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Without doctrinal clarity movements become bad institutions...

One of Mark Driscoll's penetrating observations of Newfrontiers is that as a movement it needs to nail it's doctrine. He observed that when something is small it can get away with verbal communication and unwritten assuptions of what the doctrine of the movement is, but that if it's to grow beyond 'the founder and his friends and family' then these things have to be written down. This danger lurks for newfrontiers a movement devoted to honouring Terry Virgo and those gathered around him - for the movement to really honour him it needs to grow well beyond those relationships and out live him.

Driscoll notes rightly identifies a suspicion in newfrontiers that if you write things down you become an institution - (I'm guessing grounded in the old Baptist roots of some of the founders?). Driscoll however says that if you don't write down tightly your doctrine it's not that you avoid becoming an instution, it's just that you become a bad institution. To stay as a movement and to grow doctrine has to be nailed down.

Personally, I think this is part of what has sustained UCCF for 80 years, that we've established from the outset our core doctrine. Since UCCF isn't doing church planting but rather acting as a partnership of churches it doesn't need to pin down any more than this core statement, and the theological foundations of its methodology (like CU & Church). Where Acts 29, SGM and Newfrontiers are Reformed-Charismatic, UCCF limits it's defining at Evangelical which is a wider subset into which Reformed-Charismatic sits, along with non-Reformed-Charismatics, non-Reformed-Cessationists, Reformed-Cessationists... and many more who wouldn't particularly define themselves by either of those distinctives.

Newfrontiers has begun the writing down with a responsive paper from John Hosier Mick Taylor on the atonement but clarity on doctrines of church, atonement, Bible, The Holy Spirit will be necessary.

Acts 29 has clearly done work on it's doctrinal position. It's doctrinal basis sits comfortably with the UCCF statement. Interestingly in addition to positively defining themselves they also give a negative definition of what they're not. Always necessary theologically to state the case both ways. The other Reformed Charismatic church planting movement Sovereign Grace Ministries also lays out its doctrine in more detail.

I'm keen to see where we in newfrontiers go with this particular challenge from Mark Driscoll. I'm excited to be joining the family at a time when this live issue has the opportunity to be hammered out. It's a weakness I've observed but I hope it can be addressed so that the doctrinal foundations of this movement can be set down deeply which will free it to grow beyond the founder and his friend to 1000 churches and beyond.


  1. This is a very interesting point and i think helpful. But we shouldn't forget the flip side - while doctrinal statements are (i think) essential, we mustn't ever rely on them to do our work for us. What matters next, once you have your statement, is to appoint leaders that keep to it (or rather that are prepared to amend it within the limits of authority set out by that statement - eg the Bible), rather than constantly revise or ignore it - which is what has happened in the Church of England. After all, Cranmer's intentions were similar...
    UCCF has remained what it is because of a determination of successive leaders to hold to the DB.

  2. Mark,

    That's very true. Statements are useless if not held centrally. The CofE is a warning to all of us in this area.

    The apparent ignorance of doctrinal statements is part of what puts some of having them in the first place.

    The much ignored Anglican doctrine is probably one of the only things that makes it salvagable... a fresh movement can rise there from the ashes of the institutions and museums that much of it is. Interestingly Driscoll whilst warning Newfrontiers, and chiding the Church of England didn't rule out the possibility of Anglican recovery.

    Jesus will build his church wherever people will hold to the gospel.

  3. You do seem to get a lot of charities certainly, that have slipped far far away from their original beliefs and actions. I guess part of it is that no-one thought to define their doctrinal statement and so when someone goes "hey, isn't helping improve social conditions the first thing we need to do... just as important as... the most important thing... the only thing we do" they can't turn around and go "actually, no".

  4. I think we need to strike a balance between doctrinal statements and getting the "founding fathers" if you like to map out what they believe and share their experiences.

    My experience of a Vineyard Church I was a member of is that no matter how many times they mentioend the "Vineyard Values" they were not heading in the same direction that Wimber had been.

    My experience of the UCCF is that a doctrinal statement of evangelical unity did nothing for me, or any of my charismatic friends, from being on the receiving end of some fairly harsh criticism, and in some cases bullying and being ostracised from the "joint witness". I can only speak from my own experience - but knowing people from my old church youth club who went away to 5 different universities at the same time, we all hit the same issue time and again. A doctrinal statement did nothing to protect us from being treated like second class citizens.

    So I would agree 100% that future leadership is as important as any written code. Things changed while I was at university until the CU reflected a much wider body of believers. I was "safe" in my own CU then, it was only when I went to the UCCF forum or biblical evangelism conference that I got a hard time off people from other places.

    I would be interested to know in a clearer way what the "non-negotiables" are for a newfrontiers Church.

    I think most things can be the EA statement, adding in a few specifics about the holy spirit and believer's baptism.

    It is in the ecclesiology where things pan out a bit more - complimentarianism, local elders, ephesians 4 ministries, spiritual gifts in worship etc and again some clarity is needed.

  5. David, I can only say I'm sorry for the abuse you received. If it's any encouragement, the climate has changed as charismatic theology has become more understood and accepted. The irony is is that I suspect both sides back then felt like the other made them second class citizens... we have to learn from this. Hence my recent posts about the importance of love in unity.

    I guess one of the issues for us in newfrontiers is that there isn't a clarity as to what the non-negotiables are. I suspect the ones you identify are right, but is anyone really sure...

  6. Mark W, you have some cool resources at City. Deep appreciation church history is vital for the future... less we repeat mistakes or just fail to realise our presuppositions.

  7. The greatest positive of a really messy situation regarding Steve Chalke and the atonement debate has been just how much evangelicals have now found they have in common. Terry Virgo speaking at Word Alive? That speaks volumes to me!!!

    What I don't want to happen is that newfrontiers becomes cast as the people who are the same as other charismatics except we "don't like women" which is what I have heard from those outside the movement.

    I think the nature of our reformed background is far deeper and wider than a view about gender roles.

    The anglicans are a bit stuck because they are debating the evangelical / liberal thing through the issue of homosexuality and it makes it look like a single issue discussion when actually it is a symptom and not a cause of the disagreement, if you see what I mean.

    But I can see why newfrontiers has backed off from being too dogmatic in writing it's own statement of faith as it were - because quite simply it has been shaped and changed over the years. Where would "remember the poor" have come 15 years ago?

    One thing I think they could really do with is many more guidelines and processes for some of the administration. Pooling ideas and resources for the fianncial, legal and organisation back office in churches. It feels like many of us are re-inventing the wheel time and againw hen we run regional camps or plant churches. Having a centralised systematic process we can pick up and use would save thousands of man hours a year - and is a good exmaple of where trying to avoid being a denomination just makes us really very inefficient.

  8. Systems, structures and statements... we need them as we grow. It's fine to not start out clear on everything (who does?)... but as we move to a second generation and beyond we'll need them, and like you say we'll waste lots of resources, money, time and opportunities if we don't.

  9. Just to respond quickly to BLUE, do you actually think we chose to debate over homosexuality!? No, I'm sure you don't! That's the last thing we want - but i can almost guarantee that it is one of the presenting issues in ANY denomination which has liberal elements - because it is where the liberalising influences in western culture are fighting their corner most assiduously.

    In some ways, what's happening to us in the CofE is merely a horribly exposed version of a debate that is happening all through western churches. There is absolutely no room for complacency here - not that I thought you had any!

  10. I am really sorry for not making the point clearer.

    I think it is a tragic shame that evangelicals standing firm within the anglican church are being type-cast as one issue campaigners when actually they are standing firm on their belief in, and approach to scripture - it is just the media and church politics that has made it about one issue at this time.

    It brings great sadness that brothers and sisters of mine are written off for being "anti-gay" when actually I honour them for being "pro bible".

  11. David, "Terry Virgo speaking at Word Alive? That speaks volumes to me!!!" You should have heard him at Forum 2005. Outstanding, 2009 will be one to look forward to. Maybe that wouldn't have happened a decade earlier... ability to change is good, and it seems to me that UCCF is now more true to it's vision/values/doctrine than it was.

    Having just checked some more of your blog I realise that you were at Uni the same time I was. I never hit the same negative stuff as you did when I went to regional or national stuff (though I never went to Biblical Evangelism) - and I was a paid-up member of a Toronto-blessing Church. We had plenty of local tensions in our CU though - with almost half the CU at my church, and same proportion at a conservative baptist church. Thankfully we learned to get along, mostly...

  12. Like all these things different people will have different experiences of the same people.

    I look at some comments or statements made about people in newfrontiers churches and I just can't believe my ears at times! It sounds just so far from what I know.

    I think the start of, and development of Fusion was a big wake up call for the christian union movement. It felt like a watershed moment for charismatics within the student witness as others started to realise they needed to "use them or lose them". I have never been a member of a Fusion group, but rather served on the exec of my CU and led a small group. BUT - I saw and heard the ripples, in fact the tidal waves that came from things being said on both sides of the equation. It was a grim time for unity.

    I do think that things like the Alpha Course, Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest etc have helped to make the charismatic position a little more socially acceptable.

    For me the great sadness is that I genuinely know of people who no longer attend any church at all, because they have been so put off by the bickering between christians on campus. What a tragedy that is.

    Sorry this has gone way off topic now.

  13. We have to realise the disaster of bickering... really tragic.

    Off-topic, well yeh. You start a post about doctrine and newfrontiers and it ends up all about Anglicans and CUs... c'est la vie. This is blogging!

  14. I suspect i should take the rap for bringing up Anglicans. Many apologies!

  15. and I seemed to just waffle on about everything...

  16. I think the recent changes made to the Evangelical Free Churches of America's Doctrinal Statement are encouraging (see here and here). It is an example of how a "denomination" can adapt their statement to face new challenges without abandoning original core beliefs.
    How could Newfrontiers revise or expand on its core beliefs? If EFCA wants, it can tighten or loosen its requirements, e.g. it could make pre-millennialism a non-essential (but didn't this time). How could Newfrontiers make believers baptism a non-essential?

  17. Standard issue EA evangelicalism is taken as the foundation.

    Believer's baptism is definitely a deal breaker for newfrotniers.

    So would be baptism in the holy spirit.

    So would complimentarianism leading to male eldership.

    So would some level of statement on the "sovereignty of God" but that's a tough one to call because there are not many 5 point calvinists about.

    Non essentials of belief would involve stuff like eschatological timeframes and creation (7 day, old earth, theistic evolution) etc.

  18. I'm cautious of being too 'tight' in defining what we do and how we do it. Church plants vary enormously, and there must be some room for theological discussion. For example I am Arminian in theology but happy in a generally Calvinist movement. I believe in substitutionary atonement but I see much truth in what NT Wright has to say. Too tight and it becomes controlling, too loose and it becomes anything and nothing. So I think that's a tough tightrope to walk

    PS Mick Taylor wrote the article you linked to on the Atonement not John Hosier.

  19. someone mentioned the importance and attitude of the leadership as the determining factor in how the statemnent of faith impacts/affects things.

    Richard Cunningham seems to have exemplified someone who's genuinely very open and good at bringing people together. A very famous charismatic leader and supporter of UCCF was concerned that the DB could easily be misunderstood and misused, yet was confident because of Richard.

    On the other hand, some people who've had problems with uccf criticise him, not the db or the "core values". Other times, again I'm not sure it's db itself but the people who carry it.

    just a thought. see you soon.chris

  20. Phil,

    Thanks for the author correction.
    The challenge is to not be too tight and not be too broad isn't it.

    I imagine to grow Newfrontiers might have to nail itself more formally on the Arminian/Calvinism issue - though I though Driscoll was perceptive in recognising that the norm in Newfrontiers is Calvinist but not exclusively so, and he gave some good nods to that as he spoke.

  21. I guess it depends on what it means if they 'nail' something. What must you believe and what do you have freedom with, those are huge questions which have great potential to divide. So wisdom is much required if they walk down that road. Of course Driscoll could be wrong - defining everything in a logical format wasn't on the early church agenda...

  22. "defining everything in a logical format wasn't on the early church agenda..."

    Though there clearly were common formulations of truth, and they could speak of "contending for the faith" and of elders being qualified (in part) by holding to and being able to teach sound doctrine...

    That might not be logically defining everything, but clearly some consensus...


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