In this post, I want to concentrate, not on the need for doctrinal integrity in the abstract, but on the need for men of doctrinal integrity in the leadership of the Church. Doctrinal integrity is not a self-enforcing ideal. Men must hold to the standards of the church, understand them, love them, and defend them. In the next post we will be looking at the need for men with moral integrity, but as we shall shortly see, both forms of integrity directly concern the character of a man.
“Doctrinal integrity” sounds quite good. Who could be against that? But how is it to be measured? By what standard? There are three principles which must be brought to bear. The first is that of sola Scriptura. This is readily affirmed by evangelical Christians, and yet poorly understood. The principle itself does not tell us anything one way or the other about the soundness of a particular belief. As Samuel Miller put it, “They may require all who enter their communion to profess a belief in the Bible; nay, they may require this profession to be repeated every day, and yet may be corrupted and divided by every form of the grossest error.” Sola Scriptura provides us with the only ultimate and infallible court of appeal; it does not provide us with the particular decisions of that court for our situation. Those must be articulated by and in the Church (1 Tim. 3:15). This brings us to the second principle, which is the necessity of clearly articulated confession of faith. This is not done with any claim to infallibility. It is not done to make a statement or confession permanent, or to replace Scripture with it, but rather to make things clear. And third, a church should require of all her officers an honest subscription to this confession of faith. Not loose, not strict, but honest.
So this brings us to the difficulty, which is the problem of doctrinal myopia. Ideas have consequences. Ideas have destinations. There are big ideas and little ideas. There are west-bound, east-bound, and hide-bound ideas. It is the responsibility of the elders — in session together — to anticipate possible problems (having been informed by church history) and address them through faithful study of the Scriptures, with their confession of faith in view. Also the elders must, in session, respond to any new assaults on the integrity of the faith that were not addressed in their confession. As they do so, they must remember that sometimes a really important issue looks like a trivial issue (Gal. 2:11-14). The gospel was at stake in the seating arrangements of the potlucks of Antioch. And sometimes an issue has not been explicitly addressed by the historical Church — consider evolution, feminism, etc. Because of history’s story line, modern Reformed churches can capitulate to evolutionism and feminism and not contradict a word of the Westminster Confession. In such a situation, the elders of a church must be prepared to study afresh.
Having said all this, we have to consider the problem of doctrinal gnat-strangling. Scripture is clear about the one who elevates a minor issue into something it is not. This, in itself, presents an important problem, but the Bible also teaches us that something else occurs in the process. When little things become big, it is not long before big things become little. Fools and blind! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matt. 23:23; cf. Rom. 14:1).
All of this is a character issue. As Scripture makes clear, elders and deacons are required to be men of a certain doctrinal character. Elders have to hold to the faith, they have to be able to articulate it, and they have to be able to refute false teachers (Tit. 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:2 ; Tit. 1:9). Deacons must understand the faith, and hold to it faithfully (1 Tim. 3:9).
The following is therefore necessary: 1. Church officers must be diligent Christians — Bible readers, faithful in prayer, dutiful in the ways of Christ at home, etc. 2. Church officers must be Berean Christians — Acts 17:11. If the Word requires it, they must be prepared to change. But beware, prejudices are extraordinarily hard to identify — it is like trying to look at your own eyeballs. We need to use the mirror of Scripture on ourselves. Doctrinal conservatism is not the same thing as doctrinal integrity. And changing for the sake of change is not integrity either. 3. Church officers must be balanced Christians — they must not be a bubble off on anything, whether it is political activism, home-schooling, psalm-singing, health-food, whatever. The eldership and diaconate are no places for riding a hobby horse. 4. Church officers must not be in competition with one another — for whatever reason. The reasons may vary, but the standard in Scripture is clear. The Bible prohibits personal ambition of the aggressive variety (Matt. 20:21-21), and of the retiring and shy variety (Matt. 20:24). 5. Church officers must understand and agree on the basics — including secondary basics. Many pastoral problems commonly arise in areas where doctrinal disagreements exist — marriage, divorce, drinking, music, you name it.