Essential and non-essential

3/17/08 Open to interpretation?

I probably shouldn’t be so judgmental but I was browsing a church’s website which says some things that concern me in as much as it shows the state of apostasy. They say they are open to everyone, which is fine. However, they don’t seem to have much of a solid core of beliefs besides a general sort of trinity and loving others. Their beliefs statement fits on half a page with just 3 paragraphs. In fact they contradict themselves if you read on. They say the

“Bible is completely true and teaches about God, ourselves, and how life is to be lived. We are firmly committed to the core of Christian faith as clearly revealed in the Bible. At the same time, we celebrate an atmosphere of freedom in respect to matters of interpretation and practice within Biblical guidelines. As a result, Christians from a variety of church backgrounds and individuals new to the Christian faith are to be found in Covenant Churches. We sense rightness in being a church that is based in the essentials of the Christian life, not the non-essentials.”

I wonder, who decides what are the essentials and non-essentials? They give no guide as to what method should be used to judge this. Is it just what feels right? Is it just what fits in with your lifestyle? How does this affect other Biblical aspects? What about the non-essentials? Why are they non-essential if the Bible is completely true in teaching how life is to be lived? How can they have a deeper understanding of their relationship with God and Jesus if they don’t agree upon what specifically is essential and non-essential as a group?

I’m not saying I agree with all churches’ belief statements, but at least they are usually more specific. This church (as inferred from the brief belief statement) seems to be ala carte, humanistic Christianity with little direction or real focus. There isn’t even one scripture verse or phrase included! I interpret their belief statement as: I’ll do my essentials and you do yours and as long as we agree upon these general, vague ideas about Christianity we can be a church.

This brief, vague sort of beliefs seems to be more prevalent in the world today. Some churches may have long, detailed belief statements, but in practice they are no longer following their statements. I would think it best to periodically review their belief statement and revise it to better show what they do in practice rather than just in theory or revise their practice to match their statements. There should have a set time frame (perhaps every 5 years) when they review how well their practice matches up to their belief statement so they don’t drift away from the basic tenants they were founded upon. If they have changed, the changes should be reviewed for the basis of the change and reflected in an updated belief statement or align current practice to the original beliefs as needed.

It is important for members and attendees (depending upon how membership is defined) to know and understand what are the basic beliefs of their chosen church and the scriptural foundation for them. Some require a class to familiarize applicants in more detail before membership. That is fine but what about casual, regular attendees? They need to understand what basic doctrine the church believes as well. Unfortunately, this isn’t always apparent from the sermons, hence the need for the class. A church’s beliefs should be transparent and apparent from the sermons and other church activities, as well as the daily lives of the congregation. They should be fairly specific rather than vague and totally open to individual interpretation.

Christian congregations are traditionally defined as a group of like-minded believers coming together. How can you have a congregation if you can’t agree specifically upon what is essential and non-essential but leave it open to individual interpretation? But then again, that would be exclusive and our society frowns upon such things. (Don’t even get me started about Bible revisions and versions in churches) Hmmm.

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