Tag Archives: and opinion

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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Creeds & the Local Church

I’ve been doing some thinking about the difference(s) between dogma, doctrine, and opinion when it comes to the local church.

Simply put… it looks like this.

  • Dogma — Irreducible beliefs of the Christian faith. What do we say about Jesus?
  • Doctrine — Historical or traditional beliefs on a plethora of theological issues. What sets us apart?
  • Opinion — Debatable issues that you’re free to agree or disagree upon. What do you think?

I agree with these three distinctions (leaving room for some overlap), but how do you determine what belief goes where in these categories? And is it possible for a local church (pastors & elders) to proclaim a certain view as “doctrine” but leave room for members to disagree? I think so.

One thing is for certain, this is a task for folks in community together and those who are willing to wrestle with it. That’s an invitation.

Two Ways of Dealing With It

Let me first address two common ways of dealing with these issues, and then I’ll share my working thoughts.

Group One — “Give me Jesus, not your divisive doctrine.”

Some of you know that I spent about five years meeting in homes and interacting with a network of “organic” churches. I had some great experiences. However, many of the folks I ran into sought to downplay the role of theology and creeds (statement of beliefs) for fear that it is divisive and characteristic of the beastly institutional church.

They have a point. Beliefs can be divisive. But I don’t think the answer is to avoid the need for a creed, or set Jesus against doctrine.

So, I’m saying that I know people that don’t seem to think that worrying about dogma, doctrine, and opinion really matters. In their “opinion” (catch that?), we should just wander about in nebulous fashion and refrain from any organization—church practice and theology included.

This group is imagining that there is not a systematic theology at work in the members of their group or church. It doesn’t need to be posted on a church website or posted on the wall of their meeting place, it’s alive in the hearts and minds of the saints there.

A fellowship may not discuss what they believe openly or form a statement of faith by consensus, but it’s at work among them.  Avoiding the obvious need for a creed of theology, mission, and vision will lead to a certain death. That’s if the church even gets off the ground in the first place.

You can’t escape a “theology of the people” who have decided to band together for Kingdom purposes.

Trying to do so will lead to division of another sort. Once more proving that reactionary thinking and practice is not the answer.

I suppose this groups believes that if you stay away from labels and systems of thought that there will not be any division or controversy. They must think this reflects a purer stage of the NT church.

Back when there weren’t any problems, right?

I respect the desire to not be needlessly building walls of separation between saints. I’m all for that. But I can’t espouse the idea that having a statement of belief (creed) is damaging to the church.

In fact, I believe it is healthy and necessary.

Group Two — “Let’s get back to the basics… of the 4th century.”

Then there are other folks who are rightfully fed up with sectarianism in the church but believe that we must stand firm on some basic theological truths about Christ. They believe we should only stick to the ancient creeds in our attempts to articulate the essentials of our faith.

I grew up a Southern Baptist. The SBC has a very lengthy confession (Baptist Faith & Message) dealing with just about every issue under the sun (OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit). Needless to say, I didn’t grow up reciting the Apostles or Nicene Creed. I regret that.

My wife and I attended a Methodist church for a year and we deeply benefited from the recitation of these ancient creedal statements. The recitation of creeds in worship is a healthy way of reminding everyone in attendance of what brings them together and is forming their new identity as members of the universal church.

Hear me out. I like reciting the ancient creeds, but I do think it’s important to remember that the Apostles & Nicene Creeds (4th cent) were written against their own contextual issues of heresy and debated ideas of Christology in the church from ages ago.

Let’s remember the ancient creeds and recite them together in our churches. I’m cool with that. I think there is something deeply beneficial that comes with this practice. But I submit to you that a healthy church will continue to wrestle with dogma, doctrine, and opinion in every age and culture.

The local church can do this by amending the ancient creeds to better address our 21st century issues and challenges.

It’s necessary for a church that wishes to be a relevant organism seeking to make a Kingdom impact in every culture and context. Our evolving world demands it. We must not be afraid to speak to, for, and against issues of our time. We must move forward with courage.

Finding a Third Way

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I have intentions to plant a church in the near future. I do this with fear and trembling. It’s not gonna be easy, but I’m convinced the Lord wants it.

The church today is fragmented in many ways. And I don’t wish to add to the problem by doing more of the same. But a new church plant is gonna require some line-drawing when it comes to dogma, doctrine, and opinion.

For example, some issues of “classical” theology, especially as it relates to our view of God in Christ, need to be revisited in order to reflect a change in the 21st cent church—a church that presently finds herself forced to accept views about God which contradict the revelation of God in Christ, or leave behind belief in a good God altogether.

The church that humbly professes the better view of God in Christ is being a faithful church, not a divisive or dogmatic church.

If we don’t speak up about these matters and courageously hold our ground against competing views that undermine the revelation of God in Christ… what good are we? What Gospel are we proclaiming?

There are other issues related to our culture and context that should be addressed in our creeds. We can’t afford to avoid these issues.

Some positions will need to be taken in response to culture, most others in response to misguided Christians propagating views about God and his sovereignty that don’t look like Jesus. It will require us hold positions that may not be popular, but are necessary to maintain the centrality and supremacy of Christ for authentic faith and practice.

Here’s what I’m saying… what may have been considered “opinion” or a non-essential in one generation can move into the realm of accepted doctrine worthy to be included in a church’s creed and statement of faith if it is needed in our response to bad theology and pagan culture.

The creeds of the local church should move forward in every cultural context, though never away from Christ who is eternal in the heavens.

The way forward affirms the importance of beliefs, expands on matters critical to our confession of Christ, and is willing to draw necessary lines in order to be faithful to the Kingdom.

This third way looks like Jesus Christ of Nazareth—Truth for the church and culture, saturated in love and grace for every age.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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