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Doctrinal Diversity

 

A Position Paper of Heritage Bible Church

This is a Position Paper of Heritage Bible Church, published by the elders of the church as a guide to help Christians understand an important issue in light of the Scriptures. Complete agreement with the positions of the elders on all matters is not required for a person to serve with this church, but the elders do want you to understand what to expect from the leadership of the church. Interaction with the elders on the contents of this paper or any other issue is always welcome.

 

Two Meanings of "Church"
We recognize two perspectives on the Church of Jesus Christ in the world. On one hand, there is the "universal" church, which is composed of all true believers. This church began on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit first indwelt all believers. All true Christians alive today around the world comprise the universal church.


On the other hand, there are local churches. These are congregations of professing believers in Jesus Christ who band together for worship, fellowship, discipleship and evangelism. Heritage Bible Church is one of thousands of local churches.


Noting some key differences between the universal church, also called the "body of Christ," and the local church is important. First, the universal church is "invisible" in the sense that we do not and cannot know all its members. However, God knows exactly who is included in the "household of faith."


Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, " The Lord knows those who are His . . . (II Timothy 2:19). For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many (I Corinthians 12:13-14).


On the other hand, a local church is "visible" in the sense that we can see who is involved. These are the fellow believers (and unbelievers who visit) whom we greet each week. These are the ones to whom and with whom we minister. These are the ones present in the regular gatherings for worship, teaching and fellowship.


Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).


Jesus Christ Himself is the head of the church:


He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything (Colossians 1:18).


The responsibility of the leadership of the local church is to teach, lead, love, counsel and exhort the congregation in such a way that the local church is as accurate as possible a representation of the universal church, under the control and leadership of the Head. To a group of elders Paul said:


"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. . . . And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:28-30, 32).


The Importance of Doctrine
"Doctrine" is the word we use to describe the teaching of the Bible on any important subject. The time-tested list of the primary categories of doctrine are the Bible (bibliology), God (theology proper), Jesus Christ (Christology), Holy Spirit (pneumatology), Man and Sin (anthropology and hamartiology), Salvation (soteriology), The Church (ecclesiology), Angels and Demons (angelology and demonology), and Prophecy or "last things" (eschatology).


Paul's command in Acts 20--and others in the New Testament--put responsibility upon the elders to proclaim sound doctrine and to expose and reject doctrines which are diverse from what the Scriptures teach. One characteristic which must describe the life of a man considered to be an elder is


"holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9).


To Timothy Paul gave the stern instruction to be followed by all elders in all local churches:


"preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (II Timothy 4:1-4).


Clearly, it is the responsibility of elders (such as Timothy) to make sure that the congregation is taught with "one voice" on Bible doctrine. To allow many teachers teaching a variety of versions of doctrines is wrong.


The tendency has always been and always will be for people to be fascinated with "ear tickling" messages which entice them to wander from sound doctrine rooted in sound interpretation of the Scriptures. God gives elders to the church (among other reasons) to restrain this tendency toward doctrinal deviance.


The Problem of Diversity
As this works out in real-life local churches with real people, there is a constant struggle. Christians through the centuries have consistently agreed on crucial basic doctrines, usually referred to as "essential" doctrines. These include monotheism, the trinity, the humanity and deity of Christ in hypostatic union, the sinfulness of man, the substitutionary and all-sufficient death of Christ, and the inspiration of the Scriptures. Deviance from any of these has always been labeled heresy (false doctrine) and rejected by the body of Christ.


The difficulty lies in the fact that there are other doctrines and nuances of doctrines about which believers have disagree. When two believers differ over a point of doctrine, teaching things which directly disagree with each other, both cannot be right. One (or both) must be wrong.


Since elders are charged with teaching clarity of doctrine, they must take a stand on these issues for the guidance, harmony and purity of the local church. With humble recognition of their own sinfulness and imperfection as teachers, elders must do their best to teach God's word with clarity, conviction and certainty.


It is for this reason the elders of Heritage Bible Church subscribe unreservedly to the Statement of Faith of this church (Article IV of the church constitution) and declare that those statements will be the teaching position of this church.[1] Our task therefore includes responding to Christians who maintain different positions on "non-essential" aspects of doctrine.


The elders of Heritage Bible Church have adopted this policy on matters of doctrinal diversity among Christians:


1. Anyone of any doctrinal persuasion is welcome at all times to worship with Heritage Bible Church. Profession of personal faith in Jesus Christ for salvation makes one a member of the Body of Christ and therefore entitled to our fellowship.


2. Those seeking to become members of Heritage Bible Church are asked if they agree in total with the Statement of Faith. If they do not, they are asked to explain their difference(s).


3. Those who disagree are accepted as members based on their profession of faith and entitled to serve in any capacity provided they agree to three conditions: They will not teach contrary to the Statement of Faith; they will not criticize or attack the teaching position of the church; they will refer questions about the areas of doctrinal difference to the elders.


The intent of this policy is to be as inclusive as possible of as many members of the body of Christ as possible, yet to maintain a clear and consistent doctrinal position in all teaching ministries of the church. We want the local church to be as pure as possible and as faithful to Scripture as possible, so that this local church will be an accurate representation of the "invisible" church.


Give Me An Example . . .
Sincere Christians disagree on some matters which can directly affect how they live their lives, make important decisions, and establish priorities. Here are a few examples which might be covered under this policy of "cautious inclusion."


Eternal security is a doctrine of great significance. Those who do not believe in eternal security will counsel differently from those who believe in it, especially on "gray areas" of Christian liberty. Heritage Bible Church's position is that it is not possible to lose, reject or forfeit salvation.


Speaking in tongues is in the same category as eternal security. Those who believe that tongues-speaking is for today (either as a "prayer language" or as a sign of Spirit baptism) will counsel believers to seek this gift as a matter of great importance. We believe speaking in tongues is the supernatural ability to speak in a known human language unknown to the speaker and that there is no evidence of this gift continuing past the first century.


Eschatology can be an important doctrine, because it impacts one's perception of the mission and priorities of the church, as well as the nature of the "blessed hope." Prophecy is nearly a third of the Bible, so the interpretation of a huge portion of scripture contributes to eschatology. We believe the consistent application of sound hermeneutics (principles of Bible interpretation), including literal interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy, leads to a premillennial eschatology. (Jesus will return bodily to earth to set up His kingdom.)


The nature of hell is a matter about which some Christians debate. We believe in a literal Lake of Fire in which Satan, demons and unbelievers will be "tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10). This is a matter about which we see no need to require complete agreement, except to respect the teaching position of the church.


Dispensationalism and covenant theology are contrasting systems of analyzing the structure of Scripture and they have implications for eschatology. While both have merit, we do not teach either system exclusively, but instead derive our eschatology from the systematic interpretation and harmonizing of individual texts. Our only "dogmatic" position on eschatology is premillennialism.


Baptism and communion practices vary widely among believers. We teach and practice believer's baptism by immersion, not infant baptism. Believers who have been baptized by any other mode are accepted on the basis of their profession of faith, and we do not recommend "re-baptism" if they were baptized as a public proclamation of faith after receiving Christ.


We believe communion is a symbolic commemorative act of worship, not a means of grace. We celebrate communion corporately approximately monthly.


Church government is an area Scripture allows for great diversity among Christians. We ask only that those who wish to become voting members of Heritage Bible Church agree to function within our chosen system. We are congregationally governed in that the local church is autonomous, with responsibility to elect and authority to remove leaders. Ongoing oversight of the ministries of the church is delegated to elders and deacons who are elected annually and who are accountable to the congregation.

 

Conclusion
It is the duty of the leadership of each local church to decide which matters of doctrine and practice are important enough to require members of that church to agree upon them. The above examples are some of the matters about which the elders of Heritage Bible Church have established their position.


As other issues arise, other positions may need to be articulated and applied.


The elders are willing to discuss the reasoning behind any of these matters, as well as any other issues over which Christians may disagree. Your questions and concerns may be brought to the elders at any time, simply by asking that a time be set for you to meet with the Council of elders.


Finally, we acknowledge that godly men and women of great conviction have disagreed with our positions. To disagree on these matters is not sinful--it is "being disagreeable" in the process which is sinful. We further acknowledge that God uses people of diverse personal convictions, and our attitude is that of Paul in Philippians 1:18:


What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.

 

[1]See also “What We Teach,” a Position Paper which expands on what we teach concerning Bible doctrine.