This was originally posted at Bart’s blog, Praisegod Barebones.
The following post refers extensively to the framework that Dr. Al Mohler articulated in his own blog post of 12 July 2005 entitled “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.” You can find that article here.
The official statement of faith for the Southern Baptist Convention is the Baptist Faith & Message. I have signed this document several times. And, in point of fact, not only have I signed it, but I also have read it and I agree with it. My signing of this document has been a matter of informed consent.
And yet, agreeing entirely as I do with the content of our statement of faith, I’d still like to toss out something to consider about the document’s format. Although it would make these documents slightly more complex, would it be a good thing to organize statements of faith according to the varying priorities of the doctrines listed therein?
At the very least, one might create a statement of faith that acknowledged Dr. Mohler’s three-tiered system of theological triage by organizing the doctrines into three tiers. The document could begin by stating: “These are the essential doctrines of the faith. Whoever does not affirm these truths, let him be anathema. Any so-called ‘church’ not embracing these truths in teaching and practice is a cult.” And afterwards, the statement could give a list of cardinal, tier-one doctrines.
In the next section, the preamble could go along these lines: “Following are the distinctive beliefs that identify a Southern Baptist. Any church not embracing these truths in teaching and practice, although it may genuinely be a Christian church, is not qualified to cooperate within the Southern Baptist Convention.” The statement could then go on to list which are these tier-two doctrines.
In the final section, the document could stipulate: “The following can be identified as important Southern Baptist beliefs both in our history and in our current practice, and yet we acknowledge that diversity of opinion has and does exist within our convention on these matters, and that some level of cooperation is possible even among those who disagree. Therefore, although we require that the ministries of this convention be conducted in accordance with and not contrary to these beliefs, we do not believe that they rise to the level of importance that would warrant the breaking of fellowship among sister churches due to differences over these matters.” And then the doctrinal statement could enumerate those matters that belong in this category.
Of course, I acknowledge that it would be an absolute political bloodletting in the Southern Baptist Convention actually to work through this process. Nevertheless, I want to make something absolutely clear: I believe that we ALREADY have and are using something like this. It’s just that most Southern Baptists didn’t get a say in how the tiers were created and applied, and the scheme (or schemes), however they exist in the minds of Southern Baptist leaders, aren’t published for anyone’s review or correction.
I know that significant discussion and disagreement might ensue in the comment section over which particular items belong where, and that’s fine, but I hope that you’ll also all make some statement about the overarching concept—whether a tiered statement of faith would be a good idea in general, presuming that doctrines were placed correctly. I think the idea would provide greater clarity than we now enjoy.
As a final note, I should acknowledge my own friendly interaction with Mohler’s Triage (which I published here) in which I suggested that triage is a bit more complicated than a rigid three-tier system could accommodate. This being the case, I believe that a local church’s statement of faith might include even more levels than these three.