What 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 its denomination?
Granted, a congregation would love both. But what if your congregation contemplates calling a pastor who is willing to affirm its doctrines but doesn’t agree with every doctrine?
I suggest that, from the perspective of a local congregation, affirmation surpasses belief. It seems to me that a congregation would rather have a pastor who promises to affirm its 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 the church.
Surely, every congregation and its 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?
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!