On Doctrinal Convictions

Sean Mortenson / August 21, 2018
doctrine

As we talked about the future of our church last Sunday, I cast vision for being firmly rooted in the scriptures and focused on Jesus, while remaining a community where people feel like they can work out their questions. That vision isn’t new; it’s really a description of who we already are. But I sensed on Sunday that the way I answered some questions caused a fear that we would be moving away from strong biblical convictions altogether. So I wanted to clarify and hopefully put those fears to rest.

A few of the questions posed on Sunday had to do with our public statement of faith, which (right or wrong) often serves as a way of locating ourselves in the church world. I said that we would no longer define ourselves by the Gospel Coalition statement of faith, which is what Redemption adopted in 2011, but would instead lead with the historic Apostles’ and Nicene creeds (below) along with the Lausanne Covenant. The latter is a beautiful articulation of Protestant Evangelical (in the truest, Jesus-focused sense) convictions. This move is not to reject our Reformed roots. It is, rather, a move to focus on the core truths of Orthodox Christianity without unnecessarily limiting who feels they can come and pursue Jesus with us. It is about the posture with which we hold our convictions and how that posture impacts evangelism and discipleship.

In other words, we want to invite people to follow Jesus, not just win them to Reformed theology. An analogy that is often used is the difference between a bird cage vs. a bird feeder. We can either focus on the boundaries that place people inside or outside our camp (bird cage), or focus on the beautiful central truths (bird feeder), knowing that people will be freely coming from different angles and distances to drink from it. This aids discipleship and evangelism in a few different ways.

First, it allows space for those who are asking big questions and trying to re-construct their faith (which is true of a lot of people) to do so out-loud, in community. We have unfortunately seen the fragile faith of many nearly extinguished because they did not feel they were allowed to ask questions. But we can foster a more gracious environment. And the reality is that the whole community benefits when we engage significant questions in a non-defensive way. It not only sharpens our own convictions as we go to the scriptures for clarity, it helps us get outside of our bubble to understand the questions that our neighbors are asking.

In addition, it encourages those who feel solid in their foundation to remain in a posture of learning. We hold our convictions with humility knowing that the certainty of our faith is not in our intellectual ability to have it all neatly categorized in a system. We “see in a mirror dimly” after all. Our certainty is in the person of Jesus, who we come to know on a deeper level only by actively following him (as opposed to just studying him). Our doctrinal understandings (such as the Doctrines of Grace) help us know what it means to follow him, but they are not the point in and of themselves. Thus, the motto of Anselm and Augustine fides quaerens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding”, is helpful. Faith comes first, and as we respond in meaningful ways, understanding grows, and will continue to grow until we see Jesus face to face. In other words, we’re all in process. The Apostle Paul himself models this.

Lastly, this posture does not mean we will become more casual with the scriptures. We affirm the language of the Lausanne Covenant that the Bible is “the only infallible rule of faith and practice”, so we will continue to bring everything back to it. In fact we are committed to doing an even better job helping you all gain a deeper understanding of God’s word. In the coming year we will be teaching through the Gospel of Matthew and would love nothing more than to develop patterns of communal study. This posture also does not mean that we will be afraid to take firm positions on debated subjects. Jesus said that the road is narrow for a reason; there will be times where we need to be clear that the ways of the world are not in alignment with the way of Jesus.

The historic creeds are posted below. You’ll see there are some weighty theological implications to their language. I would encourage you to also read the Lausanne Covenant, particularly for its focus on evangelism. If you have more specific questions please email me at seanmortenson@redemptionaz.com.

 


 

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.

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