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Often a curiosity about other denominations: how are we all Christian?  Where are the lines between a Christian church and a cult or another religion?  With all of the denominations and other churches out there, how do we know which are faithful to the gospel of Christ?  Who are we and how do we fit in the Christian family?  Mormons, Methodists, Muslims and the MET. Calvinists, Catholics and Charismatics. Presbyterians and Pentecostals, Anglicans and Arminians.   Jehovah’s Witnesses, the spiritualist Church next door, the “God hates fags” church on the news, the Jesus people, the Christ-followers, the Emergents, the Baptists, the new reformed.  Are we some little sect unconnected to the mainstream? How do we deal with differences even within the church - differences of beliefs.  Where is the center and where is the edges?

The Concept of Sound Doctrine
Since Pentecost, the church universal and local has “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) in obedience to the final command in the great commission given to the church, that it be “teaching [disciples] to observe all that [Jesus has] commanded you.” (Matthew 28:14).   This teaching included both the essential proclamation about what God has done for humanity in Christ (referred to as the kerygma) as well as ethical instruction arising out a response to the kerygma, outlining how a believer is now “to live and please God” (referred to as the didache). While converts were gathered into the early church on the basis of responding by faith to the proclamation of the Gospel, they were soon instructed in the didache in order to grow in their faith. One can see this relationship between theological proclamation and practical instruction in the books of the New Testament, which often begin with theological explanation before moving on to practical application.  It is this powerful combination of proclamation and instruction that the New Testament refers to as sound doctrine.

Timothy’s Task at Ephesus
It was the mission of these early church planters to ground the church in these essential teachings, or doctrine, of our faith.  If we look into the book of 1st Timothy, we see that Timothy was sent to Ephesus to retrain the elders to lead and instruct the church in sound doctrine and practice.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.  The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

It seems that some of the teachers of the church had become intrigued by speculative theologies concerning genealogies, myths, spiritual practices, cravings for controversies, and theological intricacies which led them to arguing over words.  Timothy’s task was to not embroil himself in these controversies, but to direct the teachers to devote themselves to the deposit of faith.  

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,  and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,  who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.  But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:14-19)

Why the need for Statement of Faith? Throughout history, generations of Christians have found it important to articulate what are “these things” - what is the core of our faith and then are we as Christians are to live.  Why? Our Statement of Faith defines our Church, defends our Church, and desegregates our Church.

1)    The SOF defines our Church in that it determines what our highest objective is. Jesus Christ is most honoured when it is His message of Salvation that binds a Church together. To be part of OCBC is not a commitment to Asian culture, or a commitment to a certain kind of Worship service style, or even a specific set of distinctive teachings, but is first a commitment to the spread and experience of Salvation in Jesus Christ. Our SOF attempts to express that great commitment.

a)    We are a people who believe something. A statement of faith can demonstrate very quickly that we are not relativists or agnostics.  We believe in something. Now, it might be said that everyone believes something.  Even an complete agnostic believes something: that “there is not sufficient warrant for me to hold a belief.”

b)   We are a people who believe something important. We not only believe in something, but we believe in God!  1 Cor 15:3-5:  “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared”  alive to many before ascending to the Father in heaven.

c)    We are a people with a destiny: to be conformed to the image of Christ and grow in love.  We didn’t make this stuff up - it is what makes us up.

2)    The SOF also defends our Church by determining what is worth fighting for. Unfortunately, Churches fight. Unfortunately, human beings can be stubborn, inflexible, and uncharitable, and so we must watch out for silly disagreements. But the essentials must be fought for. We cannot let them become attacked, diminished, or undermined. We must protect these Truths with all our might. This is one of the goals of our SOF

a)    We are a people who believe something that has been counterfeited.  There are other belief systems out there claiming the name of Christian that are not connected to the historic, orthodox Christian faith. 2 Timothy 3:1-7 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,  treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions,  always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.  Inherent within the construction of a belief system is the identification of heresy.  In producing a statement of faith, you are really starting to answer, “what is a Christian?” - a person who believes this.

b)   We are a people who are warned about deceivers. We are warned that some will come from within and try to deceive others. Acts 20:29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;  and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Someone wants to teach Sunday School - I believe the Bible: good!  But do you proclaim the essential realities of the faith.  Youth worker charged Paul Washer with heresy because he taught that Jesus is God.

3)    The SOF also desegregates our Church because a common commitment to the Gospel creates unity where normally disunity would exist. Yet we must understand that this can only occur when the things of first importance are treasured in their depth and richness. That is why this series is so important. We may attend Bible studies together if we agree that the Bible is God’s Word. But we will feast on it together with thanksgiving if we understand what it means that it is “the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged”.

a)    We are a people who believe something bigger than ourselves. We are part of a global, historic movement of faith that has spanned centuries, continents and cultures.  Where do we find our place in that movement, and how are we connected to others within our faith?  This can be spelled out within a statement of faith.  First thing you can do when you visit another church - read their statement of faith - find out where they sit in the grand scheme of world Christianity.

b)   We are a people who are entrusted with a mission. We expand out geographically, we must pass on generationally.  2 Timothy 2:2: What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

The SOF covers the essentials, but that is not to be misunderstood as being shallow. Shallow doctrine breeds shallow fellowship. A rich understanding of the essentials will yield a rich crop of Christ-centered fellowship.

Teaching Toward Love
In 2006, OCBC joined the Evangelical Free Church of Canada (EFCC) after a meticulous process in which many denominations were considered.  Perhaps the most defining distinctive of the Free Church is its emphasis on gathering the core essentials of our faith, while maintaining the autonomy of the local church to decide on matters of secondary importance. This focus on core doctrine, allows us to take a charitable stance toward Christians who may disagree with us on secondary issues, without violating our core beliefs. As the EFCC motto puts it: “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, charity. In all things Jesus Christ.”  You might say that that we hold some beliefs tightly in a closed hand, while other beliefs we hold an open hand toward. In our own congregation, there are people who hold to different positions regarding spiritual gifts, end-time positions, tithing, etc., but we gather together around the core elements of the gospel.

This is not to say that the non-essentials are unimportant. Bill Taylor: “So when we talk about essentials versus non-essentials we are not simply saying that non-essentials are minor issues that are unimportant. However, we are saying that while we encourage passionate debate among the members of our family on these issues, we call for charity and an inclusive spirit that allows us to agree to disagree and continue to live out our common identity and mission in Jesus Christ.”  A non-essential is a doctrine of which “we agree to disagree in an agreeable way” (Driscoll, “Vintage Church”, 137).

For example, imagine a house or an office building: the supports (technical word: columns) cannot be moved otherwise the structure will fall, but once you have the supports, if you work within their limits, you're okay. Do something to the supports and you're in danger. I think the illustration holds up for doctrines the Church debates.

The in-house debates about the non-essential doctrines would be like the non-weightbearing walls within the structure.  They are still important for giving theology form, and your house is going to both look different and be practically affected by the choices you make in constructing them, but your house will still stand.

Why This Series
In 2003 the Evangelical Free denominations of North America began the process of refreshing their 50-year-old statement of faith.  It was refreshed to respond to new doctrinal controversies such as open theism and the growth of both Eastern Religions and Islam; to update archaic language; to clarify some positions or shore up some points that have been found to be weak: for example, the old statement (our church’s current statement) says nothing about sanctification and the life of the believer.  The new statement includes gospel headings that are intended to directly relate every statement to the gospel - for it is the gospel of Christ that binds us together as Christians and forms our faith.

In 2008, some members of both our Chinese and English congregations were present at the national conference in which the EFCC passed the new statement of faith with a 92% acceptance from its churches.  We were impressed by the humility, the love and the unity in which the leadership of the denomination and the churches came together to ratify the statement.  As one pastor put it, “I may believe more than what is in the statement, but I don’t know if I could believe any less.”  Is it perfect? No -it is a man-made statement that tries to capture what’s important to God - and that is always going to bear our shortcomings.  Is it better?  We think so.  As a member church of the EFCC, we have been asked to refresh our Statement of Faith to correspond to the other churches within our fellowship. So part of the reason why we are preaching this series this fall is to more thoroughly introduce this new statement of faith to the church in the hope that we can ratify it as our new statement at our next AGM.   It’s my prayer that we all become more confident in understanding the edges and the core of our faith, the open and closed hands.  

Most importantly, I pray that we grow in love. Joshua Harris writes in his book, “Dug Down Deep,” about his personal journey in coming to deeply appreciate sound doctrine:

I know the idea of “studying” God often rubs people the wrong way. It sounds cold and theoretical, as if God were a frog carcass to dissect in a lab or a set of ideas that we memorize like math proofs.
But studying God doesn’t have to be like that. You can study Him the way you study a sunset that leaves you speechless. You can study Him the way a man studies the wife he passionately loves. Does anyone fault him for noting her every like and dislike? Is it clinical for him to desire to know the thoughts and longings of her heart? Or to want to hear her speak?
Knowledge doesn’t have to be dry and lifeless. And when you think about it, exactly what is our alternative? Ignorance? Falsehood?
We’re either building ourselves on the reality of what God is truly like and what He’s about, or we’re basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions.

We’re all theologians. {All of us have some idea or opinion about what God is like.) The question is whether what we know about God is true.

Orthodoxy matters because the Christian faith is not just a cultural tradition or moral code. Orthodoxy is the irreducible truths about God and his work in the world. Our faith is not just a state of mind, a mystical experience, or concepts on a page.  Theology, doctrine and orthodoxy matters because God is real, and He has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity.  


Suggested Resources for the Congregation

Bill Taylor (Executive Director of the EFCC), 4 Key Indicators to Define Essentials”, EFCC National Blog, accessed at http://www.efccm.ca/wordpress/?p=2557  


Bill Taylor (Executive Director of the EFCC), “Top 10 Gains in the New Statement”, EFCC National Blog, accessed at http://www.efccm.ca/wordpress/?p=2487


Colin Hanson, “It’s Not Broke, So Fix It”, Christianity Today, accessed at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/julyweb-only/129-11.0.html?start=1

1) What are the benefits of this “two-handed” approach to our core beliefs?  

2) What might be some drawbacks to this approach within a local church?

Project: Read through the Statement of Faith and note the following:

1)    Are there things that you do not understand or have questions about?

2)    Are there things that you are not comfor table with or disagree with?

3)    Are there other beliefs under certain topics that you feel should be included?