Poor

Biblical Pillars of Mercy Ministry

Examples of Mercy Ministry

What’s Wrong With the Recent Evangelical “Social Justice” Movements?

“Churches” or “Christians” and Culture?

How Christians and Churches Prioritize Going About the Doing of Good

Transforming Culture with a Messiah Complex

The Social Responsibility of the Church (PDF by Benware)

Problems with Social Action in Missions (Cripplegate Series):

Missions: Ecclesiology with a Passport

2 Problems with Social Action in Missions

8 Problems with the Theory of “Social Action” Missions

8 Problems [part 2]

So, What is the Mission of Missions?

The Role of the Church in the Discipleship of Children

I’d like to share a couple of statements and policies that we use at my church. Perhaps this may be of some help to others.

Below is the introductory statement on our philosophy of children’s ministry. I’d like to expand on this sometime in the near future.

We believe the responsibility to raise children and train them to follow Christ ultimately rests not with the church, but with the parents, and thus seek to come alongside parents in their desire to cultivate Christlikeness in their children. As such, we seek to equip parents to pass on their faith to their children, as well as provide children with the foundation they need to know God, think biblically, and live wisely.

Our prayer is that the teaching the children receive at church will reinforce, supplement and enrich the Biblical training that takes place in each child’s home, though we also are aware of and seek to minister to those children who do not come from a Christian home. Training children to know, love, and follow Christ is one of the most fundamental aspects of the church’s ultimate mission—to make disciples—and our desire is to lead children from wherever they are into a closer relationship with Christ, teaching them to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prioritizing Family Over Ministry

Modern churchgoers have some messed up priorities. That’s my thesis. Sometimes we have no conscious priorities; sometimes we feel there is no flexibility in priorities where there should be; sometimes we’ve just never considered the fact that our priorities may be dangerously disordered. But thinking through what our priorities should be—and then consistently acting on it—can be very difficult.

In a recent series, we’ve been discussing the importance of the local church, the priority we place on it, and the appalling dismissal of the local church that is rampant in modern Christianity (under the guise of attending to the pressures and needs of modern life).

Maybe people could devote more time to their church family in the 1850’s, but we have more pressing matters at hand. I do love the church, I’m just so busy! I don’t have time! You don’t understand how busy my family is!

My main point? I just don’t buy it. People make time for what is most important to them. I think we simply have grossly misunderstood the value and import of the local church, and have given in to the habits, values, and worldview of the secular culture. Anyway, you can read those posts here, here, and here.

A follow-up objection to my general emphasis of the local church might be: What about putting my family first? We’re always told to do that.

Indeed we are… So I’m going to do some thought exercises here on the issue of prioritizing church over family, or family over church.

Church or Family?

First of all, it concerns me that we automatically, as a matter of axiomatic self-evidential fact, assume that us (Christians) investing in and prioritizing our family looks the same as when the world does that.

We’re often told that our priorities ought to go like this:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Ministry
  4. Others

Or some variation of the above… Another way to word that would be,

  1. God
  2. My children
  3. God’s children
  4. Others

Do we get that from Scripture?

I’d like to challenge that. And I do so cautiously and conservatively, because I care a great deal about the natural family; yet I think even in our attempt to prioritize the family, we often do it a great disservice.

A better, but I think still insufficient, priority tier structure would be something like this:

  1. God and his family
  2. My family
  3. Others

Jim Daly talks about this priority hierarchy in this article. It’s encouraging, and worth the read. But I think we still need a little work on our priority pyramid.

I think that trying to conceptualize our priorities and responsibilities in chart or hierarchy form may inevitably have inherent weaknesses at various points. Also, I’m horrible with charts, so I couldn’t quite get something I’m happy with. But, with that caveat, I would recommend thinking about it a little more like this:

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 5.06.39 PM

Yes, it’s more complicated… quite so. But I think this helps in a couple of important ways. First, in this way, Christ is above all and defines all. When we become believers, our identity changes. Who we are in Christ shapes and defines everything about how we live in every facet of life.

Secondly, I don’t know that trying to put church or family, or God’s family or my family, or ministry or family, in a specific order is useful. There will always be tension, and there will always be conflicts at times. Within the overarching umbrella of our identity and commitment to Christ, we have certain responsibilities that we have to do the hard work of balancing. Christ has called us to be committed to our assembling with and encouraging the church community, raising and discipling our own family, and evangelizing the lost.

And yep, there’s tension and difficulty in trying to balance those. Having a hierarchy that tells me, well, whenever two seem to be in conflict at any given point, [this one] or [that one] must win out at every point, I think is less than helpful. Trying to put that tension to rest with a simple order of categorical priorities is problematic. We may need to attend to one or the other more urgently at times, and this takes wisdom, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes much sweat and tears.

Within the various spheres of responsibility that we have, however, I think we can identify from Scripture certain levels of priority given to certain functions within each domain.

For example, within our church family, our responsibilities include assembling together regularly for worship (Heb 10:25), encouraging one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), and fencing the community—meaning being responsible for who is affirmed and who is expelled from the fellowship through membership and discipline (Matt 18; 1 Cor 5; Gal 1). Beyond those responsibilities, we are blessed to have various ministry opportunities available by which we can serve in different ways as we are led, as we are able, as time allows. But the clear hierarchy here is that the various ministries we can voluntarily commit to are subordinate to our scriptural responsibilities to assemble and disciple.

Within the sphere of the household, our main responsibilities are to our spouse, and to our children (1 Tim 5:8). Our relationship to our spouse is, in fact, primary, and children secondary. Our responsibilities to our children are, first and foremost, to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). If, and only if, we are properly instructing our children in their knowledge of the Lord, and discipling them to love and obey Him fully, we then have liberty to involve them and encourage them in various recreational activities. But recreation is clearly subordinate to our responsibility to disciple and discipline our children to develop godly and biblical beliefs, morals, and affections. I think this is the case both within the sphere of the church and within the home; and the current tendency of parents to outsource the discipleship of their children to the church is perhaps one of the leading reasons that children sniff out the hypocrisy of parents who say Christ is important, but don’t consistently live Christocentric lives.

In our relationship to others (those outside our local church) we have the responsibility to encourage, pray for, and support other believers, and to share the good news with unbelievers. Anything beyond that is subordinate to those responsibilities.

One clear implication of this structure is that it shows the deficiency of trying to put church or family above one another. Scripture clearly calls us to be devoted to our church family; and Scripture clearly calls us to provide and care for our physical family. The hard work of balancing those responsibilities is just that—hard work. It takes discipline, wisdom, and prayer—and leaning on the Holy Spirit and His church for guidance and aid in all of it.

It should be clear from this chart that our commitment to our local church takes priority over our children’s recreation. Not only that, but our responsibilities to our local church actually have priority over our relationships to believers outside our own church as well. And that’s an important principle that we’ve largely forgotten.

I’m not entirely happy with the chart. But the bottom line is this: I don’t like trying to simplify our priorities as God, then Family, then Ministry… or God, then Ministry, then Family… or even as God-and-His-Family, then Our Family, then Others. The fact of the matter is that our identity in Christ shapes and defines everything about every facet of our life, and Christ calls us to minister to both our church family, and our own family. At times there will be perceived tension, at times we will need to make the decision to put God’s family above our own, and at times we will have to radically alter our picture of what we think fulfilling our responsibilities to our family looks like. Why can’t you invest in your family by spending time with them serving the church together? Do you think that perhaps that may in fact be one of the best ways to teach your children (and yourself) the importance of serving God?

Why do we think that ministering to, discipling, and investing in our families will look the same for us as it does for the world?

Christ calls us—and our families—to live radically Christocentric lives. And that translates immediately into living church-centric lives; because those who love Christ, will love His church (2 John 1:1).


 

 

 

 

 

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Tax Resources for Ministry

If I were to choose two things about which I wish I would have learned more in seminary, one of them would be taxes (I’ll talk about the other issue another time:). Trying to figure out taxes as a pastor is incredibly difficult; and the problem is, if you’re planting a church or coming into a new church that hasn’t dealt with these issues before, you’re on your own. Even someone in your church who might be fairly knowledgeable regarding taxes in general may still not be very helpful to you as a pastor. That’s because taxes for churches and for pastors are quite different from taxes for businesses and non-ministry employees.

How does a housing allowance work? What expenses are covered under a housing allowance (why do wall-hangings and decorations count, but not toiletries)? Why should I choose a 403(b) rather than an IRA? What does it mean that a pastor is considered by the IRS to be “dual-status” (an employee for all purposes except social security, for which the minister is considered self-employed)?

Trying to guess where to start can give you quite the headache, and trying to make sure you’re doing it right can be rather frightening. So, for anyone who may need to know a little more about tax issues, either for churches or for pastors specifically, I’ll just share a few of the resources that ended up being helpful to me.

Guidestone is a good resource to have on hand in general. They have some really helpful online resources, especially on housing allowance, but the site is kind of difficult to navigate. Their PDF on Ministerial Tax Issues is very helpful though—that’s probably where I’d start.

Clergy Financial Resources is the other main site I used when I was figuring out tax issues for my own ministry.

Free Church Accounting has some helpful blog posts.

You can also find stuff on the actual IRS site like here and here, but the other resources may be easier to wade through than the actual tax code.

What about you? Any other helpful resources for those on the quest to understand the delightful subject of tax guidelines for ministry?

Proximity and Sprawl: redux

In his book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, Jonathan Leeman describes eight ways Christians ought to submit to their local churches. The second of those is completely in line with the articles I discussed in my post on proximity, sprawl, and the importance of living close to your community. Leeman says,

If you can, ‘consider others better than yourselves’ and ‘look to the interests of others’ by living geographically close to the church. When a person lives within walking distance of a church or clumps of members, it’s easier to invite people to one’s house for dinner, to watch one another’s children while running errands, to pick up bread or milk at the store for one another. In other words, it’s just plain easier to integrate daily life when there is relative—even walkable—geographic proximity.

When considering what home to buy or apartment to rent, Christians do well to ask some of the same questions that non-Christians ask (How much does it cost? Are there good schools nearby?). But Christians also do well to ask additional questions like these:

  • Will the mortgage or rent payment allow for generosity to others?
  • Will it give other church members quick access to me for discipleship and hospitality?

Must a Christian move close to other members of his or her church? No, the Bible doesn’t command this. But it’s one concrete way to love your church.

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