The Role of Doctrine

Doctrine is basically the church's understanding of what the Bible says and what it means .  It is the teachings of the Bible.  It can be thought of as the banks of a river.  On each side are the shoals of improper understanding, but in-between the banks there is diversity with many different currents. Recognizing that there are many different approaches to the construction and articulation of Biblical doctrine, we choose a minimal consensus model.  We are instructed by Paul in Rom. 14:19 to  “...make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.”  

A minimal consensus model allows us to clearly and definitively  state "The Essentials."  These are the life-giving core teachings of Christianity clearly demonstrated in scripture and agreed on by the Church universal.  We are not limited by these Essentials but also recognize we have a unique and distinct "Expression of Worship."  The selection of this model of doctrinal expression means that as a body of believers in fellowship we choose to live with the tension of diversity.  In some   areas of life-worship, individual perspectives will vary but we will abide by the principal first articulated in the 1620's by Peter Meiderlin and adapted here for our unique expression, 

  

“In Essentials Unity, in Worship Freedom, and in all things Love”

 

The Development of Doctrine

Doctrine is developed in the first order as a personal endeavor of reflection.  Upon entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ, faith seeks understanding.  The Bible provides the raw material and the process of evaluating it is both spiritual reflection and a work of theological construction.  Most people do not consider themselves theologians, but the reality is that as our faith seeks understanding we strive to communicate that understanding in our living and in our conversations.  That is theology. 

There is a set of skills developed as we grow and mature that refine our pursuit.  This means, as my skill in reflecting on scripture improves, so will my understanding and my life-worship.  This leads to a basic understanding that doctrine is not static, but a conversation.  It is a conversation between the Spirit of God speaking through the scriptures into the community of God and individuals living that conversation.  We must always be open to understand and learn more of what scripture has to offer. 

This conversation is not only personal but is historical.  We can look at the conversation in the writings and teachings of the historical church.  There we find people wandering in the stream as well as running aground on the shoals of heresy.  We find the Spirit at work teaching and correcting.  

It is the height of arrogance to think we enter the conversation as if it did not exist prior, and it is humbling to know it will not be done when we exit.   So understanding the witness of this conversation helps inform our current understanding and helps us as we continue to grow in grace and knowledge.  

Our doctrine locally is developed and adopted by the Elders of the church and confirmed by the Elders and Deacons. 

The Conversation

At Wellspring Fellowship we strongly believe  that a theological foundation for our church is vital for stability—supporting an edifice of confidence to withstand every “wind of doctrine” that comes along, every itinerant agenda from some ill-defined place.  If our conversation only includes ourselves we end up like the picture. 

The Bible is the ground and source for our understanding of who God is and what He wants in our lives. It is a living document that the Holy Spirit continues to make alive to us. Yet, the Bible is also a collection of  2,000+ year old writings written to and by people who no longer exist, except in historical and linguistic reconstructions. So what the Bible actually says, what it means, and what shall we do with it, is often a topic for great debate. In the end, everyone must make a choice and live into it. The Conversation is our attempt to be transparent and accountable to both the local church and to the great conversation through the ages, by showing you the sources in which we have been in conversation.    

Outside looking in, Christianity often looks to many like a big argument. Why are there so many churches? Why can't you just get along? What is a church “split”? Why are there politics in churches? We want our fellowship to avoid these pitfalls. What follows below is more than just a bibliography of influential books. Rather, these books provide the theological underpinnings for the development of our doctrine and our Statement of Faith.  

It's difficult to be selective—there are so many influences. A great appreciation goes out to the professors at Fuller Northwest where I received my MAT in Biblical Studies and Theology. While being true to their embedded theology and traditions, they never gave the “answers”; instead, they presented and investigated perspectives so that individuals in prayer and in community could discover their position in the conversation.  Thank you, Fuller Northwest, for the freedom and the challenge.  

You may find the books listed below helpful in wrestling with the “big” questions that help define our faith and our understanding of scripture. The list is not comprehensive, rather representative. Also, it's not true that we should hold on to everything that a particular author or theologian might believe or espouse. In fact, some theologians are so prolific that to have read everything they have written is impractical, if not impossible. However, as a church, we are in conversation with these theologians, listening and responding to them, who in turn have been in historical conversation throughout their academic careers  and peer-reviewed theology with the ideas that help shape our expression of worship.  Join us and enjoy the conversation!

Pastor Chris Henderson
August 2009       

 
Some Partners in the Conversation:

“Systematic Theology: Vol. 1 Ethics,  Vol.2 Doctrine,  Vol. 3 Witness” by James Wm. McClendon, Jr.

“How to Think Theologically” by Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke.

“From Canon to Scripture”  by Charles Scaliese

“The Problem of God” by John Courtney Murray, S.J.

“The Trinity and the Kingdom” by Jurgen Moltmann

“A Beginner's Guide to New Testament Exegesis: Taking the Fear Out of Critical Method” By Richard J. Erickson

“An Unstoppable Force” by Erwin Raphael McManus

“What Saint Paul Really Said and Meant" by N.T. Wright

 

 Some Other theologians we are quite fond of:

Brevard S. Childs

George Eldon Ladd

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