Signing doctrinal statements


(Christy Hemphill) #1

So today I had to sign my employer’s doctrinal statement again. We have to do it every six years, or after completing a study program. (Ha! In case we get corrupted by all that higher learning, I guess.)

I actually like this particular statement and have no issues signing it, but it made me think about other faith/doctrine statements I’ve had to affirm for various reasons; church membership, mission trips, college, even the homeschool co-op my daughter attended for a musical theater class. Some I have felt better about than others.

So I was curious if other people had to sign/affirm statements regularly and if there were parts of them that you wish were worded more generously or felt a little squeamish about. What kinds of things are deal breakers? Or do you think it is perfectly acceptable to sign whatever and have your own ‘interpretation’ that may fall well outside the intentions of the document framers? Is it your impression that the organizations you are affiliated with are becoming more carefully inclusive or carefully exclusive in the wording of their statements?


(Noah White) #2

My church is nondenominational, but broadly reformed, and they’re totally okay with people who have issues with certain things signing the doctrinal statements, so long as they’re not actively spreading dissension among the rest of the congregation (it’s okay to discuss and debate, of course, but there’s a line that the leadership has to draw at some point). Basically all they really require you to stand by is the Apostles/Nicene creed. All the other reformed stuff is official church line, but you are free to amicably and respectfully disagree given that you won’t be contradicting the leadership at every turn.

I think a deal-breaker would depend on the situation. There are definitely certain things that would prevent me from joining a given church (if they were non-trinitarian, militantly fundamentalist, too progressive, other major theological issues). But if it was a more minor issue (say, 3rd-tier doctrine) then if the church (like mine!) had an irenic attitude toward friendly and genuine disagreements, I see no reason not to join. The hardest decision I almost had to make was whether or not to join a presbyterian church when I disagree with paedobaptism. I ended up not joining for other reasons, but it was a difficult conundrum–one I still haven’t figured out since I never actually had to make the decision.

Great question, Christy!


#3

I don’t think you’ll find many doctrinal signing statements in Quaker organizations. Personally, I find mandatory doctrinal statements and similar oath-taking requirements to be repugnant. I can understand some of the motivation for why some organizations want to create them but I think they undercut and unintentionally trivialize what they seek to uphold. However, I take a more relaxed view to signing professional or ethical (i.e. non-religious) statements of conformance as those tend to fall into the legal realm.


(George Brooks) #4

I guess YOU will be sped on your way to “H” “E” “Double Hockey Sticks”!

:train2: :bike: :trolleybus: :airplane: :truck: :oncoming_taxi: :ship:


(Christy Hemphill) #5

Shocker! :scream_cat: Yep, I can see how they would be considered an empty form that usurps the Inner Light for sure.


(Christy Hemphill) #6

My church is kind of similar. It belongs to a denomination, but churches are self-governing and the denomination’s faith statement allows for a pretty huge range of theologies. You don’t have to sign anything to join my church other than your personal profession of faith, which you then need to talk over with someone in leadership. And you have to be baptized and have read the church’s constitution and faith statement (which is pretty general).

I don’t agree with a couple of the church’s official positions (on women/church leadership/marriage and eschatology mostly) that exist in position papers that only pastors/elders (or their curious wives) ever read, but I have a feeling a good percentage of the congregation and a few of the staff aren’t on board with everything 100%. There is an understanding that if you are teaching in an official church capacity, you won’t argue for your dissenting opinions, though most people are fine with presenting several interpretations and then saying, “the church officially goes with this one.”

My husband grew up in the Assemblies of God and other more fringe-y independent charismatic churches of a more health and wealth flavor. Then he went to Wheaton and majored in Bible/theology and had some of his sillier notions beaten out of him. We lived in different states most of our engagement, so when we were first married we visited an AoG church he had been attending. When I read that you had to speak in tongues to serve in any official capacity in that church, that was a deal breaker for me. I don’t know how anyone can join a congregation if your theological disagreement is one that effectively makes you a second class spiritual citizen in the eyes of the church.

My brother is on staff at a PC-USA turned EPC church. We grew up Baptist, so the infant baptism thing was a big deal for him. Turns out so many of the congregation felt similarly (not being born and bred Presbyterians) that the church decided they weren’t going to make a divisive issue out of it. You can have your baby baptized or dedicated now.


(Noah White) #7

This is pretty much our situation as well, except it operates sort of like a multisite church. The philosophy is that it’s the best of both worlds–the support and safety of a multisite church, but the autonomy of independent, nondenominational churches. It’s a pretty solid system and is really effective in church planting.

My church takes a complementarian (ugh, that word) stance, but it’s more in line with Kathy Keller’s Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles than, say, John Piper’s views and our deaconship is 50/50 men and women so it’s pretty satisfying and encouraging. I’m also pretty lax on TULIP and all that even though I still identify as Reformed, but again it’s no big deal.

Some of my closest friends’ families came out of AoG and while they’re still charismatic (usually gravitating towards Osteen/Lakewood-lite churches; not prosperity gospel, but sometimes cause me to raise my eyebrows), they even say it’s a bit of classist thing.

I find it heartbreaking and unfortunate, but it serves to remind us that every tradition comes with its baggage and we should be gracious to others with whom we disagree on those 2nd tier doctrines (which I see as issues that are within the realm of orthodoxy but still are significant enough to cause people to break fellowship over). The tiers probably vary from person to person (paedobaptism is lower for me, but one of my spiritual mentors sees it as a bigger deal). I know a guy who is more Calvinist than me but is an assistant pastor at a charismatic, nondenominational church that isn’t substance-heavy in terms of what they teach–a lot of topical sermons that reference scripture once or twice in order to make the pastor’s point but he loves it and serves really well there (not trying to disparage that church, they do a great job at getting people in the door to hear the gospel).

I’ve gone on far too long, thanks Christy!


(Mervin Bitikofer) #8

We just had a Quaker woman speaking with our Sunday school the other day (about the whole ‘Standing Rock’ situation she had just come from). In an unrelated conversational aside she mentioned that you can be an atheist and still be a Quaker.

While most Christians probably register at least some alarm towards such liberal inclusiveness, I suppose there must be something for it too. As regards discussion and getting to know each other, if that can be questioned then nearly everything is on the table. In contrast, organizations with tightly detailed and enforced doctrinal statements may effectively have in place “right-of (or perhaps ‘rite-of’?) ignorance policy” --as in “we will remain ignorant about any of each other’s thoughts or doubts on all the most important matters because we have all signed documents promising that such discussions won’t even be admitted to the table.” On the positive side, being unified in important basics helps you concentrate on important missional objectives. But as I see it, if Thomas Aquinas was willing to not only discuss (but even respect!) arguments against God’s existence, then he has already shown an impressive precedent in bringing everything into the light!

Most of us, though, seem happy enough to sign the line protecting our right to remain ignorant – a necessary quality to some extent for anybody who actually wants to get something done. [lest this is only taken as a pejorative characterization!]


#9

Good topic @Christy, this is something that has bitten me in the past. I will share my own experience in a couple of situations:

  1. Premarital counseling 7+ years ago at a large church. I was supposed to sign something agreeing to pursue memebership, which I could not sign because…
  2. Membership at the above church involved agreeing to a statement of faith that affirmed inerrancy (I believe it was the standard definition, without error in all that is affirmed).

For me, this was a deal breaker, and involved not signing either form. As far as fallout, this caused no issue with the marriage, as the pastor doing the marriage class had no problem marrying us anyway (and my fiance also stuck around, who is now my wife and the mother of our three little ones). Of course I could not become a member of the church, so I was consigned to “regular attender”. Coming from the “reformed” camp, I have come to peace with being a regular attender at best, wherever I end up, if only because of this issue (which seems to make its way into pretty much every reformed statement of faith).

For the last couple of years we have been going to a smaller church, with many genuine and wise people. It is also “reformed” I would say. I was pleasantly surprised that I could sign the membership covenant because the covenant included that one had read the statement of faith, which itself includes inerrancy, and agreed not to be divisive to its teaching.

As to your question about whether or not it is acceptable to sign based on your “interpretation”…I would personally lean towards no. If it is a valid interpretation, that is one thing, but if it’s “interpretation” (emphasis on the quotes) to allow one to sign and move along, then I think I’m against that. I do think some of these statements could stand to be a little less black and white, personally.


#10

I think opinions differ on that among Quakers. There are “liberal” and “conservative” Friends affiliations and thoughts about that. However, I think few meetings would kick out non-theists as the Quakers tend to be respectful to those on spiritual journeys.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #11

I don’t doubt it for a bit! And I wasn’t bring that up (necessarily) as a criticism of the group, and certainly not with the implication that they would be any more homogeneous than any other large group. In fact I hope there was a bit of implied admiration (but not necessarily void of critical appraisal) in my comment as well!

The Quakers strike me (poor choice of words, I know!) as being exemplary listeners – seeker-friendly to the highest extent (or at least some, allowing for the inevitable variations of course).


#12

No worries, Mervin.


#13

I think it’s disturbing to ask church members to sign doctrinal statements to become members. The church already has creeds, etc.


(Christy Hemphill) #14

Yeah, and our identity as Nicenes has such a unifying effect, now that the Arians are pretty much history.

“Creeds? What the heck do we need creeds for? Creeds are for Catholics.” (Say the vast majority of the folks at my church where the congregation is predominantly blue collar and predominantly born-and-raised Catholic.)

If you are in a low church tradition, there is generally no chatechism and no confirmation rite. If you are in a non-denom Evangelical church, you can’t even look up a denominational confession. I think some of the"community covenants" pushed by more authoritarian churches cross the line. But there is nothing wrong in my book with having some core tenants to build unity around in your community, guide your mission, and even define your boundaries. Membership is a kind of affiliation, you should know what you are affiliating with and the leadership isn’t wrong for asking members to commit to certain unifying beliefs. I have attended churches I wouldn’t join because I couldn’t affirm their membership stuff, and I didn’t suffer.


(Phil) #15

I’ve never run into having to sign anything to be a church member, but there was a big blowup in the SBC mission board a few years back where they required the missionaries on field to sign a statement regarding no speaking in tongues etc. which was much debated. I have thought about what I would do as a deacon if asked to sign a document regarding evolution or inerrancy, and could not do so ( although the inerrancy issue is dependent on the definition, making it almost mean whatever you want it to mean unless they also strictly define it. As I suspect that our local church is probably pretty typical with at least 50% affirming an old earth and evolution of some sort, and probably a lot also believing it in the closet, I doubt it will ever come up.


(George Brooks) #16

I remember calling a church I was interested in visiting.

The church had a policy of NOT releasing information on its address. The pastor INSISTED on coming out to meet ME … and decide whether I was doctrinally close enough to his congregation’s requirements.

I wasn’t. I never found out where that church was… and my interest in doing so had dropped to conform to the situation!


#17

I still think requiring people to sign something to be a member is coercive. We don’t get that around here. But my brother worked a while in the South, and he and his wife encountered a church where women weren’t allowed to wear pants. (I assume they wore dresses or skirts.)


(Christy Hemphill) #18

Oh, please.

I’ve had to sign some kind of agreement that affirmed my intentions to uphold the rules and ideals of the community to get a library card, a pool pass, and a museum membership.

Don’t make it like “signing something” you agree to in order to become a member is some sort of aberrant Fundamentalist Evangelical thing.


(Jay Johnson) #19

The only time I had an issue was when a church youth group leader wanted the girls to take a vow of abstinence and wear a “purity ring.” Whatever happened to “Let your yes be yes and your no be no”?


#20

Sorry…what I meant to say is that making people sign doctrinal statements in order to be church members is coercive.