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)

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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The Gospel of Social Justice

“Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.” If the doctrines of God’s Word are not uncompromisingly reasserted and defended at these points, there is every reason to anticipate that these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.” — The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

The topic of so-called “social justice” has exploded on the evangelical scene in recent months. There has been a subtle yet dangerous conversation growing amongst evangelical leaders, including many conservative evangelical pastors and theologians for whom I have great respect, concerning the issue of social justice—tying it perilously close to the very essence of the gospel itself.

In some ways, this has been going on for several years, with leaders like Tim Keller and Russell Moore being on the cutting edge of evangelical compromise with progressivist ideology. But the roots have spread into almost every corner of the evangelical world of late, making the issue of social justice something significant enough, and often complicated and confusing enough, that a few strong, conservative men have found it necessary to take a stand for the pure gospel.

A few of those men, including Voddie Baucham, John MacArthur, Josh Buice, and Phil Johnson, recently met in Dallas to compose a statement of official affirmations and denials, in the format of the Chicago statements, addressing their primary concerns and the dangers of the social justice movement, the biblical truth of the gospel, and the proper Christian response to this growing movement. This will probably become a very important statement (already being dubbed by some “the Dallas Statement”—I hope that sticks), and it will certainly separate out those who are willing to stand for the truth of God’s Word over against man’s word, and those who are willing to reinterpret God’s Word for the sake of “respectability” and having a seat at the secular table.

The one critique I have, at this point, is the way they use the term “racism” in article XIV, with little definition or clarification. This is a word that’s been weaponized to make Christians, white people, and men, feel guilty for being so, and thus required to apologize perpetually for sins they didn’t commit in order to atone for their existence in a condition they didn’t choose (and if you have the combination of all three—Christian white man—you’re probably the literal spawn of Satan). Anyway, racism is a rather muddled word these days, so some clarification would have been helpful. For a good discussion of the issue of racism and racial “reconciliation” or harmony, see Doug Wilson’s book of essays entitled Black and Tan.

For more information on the issue of social justice from a biblical perspective, I’d recommend this series from John MacArthur, and this article from Religious Affections. Religious Affections also has some links to other relevant articles in that post; I promise if you follow the links you will find a goldmine of information on the Christian perspective on culture, cultural engagement, and related issues. You may also find this article helpful, in which Josh Buice explains why he partook in the project and attached his name and reputation to the statement. Doug Wilson has posted his thoughts on the statement and related issure here. And, lastly, I have a post coming up soon in which I’ll point you to a number of articles that deal well with the question specifically of the church’s responsibility to the poor.

There will, undoubtedly, be a great deal of criticism aimed at this statement and the men who’ve written it. I’m sure there are some critiques that will be legitimate. It would have been beneficial if they had gone deeper into several of the issues addressed; but overall, the statement is well-written as far as it goes, and it will be helpful in what it does touch on. There have already been accusations of divisiveness hurled at these men, and certainly there will be some division as a result of this statement and the surrounding conversation—after all, doctrine divides precisely because truth is, by definition, exclusive.

Yet I’m thankful for the stand these men have taken, and I think this statement, despite any potential shortcomings, will still serve as an important document to spark conversation and reflection, and give valuable expression to the biblical worldview that many Christians know in their hearts to be true, but would have a difficult time articulating themselves had not wise men come together to clearly defend the purity of the gospel in an age when believers want their ears tickled and their feelings validated.

The other unfortunate reality you may notice is the lack of any more of the prominent, respected pastors and theologians as drafters or signers. The sad reason for this absence is that these very same prominent and respected Christian leaders are the ones who are giving in to the compromise, and leading the slide toward progressive, soft, trendy, “respectable” Christianity. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many Christian leaders have not signed the statement. They are the reason a statement like this is even necessary in the first place.

I’ll come back to update this post as I learn more. There’s also now, due to popular demand (myself being one of those who requested a copy to share), a PDF copy of the statement available for download to save, share, post at your church, etc.

I encourage you to take the time to read this important statement, and, if you’re a pastor and you believe you’re able, to add your name to it.

“Our hope is the clear sounding of the gospel. We must be heralds of truth—not political ideas or cultural trends… Far too often people are unwilling to stand for the gospel publicly because they are afraid of rebuke, criticism, and the loss of support for their ministry. Many people are willing to work long hours on their ministry strategy in order to protect their brand and their image, but they’re unwilling to subject themselves to heavy criticism that could potentially cause their brand to lose support in the end. Interestingly enough, Jude never says to protect your ministry strategy. The calling for Christians is to contend for the gospel. Jesus never promised us an easy life without trouble. In fact, he promised us much worse.” — Josh Buice

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