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)

Facility Use Policies for Your Church

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d like to share a couple of statements and policies we use at my church, with the hope that they may be of some interest or help to you as well. Below, you’ll see my church’s facility use policy. If you have any questions about why we included certain elements, or excluded others, feel free to inquire. The importance of such a policy, I believe, is made plain in the policy itself. So then, the policy:

By God’s providence, and through the generosity of the membership, the Lord has blessed FBC with a building and property useful for the work of ministry, the fellowship of the saints, and the glory of God. With that provision comes the need to establish certain guidelines for the use of the facilities in order to preserve and further the mission of the church—to know Christ and to make Him known. This policy contains basic guidelines for the use of our facilities, and is subject to careful emendation at the discretion of the elders.

Use of FBC facilities will not be permitted to persons or groups advancing, advocating, or explicitly holding beliefs, or advancing, advocating, or engaging in practices that conflict with the church’s faith or moral teachings, which are primarily summarized in the church’s constitution. Nor may facilities be used for activities that contradict, or are deemed by the elders as inconsistent with, or contrary to the church’s faith or moral teachings.

This restricted facility use policy is necessary for two important reasons. First, the church may not in good conscience materially cooperate in activities or beliefs that are contrary to its faith. Allowing its facilities to be used for purposes that contradict the church’s beliefs would be material cooperation with that activity, and would be a grave violation of the church’s faith and religious practice.[1]

Second, to allow our facilities to be used by groups or persons who express beliefs or engage in practices contrary to the church’s faith would have a negative impact on the message that the church strives to promote. It could also be a source of confusion and scandal to church members and the community because they may reasonably perceive that by allowing use of our facilities, the church is in agreement with the beliefs or practices of the persons or groups using the church facilities. It is very important to the church that we present a consistent and pure message to the community.

Approval for Use

  • Use of FBC facilities will be approved by the senior pastor as the schedule allows and in accordance with this policy. In the case of potentially difficult decisions, the elders are jointly responsible as the final decision-makers on whether a person or group will be allowed to use the church facilities. Priority will be given to members and official ministries and sponsored activities of FBC.

Cleaning and Damages

  • Anyone who uses the facilities is responsible to see that the area used has been cleaned, any moved furniture or equipment returned to its original placement, and the facility left in no worse a condition than they found it—or to make arrangements for this to be done.
  • The person or group using FBC facilities will assume legal, material and financial responsibility for any damages incurred during use.
  • All lights must be turned off and doors locked upon departure.

Fees

  • The church generally does not charge a fee for the use of our facilities.
  • However, a fee may be requested on an ad hoc basis at the discretion of the elders.

Bible Studies and Other Ministry Activities

  • Bible Studies and other ministry activities conducted at the church will be limited to those official activities of FBC facilitated by a member and under the oversight of the elders.
  • We encourage members to study Scripture together as often as possible, and to seek the counsel and advice of the elders when considering a topic or direction of study. However, studies and small groups are not to be conducted in the church building unless specifically approved by the elders and conducted under the oversight of the elders.

Weddings

  • We believe that the only biblical marriage is the formal union of a man and a woman in a lifelong, exclusive covenant.[2] Any other sexual activity, identity, or expression outside of this definition of a biblical marriage, including those that are becoming more accepted in the culture and the courts, are contrary to God’s natural design and purpose.[3] FBC facilities may only be used for weddings that are in accordance with this biblical standard.
  • Weddings conducted at FBC will be restricted to those in which at least one member of the couple getting married is a member in good standing of FBC.
  • Additionally, in accordance with the teachings of Scripture, FBC facilities may only be used for weddings by couples in which both the man and woman are believers.[4]
  • Only officiants approved by the FBC elders may officiate weddings at FBC.

Showers, Birthday/Graduation Parties, and Other Non-Ministry Events

  • Non-ministry use of FBC facilities will not be prioritized over ministry use, but will be approved on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the senior pastor and elders, as the schedule allows.
  • Events run by or for members of the church will be prioritized, followed by regular attenders, and finally non-attenders.
  • The restrictions enumerated in the opening paragraphs of this policy apply to all activities conducted at the church facilities.

Miscellaneous Guidelines

  • Smoking in any indoor church facility is prohibited.
  • No alcohol may be served at any function on FBC premises.
  • Groups are restricted to only those areas of the facility that the group has reserved.
  • Abusive or foul language, violent behavior, and drug or alcohol abuse are strictly prohibited while using church facilities. Any person exhibiting such behavior will be required to leave the premises.
  • Food is prohibited in classrooms and worship space except for special events pre-approved by the governing board. Snacks for classes served by teachers are an approved exception.
  • Beverages with tight-fitting lids are permissible in classrooms and worship space.
  • A facility usage request form may be required.

__________________________________________________________

  1. 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Thess. 5:22
  2. Gen. 2:18–25; Mal. 2:14–16; Matt. 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–9; Rom. 7:2–3; 1 Cor. 7:10–11, 39; Eph. 5:22-33
  3. Ex. 20:14; Lev. 18:1–30; Mark 10:6–9; Rom. 1:26–29; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:9–10; 1 Thess. 4:3–8; Heb. 13:4; Jude 7
  4. 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14

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Blogmatics—On Confessions of Faith

Blogmatics (i.e. what we at Ancient Paths believe)

You can find my own articulation of our beliefs in this post. But, the title of this blog being Ancient Paths, I thought it appropriate to also point to some of the old historic confessions that accurately represent the doctrinal beliefs we hold. So then…

Ancient Creeds

Though I take some exception with the specific wording here and there, I think the creeds have tremendously valuable formulations that, sadly, have been forgotten and ignored in much of modern Christianity. And, for that reason, we no longer have any moors by which to define historic Christian orthodoxy.

Confessions of Faith

I come from a tradition that typically has some rather considerable disdain for confessionalism. This is unfortunate for various reasons, and not necessarily characteristic of the older tradition of which I am a beneficiary. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself confessional, simply because of some of the connotations that term now carries. However, I think the historic confessions are indispensable to a robust understanding of theology, and I would consider myself to be more or less in line with these four confessions.

Some Modern Declarations

Again, with some minor differences in preferred wording, I have found the following declarations on specific topics (and two modern confessions) to be of considerable public value, and of tremendous personal benefit as well.

Extra Reading

I’ve found these confessions to be particularly helpful in their wording, for the most part, but unfortunately have some significant disagreements with the views expressed in one or more places.

  • Helwys’ Confession (1611) (with the exception of article 7 on falling from grace; but I especially appreciate his wording on election in article 5; particularly relevant to our day is article 16 on the appropriate size of a congregation—as Voddie would say, if you can’t say amen, you ought to say ouch)
  • The Standard Confession (1660) (a helpful Baptist confession, but my discomfort lies primarily in articles 12 and 14)
  • The Orthodox Creed (1679) (This is an important confession, but it’s problematic when it comes to the Adamic Covenant, and thus the active obedience of Christ)
  • A Short Confession or a Brief Narrative of Faith (1691) (This confession has some unfortunate wording concerning original sin and justification. Despite this, the sections on the extent of Christ’s death, providence, and election, are especially helpful)
  • New Hampshire Confession (1833) (This is a well-written Particular Baptist confession based loosely on the 1689; I disagree with their wording on Perseverance, and the Christian Sabbath, but the majority of the confession is solid)

For the Uncomfortable and/or Curious

If the idea of subscribing to historic confessions is new to you, you may find these articles from Founders Ministries helpful. Of course, Founders subscribes to the 1689 Second London Confession, which I disagree with at various points; however, their arguments and explanations are still valid and a very valuable introduction to the importance of utilizing the creeds and confessions.

 


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Series on How to Compose a Doctrinal Statement

Below, you’ll find links to my series on how to develop and write a doctrinal statement. I’ve geared this toward churches specifically, but I hope it will be of some benefit to you personally as well. This also is my personal statement of faith (adapted for churches), so this will let you get to know me a little better as well.

Reflections on Transcendent Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

I believe that truth, goodness, and beauty are transcendent realities rooted in the nature and character of God. Belief in these absolute, transcendent standards is rooted in a recognition that God is the source, sustainer, and end of all things (Romans 11:36).

All truth is grounded in the reality that God is True. All virtue is grounded in the reality that God is Good. All beauty is grounded in the reality that God is Beautiful.¹

Therefore, as image-bearers of God, I believe Christians must commit themselves to thinking God’s thoughts after him, to behaving in ways that conform to God’s moral character and will, and to loving those things that God calls lovely.¹

Belief in objective, transcendent standards of truth, goodness, and beauty is a uniquely conservative distinctive. Most Christians readily affirm that the Bible should shape our beliefs and morals. Many, however, have not even given thought to how the Bible ought to shape our affections as well. That is, we must work to align our values and affections with those of God. This is what Paul refers to in Philippians 4:8 when he says to dwell on whatever is “true,” “right,” and “lovely.” The word for lovely is defined as “worthy of taking delight in,” or, “worth the effort to have and embrace.” In other words, there is an objective standard for what is worthy of our delight and affection. It is, therefore, wrong to love what God hates, or take delight in what God is disgusted with, or to call beautiful what God calls ugly.

We must not only learn propositional truth about God and live in accord with His moral imperatives, but we must allow Scripture to shape and cultivate within us rightly-ordered affections as well. Nevertheless, right beliefs, morals, and affections are not always transparent, and thus require careful judgment to discern biblically.¹

Part of the image of God in humanity is the capacity to love, for God loves and He is love. The Scriptures clearly teach that the most important human duty is to love God and love others. Love is a function of the will, and not merely of the understanding. A right relationship to God involves more than an abstract or theoretical understanding of the truth of His Word. Rather, it includes grasping the truths of God’s perfections and mighty deeds and relishing these truths as beautiful and lovely.²

Furthermore, as an intellectually conservative Christian, I seek to not disparage or shun tradition simply because it is tradition, nor praise and value innovation simply because it is new and progressive. On the contrary, conservatism seeks to cherish and nourish tradition as valuable and worth conserving—not simply because it is tradition, not as though tradition is authoritative, and not as though it is necessary to preserve all available elements of church history, nor to remain in a bygone century—but rather out of a genuine respect for the permanent things, that by carefully evaluating the values, forms, and functions of traditions, we may preserve and hand down to future generations that which is true and good and beautiful within the Christian tradition.

Conservative Christians seek to take what is timeless, true, and permanent, and apply it to our changing world. We desire to be faithful Christians in the present, while honouring and building upon what we have been handed.³

Conservative Christianity wishes to conserve and pass on the truth, goodness, and beauty of essential Christianity.³

(Exodus 28:2; Deuteronomy 6:4–5; Psalm 15:4; Matthew 22:37–39; Mark 12:29–30; John 17:17; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 11:2, 16; 14:40; Philippians 3:17; 4:8, 9; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 12:28–29; James 1:17; 1 John 4:16–21)

virtus et honos

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 10 — on the Authority of the Doctrinal Statement]

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’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.

This is the last section of the doctrinal statement, and the last post in this series. I hope it’s been interesting and perhaps helpful.


Section 10 — Authority of this Doctrinal Statement [1]

This doctrinal statement does not exhaust the extent of our beliefs. The Bible — as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, itself the very standard of truth — speaks authoritatively concerning doctrine, morality, and the proper conduct of mankind [2], and is the inceptive and final source of all that we believe [3]. For the purposes of this church’s doctrine, the Council of Elders bears the delegated responsibility of interpreting and communicating the Bible’s meaning and application for the church [4]. We do believe, however, that the foregoing doctrinal statement accurately represents the teaching of the Bible and, therefore, is binding upon all members.

(John 17:17; Acts 15:12–21; 20:28; Galatians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:1–2; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2–3; 2 Peter 1:19–20)


Notes:

1] The National Center for Life and Liberty strongly recommends, for legal and practical reasons, that the local church “should adopt, as part of its bylaws, a statement explaining that the Bible is the sole and final source of all the ministry believes and that the statement of faith, as a reflection of the major doctrinal and lifestyle beliefs of the ministry, is binding upon all members, staff, students, and volunteers.”

2] See the statement on the Scriptures

3] “Inceptive” means that the Bible is not just our final standard — it’s our starting point. The Bible is the first place we go to decide what we believe. What makes Scripture the standard of truth is that God’s word is the very source of truth. See note 3 on section 1 for more info.

4] No matter who you decide must biblically, or will practically, hold the final functional responsibility of “interpreting and communicating the Bible’s meaning and application for the church” — the council of elders, just the senior pastor, or the congregation as a whole — it needs to be specified in your documents, or you will face unbelievable division over who gets to decide on a difficult issue that arises one day. In my view, the elders are clearly given the authority to teach the Word to the congregation, with the congregation given the command to submit to and trust their leadership (while still holding the power as an assembly to remove an elder when he compromises the gospel or is otherwise no longer qualified to be an elder). Thus, this position is reflected in where I place the functional authority in this statement — with the leadership. Read my thoughts on church polity for more explanation.