It is common (and necessary, I think) for a church to have a doctrinal statement. But such doctrinal statements, creeds, or confessions, have not always been well received. And many disagree on what a doctrinal statement is and what it should contain.
As an example, Mark Dever made the comment that it is sin to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. This statement fired up the blogosphere for a few days a while back. I don’t know if anyone was converted or not. To borrow from an old political quip about friends, I know a lot of people agreed with Dever and a lot of people did not agree with Dever, and I am one of them.
So what is a doctrinal statement? I want to answer this from my view in a bullet-pointed fashion.
What a doctrinal statement is not:
- A doctrinal statement is not a statement about who is a true Christian—who is saved. In other words, it is not a list of things that must be believed to go to heaven, though it will certainly contain the gospel which must believed for salvation.
- A doctrinal statement is not a statement about who is a good Christian, a good preacher or teacher, somebody worth the time to listen to. Many people whose beliefs diverge from a particular church’s are still great tools of God for spiritual growth and maturity.
- A doctrinal statement is not a statement of contemporary orthodox theology.In other words, it is not a statement about the possible options that believers may legitimately embrace as scriptural doctrine.
- A doctrinal statement is not a statement of historical theology. In other words, it is not a statement about what someone somewhere in the church has believed in times past.
- A doctrinal statement is not a replacement for the Bible, or an addendum to it. Many (particularly in the Baptist tradition) have rejected creeds and confessions in favor of saying, “The Bible is our creed.” But that’s really insufficient and a misunderstanding of the use of creeds and confessions.
- A doctrinal statement is not a requirement for church membership or ministry. A person may join a church being untaught, and not knowing enough to agree or disagree. A person may join a church agreeing to disagree. In such cases, the church can rightly expect that the member will not attempt to divide the congregation over the issues.
What a doctrinal statement is:
- A doctrinal statement is a statement of what a church’s official position is on doctrinal matters.
- A doctrinal statement is a statement of what a church will teach, and therefore, what the congregation may expect to hear.
Some Practical Ramifications:
- It is not a sin to have a statement of faith that includes a position on eschatology. In fact, it should be expected, not discouraged. I don’t know what Dever means by “requires” so I do not know if I disagree with him or not. For instance, I would not tell someone not to join because they are amillennial or arminian or continuationist or “local church only,” though I think all four positions listed for sake of discussion are biblically refuted.
- A person with beliefs that diverse from the church’s doctrinal statement should seek unity in the body, and therefore should not seek to divide the body over it, and should not seek to “evangelize” for his position, thus creating dissension and division.
- A person with beliefs that diverge from the church’s doctrinal statement should expect the regular preaching and teaching of the church to engage his or her beliefs and to attempt to persuade him or her to change.
- A person with beliefs that diverge from the church’s doctrinal statement should expect that his ministry will be somewhat limited. For instance, I would not have an arminian-leaning brother teach a class on soteriology, though I might allow him to teach a series on something else, or to lead worship, or something similar. I would not allow an amillennialist to teach a class on eschatology, though I certainly would allow him to participate in discussions about the matter if it were being taught. This would not necessarily prevent him from leading a ministry team of some sort or from being a deacon for instance.