Tag: Theology

What Should Members/Partners Believe to "Join" the Church?

What should our partners be required to believe in order to become a vital part of our community? This is an important question we are working through at Austin City Life. As pastors we are to watch the doctrine and conduct of our own lives and our churches closely. Developing doctrinal essentials is one way to effectively guard the flock from destructive theological influences. We have not “arrived” in working this out; in fact, we have only just begun. I expect to post on this topic quite a bit over the next year.

Essentials and Non-Essentials

We affirm primary points of doctrine that are essential for partnership with Austin City Life. We believe that the church should be unified in the historic essentials of the Christian faith and flexible on secondary matters. We strive to embrace and embody the saying by Puritan Rupert Meldenzie (commonly attributed to Richard Baxer): In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.

But how does this really play out? Ask us in five years. For now, essentials are required for partnership that line up with the Apostles Creed and a basic Evangelical Statement of Faith. I have written some on the Apostles Creed here. Regarding secondary points, doctrinal adherence in certain non-essentials is required for leadership (Elder, Deacon, or Ministry Leader). We articulate these through our distinctive ecclesiology: Reformed in Doctrine, Baptist in Sacrament, and Missional in Nature. In the vein of Acts 29, we are first Christians, second Evangelicals, third Missional, fourth Reformed, and fifth baptistic (our addition). So while we have a wide theological door at the front of the church, it narrows with level of commitment and leadership responsibility toward the back of the church. Leaders are held to higher theological and personal standards.

The Four Self Church

We are cultivating a Four-Self Church, a concept that was tweaked by Paul Hiebert in his Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (probably the most influential missiology text I have ever read). Most church planters are aware of the Three-Self Church; Hiebert adds a fourth—self-governing, self-sustaining, self-propagating, and self-theologizing community. We are trying to strike the delicate balance between teaching theology and cultivating theologians, between downloading Wayne Grudem and discipling Christians who address the unique theological issues in our Keep Austin Weird culture.

Theological Unity & Diversity

Thus, we are trying to intentionally culitvate a community that theologizes, that addresses personal, ethical, social, and cultural issues from personal and communal theological reflection on Scripture. Of course, regular training in hermeneutics, ethics, and culture are be necessary. In the Spring, we will be offering a soon-to-be-staple course called Interpreting Scripture and Culture which equips the church to self-theologize with integrity. Ultimately, we shepherd from a position of Reformed in Doctrine, Baptist in Sacrament, and Missional in Nature, while also agreeing to promote charitable differences within our community on non-essential points of doctrine. We encourage rigorous, winsome, biblical and theological reflection and conversation.

Macarthur on Contextualization

This is almost funny…check out John Macarthur’s castigation of contextualization and the discussion at Boars Head Tavern. An excerpt from Macarthur:

The apostles went out with an absolute disdain for contextualization. The modern drive for cultural contextualization is a curse, because people are wasting their time trying to figure out clever ways to draw in the elect. Contextualization is zip-code ministry. The message of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is transcendent. It goes beyond its immediate culture or sub-culture. It crosses the world, and ignores the nuances of culture. It never descends to clothing or musical style, as if that had anything to do with the message of the Gospel.


Macarthur is out of his league here. Some his statements are just naive. He clearly hasnt understood the difference between contextualization and syncretism, but whats more is that he has neglected the ultimate paradigm of contextualizationthe Incarnation. An excerpt from my article on Missional Discipleship:

When the Father sent the Son, Jesus left the glory of his trinitarian abode and became a helpless infant in the care of humans he created. This required an accommodating humility. Jesus grew up and became a first century, toga-wearing, sandal-sporting, temple-frequenting Jew. He accommodated first century Jewish culture (also known as contextualization). So, within reason we should take on the trappings of our culture in order to contextually relate the gospel. This can entail wearing broken-in jeans, togas, hand-made sandals or a suit and tie.

Everyone is contextualized; all truth is expressed in cultural forms. The Bible is contextualizedHittite treaties, Greek epistles, vice and virtue lists, sea storiesMacarthur is contextualized

However, contextualization is not purely cultural; it is missional. It leads us to immerse ourselves into the humanity of our neighborhoods and cities in order relate the gospel to people and their needs. Being a local missionary requires more than relevant attire; it demands humility of heart to listen to the stories of others, to empathize with their frustration, suffering, and brokenness and to redemptively retell their stories through the gospel. To be sent by God is to follow the example of the incarnation, to redemptively engage others with a humble heart and cultural accommodation.