Despite how hard I have been on doctrinal statements in recent posts, I do think there are several good uses for them. Here are three:
Doctrinal Statements provide a guiding hermeneutic.
In some ways, doctrinal statements are a summary of the doctrinal conclusions that Christians of the past have drawn from Scripture. They tell us what various groups have thought were key ideas from the Bible. In such a way, they can provide a guide for us in our own study. If we believe that the Holy Spirit has helped guide Christians of the past to know and understand the truth of Scripture, then doctrinal statements can help us in our own understanding and interpretation of Scripture.
For example, most doctrinal statements include the idea that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. Therefore, we must be extremely cautious about any teaching to the contrary, for nearly all Christians throughout church history have held to this belief. Similarly, other points from doctrinal statements often represent key teachings from Scripture and can help guide our own study into Scripture, keeping us within the doctrinal boundaries of Christians from the past (See The Shape of Sola Scriptura for more on this idea).
Doctrinal Statements help people know what to expect.
I will admit it, when I visit a church or ministry website, one of the first things I do is look for the doctrinal statement. I want to know where the person is coming from. This doesn’t mean that if I don’t like their doctrinal statement, I am going to reject what they say outright. I will still listen to them. But knowing where they are coming from helps provide perspective on what they are saying.
Revealing our doctrinal statement is somewhat like “opening our books” to the public. It shows that we have no secrets, that what we believe is available for all to read. We are not like Scientologists or some of these other pseudo-religious groups which hide what they believe from the general public. Publishing a public doctrinal statement helps people know who you are and what you believe.
Doctrinal Statements guide leadership decisions.
In a church or ministry setting, you simply cannot have people on the leadership team who have major doctrinal differences with each other. I mean, if the Senior Pastor believes that Jesus is God, and the Assistant Pastor believes that Jesus was just an enlightened human, there are going to be problems with how that church functions. A doctrinal statement helps the leadership team stay on the same page.
However, just because a doctrinal statement can be used to restrict who is placed in a position of leadership in a church or ministry, I strongly discourage the use of doctrinal statements as a means of restricting who can attend or participate with the church or ministry in its services and functions. This is when doctrinal statements begin to become dangerous, as I have covered in previous posts about Doctrinal Statements.
Aside from these three good uses of doctrinal statements, can you think of any others? Let me know in the comments below.