Non-Confessional Movement

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)

Some people don’t like doctrinal statements, viewing them as a tool of oppression and exclusion. They would much rather be “non-confessional.” (Meaning: doctrinal agreement is optional, as long as people play nice). 

Unfortunately, non-confessional movements usually end up looking like the picture above. 

What makes a doctrinal statement useful is its objectivity. It serves as an impartial standard, a measuring stick, a plumb-line by which all parties can evaluate their own doctrinal health.

There have been times, historically, when churches and movements have changed their minds and/or gradually wandered away from their core beliefs. The Old Testament also candidly records where God’s chosen people did the same thing—but it should be noted that the message of the prophets was to “turn back,” and in church history, terms like revival and renewal were linked to people “returning” to a faith they’d abandoned or allowed to atrophy. 

Throughout church history, statements like the Apostles' Creed, and the Nicene Creed (among others), have served in similar ways, providing a much-needed litmus test so that movements could obey the Scriptural admonition to safeguard the church from doctrinal “alternative facts.”

For example, St. Paul’s warnings and instructions:

  • “I know that after I leave [Ephesus], savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:29–30).”

  • “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer (1 Timothy 1:3).”

  • “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).” 

A Statement of Faith is vital for straining out doctrinal error, and the New Testament is replete with admonitions to be on guard against false teachings. Paul was not the only one to sound the alarm. Similar warnings were voiced by John (1 John 4:1), Peter (2 Peter 2:1-3), and Jesus Himself (Matthew 24:10-11).

When a movement eschews a statement of faith, preferring instead to be non-confessional, they create an ethos where no teaching can be objectively evaluated, and where alternative (doctrinal) facts cannot be challenged.

However, something far more insidious results from a non-confessional approach, which inspired my choice of picture at the top of this post:

A non-confessional movement will always be controlled by the biggest bullies. It is inherently power-based and political in nature.

Without an objective standard, the direction of such a movement will rest in the hands of those with the most political power.

  1. Appeals to Scripture or the history of Christian orthodoxy will fall on deaf ears. Alternative (doctrinal) facts can flourish freely.
  2. Anyone with a confessional approach can then be effectively ridiculed and silenced, usually by caricatures, shout-downs, and zinger-ology.
  3. Doctrinal questions and debates are settled by whomever can generate the loudest echo chamber, bolstered by “likes” and retweets.

No, thanks. I’ll take the confessional antidote Paul gave to Timothy:

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:1–2).”

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