Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 8 — End Times]

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.


Section 8 — End Times

The Rapture and Subsequent Events: We believe in the imminent, premillennial return of Christ for His people [1]. At that moment, all those in Christ [2], dead and alive, shall receive their glorified bodies, and be caught up in the air by the Lord and taken to heaven to await the establishment of Christ’s physical, everlasting kingdom on earth following the tribulation, the seventieth week of Daniel, when Christ will reign over all the earth from the Davidic throne in Jerusalem. At the end of the Millennium, there will be a final rebellion of Satan and his followers (fallen angels and living unbelievers) against the rule and authority of Christ, at which time they will be summarily destroyed — Satan, his fallen angels, and all the unsaved being thrown into the Lake of Fire to suffer eternal punishment. At this time, God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth in which there will be no more curse and no more death, where all believers will live in peace and fellowship with God in His kingdom forever.

(Daniel 9:25–27; Matthew 24:19–31; 19:28; 25:31–32; Luke 1:32–33; 1 Corinthians 15:26; 1 Thessalonians 4:14–18; Revelation 20–22)

The Eternal State: We believe that at death the souls of those who have trusted in Christ for salvation pass immediately into His presence and there remain in conscious bliss until the resurrection of the glorified body when Christ comes for His own, whereupon soul and body, thus reunited, shall enjoy fellowship with Him forever in glory; but the souls of the unbelieving remain after death conscious of condemnation and in misery until the final judgment of the great white throne at the close of the millennium, when soul and body, reunited, shall be cast into the lake of fire — not to be annihilated, but to suffer punishment and everlasting separation from the presence and glory of the Lord.

(Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46; Luke 16:19–26; 23:42; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9; Jude 6; Revelation 20:11–15)


Notes:

1] I am very firm on the pre-millenial rapture, but not so firm on the pre-tribulational rapture. In fact, I haven’t even made the pre-trib rapture a part of my doctrinal statement (though it fits best). I personally am convinced that the rapture happens before the 7-year tribulation. There are three primary reasons I hold this view: 1) The pre-trib rapture most fully and consistently maintains the doctrine of imminency; 2) The pre-trib rapture is the only view that sufficiently explains where mortal unbelievers living in the millennium come from; 3) The pre-trib rapture best holds together as a view in light of various prophetic passages. However, I simply do not think the pre-trib rapture is explicit enough in Scripture to be dogmatic about it, since arguments can be made in favor of a rapture that is not pre-trib (though, in my opinion, all other views have significant problems with one or more various passages which a pre-trib rapture view resolves).

Read more: here, here, here, and here.

2] I changed this from “all believers” to “all those in Christ” not only because it matches the language Paul uses (1 Thess 4:16), but also because there is a legitimate interpretation among some dispensational theologians that this refers only to church-age believers (since they say only church-age believers are “in Christ”), leaving Old Testament saints to be resurrected either at the beginning or end of the Millennium (Rev 20:4–5). I don’t hold this view, but instead hold that all believers, Old and New Testament believers, are resurrected at the rapture. However, because the other view is a legitimate and common interpretation, I don’t mind simply saying “all those in Christ” and allowing us to understand the reference in slightly different ways.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 7 part 3 — on Israel]

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, a section at a time, 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.


Israel: We believe that the church is distinct from, and has not replaced or fulfilled [1], the nation Israel in the plan of God, but that God permanently selected Israel as His covenant nation, for which certain covenants would be fulfilled for the display of God’s glory and faithfulness. Israel is now dispersed and oppressed because of disobedience and the rejection of their Messiah, Jesus Christ, but will be regathered in their promised land, in peace, in the future kingdom of Christ to enjoy fully the blessings and promises of God’s covenants with ethnic, national Israel. According to a normative reading of Scripture, the nation of Israel has particular covenants of promise given to it (e.g. Abrahamic, Davidic, New) which have not all been fulfilled in every detail. Nevertheless, they must be fulfilled if the veracity of the promises of God is not to be called into question [2]. The hope of the literal fulfillment of these covenants is to those Israelites identified in Scripture as the Remnant. These are the true Jews in every dispensation — the Israel of God. [3]

(Genesis 12:1–3; 13:14–17; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalm 89:3–4; 20–37; 132:11; Jeremiah 23:5–6; 31:31–34; 32:37–41; 33:19–21; Ezekiel 11:17–21; 36:24–38; 37:21–28; Romans 9–11; Galatians 6:16)


Notes:

1] Many covenant theologians do not like the term “replacement theology,” preferring instead to view the church as being the fulfillment, or continuation, of Israel. Some, however, do explicitly teach that the church has replaced Israel, since the covenant promises given to Israel have now been transferred to the church (so they say). Sometimes it is said that the church began with Abraham, in which case “church” is equated with the called people of God, or something. Other times, “church” is used to refer to all saved people of all time (starting with Adam). Inconsistent and confusing — yes. This doctrinal statement rejects all such variations of Covenant Theology.

2] If we cannot trust the plain meaning of God’s language in his covenants, what of His Word can we trust? Notice that the glory and character of God is at stake. God Himself views His covenant-keeping character as one of the most essential aspects of His glory, so we dare not dismiss His covenant promises to the nation of Israel.

3] Notice that I have not used the term “dispensational” or “dispensationalism” in this statement, and yet clearly maintain a dispensational position. This is because some people just have an automatic visceral reaction to terms like “dispensationalism,” without even taking the time to see what dispensationalists have to say. So, for the sake of not turning people off immediately by the use of the term, I haven’t used it — even though anyone carefully reading this doctrinal statement will recognize that it is dispensational in it’s interpretation.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 7 part 2 — on the Ordinances]

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, a section at a time, 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.


Ordinances: We believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only two ordinances (or sacraments [1]) of the church commanded by Christ, and that they are a scriptural means of testimony for the church. We believe that baptism has no saving power [2], but is a one-time act of obedience[3] for a believer[4] to publicly identify[5] with Christ and with His people [6]. The Lord’s Supper is a regular, symbolic [7], commemoration and proclamation of Christ’s work on the cross [8], anticipation of His return [9], and a New Covenant celebration of our union and fellowship with Christ and with our fellow believers [10]. As such, the Lord’s Supper marks out who the church is, and thus is only for believers.

(Matthew 28:19–20; Luke 22:14–20; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12–13; 36-39; 10:47–48; 16:30–34; 18:7–8; Romans 6:3–6; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34; Colossians 2:12)


Notes

1) I don’t mind the word sacrament if you’re emphasizing the “sacred” aspect of the word’s meaning. But I certainly understand Baptist and independent reactions toward the “mystery/mystical” aspect, and the misuse of the sacraments by those who use that name. So, I am fine with “ordinances” (practices or rituals that the church has been commanded to maintain) as well; although, definitionally speaking, there are several more things we could lump into the category of “ordinances.”

2) It’s helpful to have this clarification included.

3) Baptism is commanded by Christ and the Apostles. Therefore, the logical and simple conclusion is that every believer should obey that command and be baptized.

4) A believer’s act of obedience cannot be carried out by an infant, so I hope this serves to clarify explicitly that we hold to believer’s baptism.

5) Salvation itself is a “private” occurrence, in that belief happens in the heart, and God saves us and regenerates our heart. But the next step of a believer is to publicly proclaim that faith by formally identifying oneself with Christ and with the believing community.

6) Baptism is not only a profession of our faith, but an initiation into the community of faith. In the New Testament (and still in many countries around the world), when someone is saved, they are then baptized into the local church community.

7) Symbolic: this covers transubstantiation, and perhaps consubstantiation.

8) Looking back, with faith.

9) Looking forward, with hope.

10) Looking around, with love. This is an oft-forgotten aspect of the Lord’s Supper — that it is not simply a somber remembrance of Christ’s death, but a community celebration of what His death has accomplished for us, and how this new life He’s given us allows us to have fellowship not only with Him, but also with one another. In 1 Corinthians 11:27, when Paul says that anyone who partakes in the meal “unworthily” will be judged, he is using “unworthily” adverbially in reference to the manner in which they observe the meal (in an unloving, selfish manner), rather than adjectivally referring to the unworthy state of the person’s heart. The context of the whole passage is Paul’s rebuke of the unloving manner in which “each one goes ahead with his own meal” (11:21), and the higher–class people would arrive and consume the meal and get drunk on the wine before the poorer people, perhaps slaves as well, could even arrive (later in the evening), thus ignoring the fellowship that the body is meant to enjoy (10:17). He is rebuking them for ignoring the body (11:29) and thus making it “not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (11:20).

Some Resources

40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

CHBC Seminar on the Ordinances

Understanding Baptism

Understanding the Lord’s Supper

Going Public

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 7 — on the Church]

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, a section at a time, 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.


Section 7 — The Church

We believe that God’s plan for this dispensation is that the people of God regularly assemble and associate themselves in local communities by establishing churches under the authority of God’s Word and for the purpose of edifying and equipping disciples of Christ to better know Him, love Him, live in obedience to Him, and disciple others toward a deeper relationship with Him.

A church is a local congregation of Christians who, by mutual commitment, regularly assemble together in Christ’s name to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word and worth of God, and to officially affirm, equip, and oversee one another’s faith in Christ through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances. [1]

The church is governed by the teachings of God’s Word through delegated leadership, and is to obey Christ’s commission to make disciples [2] by evangelizing the lost, and training, equipping, and developing believers to better know Christ, become more like Him, live in obedience to Him, and be used by Him for His glory.

Membership: We believe that every believer should formally identify with the believing community by becoming a member of a local church [3]. Church membership is a formal relationship between a local church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship, and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship under the authority and in the care of that church [4].

Leadership: We believe that the one, supreme authority for the church is Christ, and that church leadership, order, discipline, and worship are all appointed through His sovereignty as found in the Scriptures. We believe that Jesus authorized the local assembly to exercise the authority of the keys of the kingdom [5]. The church is to exercise this authority under the oversight and leadership of biblically qualified elders (also called pastors and overseers). The congregation is to be led by elders and served by deacons, whose qualifications and duties are defined in the New Testament. Though the church utilizes these two offices, all believers have equal access to God and are gifted and called to serve Him as ministers. We believe that the elders lead as servants of Christ and are commissioned by Him to bear the responsibility of teaching, leading, protecting, and caring for the local church. The church’s leaders are to model the servant-leadership of Jesus Christ. The congregation is to recognize, support, and submit to their leadership within scriptural guidelines.

Universal Church: The family of God as it exists in this dispensation, the worldwide New Covenant community, is often collectively called the Church [6] — made up of all who have been redeemed by God since the cross of Christ, both Jew and Gentile. [7]

(Matthew 16:15–19; 18:15–20; 28:19–20; Acts 2:37–47; 14:23, 27; 15:13–21; 20:17–28; 1 Corinthians 5:9–13; 11:17–34; 12:12–27; 14:12, 26; 2 Corinthians 2:6; 5:14–21; Galatians 1:6–9; Ephesians 1:22–23; 3:1–6, 21; 4:11–16; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:13, 18; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 2:12; 3:1–15; 5:3–9, 17–22; 2 Timothy 2:2, 15; 3:16–17; 4:3; Titus 1:5–9; Hebrews 10:22–25; 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1–5; 1 John 1:3)


Notes

1) For an explanation and discussion of my definition of the local church, go to this post.

2) For a study in biblical discipleship, see: Defining Discipleship; Knowing vs. Loving Christ; The Requirement of a Disciple; The Commission and Means of Disciple-Making; and The Resemblance and Mark of a Disciple

3) Jonathan Leeman is probably the go-to resource on church membership. I suggest this, this, and this. Also, Grace to You has some helpful posts here, here, here, here, and here.

4) What is Church Membership? (Leeman); The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (Leeman)

5) Understanding the Congregation’s Authority (Leeman); Don’t Fire Your Church Members (Leeman)

6) For a study of the ekklesia (church; assembly) in the New Testament, see here.

7) Every doctrinal statement I have ever seen places the universal church first, and the local church second. Doctrinal statements usually launch into an in-depth discussion of the concept of the universal church (which, frankly, is not an overly helpful or productive concept exegetically or hermeneutically), and then have a brief statement tagged on the end about how “the local/physical expression of this universal body is in the establishment of local churches.” These doctrinal statements reflect the common attitude of evangelicalism today, which unabashedly places priority on the universal church, while devaluing the local church to nigh nonexistence. I do not believe this is the biblical viewpoint. Scripture has so much more to say about the local church than it does about the universal church. (And, functionally, the local church is the only assembly that actually regularly assembles). In fact, I would say that, ontologically, the local church actually has precedence and primacy, and the universal church exists only as a derivative category that conceptually engulfs all believers around the world and throughout time. I suppose I need to write a paper on this sometime — I know this is an uncommon and unpopular viewpoint — but regardless, that is why I place the local church first here.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [sections 4&5 — on Angels and Mankind]

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, a section (or two) at a time, 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.


Section 4 — Angels

We believe that God created an innumerable company of spirit-beings commonly called angels. Although they are a higher order of creation than humanity, angels were created within space and time, and are not to be worshiped themselves, but are created to serve God and to worship Him.

(Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Daniel 9:20–23; 10:1–14; Luke 2:9–14; Hebrews 1:6–7, 14; 2:6–7; Revelation 5:11–14; 19:10; 22:8–9)

Fallen Angels: We believe that Satan is a created angel, and the author of sin. He incurred the judgment of God by rebelling against his Creator, and introducing sin into the human race by his temptation of Eve. He is the open and declared enemy of God and mankind. He is the prince of this world, who was defeated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and he will be eternally punished in the lake of fire. Numerous angels (also called demons or unclean spirits) followed Satan in his original rebellion against God, and will share in his eternal judgement.

(Genesis 3:1–5; Isaiah 14:12–17; Ezekiel 28:11–19; Matthew 4:1–11; 25:41; 2 Corinthians 4:3–4; Revelation 12:1–14; 20:10)

Section 5 — Mankind

We believe that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, unfallen, and to enjoy fellowship with their Creator. By voluntary transgression, man fell from his sinless estate. All humanity sinned in Adam. As a result, all men and women are born spiritually separated from God and share in Adam’s fallen nature. All people are sinners by nature (inherently from Adam), and by choice (by individual thought and conduct), and, therefore, are under just condemnation without defense or excuse, utterly unable to remedy his lost condition by any strength or will of his own accord.

(Genesis 1:26–28; 3:1–6, 16–24; Psalm 51:5; Romans 1:18–32; 3:10–19; 5:12, 19)

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 3 — on Creation]

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, a section at a time, 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.


Section 3 — Creation

We believe that the creation of the space-time universe from nothing, as recorded in Genesis 1–2, is neither allegory, nor myth, nor poetry, but a literal, historical event [1]. The existence of all things is the result of the direct, immediate, creative acts of God over six literal days [2]. Mankind was created in the image of God by a direct work of God (not from previously existing forms of life), and the entire human race descended from the historical Adam and Eve. Mankind was given dominion over the earth (though the full exercise of this dominion is redacted due to the Fall), to be stewards of creation for the glory of God. We affirm and hold to The Biblical Perspective of Environmental Stewardship.

Death (both physical and spiritual) entered into this world subsequent to, and as a direct consequence of, man’s sin [3]. The special creation of Adam and Eve, and their subsequent fall into sin, is historical, literal, and the basis for the necessity of salvation for mankind. God’s purpose in and for creation is to reveal His glory.

(Genesis 1–2; Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 11:6; 45:18; Matthew 19:4; John 1:3; Acts 17:24–27; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:20–26; Colossians 1:16–17; Hebrews 11:3)


Notes

1) With this one simple statement, based on the statements on inerrancy and hermeneutics in Section 1, we’ve lost half of evangelical Christianity, but we’ve created a mighty foundation for unity on the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture.

2) And there go some more… Notice how many views we’ve excluded by this statement: Theistic Evolution (and atheistic, for that matter), Day Age, Progressive Creation, Analogical Day, any allegorical interpretation, even the Framework Hypothesis depending on the variety.

3) This statement not only excludes evolutionary cosmogonies, but also such views as Day Age, Analogical Day, Framework Hypothesis, and the Gap Theory.