On Church Doctrinal Statements

Last week I posted on Creeds & the Local Church. I’ve been giving some thought to the importance, even necessity, of a church doctrinal statement.

I’ve also been thinking about the difference(s) between dogma, doctrine, and opinion. In the pursuit of planting a church, it must be examined and discussed with others who are joining together in community.

I concluded that…

“a healthy church will continue to wrestle with dogma, doctrine, and opinion in every age and culture.”

I wanted to share a few more thoughts I’ve had in light of a couple responses to my last post on the topic.

Why We Need Doctrinal Statements

I admit that a lengthy doctrinal statement can present obstacles for folks. I know that when I see a long doctrinal statement, I honestly anticipate something that’s gonna rub me the wrong way.

I even do this when looking at schools. I almost expect that the longer the statement, the more likely we’re going to clash.

I quickly move off church websites when I see that they believe in a “rapture” pre-millenial/pre-trib theology. That’s of course because I so strongly disagree with it, and I often don’t see why it needs to be stated.

I think… “Can’t we just agree that Christ is returning?”

I think it’s different when there is a statement included that allows for differing views on the matter. It should be clear that people are welcome (and treated that way) even if they disagree with the “official” doctrine of the church. There ought to be an atmosphere of freedom.

But I want to be clear that I don’t see anything wrong with a church saying, “Here’s where we are as a local fellowship.” I would rather they be upfront about it, because it’s there whether visible in a confession or not. This is good and can please the Lord, when it’s done in grace and love.

Contrary to those that think creeds and doctrinal statements are always and only divisive, I think they are helpful for a fellowship and for those who would visit them. We mustn’t jump to such extremes just because we’ve seen examples of churches who did not hold their doctrine with grace, humility, and love. It’s reckless to respond in such a way.

A doctrinal statement captures the heart of the people, and serves as a guide for further growth into Christ.

I think it’s beneficial for visiting Christians to know where a church is in its journey. A doctrinal statement can reveal that to a certain extent. I would like to know where most of the fellowship is at in their walk. Wouldn’t you?

In reality I think it’s unhealthy not to at least hold some distinctives as a local church seeking to express the Christ they know. Where are we theologically as a fellowship? How are we seeking to manifest Christ among our culture and context? How do we feel about issues that often divide the church and the world? These are important questions that should be answered, leaving room for exploration and growth moving forward.

I believe it’s possible to plant your church’s creed, mission, and vision in certain doctrinal ideas while at the same time welcoming everyone who agrees upon the foundation—the mysterious incarnation of Christ.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to enter into any fellowship where doctrine isn’t apart of the church’s life together. That fellowship may have good intentions, but they open themselves up to problems born in the opposite extreme of dogmatism. They imagine that doctrine is inevitably against knowing Christ. They’re wrong. And they’ll be proven wrong.

So, I would say folks will (and should) find union with saints based on their basic confession of something like the Apostles Creed. But I also believe it’s healthy—even necessary—for a church to be upfront and clear about their doctrinal positions, holding them in love, grace, and humility.

It can be done, even if we’re skeptical because of our bad experiences.

What do you think? How have you seen doctrine and church distinctives serve as a healthy guide to growing in Christ? How are you and your church handling doctrinal matters?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David was in student ministry for 7 years, taught Biblical Studies & Latin at The Woodlands Christian Academy for 5 years, and now pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

11 responses to “On Church Doctrinal Statements

  • Jay Goldsborough

    How refreshing it would be to browse a doctrinal statement that heads its confession with a statement similar to:

    “As a community of believers in the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, we fully realize that the discovery of truth as revealed to us through the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Spirit and the history of their working in the world, is a journey which we joyously share. We hereby confess the following with the full knowledge that as a maturing community, we must remain receptive to the continued inworking and reworking of God’s truth in our hearts and minds, respecting with humility the liberty of each child of God and each community of believers to respond freely to their own revelation of truth as they follow Jesus Christ.”

  • apronheadlilly

    It is helpful to know where the leadership is with regard to doctrine. One church we were interested in visiting had a very “thorough” website–a statement of belief, as well as numerous essays expounding on the various points made. Though I assume not every believer will agree on every point with the fellowship they attend, when you see from full disclosure that they are hard core Calvinists with no room for dissent, it is an easy decision not to waste the gas.

  • Seth

    yes, I think this is a balanced and needful approach to this subject. We are in a season of major transition in the western church and it is so easy to completely throw off all that we had known not realizing that that may lead us to an even deader end. I love the fact the God is full of mystery and He is truly non-dual being able to hold together many and various paradoxes. Like being God and human at the same time, etc…

  • Allen

    Doctrine and even dogma is beneficial. It makes a statement about what we believe is the truth and who we are. It is time to kill Postmodernism and existentialism! A new age needs to dawn where no longer is meaning and the truth relative and purely subjective. It is time that the abstract is replaced by the concrete. Doctrine is the means that we have to accomplish this endeavor.

  • Cindy Skillman

    I find our church discussions are extremely hard to keep focused in this sort of topic. We go in for a planning meeting and end up staying all evening and planning maybe 2-3 things on our list. :(

    I agree with you that a doctrinal statement is important to people who may be trying to figure out whether they dare come and visit us. (Yes, we’re odd, but how odd specifically, and in what ways are we odd? Are we dangerously odd? Will we come knocking at their door to indoctrinate them into our particular brand of oddness?)

    How does one make this happen? Would it be okay, do you think, to get together maybe 3-4 adults who are interested in this, craft something, and then present it to the group for comment? And what about those couple of members who inevitably don’t want to participate in the discussion, but at the end throw in all sorts of monkey wrenches?

    We want them happy; they’re members of the body and their thoughts are important. It would just be easier if they were to toss them into the pot with all the rest of the vegetables. Otherwise it’s like having the whole stew done to perfection and then deciding to add something that takes a while to cook and whose flavors need to marry with the other ingredients — like a big parsnip for example.

    I’m absolutely in favor of a broad doctrinal statement. Just not sure how to go about getting one. Any ideas?

    Thanks!
    Cindy

  • David D. Flowers

    Hey Cindy, I think you’re on to something. Some folks are not going to be at a place (for whatever reason) to enter into the discussion, but will trust and rely on others who are more seasoned, trained, articulate, experienced, etc.. I do think it’s good for a handful of folks, preferably elders and teachers, to present to those interested and start a discussion. I believe that is part of their role to the body–helping to guide and guard theological discussions. Maybe you should get the ball rolling. :-)

  • Kelly Borchelt

    Hi, David! I was one of the teachers who attended Surprised By Hope at the ACSI convention. It was great! I really enjoyed the material and the discussions. As for my thoughts on church doctrinal statements… I’ve experienced two very different churches that had very different takes on a doctrinal statement. I can say for sure that there is a need for clarity on the generally accepted beliefs (and the “whys” of those beliefs) of every organized body of believers. Visitors need a simple picture of what they’re getting into, and church members need a place to go when they need to refresh their understanding of what they have committed to as a church family.

    However, there are two fundamental problems that can occur if a statement is not “just right”. A broad statement is most often a vague statement. Though this allows for the freedom you mentioned (which I agree is a must), we should serve one another in accountability and a vague statement can make it difficult to address concerns within the church that are not clarified by the doctrinal statement. On the other hand, I have personally experienced a wordy, specifically detailed doctrinal statement turn a church into a group of (as a fellow Christian friend so perfectly described) “frozen chosen”. Nothing was up for discussion, nothing new was considered, nothing that even appeared to stretch the beliefs outlined by the statement were addressed. Keeping in mind that only God’s Word itself is perfect and complete, where does any church get the audacity to think it’s doctrinal statement is infallible? They’re a necessity, but they should be clear and thorough, avoid conforming to the simple desire for tradition or familiarity, and, of course, adhere to Scripture.

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