Last night I listened to an MP3 of Mark Dever speaking on church membership to a group of pastors in South Africa in January 2007. (I’m not sure if this MP3 is available online.)
Dever concludes by presenting what he calls a twelve-step recovery plan for pastors to regain meaningful church membership in the congregation. Step two sheds some light on Dever’s recent controversial statement that it is wrong to include millennial views in a church’s statement of faith. In my radio interview last week, I mentioned that the viability of Dever’s statement turns on his view of the function of statements of faith. Here’s how he stated his view on that in 2007 (53:33 to 55:39 in the MP3; emphasis added):
2. Have and use a congregationally agreed-upon statement of faith and church covenant.
Now I’m aware we’re from different polities at this minister’s conference, and that’s great. If you have a denominational statement, depending on your structure you can take your denominational statement and use that. If you’re a congregational independent church, you can come up with one yourself or use one that other churches before you have used. But with membership in the congregation comes responsibility, and the statements of what the congregation together believes (and in our church we call that our statement of faith) and of how we will live (we call that our church covenant) are very useful tools. They are a clear ground of unity, a tool of teaching, [and] a fence from error and from the worldly who would erase such distinctions or [from] the divisive who want to see them more narrow. We can point to the fact that, “Well actually, this is what we’ve agreed on.”
So, for example, I’ll give you something else provocative. Our church’s statement of faith talks about the second coming of Christ, and it basically says, “He will come back; he will raise the dead; he will judge them; and they will go some to eternal felicity with God and some to eternal torment in hell.” That’s it! “But Mark, what about the rapture? What about the nation of Israel? What about the seven-year tribulation? What about the millennium?” You know, praise God, our statement of faith was written in the 1830s, so Christians hadn’t thought of all that stuff yet. They were just about to get divisive about that in the late nineteenth century, but our statement of faith is so old we only have this really clearly biblical stuff about the return of Christ. And then we can disagree—we can argue with each other—as best we see implications of these other precious truths.
So every Christian in the church should believe a lot more than what’s in your statement of faith, but what you’re trying to define in your statement of faith is “What do we need to have agreement upon in order to be a church together?” And I think we need to know that Jesus is coming back and that he told his disciples that he could be coming back at any time, so they need to be ready. Beyond that, well, you and I can argue about it. We can [dis]agree. We can read and write books.