As many of you know, I like this band from Houston called Caedmon’s Call. At any rate, one reason I like them is because they’re a thinking band. That’s rare, I think, and I admire it. Anyway, on their website one of their members keeps an online journal which brought up some interesting issues. Here are some excerpts. I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but it’s definitely worth thinking about.
i think that one of the main things that i have begun to
realize in my studies is how important churches are. even more important is
being familiar with the doctrine of the particular church that you attend. every
legitimate church denomination (even most non-denominational churches) have
some sort of doctrinal statement. the statement will basically deal with that
churches respective stance on such issues as baptism, sacraments, justification,
election, etc. all church doctrinal statements have many of these issues in
common (at least the ones just mentioned) not because these are subjects that
they choose to speak on, but because these are subjects that the Bible speaks on,
and therefore the church wants to make it’s positions clear. i have been rather
surprised that while most churches have very clear doctrinal statements, their
pastors don’t teach the churches doctrine on some issues nearly as clearly as that
same churches doctrinal statement does. i think that this is one thing to which we
can attribute the obvious effects that post-modernism has had on our churches.
as well, i think that such ignorance of church doctrine has inevitably lead to a
‘dumbing down’ of our churches in regards to scripture. this is an all too critical
problem, especially coming up on the 21st century. now obviously there are
churches that rise above the effects of post-modernism, but i’ve been sad to
discover that they are small and few.
i originally intended to try and state some points of doctrine-and the churches
from which they originated-that summed up what i believed to be God-centered,
Christ-centered, Biblical theology. as i was working on this, i can across a
doctrinal statement by a group made up of modern theologians that i read quite
a bit of and greatly respect. collectively they make up a group called ace: the
alliance of confessing evangelicals. ace is made up of such great teachers as dr.
john armstrong, rev. allistair begg, dr. james boice, dr. michael horton, dr. r. c.
sproul (my hero), and dr. david wells just to name a few. you can find their web
site at: http://www.remembrancer.com/ace. i find this doctrinal statement as a
challenging and most biblical one. more than anything i simply challenge you to
find out the doctrine of your particular church denomination, know the scripture
that backs up what that statement declares (as a doctrinal statement should
reflect scripture alone), and therefore know what you believe as a follower of
Christ. i have been loosely been keeping up with the debates on some particular
churches doctrine that have been going on on the message board. while i do
think that some of these debates have gotten a little out of hand, i do emphasize
the importance of such discussions-with respect to using scripture to encourage,
challenge, correct, or even rebuke our brothers and sisters all in love. i heard
statements within these debates about how incredibly unimportant things such as
doctrine and theology were, and i really must disagree. theology by definition is
the study of the nature of God. now anyone could tell us the virtue of a ‘simple
faith’ apart from nasty things such as theology and doctrine, but i believe that one
must strike a balance. of course there is the point where the finite (us) cannot
understand the infinite (God), but i think that as Christians we sell ourselves very,
very short. i think that there is much more to scripture that we can understand
than some might think. most get into the mere prologue of a theological
discussion and suddenly declare, “well, there’s no use in us debating about it.
there are some things that God knows and that we’ll just never know.” now, don’t
get me wrong. i definitely agree with that statement, but definitely not in that
context. the Lord gave us brains so that we could think about Him; so that we
could analyze His Word. i don’t believe that God gave us the scriptures so that
we could know that all of the complex answers were in it, but not actually read
and study it ourselves. i believe that we unfortunately cease our studies far before
we discover the truth that the scripture presents us with. we are called to work out
our salvation with fear and trembling, which is how i suggest we all approach
these matters. i offer this doctrinal statement to give you somewhere to start
from. please challenge everything with the scriptures. everything. thank you to
all of you who genuinely search for the absolute truth that is God. i encourage
and pray for all of you in your search and ask all of you to please do the same for
me. grace and peace-
The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
* 1996 ACE April 20, 1996
Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.
In the course of history words change. In our day this has happened to the word “evangelical.” In the past it served as a bond of unity between Christians from a wide diversity of church traditions. Historic evangelicalism was confessional. It embraced the essential truths of Christianity as those were defined by the great ecumenical councils of the church. In addition, evangelicals also shared a common heritage in the “solas” of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.
Today the light of the Reformation has been significantly dimmed. The consequence is that the word “evangelical” has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning. We face the peril of losing the unity it has taken centuries to achieve. Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we endeavor to assert anew our commitment to the central truths of the Reformation and of historic evangelicalism. These truths we affirm not because of their role in our traditions, but because we believe that they are central to the Bible.
Sola Scriptura: The Erosion of Authority
Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church’s life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture. Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God. Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.
Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth. Biblical truth is indispensable to the church’s understanding, nurture and discipline.
Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliches, promises and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God’s truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God’s provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preacher’s opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.
The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture. Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God’s grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.
THESIS ONE: SOLA SCRIPTURA
We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.
We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.
Solus Christus: The Erosion of Christ-Centered Faith
As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and his cross have moved from the center of our vision.
THESIS TWO: SOLUS CHRISTUS
We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.
We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.
Sola Gratia: The Erosion of The Gospel
Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature. This false confidence now fills the evangelical world; from the self-esteem gospel, to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works. This silences the doctrine of justification regardless of the official commitments of our churches.
God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary but is the sole efficient cause of salvation. We confess that human beings are born spiritually dead and are incapable even of cooperating with regenerating grace.
THESIS THREE: SOLA GRATIA
We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.
Sola Fide: The Erosion of The Chief Article
Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today this article is often ignored, distorted or sometimes even denied by leaders, scholars and pastors who claim to be evangelical. Although fallen human nature has always recoiled from recognizing its need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, modernity greatly fuels the fires of this discontent with the biblical Gospel. We have allowed this discontent to dictate the nature of our ministry and what it is we are preaching.
Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ’s cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations.
While the theology of the cross may be believed, these movements are actually emptying it of its meaning. There is no gospel except that of Christ’s substitution in our place whereby God imputed to him our sin and imputed to us his righteousness. Because he bore our judgment, we now walk in his grace as those who are forever pardoned, accepted and adopted as God’s children. There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ’s saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.
THESIS FOUR: SOLA FIDE
We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.
We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.
Soli Deo Gloria: The Erosion of God-Centered Worship
Wherever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God’s and we are doing his work in our way. The loss of God’s centrality in the life of today’s church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us.
God does not exist to satisfy human ambitions, cravings, the appetite for consumption, or our own private spiritual interests. We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs. God is sovereign in worship; we are not. Our concern must be for God’s kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success.
THESIS FIVE: SOLI DEO GLORIA
We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.
We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.
A Call To Repentance & Reformation
The faithfulness of the evangelical church in the past contrasts sharply with its unfaithfulness in the present. Earlier in this century, evangelical churches sustained a remarkable missionary endeavor, and built many religious institutions to serve the cause of biblical truth and Christ’s kingdom. That was a time when Christian behavior and expectations were markedly different from those in the culture. Today they often are not. The evangelical world today is losing its biblical fidelity, moral compass and missionary zeal.
We repent of our worldliness. We have been influenced by the “gospels” of our secular culture, which are no gospels. We have weakened the church by our own lack of serious repentance, our blindness to the sins in ourselves which we see so clearly in others, and our inexcusable failure to adequately tell others about God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.
We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God’s Word in the matters discussed in this Declaration. This includes those who declare that there is hope of eternal life apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ, who claim that those who reject Christ in this life will be annihilated rather than endure the just judgment of God through eternal suffering, or who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals asks all Christians to give consideration to implementing this Declaration in the church’s worship, ministry, policies, life and evangelism.
For Christ’s sake. Amen.
ACE Executive Council (1996)
Dr. John Armstrong
Rev. Alistair Begg
Dr. James M. Boice
Dr. W. Robert Godfrey
Dr. John D. Hannah
Dr. Michael S. Horton
Mrs. Rosemary Jensen
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Dr. Robert M. Norris
Dr. R. C. Sproul
Dr. G. Edward Veith
Dr. David Wells
Dr. Luder Whitlock
Dr. J. A. O. Preus, III
FOR FURTHER READING, SEE ALSO:
Highlights From The Cambridge Summit Meeting
An Introduction to The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, by James M. Boice
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals exists to call the church, amidst our dying culture, to repent of its worldliness, to recover and confess the five Solas of the Reformation, and to see them embodied in all other doctrines, worship, and life. For more information about Alliance resources, conferences, or broadcasts, call 215-546-3696. The web site address for this document is: http://www.remembrancer.com/ace