There is a phenomenon affecting most churches, even the ones which are of a more conservative stripe, which is threatening to undermine what few conservative denominations are left. I call this phenomenon doctrinal minimization. What I mean by this is the tendency by many churches to boil their doctrine down to the barest minimum in order to either not be offensive or to attract people to the church. This is incredibly dangerous and will eventually lead to the loss of the church. When the church falls to liberalism, people will look back and wonder what went wrong. It will likely start with a concerted choice to minimize doctrine.
This topic came to mind when a friend of mine sent me a doctrinal statement from a church they had visited. It consisted of eight points. That’s it. They affirm the Triune nature of God which is very good. They affirm that the Bible is trustworthy, but they do not affirm it’s inerrancy, which is highly problematic. Abraham Lincoln had a very trustworthy reputation, yet no one would have said he was inerrant. The two words do not mean the same thing. By ignoring inerrancy, this church opens itself up to someone coming and teaching there are errors in the Bible, as many theistic evolutionists do. They affirm God as creator but the statement is worded so ambiguously that no self-proclaimed Christian, from theistic evolutionist to young-earth creationist, would be unable to sign it. While my friend affirms that the church is a young earth church, the way its doctrinal statement is worded leaves it open to a theistic evolutionary takeover.
These are just a few of the major problems with this church’s doctrinal statement. For the sake of my friend’s anonymity and the church’s privacy, I’ve elected not to name them or link to their website. I’ve done this because what they wrote is, itself, not so bad. Sure I’d like a stronger creation statement and a stronger statement on inerrancy among other things, but overall the words that they say define what they believe are not too bad. It is what they leave out that matters. There is nothing about baptism, or the Lord’s Supper in the doctrinal statement. Given that these are literally the only two ordinances the Lord gave His church, you would think they would at least mention them. Yet they are completely absent from the doctrinal statement which is worrisome since there is a belief that makes baptism part of salvation.
Now some might argue that we have no room to talk as our doctrinal statement, which we adapted from a church’s, does not cover every major doctrinal topic. The major difference is, we are not a church. We do not claim to teach all doctrine. Our goal is to teach about creation and Biblical authority. Those items are major features on our doctrinal statement. Yet, despite not being a churches’ doctrinal statement, ours is significantly more filled out than the churches we referenced.
What is driving this malaise? Why are churches attempting to minimize doctrine? I suspect there are a couple of reasons which differ from church to church. The first and most obvious would be to minimize aspects of the faith that are unpleasant to the unbeliever. While some churches, such as Andy Stanley’s North Point Community Church with its six-point doctrinal statement are undoubtedly doing it for this reason, I suspect most of the reasoning is more complex. The reason doctrine is being minimized, at least in public is likely twofold. The first reason likely is to avoid giving unnecessary offense. Let’s be honest, doctrine can be offensive, particularly to people who follow false doctrine. By not stating the less agreed upon doctrines, churches hope to be more accepted. The second reason would likely be Christian unity. We talked more about this in our article What is Evangelicalism? but it bears repeating here. There is a heavy emphasis on Christian unity. In other words, even though the Presbyterians and the reformed Baptists might disagree on issues like church government, believers baptism and so on, they can still get along and do ministry together, despite their differences. While they both would still be Christian, there are swaths of denominational differences between them.
While we understand the push for unity, there are issues at play here. Often in pursuit of unity, doctrine gets left by the wayside. We recall being told once of a group of people who went door to door witnessing to people. The group was composed of a non-denominational reformed individual, a Presbyterian and a Seventh Day Adventist. There are all kinds of problems with this. Massive denominational differences separate them and the Adventists started out as a cult! This happens when unity is pursued above doctrine. Minimizing doctrine never works well. If you want an example of what passes as a doctrinal statement, read the BioLogos doctrinal statement sometime. This organization regularly flirts with heresy, publishing the heretic N.T Wright among others. Yet they still call themselves “evangelical” and much of modern Christianity would be furious with In His Image for calling them heretical. This is why doctrine cannot be minimized. It leads to doctrinal statements like that of BioLogos which can never tell you how to be saved, but somehow finds time to tell you how wonderful science is….because priorities. You cannot minimize doctrine. Doctrine must be the focus.
Do you know what’s going to happen when you die? Are you completely sure? If you aren’t, please read this or listen to this. You can know where you will spend eternity. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us, we’d love to talk to you.