Thursday, April 4, 2013

Theological Triage and Statements of Faith

The following post refers extensively to the framework that Dr. Al Mohler articulated in his own blog post of 12 July 2005 entitled "A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity." You can find that article here.

The official statement of faith for the Southern Baptist Convention is the Baptist Faith & Message. I have signed this document several times. And, in point of fact, not only have I signed it, but I also have read it and I agree with it. My signing of this document has been a matter of informed consent.

And yet, agreeing entirely as I do with the content of our statement of faith, I'd still like to toss out something to consider about the document's format. Although it would make these documents slightly more complex, would it be a good thing to organize statements of faith according to the varying priorities of the doctrines listed therein?

At the very least, one might create a statement of faith that acknowledged Dr. Mohler's three-tiered system of theological triage by organizing the doctrines into three tiers. The document could begin by stating: "These are the essential doctrines of the faith. Whoever does not affirm these truths, let him be anathema. Any so-called 'church' not embracing these truths in teaching and practice is a cult." And afterwards, the statement could give a list of cardinal, tier-one doctrines.

In the next section, the preamble could go along these lines: "Following are the distinctive beliefs that identify a Southern Baptist. Any church not embracing these truths in teaching and practice, although it may genuinely be a Christian church, is not qualified to cooperate within the Southern Baptist Convention." The statement could then go on to list which are these tier-two doctrines.

In the final section, the document could stipulate: "The following can be identified as important Southern Baptist beliefs both in our history and in our current practice, and yet we acknowledge that diversity of opinion has and does exist within our convention on these matters, and that some level of cooperation is possible even among those who disagree. Therefore, although we require that the ministries of this convention be conducted in accordance with and not contrary to these beliefs, we do not believe that they rise to the level of importance that would warrant the breaking of fellowship among sister churches due to differences over these matters." And then the doctrinal statement could enumerate those matters that belong in this category.

Of course, I acknowledge that it would be an absolute political bloodletting in the Southern Baptist Convention actually to work through this process. Nevertheless, I want to make something absolutely clear: I believe that we ALREADY have and are using something like this. It's just that most Southern Baptists didn't get a say in how the tiers were created and applied, and the scheme (or schemes), however they exist in the minds of Southern Baptist leaders, aren't published for anyone's review or correction.

I know that significant discussion and disagreement might ensue in the comment section over which particular items belong where, and that's fine, but I hope that you'll also all make some statement about the overarching concept—whether a tiered statement of faith would be a good idea in general, presuming that doctrines were placed correctly. I think the idea would provide greater clarity than we now enjoy.

As a final note, I should acknowledge my own friendly interaction with Mohler's Triage (which I published here) in which I suggested that triage is a bit more complicated than a rigid three-tier system could accommodate. This being the case, I believe that a local church's statement of faith might include even more levels than these three.


Michael said...

I agree whole-heartedly that a tiered structure would work best for the BF&M. I also agree there would wars and rumors of wars over what was in each tier. It would have to be a large, wide, and varied group that converged on the objective. However, once the battles were over and the thing was accomplished, there would be much less room for controversy. Though, most of the time, we Baptists don't need much room to fight in.

Christiane said...

Hi Pastor Barber,

I have wondered this:

there is one teaching in Calvinism that is fairly important and not all Christians support. I am wondering where you think Southern Baptists might place this teaching in a 'triage' setting:

This teaching claims that in addition to electing some people to salvation,
God Himself also sends others to damnation by predestining them to evil at their conception, with no chance ever for grace or salvation.

This teaching is a very strong one.
I see it as a teaching that could possibly split a community of faith apart,
but I don't know where it would be placed in a Southern Baptist 'triage' of doctrines.

Only respond if you care to do so.
But thanks in any case for letting me ask.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, not particularly relevant to a Convention-wide official statement of faith, but we are using a sort of tiered approach to a doctrinal statement for our church.

It begins with two foundational statements about the existence of God and the inspiration of the Scriptures, since all that we hold emanates from those truths. Next are fundamental principles, most of which would be shared by "orthodox" Christianity. Third is statements of "church order", about the nature of the church, baptism, Lord's Supper, etc. Finally, it concludes with some statements about love being the evidence of discipleship, without it we are nothing, etc.

In addition to these four tiers, we will have some position statements on contemporary issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Gary said...

Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

I ask you to consider these points:

1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

2. There is NO translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into ANY language, ANYWHERE on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, WHEN exactly does God give it?

4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism didn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, these early Baptists re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

God bless you!

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals