I did a double-take after I learn the check in entrance of a small white church beside a two-lane blacktop that snaked via the hills of western North Carolina. I ended and backed up my SUV to get a re-assessment. The weathered 12-by-18 signal learn: “Welcome to Trinity Baptist Church. We are an Independent, Bible-believing, Trinitarian, KJV-only, amillennial, evangelistic congregation.”
Two issues on the signal captured my consideration: “KJV-only” and “amillennial.” The Bible translation didn’t shock me a lot, however I’m extra accustomed to church buildings affirming the KJV alongside some type of premillennialism, so the amil affirmation took me again a bit of.
However that church’s signal does elevate an essential query for confessional Christians: which doctrines must be included in a church’s or evangelical group’s confession of religion?
In Albert Mohler’s useful scheme of theological triage, points comparable to eschatology or church music are third-level doctrines on which good Christians could disagree and (usually) nonetheless be thought of not solely orthodox, however a part of the identical denomination or church in good standing. Mohler, a TGC Council member and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, led the college again to its confessional roots within the 1990s after it had fallen into theological liberalism within the mid-20th century.
Whereas Christians ought to by no means strategy any doctrine with something lower than full seriousness, Mohler establishes three orders of doctrines which can be useful in establishing confessional non-negotiables:
First-order doctrines signify probably the most basic truths of the Christian religion, and a denial of those doctrines represents nothing lower than an eventual denial of Christianity itself. . . . The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the truth that believing Christians could disagree on the second-order points, although this disagreement will create important boundaries between believers. . . . Third-order points are doctrines over which Christians could disagree and stay in shut fellowship, even inside native congregations. I might put most debates over eschatology, for instance, on this class.
EFCA and Premillennialism
Final month, 79 p.c of delegates to biennial assembly of the Evangelical Free Church in America (EFCA) voted in favor of a movement to amend Article 9 of the denomination’s Assertion of Religion. Beforehand, Article 9 affirmed premillennialism because the unique view on the timing of Christ’s return. Previously the article learn, “We believe in the personal, bodily, and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Members voted to switch “premillennial” with “glorious,” thus avoiding slim subscription to a millennial view.
How ought to confessional Christians keep out of the alternative ditches of creating both every little thing or nothing a first-order problem?
The EFCA first proposed the change throughout its 2017 assembly. The Board of Administrators, composed of leaders who affirm the Assertion of Religion, together with premillennialism, offered the movement to the meeting. EFCA leaders believed requiring members to subscribe to premillennialism conflicted with the next core worth of Christians uniting across the truths of the gospel. The size of the millennium and the timing of Christ’s return merely weren’t theological strains EFCA leaders thought must be drawn. For this, they need to be strongly applauded. I say this as a confessional Baptist, dedicated to the Second London Confession of 1689.
Two extremes should be averted when discussing theological triage and confessional statements. Fundamentalism tends to function as if each theological problem is of first significance and, subsequently, no second- and third-order points exist. Theological liberalism, in the meantime, tends to function as if no first-order points exist. So how ought to confessional Christians keep out of the alternative ditches of creating both every little thing or nothing a first-order problem?
Listed below are three questions we’d ask to find out whether or not or to not embody non-fundamental points in a confession of religion.
1. Have the foremost historic confessions addressed it?
One of the best of the historic statements of religion, significantly within the Reformed custom, haven’t usually included third-level doctrines such because the millennium and the timing of Christ’s return. Architects of each the Second London Confession of 1689 and its Presbyterian cousin, the venerable Westminster Confession of Religion (WCF), included articles on the truth of ultimate judgment and the truthfulness of Christ’s return, however not the timing or the millennium.
Chapter 32 (“The Last Judgment”) within the Second London Confession begins: “God hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness, by Jesus Christ.” The second paragraph reads: “The end of God’s appointing this day, is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient.” Chapter 33 of the WCF phrases it the identical means.
The Baptist Religion and Message 2000, the Southern Baptist Conference’s confessional assertion, offers with “Last Things” in chapter 20: “According to his promise, Jesus will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth.” Others such because the Belgic Confession cope with the final issues equally.
The main confessions amongst Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists (in addition to the Anglican Thirty-9 Articles) have included primarily first- and second-order points: all doctrines germane to orthodox Christianity and the gospel comparable to justification by religion, the particular person and work of Christ, the total deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the resurrection of Christ, together with denominational distinctives comparable to church authorities, baptism, and the sacraments (or ordinances).
Congregationalists in England printed the Savoy Declaration in 1658, and British Calvinistic Baptists drew up the Second London Confession three a long time later with the particular intent of demonstrating that neither was a harmful, heretical sect; each affirmed the identical orthodox, evangelical theology because the Westminster divines. Baptists and Congregationalists, amongst others, had been being persecuted as heretics and seditionists by the state-run church.
Church buildings and organizations have penned many different glorious confessions within the centuries following the Reformation; nearly none of them has demanded particular views on third-level points such because the millennium or the timing of Jesus’s return—for good cause.
2. Does demanding subscription to this doctrine needlessly divide Christians?
If nothing else, the EFCA’s transfer is commendable as a result of it aimed to keep away from dividing good Christians needlessly. The board made clear that the EFCA just isn’t urgent for relational unity at the price of doctrinal purity. Greg Strand, EFCA government director of theology and credentialing, assured members the revision didn’t signify a drift towards theological minimalism:
There are three points within the query. First, it’s by no means one over towards one other. Doctrinal fact and purity is at all times foundational to relational unity. Any true skilled unity is grounded in doctrinal fact. Second, this isn’t a matter of doctrinal minimalism. If it had been, many biblical truths wouldn’t be included and essential to affirm in our Assertion of Religion. The higher option to perceive our Assertion of Religion is that it’s an essentialist assertion, not a minimalist assertion. That is additionally why it’s essential for all these credentialed to affirm the Assertion of Religion “without mental reservation.” Which means we’re strict subscriptionists. It’s required to affirm the whole Assertion of Religion “without mental reservation.” There isn’t a good-faith subscription allowed, which might grant sure exceptions or caveats in perception so long as they’re permitted. Lastly, within the EFCA we take significantly the one new group God creates via his Son by the Spirit. That is experiencing and residing out the reality and actuality of the work of Christ. . . . It’s a unity centered on the reality of the gospel, even when and when there are variations on secondary and tertiary issues.
I as soon as spent a number of months as a candidate for the workplace of senior pastor in a church within the Deep South. I went via three rounds of interviews, together with one for which I traveled for a face-to-face session. I wrote solutions to theological and sensible questions that totaled almost 40 pages. The committee additionally interviewed my spouse extensively. Quite a few cellphone calls went forwards and backwards between the chairman and me. I most likely invested nicely greater than 100 hours within the course of, and it grew to become clear that I used to be the main candidate.
So the search committee scheduled a weekend on which my household would meet the congregation, take part in a battery of conferences, after which I’d preach on Sunday. Sadly, my candidacy ended abruptly when the committee realized that I didn’t subscribe to Scofieldian Dispensationalism, which was included in an appendix (which I hadn’t seen) to the church’s confession.
I wasn’t bothered a lot by the truth that they didn’t name me as pastor; clearly, it wasn’t God’s will. I did, nevertheless, imagine this confessional merchandise was unwise and divided brothers needlessly. An evangelical confession ought to keep away from that mistake. My present elder board contains males with a wide range of views on points comparable to the top instances, church-music kinds, and Bible translations—and we’ve by no means skilled division over it. Consciously reject the Trinity and also you’re not a Christian. Reject believer’s baptism and also you’ll want to hitch one other denomination. Reject my view of the millennium, and we will serve on the elder board collectively.
Reject the Trinity and also you’re not a Christian. Reject believer’s baptism and also you’ll want to hitch one other denomination. Reject my view of the millennium, and we will serve on the elder board collectively.
A church or denomination’s confession ought to affirm all of the cardinal doctrines that outline orthodox Christianity and essential second-order points that make up denominational or church distinctives comparable to baptism, the sacraments (or ordinances), points associated to complementarianism/egalitarianism, and church polity.
3. Is it associated to a problem that calls for the church communicate prophetically?
There are authentic events that decision Christians to talk prophetically by narrowing—usually by including to or clarifying—their confession of religion.
For instance, within the late 1990s, rising feminism and the broader tradition’s assault on marriage prompted the Southern Baptist Conference to undertake articles on male headship and the sanctity of biblical marriage and so as to add them to the Baptist Religion and Message.
In 2008, the EFCA revised its article on the doctrine of God to reaffirm God’s exhaustive data and the truth of God’s wrath—outdated orthodox truths that had been being challenged by open theism.
The Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1530 spoke to such points as “Of the Mass,” “Of the Marriage of Priests,” “Of Confession,” and “Of the Distinction of Meats.” Equally, Article 22 of the Thirty-9 Articles rejects the doctrine of purgatory. Centuries later, these could seem to be tertiary points, however they had been of large consequence and strident debate amid the early a long time of the Reformation. Church buildings have to declare their colours on these issues.
Christian organizations usually undertake confessions of religion to straight tackle burning points within the tradition, as was the case with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood when it printed the Danvers Assertion on gender roles in 1987 and, extra lately, the Nashville Assertion affirming biblical sexuality.
Traditionally, the tendency to incorporate premillennialism in mid-20th-century evangelical confessions got here in response to the modernist–fundamentalist controversy. Premillennialism served as a badge of membership for conservative evangelicals over towards amillennialism, which was perceived on the time as a view that signaled theological liberalism. Since then this notion, and thus the extent of urgency, has modified.
If a church, denomination, or Christian group wants to supply readability or communicate prophetically, then including or revising articles is legitimate, even essential. There are occasions when a non-first-order problem, comparable to egalitarianism/complementarianism, rises to a degree of significance that it have to be handled confessionally. In different phrases, our triage chart on second- and third-level points could change as circumstances comparable to cultural stress and theological debates demand.
I’m grateful to have been part of confessional Reformed Christianity for a few years now, and I wish to do every little thing I can to nurture it. However I don’t wish to outline membership by millennial views or Bible-translation preferences.
Confessions of religion ought to perform as guardrails, not a straightjacket.