Disunity is a Luxury Good: In Praise of Doctrinal Statements
Have you read your church’s doctrinal statement? If you haven’t, or if you haven’t recently, you should read it. There is something about it that I think we should all pay particular attention to:
The things that are not in it.
I’ll use the doctrinal statement of the Baptist Missionary Association of America as my example, but I bet yours (if you’re Protestant or Evanelical of any kind) is similar.
I don’t know who wrote the revised doctrinal statement for the BMA, and I’ve heard it was just barely adopted. But looking at it as a “Millennial,” I would say the writers were wise. If I could describe our doctrinal statement in two words, they would be “conservatively liberal.” Let the ringing-of-hands begin!
While my choice of words might seem contradictory, I assure you, they are not. Allow me to explain.
Our doctrinal statement is “conservative” because it clearly seeks to conserve, or, more precisely, preserve the core doctrines that are fundamental to our faith. Some of these matters include salvation by grace through faith, God as the creator of all things, the virgin birth, etc.
This focus on the essentials makes the doctrinal statement “liberal” in the truest sense of the word because it does allow a great deal of room for open minds to pursue Biblical scholarship. Did you know that the doctrinal statement does not take an official position on how old the universe is? Nor does it take a position on how to interpret the book of Revelation; what Bible translation to use; Arminianism, Calvinism or Molinism along with a whole host of other non-essential doctrines about which Christians have been fighting over for centuries.
I dare say that if you were to present our doctrinal statement to pastors of most protestant or evangelical churches, the vast majority of them would have none-to-very-little disagreement with its content.
I know some will lament this fact, but I do not: the church, especially in America, needs to be as united in the essentials as possible for the sake of the Kingdom.
The time for heated argument over non-essentials is over. There was a time when, especially in the Bible belt, that non-believers had some Biblical knowledge and widely considered Christians to be “good people” and that “Christian” behavior was desirable. Consider that as a time of luxury for the American church. Inter/intra-denominational arguments over things such as style of worship, when and how exactly the rapture will occur were luxury goods for a religion with a lot of social and political clout. We can’t afford those luxuries right now; they were mostly a drain on our “economy” anyway. I am not saying that these are not topics to study or that they are unimportant, but I am saying that they are less important than the gospel and we can be unified with those whom we disagree.
We are living in a time in which younger generations are growing up in a world that not only considers them stupid for believing that Jesus was God’s son, but that Christians are immoral people for believing in the exclusivity of Christ or objective morals. Most churches are shrinking, and many are ill equipped to address the questions and challenges coming from the information age and it’s rapid pace. In the 1950s, information, worldwide, doubled every 30 years. By the 1980s, it doubled every 20 years. By the mid ‘90s, it doubled every 5 years; the 2000s, every two years. Now, worldwide information doubles every 7 months. Is it any wonder many church-goers are going to be skeptical when they are told to accept everything that comes from the pulpit without question?
Now, more than ever, it is a good thing that our doctrinal statement is conservatively liberal. Now is a time to focus on the true fundamentals. If you would like to see a good outline of what those fundamentals are, the BMA doctrinal statement, as written, is a great place to start.