By David Mappes
Growing up in the Midwest I often heard, “Son, don’t move the fence unless you know why it’s there.” More often than not, this referred to not changing a family tradition or religious value. In some cases, however, it literally referred to a fence. On more than one occasion, someone cut down a fence only later to discover animals leaving their fertile grazing pasture.
Local churches and parachurch organizations need quality doctrinal fences to help keep them within orthodoxy, as well as to maintain their historical doctrinal distinctives. A doctrinal statement is one of several organizational ministry tools used to identify and preserve core values.
Any statement should protect Christian orthodoxy, preserve church distinctives, provide objective doctrinal boundaries and criteria for each member, and in some cases protect the church against legal issues. A faith statement should not be used as a whipping stick to limit theological study or eliminate serious questions. Nor should doctrinal statements be used to adjudicate personal conflicts. This article gives an overview of how to prioritize, review, maintain, and revise doctrinal statements.