Series on How to Compose a Doctrinal Statement

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.

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.

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.