Archives For doctrine

It is one thing to acknowledge the importance of distinguishing between doctrinal essentials and doctrinal non-essentials. Most affirm this. It is another thing to have the discernment and a grid by which this is done. Many don’t understand this.

There are a number of those who have recommended ways this can be done, and though there are some different nuances, most affirm similar principles. Some of those general, introductory principles are the following:

  • There is a complexity to this issue – one must approach it with conviction, being assured there is truth that matters, and humility, knowing truth exists apart from me and I may not have the determinative understanding or the final say about that truth.
  • Purity and Unity both matter – purity of doctrine and unity of fellowship (Ps. 133; Eph. 4:3, 13; 1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; Tit. 2:1). True unity is rooted in doctrine, and true doctrine will lead to true unity.
  • Truth is given/revealed, and thus it is received (1  Thess. 2:4). We have been entrusted with the gospel, which means we are responsible/accountable to God for how we steward it.
  • Unity is both given and a goal, something we have received by virtue of being adopted into the family of God and something we are to protect and pursue (Eph. 4:1-3).
  • All truth is true and important, but not all truth is equally important. There are some truths that are “of first importance” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-5).
  • How we think about these matters and respond to them are a mark of our spiritual maturity or immaturity (Eph. 4:11-16).

In addition to these general principles, there are also some guidelines that are more pointed that address the various ways the doctrine is considered essential, how we respond to those believing or espousing the doctrine, and how we process the distinctions between individuals and the church and then, finally, how we evaluate these matters. We will consider those tomorrow.

In an interview with Richard Gaffin and Peter Lillback, editors of the newly published book, Thy Word Is Still Truth, the last question they were asked addressed the perceived errors in Scripture claimed by contemporaries, including some Evangelicals, which make the doctrine of inerrancy problematic. Additionally, they were asked how this volume can be an important resource in responding to these supposed errors.

A basic error remains the historical-critical method of interpreting the Bible in which, at least for its most self-aware and consistent practitioners, “critical” is understood in terms of the interpreter’s autonomy and obligation to stand above Scripture and judge whether its truth claims are in fact true. Sometimes evangelical roots are left behind for this approach—with its decided rejection of divine authorship—by those who had the impression the Bible was “dropped straight down from heaven” and have eventually been awakened to the undeniable human authorship and historically situated origins of the biblical documents.

A crucial challenge for sound biblical interpretation is to adequately honor the divine authorship of the text in a way that does justice to the human author. The umbrella-like statement that opens Hebrews shows us the way: its nuclear assertion is “God has spoken” and this divine speech has taken place “by the prophets” and “at many times and in various ways.” God’s saving self-revelation is a historical process, a process marked by multiple human authors and different genres. Further, this history, of which Scripture’s own production is a part, has reached its “last days,” its final consummation, “in his Son.” The fruitful task for exposition and preaching that’s true to Scripture is to explore the redemptive-historical unity of the Bible and its macro-coherence in Christ. Thy Word Is Still Truth provides many resources that will be an invaluable aid for that task.

The Importance of Theology/Doctrine

Greg Strand – September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Having taught yesterday in our adult and youth Christian Living Class about the importance of theology/doctrine for the Christian and the church, I appreciated these words from Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark:

X + Y = Z. IF YOU know the value of one of the letters, you know something. If you know the value of two, you can probably figure out the whole thing. If you don’t know the value of any, you don’t know much.

Preachers tend to forget this. “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and be saved from your sins,” or something like that, has meaning and power and relevance only if the congregation has some notion of what, humanly speaking, sin is, or being saved is, or who Jesus is, or what accepting him involves. If preachers make no attempt to flesh out these words in terms of everyday human experience (maybe even their own) but simply repeat with variations the same old formulas week after week, then the congregation might just as well spend Sunday morning at home with the funnies.

The blood atonement. The communion of saints. The Holy Ghost. If people’s understanding of theological phrases goes little deeper than their dictionary or catechetical definitions, then to believe in them has just about as much effect on their lives as to believe that Columbus discovered America in 1492 or that E = mc2.

 

Recently Gregg Allison was interviewed about his book, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church,  which I have previously mentioned.  One of the questions addressed the importance of ecclesiology, i.e. the doctrine of the church, the question and answer I include below.

In what ways is it important for pastors to have a carefully developed biblical ecclesiology?

Much of what’s available to help pastors today—articles, blogs, videos, and the like—is pragmatically driven advice about how to do church. That being the case, pastors go from one new approach to preaching and worship, or discipleship and pastoral care, to another. In my view, before pastors should worry about how to do church they must grasp the identity of a church—its nature and characteristics. With that biblical and theological vision of the church’s identity firmly established, they can then engage their cities with the gospel, preach the whole counsel of God, foster missionality as a characteristic of the church and not just a program, disciple and discipline members, and all the rest. Sojourners and Strangers, therefore, begins with several chapters about what the church is and is to be, and it concludes with a conversation about the ministries of the church. That design was not accidental but intentional, as it fleshes out the answer to your question.

I appreciate greatly Allison’s response. Evangelicals have generally had a strong soteriology, i.e. a doctrine of salvation, but a weak ecclesiology, i.e. a doctrine of the church. And yet both are absolutely critical to the health and well-being of Christians, both individually and corporately.

It would be a wonderful thing if, in the providence of God, this book would be used to deepen our understanding of the biblical nature of the church and to strengthen our commitment to the life and ministry of the local church. Actually, the former is the foundation of the latter; the latter manifests one’s understanding of the former.

The EFCA strongly affirms that dictum that we “major on the majors, and minor on the minors.” As Rupertus Meldenius stated in the midst of the tragic Thirty Years War (1618-1648), “in essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, in all things Jesus Christ” (with some variation of the last statement).

In the EFCA we refer to this as “the significance of silence,” which means that on those non-essential matters we will debate issues but we will not divide over them.

It is one thing to state this as a policy. It is another thing to live this policy out in practice. It requires a great deal of grace and maturity, without compromising truth.

One of the doctrines that appears to lead perpetually to questions, concerns, and tensions is that of salvation: does faith precede regeneration (generally referred to as the Arminian/Wesleyan position), or does regeneration precede faith (generally referred to as the Reformed/Calvinist position)?

This doctrine has, once again, become a hot-topic issue in the Southern Baptist Convention. Last year at their annual Convention there were “heresy accusation” claims.  (This discussion does not remain in the SBC alone. It affects all denominations that are a place for both of these understandings of salvation, including the EFCA. I will write about our EFCA commitment and practice at a future date.)

Because of this discussion in the SBC, a “Calvinism Advisory Committee” was formed by Frank Page, President, SBC Executive Committee, to respond to the questions being raised, the tension the SBC is presently experiencing. This Committee, made up of 19 members with David Dockery, retired president of Union University, serving as chair, released their statement as they approach their annual Convention meeting: “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension: A Statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee”:

Here is one of the key conclusions they made of their time together, which is stated as part of the introduction to this Statement, each of the four components – truth, tension, trust and testimony – being delineated thoroughly:

Four central issues have become clear to us as we have met together. We affirm together that Southern Baptists must stand without apology upon truth; that we do indeed have some challenging but not insurmountable points of tension; that we must work together with trust; and that we must encourage one another to testimony.

Dockery affirms this work with these words:

For several years, Southern Baptists have been asking important questions about our identity and our future. At times we have struggled with trying to grasp the breadth of our doctrinal and historical differences, particularly related to matters such as Calvinism. What has been needed is a new consensus that will help point us toward a new sense of cooperation and renewal for the sake of the Gospel. It is our hope that Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension, while not a perfect statement, will, nevertheless, provide a significant and positive step in that direction. The statement reflects the efforts of many diverse voices who have attempted to speak as one with a sense of convictional civility and Spirit-enabled charity toward and with one another. We pray that these efforts will enable us to serve collaboratively and work faithfully, while offering a joyful and Gospel-focused witness to a lost and needy world.

As would be expected, the document has been and will be variously considered. For some, it will be considered good and necessary. For others, it will be considered bad and unnecessary. And one knows there are all kinds of varied responses in between and outside those! Christianity Today has included a brief update.

Because we in the EFCA live with the same doctrinal parameters on the doctrine of salvation, I would encourage you to read the whole document. There is much for us to learn in the EFCA about living and ministering together from the common foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.