Series on How to Compose a Doctrinal Statement

Aside

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 of course), so this will let you get to know me a little better as well.

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The Heritage of the Bible Church [part 2]

Over recent years, I have learned that the name of “Bible Church” carries with it a more significant amount of history, and one of far more theological and historical import, than that of which I had previously been aware. The history of the Bible Church Movement is a history of which I am proud to be a beneficiary, and which impels me to treasure and cherish the title of “Bible Church,” which connects us to the rich history of a tradition of independent, conservative teachers and churches who have held up the Word of God as the ultimate and inerrant authority for the past 140 years, and in so doing have, to a very real degree, preserved conservative Christianity in America as we know it today.

The heritage of the modern Bible Church is traced not primarily to the Reformers, but to the dissenting tradition—the radical reformers, as they are sometimes called.[1] This included groups such as the Quakers, Methodists, Congregationalists (Independents), Baptists, and Presbyterians. The dissenters, (later called non-conformists for their stand against the Church of England) believed the Reformers had not separated from the Roman Catholic Church enough, and were persecuted by the Reformers themselves for their disagreements over believer’s baptism, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, regenerate church membership, and separation of church and state. It is within this dissenting tradition that one can consistently find upheld, even when lost in other traditions, the absolute authority of Scripture, the autonomy of the local church, the importance of personal piety and regenerate church membership, as well as certain dispensational distinctives such as the future salvation of Israel and a literal millennial reign of Christ.

In the 19th century, during the twilight of the trans-denominational shift toward theological liberalism, believers from the dissenting tradition, primarily Independents, Baptists, and Presbyterians, began to hold interdenominational Bible conferences across England and the U.S., which provided the laity with deep, sound Bible teaching—a dwindling phenomenon within the mainline denominations. As Hannah puts it, “with liberal theology making inroads at the same time, conference attendees became more and more zealous for the type of teaching only available to them in the summers.” [2]

One solution for this search for more consistent Bible-teaching was in the establishment of Bible institutes and colleges, which served to train lay workers, rather than professional ministers. However, believers came to desire and value a pastoral ministry defined by the deep study of the Word, and some Bible colleges became seminaries, of which Dallas Theological Seminary became one of the most prominent, geared specifically toward the training and equipping of men for vocational ministry. Hannah points out that Dallas Seminary was in a way “the institutionalization of [the Bible conferences’] ideals, methods, and beliefs.”[3] Eventually, Christians began to separate from their denominations and form their own independent churches, led by men trained under the great teachers of the Bible conferences, such as Darby, Scofield, Ironside, Moody, Torrey, and Chafer, committed to the expository teaching of God’s Word. [4]

Naturally, many within the denomination, especially the leadership, did not look on the Bible conferences, colleges, and new churches as a positive move for Christianity. From the viewpoint of the denominations, as Churchhill puts it, the abandonment of the denominations for the Bible churches, with their widespread “dispensationalism, antinomianism, and Arminianism,” was seen as an abandonment of orthodoxy: “The church was not destroyed, but the strength of its theology was diminished.”[5]

Of course, from the viewpoint of those within the Bible Church Movement, full-throated orthodoxy was not lost, but regained. That being said, however, I do at times grieve the reaction of some within the Bible Church Movement against historic Christian heritage. Perhaps because the Bible Church Movement was seen as novel, and a rejection of the denominations (which were seen as traditional), many within the Bible Church tradition have learned to devalue tradition and heritage, which has indeed (though I don’t grieve it quite in the way Churchhill does) resulted in a tragic disconnect from, or rather, an ignorance of, historic orthodoxy.

The fierce independence which characterizes the Bible Church Movement can be viewed as a positive, and indeed, it certainly can be. The autonomy of the local church can be defended both Scripturally and practically. However, it can also be seen as a potentially negative consequence of the Bible Conference Movement, resulting at times in anti-intellectual, anti-denominational, and even anti-authority sentiments within the Bible Church movement. [6]

Although some Bible churches have no outside affiliations whatsoever, there are many who have joined voluntary fellowships and organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals, or the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (with which the seminary I attend is affiliated). [7]

The Bible conference movement supported, and in many ways formed, fundamentalism in America (another despised but extremely valuable movement), [8] produced the Bible institute movement, which birthed seminaries to train faithful pastors, and this revived a craving thirst within Christians for the truths of Scripture, and a network of conservative, independent, faithfully Bible-teaching churches was formed—the Bible churches. [9]

As Bible churches consider the possibility of excising the “Bible” from their name, in an effort to remove unwanted affiliations, I pray they do not strip themselves of either the authority of the Bible, or of the valuable traditional affiliations associated with the name of a Bible church.

I believe it is valuable to consciously retain fellowship and connections not only with like-minded churches today, but also with the faithful churches and Bible teachers of yesteryear who have upheld the Biblical distinctives we now so cherish within the Bible Church Movement—a tradition of faithful, Bible-teaching churches vital to the preservation of conservative Christianity in America.


Notes:

1] Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 11.

2] John D. Hannah, An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 285.

3] Hannah, 286.

4] Paul C. Wilt, “Bible Church Movement.” Pages 137–138 in Dictionary of Christianity in America, ed. Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, and Harry S. Stout (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 138.

5] Robert K. Churchhill, Lest We Forget (Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986), 36.

6] Hannah, 285.

7] Wilt, 137.

8] Sidwell, 76.

9] Hannah, 287.


Sources

Churchhill, Robert K. Lest We Forget. Philadelphia: Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986.

Hannah, John D. An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Sidwell, Mark. “Come Apart and Rest a While: The Origin of the Bible Conference Movement in America.” DBSJ, no. 15 (2010): 75-98.

Verduin, Leonard. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964.

Wall, Joe L. Bob Thieme’s Teachings on Christian Living. Houston: Church Multiplication, 1982.

Weber, Timothy P. “Bible and Prophetic Conference Movement.” Pages 136–137 in Dictionary of Christianity in America. Edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, and Harry S. Stout. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

Wilt, Paul C. “Bible Church Movement.” Pages 137–138 in Dictionary of Christianity in America. Edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley, and Harry S. Stout. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

The Heritage of the Bible Church

The church of which my family is a part is named Fairview Bible Church. I had always thought this was simply because the church wished to emphasize that they valued the study of the Word of God. Indeed, this may have been a primary reason in the minds of many for the designation. As I learned that there are a great many churches so titled, I grew to believe the designation merely referred to the non-denominational status of such churches, since, I learned, Bible Churches are usually, if not always, independent, non-denominational churches.

Another misconception that is often held at Fairview Bible Church is that the title of “Bible Church” necessarily connects the church to the tradition and teachings of the late Colonel R. B. Thieme Jr., a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, former pastor of Berachah Church in Houston, and a significant influence on thousands of pastors and conservative churches across the world, including our own.[1] For a time, Pastor Thieme, or, “the Colonel,” as his congregants and listeners called him, was a force for conservative evangelicalism, holding staunchly to the fundamentals of the faith, at a time when many churches began compromising right doctrine in favor of broader acceptance and perceived relevance. Thieme cared deeply that believers have a thorough understanding of Scripture, and was held up by Dallas Seminary as a shining example of success. The loosely-connected network of believers and local churches influenced by Thieme came to be known (primarily by those within the network of influence itself) as the “Doctrinal Movement”—churches and believers who espoused “Thiemeite” doctrine being referred to as “doctrinal” churches/believers.

However, as is the danger for so many pastors, that which was particular to Thieme began to be what was most important to Thieme, and his peculiarities both in doctrine and practice turned into hills to die on for both him and his “Thiemeites.” Thieme had several peculiar views, a few of which were perhaps even dangerous. By the late 1970’s, Dallas Seminary had begun to distance itself from any public association with Thieme, and several DTS professors, including Ryrie and Walvoord, had written critiques of Thieme’s teachings and leadership methodology.[2] Since the 70’s, solid, Bible-teaching pastors and churches (several of which I am personally familiar with) have, now and then, sought to distance themselves from any official connection to Thieme, acknowledging that which was valuable in his unwavering teaching of the Word of God, yet also laying aside the errors of “Thiemeite” doctrine.

For many within the Doctrinal Movement, the designation of “Bible Church” has been viewed as inextricably associated with the Thieme-inspired, Thieme-defined, and Thieme-regulated Doctrinal Movement. This is despite the fact that Thieme’s own church—Berachah Church—had no “Bible” in its name. Nevertheless, many, if not the majority, of churches within the so-called Doctrinal Movement have taken the title of “Bible Church,” thus causing many of us who were within the Doctrinal Movement, but who had little exposure to conservative evangelical/fundamental churches outside that movement, or to American church history, to gain the misperception that the title of “Bible Church” refers universally or historically to the Doctrinal Movement. Therefore, in an effort to distance, or perhaps extract, themselves from this tradition, as well as perhaps because of some seeming perception the broader unbelieving community has of any church so named, some well-meaning members of Bible churches have recently advocated stripping the moniker of “Bible Church” from their church’s name.

Over recent years, however, I have learned that the name of “Bible Church” carries with it a more significant amount of history, and one of far more theological and historical import, than that of which I had previously been aware. The history of the Bible Church Movement—which has little to no direct connection with the comparatively small and less significant Doctrinal Movement—is a history of which I am proud to be a beneficiary, and which impels me to treasure and cherish the title of “Bible Church,” which connects us, not necessarily to the teachings of R. B. Thieme, but directly to the rich history of a tradition of independent, conservative teachers and churches who have held up the Word of God as the ultimate and inerrant authority for the past 140 years, and in so doing have, to a very real degree, preserved conservative Christianity in America as we know it today. I’ll look at that spiritual heritage of the Bible churches in our next post.


Notes

1] Joe L. Wall, Bob Thieme’s Teachings on Christian Living, (Houston: Church Multiplication, 1982), 1.

2] Ibid, 5.

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.

Recommended Churches

News-note:

I just added a new page, which I hope will be of some service to any who might come by this blog. The church locator page is simply a list of churches that I have become aware of over the years either by attending them, knowing the pastor personally, or knowing a trusted friend who attends there. Recommending a church in no way indicates that I agree with or endorse everything taught there, as I’ve tried to clarify here. Rather, the purpose of this page is to provide a list of Bible-teaching churches across the country which I have benefited from in some way, or which I would recommend to a friend looking for a church in that area. If you have a church you would like to recommend I add to this list, please don’t hesitate to email me; I would be glad to be made aware of other sound churches in your area.