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.