Doctrinal Fidelity and the Church of God

I’ve noticed that Administrative Bishop Bill Isaacs, in his excellent series on the upcoming General Assembly agenda of the Church of God, has not reached Item 15 on Doctrinal Fidelity. The amendment to the minutes being proposed is as follows:

For any violation of doctrinal fidelity, including teaching, preaching or publishing anything contrary to or in conflict with the Church of God Declaration of Faith, the offending minister shall be subject to disciplinary action. The offending
minister, after submitting to the prescribed program of restoration, must be re-examined at the appropriate level.

I supposed that, after a quarter century in the Church of God, patience has departed from me.

Coming from the background I do and covering the Anglican/Episcopal world as this blog does, the issue of Doctrinal Fidelity is a crucial one, and not just concerning the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues.  The lack of doctrinal and theological fidelity has been the undoing of much of Main Line Christianity.

I basically support this resolution; however, for many in the Church of God, it will have some unintended consequences.  The most significant of these is that the church will be forced to adjudicate such matters according to what the Declaration of Faith actually says and not just what "everybody believes."

Let’s take one of the issues that detonated this, the issue of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  There are some people who basically equate the Baptism with speaking in tongues.  But that’s not what the Declaration of Faith says; it states the following:

In speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance and that it is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

In a May 1991 article for the Church of God Evangel, I wrote the following about this:

The Church of God teaches that speaking with other tongues "is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Ghost."  To understand this better, we need to consider what is meant by evidence.

When the district attorney prepares a case for prosecution in court, the most important thing he or she must do is to assemble the proper evidence to prove that a crime did take place and that the defendant committed it.  Without evidence, everyone in town may "know" that a crime took place and that the defendant did it, but without the evidence it cannot stand in court.

So it is with tongues.  We may think or know we have the baptism, but without the tongues we can’t prove it to ourselves or to others.

I think that Tim Hill was thinking along similar lines in his sermon at the Tennessee campmeeting.  (He brought up some other good evidence too!)  As an aside, I believe that the central purpose of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the fulfilment of Acts 1:8.

As its stands, the Declaration of Faith is a document with a fair amount of breadth to it, as I pointed out here:

Beyond that, if we look at our Declaration of Faith as it exists today, it doesn’t cover as much territory as you might think.

You can be an Old Earth Creationist and be in conformity with the DoF. You can be a subordinationist and be in conformity with the DoF (which is more than you can say for the Elim Church in the UK.) You can be a posttribulationist and be in conformity with the DoF, although many in this church don’t know that. You can believe many things that can get you in a lot of trouble in many corners of Evangelical Christianity and still be in conformity with the DoF.

I am trying to look ahead. Honestly I don’t like the idea of our church having to enforce the current or any other “doctrinal standard.” But I like less the idea of our church falling victim to be manipulated by people who would take our church away from Biblical Christianity. We’re seeing the beginnings of that in parts (but not all) of the Emergent Church. Beyond that, Evangelical Christianity in this country hasn’t quite gotten the knack of being countercultural; its desire to be “where the action is” exposes it to compromise as a price to continue its place in the mainstream of society. (Or, more accurately, to make it think it’s in the mainstream.)

And, for whatever shortcomings the current document has, I wouldn’t favour amending it either.

This is a measure I pray our church uses sparingly, but it’s one that it needs to have at its disposal.

5 thoughts on “Doctrinal Fidelity and the Church of God”

  1. As an old redneck from Richmond Co, Georgia, I’m not sure if I have the capacity of debating these wonderful agenda items before us, but there’s one thing I am sure of…the Declaration of Faith of the Church of God is Biblically Sound and anyone who doesn’t want to defend the faith which has been handed down to the saints is like a terrorist trying to change the Constitution of the USA. The DOFis what binds us together in a like presious faith. While there are those in these last days who won’t endure sound doctrine, the Church of God must not become on of them. In our educational institutions, our publications, and in our literature we must proclaim saound doctrine. Rapture views and Tribulation views are subjective interpretations of Scripture, but the FAITH of the Church is FOREVER!

  2. The issue here is not the soundness of the DoF, it is weather or we will continue to follow the direction and ideals of our founding fathers. They felt it was necessary for all to consider what the Bible says about every issue. If the idea or doctrine could not stand up to rigorous debate over what direction the Bible would indicate, then so be it. This measure wants to steal away from the Bishops of the Church of God our right to hold our DoF, and leaders to Biblical standards. If the DoF is right then it will endure critical Biblical inspection. If it can’t, shouldn’t we have the ability to change it. If the Bishops of the CoG are restricted from discussing the DoF, and can be disciplined for discussing it, we will have then become what our forefather left when they began our Christian Union and then this Great CoG. This measure should be replaced with a church wide debate where the hermeneutically correct doctrine will emerge victorious. I believe the current rendering will stand the test.

    You might ask yourself this question: why am I afraid to discuss the Biblical soundness of my DoF? Then work on the answer the question rather than threatening those who disagree with your position.

  3. Don,

    As usual, I enjoyed reading your post on this matter. You are one of the more insightful writers we have and your posts on forwardleadership.org are welcomed investments for young leaders there.

    The challenge of our church it would seem lies with the tension ongoing between those who see the movement as static and those who see the movement as emerging. (I thought you would like the choice of words). This is not a new argument…those who have sought to defend some of the more offensive rulings in the Supreme Court, talk of the Constitution being a moving document which is capable of adjusting to the times. So it is with those who seek to say the Bible is changing in meaning depending on the times we live in. Now, the debate about the evidence of the Holy Spirit. Before anyone gets up in arms, I’m not aligning those who feel this measure is wrong with those who agree with controversial SC decisions or the inerrancy of Scripture, just that the debating and dialogue sounds similar on several fronts.

    It is going to be an interesting item at the General Council…to be sure!

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