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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Gratitude for Seminary

I graduated from Shepherds Theological Seminary in 2016. In three years of sitting through seminary classes, I think there was not one single class wherein I did not at some point consciously dwell on how amazing it was that I was sitting in a seminary this good, under professors this wise, and studying a subject of this much gravity, and then thank God for His providence—because I don’t deserve it. In Philippians 1, Paul says that he thanks God for the Philippian church with every remembrance of them. I can earnestly say the same thing about Shepherds and its professors.

I’ve often spoken with people who say something like: “What’s the point in going to seminary—it’s just more book knowledge; you can learn all that on your own while in ministry.” I’m sure you could learn much of the book knowledge on the job, or on your own. But seminary is about so much more than book knowledge; it’s about gaining wisdom, cultivating virtue, and being discipled by men who have devoted their lives to faithful ministry. As one of my professors has said, “experience is not the only way to gain wisdom, and experience does not necessarily mean that wisdom has been gained.”

One of the greatest blessings of being at Shepherds Seminary was the opportunity to gain from the wisdom of pastor-theologians (over 200 years of cumulative ministry experience between them) who are eager to share that wisdom with us, so that we can learn from their successes (and mistakes), and so that we learn that the measure of successful ministry is not growth in numbers, renown, wealth, or anything else but faithfulness to the commission God has given us—to shepherd the flock of God that the Spirit has entrusted to us (Acts 20:28).

I may have been able to get some knowledge on my own, on the job… eventually. However, first of all, I gained knowledge at STS from professors who have unique gifts, perspectives, and expertise which have not been disseminated in published works, but which have deeply shaped and influenced my understanding not only of doctrine but of ministry and my own spiritual growth as well. Secondly, in three years I gained the knowledge it would have taken me fifteen to gain on my own. But, thirdly, in addition to gaining knowledge, seminary allows you to gain wisdom, to gain lasting friendships with brothers in arms, and to gain crucial resources in having professors who truly care about discipleship, and want to be available to you as you head into ministry. North Carolina and Shepherds Seminary have become home to me, and leaving to begin ministry has been one of the hardest things, and certainly the most bittersweet thing, I’ve ever done in my life.

I truly cannot express how grateful I am to God, and to my professors, for the examples I’ve had in them of wise, faithful, godly ministry.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. — Ephesians 3:20–21

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.

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 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.