About the statement

Author | Tony Payne (Publishing Director, Matthias Media)

At Matthias Media and The Briefing, we've often been asked about our ‘doctrinal basis’. Up to this point, we have been happy to point people to a 10-point statement on our website. It's a standard and widely used statement derived from the InterVarsity Fellowship. It's also now used by the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students and numerous other fine organizations.

However, good doctrinal statements, while expressing the unchanging teaching of the Bible, are always shaped by the issues of their time. If we were going to start from scratch and express the theological standpoint that we hold, and that we want to defend and promote through Matthias Media and The Briefing in the 21st century, what would it be?

A new statement

On this site is a draft of a new statement called ‘Gospel Convictions: A call to evangelical integrity in truth and life’. I say ‘draft’ quite deliberately because, although we've put a lot of effort and thought into it so far, we're not assuming it's finished. We'd very much like you to tell us what you think. Is this a good summary of what you believe? Are these the truths you wish to contend for and live for? Is there anything central and vital that needs to be added, or anything secondary that should be omitted? Is there anything that could be better expressed? Is this a statement around which you could rally, and persuade others to do the same?

As you read, bear in mind that the statement is not intended to be a detailed confession of faith that outlines an entire theological system. It does reflect and express the deep structures of Christian doctrine, and its order is significant. But we're not trying to nail down every point. (You'll notice nothing about baptism, for example, or church polity.) Nor are we simply trying to draw a circle around correct doctrine in order to identify the false alternatives, although it is important that the statement does that to an extent.

What we really want to do is propose a Bible-based agenda for evangelical thinking, character and ministry. We want to see these truths run and prosper because we think they are the central and most important ones. Evangelicals will inevitably disagree on many secondary things not contained in this statement, but can we agree not only on the content of these statements, but on their centrality? Can we spend the bulk of our time on these issues and their outworking, rather than other more peripheral concerns?

So it's by no means just a defensive statement. In fact, it's a distinctively evangelical doctrinal statement in that it assumes the vital connection between theology and practice—between believing these doctrines, personally embracing them and thus living a certain way. It gives us not only a position to defend, but a set of convictions to live by.

Revisions

Since printing an earlier draft of the statement in the 21st birthday issue of The Briefing, we've received a great amount of feedback and comments. We've published all the responses on our website if you're interested in wading through them.

First of all, we are thankful for the overwhelmingly positive and encouraging tone of the responses. We were buoyed by this. We are also thankful for the many useful perceptions and suggestions about how to make improvements. For example, a number thought that the divinity of Jesus and the foundational truth of the Trinity, while being present in the first draft, could have been more clearly affirmed. Others suggested that in the description of the Christian life, there needed to be more about love and service of others, and about our fellowship in church. We've made some changes on both of these counts.

There were also numerous comments on point 2 about the work of the Spirit, and we've redrafted much of this section to attempt to communicate the key ideas more clearly. Our goal was both to express positively an evangelical view of the work of the Spirit in the Christian life, as well as to highlight those aspects of the charismatic movement that run counter to that theology. I say ‘aspects’ quite deliberately because evangelicals and charismatics share much theologically, and differ over some things that are secondary. However, there are also significant differences of conviction. The key difference, as the statement now articulates more clearly, is not the miraculous activity of God, nor that some Christians may walk with the Spirit more faithfully than others, but the positing of ‘levels’ of spiritual experience (corresponding to the ‘baptism in the Spirit’ or some other indicator) that serve to divide Christians. This has been one of the distinguishing marks of Pentecostal or charismatic theology ever since its genesis in the ‘higher life’ teachings of the 19th century. And it is this tendency, so contrary to an evangelical theology of the Spirit, that the statement seeks to repudiate.

Point 3 on assurance of salvation also drew some significant comment, and has been worked over carefully. Its main purpose is to affirm the truth of justification by faith, especially in terms of its pastoral consequences. When justification by faith is undermined (as it is in Roman Catholicism and in approaches associated with the ‘New Perspective’), the result is a loss of assurance and a drift towards ‘worksy’ Christianity. This is what point 3 seeks to address.

Overall, we've made around 30 separate changes to that original draft. (For those who are interested in such things, we've provided a file that tracks all the changes.)

We think the result is an even clearer statement of basic evangelical belief—shaped by the gospel itself, but also responding to the challenges and debates of our current context.

Where to from here?

Now that we've heard from Briefing readers, we are seeking comment from the broader public. Our plan is to keep the revised version of the statement online until the end of the year, then collate the feedback we receive and think through any changes we need to make. We will then publish a final version in early 2010.

When the Gospel Convictions statement has been finalized, please feel free to link to it online, ‘sign’ it online, and adopt it as a personal statement of conviction, or a corporate statement for your church or fellowship or ministry.

We hope that this Gospel Convictions statement will be a useful resource and rallying point for evangelicals—a statement of foundational convictions that we can agree on and that can form the basis for cooperation and teamwork in gospel ministry. Our prayer is that it will not only serve to unite evangelicals in common convictions, but also to galvanize them to common commitment and action for the gospel.

Update (29/03/10)

The Gospel Convictions statement has now been finalized and may be signed online.

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