John invites Terry Smith, vice president for U.S. Church Ministries, to share a progress report on the updating of our Alliance Statement of Faith.View Transcript
– [John Stumbo] Alliance family, as you know, we are in this multiple-year conversation on our Statement of Faith. The Board of Directors has just met, and we want to update you today in preparation for Council 2023. What we believe is core to who we are—as individuals and as a denomination. Our Statement of Faith is, obviously, the most succinct summary of our belief system. We have been working on this, and today we want to give you an update. Terry Smith will be doing so, our vice president of Church Ministries, who is the one who oversees all of our credentialing committees throughout the nation. So, it is my honor to introduce to you Terry Smith.
– [Terry Smith] Thanks, John, and midsummer greetings, Alliance family. Since Council, we’ve continued to talk about the proposed Statement of Faith changes. As you know, the Statement of Faith contains 11 individual statements of our various aspects of theology. Coming out of Council 2021, these 11 statements fall into one of three categories. In the first category, there were six statements, 1.1 through 1.4, 1.6, and 1.8, in which the proposed changes were approved by at least two-thirds of the delegates. These will now come back to Council 2023, without edits, for a vote of ratification. If they receive the required two-thirds affirmative vote, then they will officially become part of the Statement of Faith. We don’t have time in this particular venue to review these, but you’ll see them as Council documents become available. In the second category, there were two statements, 1.5 and 1.7, that were considered by Council 2021 but did not receive the required two-thirds affirmative vote. We’ve made some adjustments in these statements based on what we heard at Council, and we’ll be bringing them back in amended form. They will still require the two Council, two-thirds affirmative vote.
Regarding 1.5, the primary issue that delegates cited involved the word “originally”: “Man and woman were originally created in the image and likeness of God.” The concern was the possible implication that only Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and therefore, we’re now proposing to strike the word “originally.” Here’s how the current Statement 1.5 reads: “Man was originally created in the image and likeness of God. He fell through disobedience, incurring thereby both physical and spiritual death. All men are born with a sinful nature, are separated from the life of God, and can be saved only through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The portion of the impenitent and unbelieving is existence forever in conscious torment; and that of the believer, in everlasting joy and bliss.” You’ll remember that the judgment language at the end is being moved to a reworded 1.10 where other judgment language resides. To address delegates’ concerns about possibly passing 1.5 without the language and then not passing 1.10, we’ll actually consider 1.10 first at Council 2023. Always keep in mind that failure to pass an edited version of a statement moves us back to the current statement so that in any case, the Statement of Faith will not be without judgment language. The statement would then read: “Man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God, yet fell through disobedience, incurring both physical and spiritual death. Everyone is born with a sinful nature, is separated from the life of God, and can be saved only through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As to 1.7, our statement on sanctification, we’ve sought to further improve and clarify the language. Here’s what we proposed to Council 2021. “It is the will of God that through the indwelling Christ each believer be sanctified wholly, separated from sin, fully dedicated to God, and filled with the Holy Spirit, thereby receiving power for holy living and effective service. This is both a decisive point of complete surrender and a progressive experience through which Christ is formed in the life of the believer by the Spirit following conversion.” The Council 2023 proposal reads as follows: “It is the will of God that through the indwelling Christ each believer be sanctified wholly, being separated from sin, fully dedicated to God, and filled with the Holy Spirit, thereby receiving power for holy living and effective service. Positional sanctification accompanies conversion while experiential sanctification follows and is both a decisive point of complete surrender and a progressive experience through which Christ is formed in the life of the believer by the Spirit.” Note the differences. We’ve added the word “being” after “sanctified wholly” to seek to make clear that the phrases that follow are all aspects of sanctification. We’ve also added the important aspect of positional sanctification that happens concurrent with conversion, while noting that experiential sanctification follows conversion. The verbiage related to experiential sanctification following conversion has been relocated in the statement in a way that hopefully provides more clarity. In the third category, there are three statements, 1.9, 1.10, and 1.11, that we did not get to in 2021. These will be considered at Council 2023, a couple with some minor edits to what we proposed in 2021, and these would need to be ratified in 2025.
Current 1.9, our statement on the Church, reads: “The Church consists of all those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, are redeemed through His blood, and are born again of the Holy Spirit. Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church, which has been commissioned by Him to go into all the world as a witness, preaching the gospel to all nations.” It continues: “The local church is a body of believers who are joined together for the worship of God, for edification through the Word of God, for prayer, fellowship, the proclamation of the gospel, and observance of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” Here’s what was proposed at Council 2021: “The Church consists of all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” “believe in,” this time, “are redeemed through His blood, and are born again of the Holy Spirit. Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church, which has been commissioned by Him to go into all the world making disciples of all peoples. The local church is a loving body of believers in Christ who are joined together for the worship of God, edification through the Word of God, prayer, fellowship, the proclamation of the gospel through word and deed, and observance of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” Note the substantive changes: The proposed statement uses Matthew 28 language on “making disciples of all peoples,” consistent with the word “commissioned” that is already in the statement, as opposed to the Matthew 24 language of “preaching the gospel to all nations.” The word “loving” was added to help define the local church, and rather than just referring to the verbal proclamation of the gospel, we’re acknowledging that this happens through both word and deed. This expresses one of our three strategic priorities: that we must win the right to be heard by serving communities. Since Council, one of our international workers reached out and said that while the Church is intended to be a loving Body of believers, that is not always the case. And unfortunately, he’s correct. We’ve changed the wording in the proposal to, “The local church is a body of believers in Christ who are called to love.”
1.10, then, is our statement on judgment. Here’s the current statement: “There shall be a bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust; for the former, a resurrection unto life; for the latter, a resurrection unto judgment.” What we proposed to Council 2021 read: “There will be a bodily resurrection of all people. Our Lord Jesus Christ will judge with perfect justice as the unrepentant and unbelieving are raised to the conscious anguish of eternal separation from God, and repentant believers are raised to the unending joy of eternal life in the presence of God.” We’re only proposing one slight difference. There’s been some concern raised about the phrase, “eternal separation from God,” and we’ve now substituted the phrase, “eternal separation from the presence of God.” This phrase is primarily taken from 2 Thessalonians 1:9: “Shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.” Of course, Jesus uses language in relation to the eternal destiny of those who did not know Him, like, “Depart from me.” While it is true that God is omnipresent, and in some sense, those in hell will not have escaped His presence, what will be totally absent is the aspect of the presence of God that brings hope and extends the opportunity for relationship.
The final statement, 1.11, is our statement on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The statement currently reads: “The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is imminent and will be personal, visible, and premillennial. This is the believer’s blessed hope and is a vital truth, which is an incentive to holy living and faithful service.” Here’s what we proposed to Council 2021 and what we’re planning to propose in 2023 as well: “The Second Coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, is imminent and will be sudden, personal, and visible. This is the believer’s blessed hope and is a vital truth, which calls us to holy living, intentional witness, and faithful service.” We’ve added this declaration that Jesus Christ is our “Lord and King.” We’ve added the word “sudden,” and we’ve added “intentional witness” to strengthen the idea that Christ’s coming is part of our motivation for being missionally engaged. Honestly, we’ve continued to prayerfully wrestle with how to handle our millennial position. Should the word “premillennial” be excluded from the statement, or should we leave “premillennial” in but add an asterisk that says something like, “Fully qualified candidates for licensing as determined by the LO&CC may hold to an amillennial view as a matter of personal conviction while respecting the historic premillennial view of The Alliance?” We’d appreciate knowing which option you prefer. Keep a few things in mind. First, premillennialism will still be the historic and broadly-held position of The Alliance. Next, while Dr. A.B. Simpson was committed to the premillennial position, he allowed for people to be Alliance workers who were not convinced of this position, so long as they would respect the position. Additionally, remember that official workers still have to sign off on everything in our Statement of Faith. They still have to believe in the imminent return of Christ and that His return is a big part of our motivation for missions and evangelism. Can we allow those in who are not premillennial while still clinging to some of these important emphases that we see as the outgrowth of our premillennial view?
So, next in this process, we’d like to hear your voices again. We’re now opening a 60-day window for you to respond to these proposals, keeping in mind that we can’t change any of the wording of the statements we’ve already passed that await ratification, but 1.5, 1.7, 1.9, 1.10, 1.11 remain open for your input. You can use the link that you’re seeing on your screen between now and September 12th to submit your comments, and then we’ll pass on a summation of those to the Board of Directors in their October meeting, and eventually, their recommendations will come to you prior to Council 2023. We look forward to hearing from you, and we ask you to continue to pray for this vitally important process.