A Pastor Who Affirms But Doesn't Agree With Every Jot or Tittle

here-i-stand1What is of more value to the local congregation? A pastor who wholeheartedly and unreservedly believes in, agrees with, and subscribes to the doctrines of a particular church and its denomination? Or a pastor who promises to affirm wholeheartedly and not publicly contradict the doctrines of a particular church and her denomination?

Granted, a congregation would love both. But what if your congregations contemplates calling a pastor who is willing to affirm her doctrines but doesn’t agree with every doctrine?

I suggest that, from the perspective of a local congregation, affirmation trumps belief. It seems to me that a congregation would rather have a pastor who promises to affirm her teachings and who, conversely, promises to resign when he or she can no longer do so, than a pastor who testifies that he or she believes every doctrine held by my church.

Surely, every congregation and her denomination hold a list of essential teachings to which every pastor must subscribe. There are some non-negotiables which constitute the core of a congregation’s belief system, such as the incarnation, the doctrine of the Trinity, and others of similar weight and significance. But may we allow for alternative viewpoints or reservations on some of the finer doctrinal points? I think so.

Why? Reason #1: During a pastor’s tenure with a congregation, his or her beliefs will most-likely change. They may not change radically, but they will change during the process of personal growth and development. We should expect such. Can we also agree that such development need not threaten the pastor’s ministry to the congregation – as long as that pastor affirms the teaching of the church?

Why? Reason #2: Is it really likely that a pastoral candidate sincerely believes every detail of a congregation’s doctrine? Maybe it’s just me but I find that hard to believe. I am now affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in North America. I affirm the creeds and confessions of my denomination but personally struggle with several statement within those documents. I question the inclusion of the “descent into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed and its explanation in the Heidelberg Catechism. I struggle with the addition of the filioque in the Nicene Creed. I don’t understand the biblical foundation for the doctrine of limited atonement as taught in the Canons of Dort. I don’t appreciate the denunciation of Roman Catholicism in the Heidelberg Catechism. I am confused by the inclusion of Deacons in the governing board of the local church as prescribed by the Belgic Confession.

I could go on, but you get the point. Yet, earlier in my ministry I answered “I Do” to this question: “Do you subscribe to the doctrinal standards of this church, rejecting all teaching which contradicts them?” In retrospect, maybe I should have answered, “I subscribe to most of them and affirm all of them. Is that good enough?”

If it is not, I guess I should expect a visit from my Elders!

1 Comment

  1. Don Cowart on February 13, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    1. Not just the CRC confesses the descent into hell but the universal church. As part of the universal church, the CRC also confesses it. It is taught in the Bible as part of Christ’s victory march. The Heidelberg Catechism’s interpretation of the creed might not actually be the what the Apostles’ Creed originally meant, but one has to agree that it contains the teaching of Scripture about the death of Christ. I can hold to both the original meaning of the Apostles’ Creed and the interpretation of the Heidelberg Catechism with no problem as both are true.
    2. The filoque is based on the clear teaching of the Bible that the Spirit is sent by the Son (as well as the Father). And if you want to go back as far as the essence of the Trinity, there is biblical evidence for that as well. This filoque has spared the western church from the strange mysticism of the Eastern church that is often devoid entirely of Christ.
    3. There are mysteries about God’s eternal decrees we do not understand but can still affirm as teaching of Scripture. The Bible teaches that God wishes none to perish and he commands all to repent. The Bible also teaches that those who believe do so only by the power of the Holy Spirit. I accept both though cannot always put both together. The doctrine should make us very humble, as there is no difference between myself and an unbeliever other than that God opened by my eyes to his love by his Holy Spirit where as he let another willfully continue his way in self-blindness.
    4. The language with regards to the Roman Catholic church needs to be understood in the context of its time. When your family members are being burned at the stake, tongues cut out, etc. for possessing a Bible and being branded for hell, you can understand that the language might be a little heated. Christ was not so soft tongued either towards the Pharisees. Furthermore is good to remember that Trent condemns Reformed PEOPLE, where as the Catechism only Roman TEACHINGS. Your subscription to the creeds doesn’t require you to condemn people but only to say that certain teachings are contrary to the Bible).
    5. I do not see the difference between affirm and subscribe. If I affirm a teaching (e.g. Jesus is Lord) I am saying “yes” to it, namely that I believe he is Lord. Or do you mean to say that you affirm that it is the belief of others (but not necessarily of yourself). Then that affirmation serves no purpose whatsoever.

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