Saturday, February 11, 2012
Is a Statement of Faith Necessary for Unity?
Let’s suppose you have a family in our house church that has been with you for several years. They laugh with you, cry with you, worship with you and serve with you on a daily basis. You’ve heard the Lord speak to you profoundly through these dear people. Their family is part of your family. You cannot imagine being a church without them.
However, imagine now that they do not fully embrace the doctrine of the Trinity. Let’s say they believe that Jesus is God, but that he also takes the form of the Holy Spirit and sometimes the Father. [It’s called the “Jesus Only” or “Oneness” doctrine for those of you who are not familiar with the concept.]
Although they do not agree with you or anyone else in your church family about the Trinity, they also never attempt to argue for their "Jesus Only" view or impose their perspective on anyone else in the church. What do you do? Do you invite them to leave? Do you host an intervention and attempt to show them how wrong they are?
As I was reading Rad Zdero’s latest book, “Letters to the House Church Movement” I found myself asking myself this very question. What would I do? In his book, Zdero provides a specific example of an occasion when he counseled a family to separate themselves from another family they had been serving with for a long time because of just such a difference regarding the Trinity doctrine. But, is that the right thing to do? I’m not so sure.
Also, just this week, Neil Cole published an article at CMA Resources about statements of faith and he included the doctrine of the Trinity at the top of his list of what he calls "Gun to the Head" beliefs
First of all, let me affirm that I am a Trinitarian. I do accept the traditional Christian view that God is One being who is revealed in three separate persons as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. However, is this view something that we should use a litmus test for fellowship, or even for salvation in Christ?
Jesus did not seem to believe that it was of utmost importance that the Disciples/Apostles understand the doctrine of the Trinity. If He did, then He did not stress it to them in His teachings anywhere. Also, the Apostles and the NT church did not ever seem to be of the opinion that agreement with this doctrine be the litmus test for salvation. Again, if they did then we should see some very strong teaching in that regard. And we don't.
Yes, I do believe the doctrine of the Trinity, but I also believe that salvation is by Grace, through faith alone in Christ Jesus. That means when an 8 year old girl prays to receive the Christ as Lord and Savior and begins to follow Him, we do not automatically expect her to be capable of explaining the Trinity to anyone. If she fails to explain the Trinity correctly do we proclaim that she is not saved? I wouldn't think so. So, I'm of the opinion that it's better to allow people to grow in their understanding of who Christ is and not dismiss people for not being where I want them to be doctrinally.
I think my response is also tempered by the fact that our house church is made up of people from a wide variety of backgrounds: Baptist, Methodist, Brethren, Charismatic, Presbyterian, Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, Pentecostal, etc. Because of this wide diversity we have maintained our love for one another and our unity by simply not allowing any particular theological perspective to rise above the over-arching practice of learning how to follow Jesus in our daily lives and how to love Him and love one another as He commands us.
Do we disagree on doctrine? Yes! But not intentionally, and certainly not during our fellowship time together. Exceptions to this rule are few, of course, but in general we try to focus or time on Jesus and allowing His Spirit to lead us. Sometimes our differing perspectives leak out, but in those cases we are all careful to express those differences with grace. For example, one brother in our fellowship is a dispensationalist. I am not. Most of us are not, actually. So, if our perspective of a particular verse is informed by that doctrine we say, "I believe XYZ because of the way I understand these verses ABC." We try to allow for the possibility that we could be wrong, and we allow others to voice their different view if they want to. But, the key is that none of us is attempting to impose our views on anyone else. We share our perspectives openly but we do not divide on those issues - and we never allow those differences to overshadow our time together in Christ.
Everyone is In Process
One way we have come to understand these differences is by acknowledging that "we are all in process" and by that I mean that we all fully admit that there are convictions we hold today that we did not hold five years ago. We also know that the convictions we hold now could change in the next five years. We are all in process, and because of that we have grace for one another and we do not try to harvest green fruit or coerce people to agree with our perspective.
As you might have guessed, our house church does not have any formalized statement of faith. Whenever someone comes to our church and expresses a desire to join with us we simply say, “If you love Jesus and if you’re sincerely trying to follow Him in your daily life, you’re in!” That’s it. If people aren’t comfortable with this, they usually excuse themselves. (And some have, but not because we invited them to leave).
Here's one reason why we have not attempted to write any sort of Statement of Faith for our house church: Historically, every time the Church has tried to bring unity through the writing of doctrines it has always resulted in greater division because some will always disagree with that doctrine. Doctrinal statements have never resulted in increased unity, only increased division. That's why we allow people to grow in their understanding of Christ and of the Scriptures at their own pace.
Olly Olly Oxen Free?
Does that mean there are no standards? Of course not. None of us would allow an outsider, or an insider for that matter, to introduce a teaching that was contrary to clear Biblical truth. For example, if someone came and wanted to convince us that Jesus was a space alien from Alpha Centauri, or the spirit-brother of Lucifer, we would all open our Bibles and demonstrate that Jesus is no such thing. The key, of course, is that none of us attempts to sway anyone else in our group to agree with them.
At a basic level, we believe that the Gospel is fundamentally about transformation, not about information. In other words, we follow Christ and we encourage one another to know Him more, to follow His teachings in our actual, everyday lives, and we work to put His Word into action rather than sit around and argue about it from a theological perspective.
Unity or Division?
I think doctrinal statements divide as equally as they unify. For those who agree, unity. For those who do not, division. But if the church says, "We love Jesus and we're following Him in our daily life." Then all followers of Christ can agree with that and those that don't have no place in the Body, because they are not following Christ.
Even with doctrinal statements, there will always be those who silently disagree but who go along with the program because they don't want to be excluded from the fellowship. You will also eventually discover that although everyone agrees with doctrine X, they don't all see doctrine Y the same way...and now you've got another opportunity to start excluding people and dividing the church.
Our variety of doctrinal backgrounds at our house church hasn't prevented us from "walking together" or serving together or advancing the Gospel together, or serving the poor together, or anything else. If anything, we learn from people who might otherwise be excluded from our fellowship because we welcome anyone who says, "I love Jesus and I am doing my best to follow Him in my daily life by the Grace of God."
I don't know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to be in a church where everyone agrees with me on everything. Homogenization isn't our goal. Following Jesus, putting His teachings into practice and encouraging others to follow Him is.
I'd love to hear your thoughts concerning this.