Composing a Doctrinal Statement [intro and philosophy]

Composing a doctrinal statement can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. An obvious reason for this is theological disagreements. Another reason, less often considered, is differing philosophies of what a doctrinal statement should be — the purpose it should serve. There are those who think that the doctrinal statement should be totally minimalistic, only defining the absolute essentials for salvation, or perhaps outlining those doctrines which are essential to historic, orthodox Christianity. In this view, an attractive scenario is one where a Lutheran, a Methodist, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Mennonite, perhaps even a Catholic and a Pentecostal, could all sign off on the same statement, or at least not find anything offensive in the statement.

Others believe that the doctrinal statement should be a minutely detailed document — so thorough that only the senior pastor actually agrees with everything in the statement. Of course, there are also many positions all along this spectrum. I find myself somewhere right-of-center on the spectrum, believing the doctrinal statement should be detailed enough that the members can have real, functional unity on a number of issues, and be properly protected from error, but not so minute as to venture into either entirely unimportant details, or into unclear positions left up to personal opinion.

I believe the doctrinal statement should cover three main areas. First, it obviously should define the church as an orthodox Christian church. Beyond that, however, it should further define the church in areas of distinctions between “camps” (e.g. is this church congregational or presbyterian or episcopal? Is it dispensational or covenantal? Complementarian or egalitarian? Young-earth? Calvinistic? Etc). Lastly, I believe the doctrinal statement should include in it those issues which have become, rightly or wrongly, hot-button issues in the surrounding culture. So, the statement should have a clear stance (even if its stance is non-committal) on things like spiritual gifts, the definition of inerrancy, whether God knows the future, as well as a section on moral areas like abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, marriage, and divorce.

In light of this, one of the major projects I began this summer (and continuing into the present) was to draft a sample doctrinal statement that was detailed, precise, well-worded, and well-documented with verse references (many doctrinal statements are not). The doctrinal statement I ended with, after months of combining and tweaking some of the best, and adding much of my own wording as well, is certainly more detailed than most churches would like, and most likely contains a combination of doctrinal beliefs no one shares but myself. However, the goal of the exercise was to produce a detailed statement that was worded positively (as opposed to defining ourselves by what we are against), but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection of the church. I found this to be an indispensably important and beneficial exercise, and was pleased with the final result.

I’d like to share my statement, posting a section at a time, and at times make comments pointing out key features and specific wording that I thought critical for the precise articulation of the view and for the protection of the church from false doctrine.