Dark Christianity
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May 2008
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Statements of Faith


[This was originally intended to be a reply to this post by [info]thornewilder, but I got interrupted halfway through writing it, and I realized it was of more general use, so I decided to make it a separate post.]

Many churches and other religious organizations put forward a "Statement of Beliefs" or similar document. Many of us are trying to figure out which churches and other religious organizations are Dominionist, which are scary but not Dominionist, and which can be either safely ignored or safely worked with. It would be very useful to know more about these Statements of Belief and what they do and don't tell us about the group we want to know more about. This post explores this issue, using the Statement of Beliefs of the Nazarene group linked to in an earlier post.

Before we get into the details, what is a Statement of Beliefs, why do these groups put them out?

As we all know, Christianity is far from monolithic, there are many sects, denominations and other splits within the broad umbrella called "Christianity". Most of these splits are on the basis of interpretation of dogma (eg. the Church of England split from the Catholic Church over the legitimacy of divorce and the leadership of the pope). It's really hard to remember all these denominations and exactly what they believe, so you know if the church you are looking at is made up of True Believers, Lost Sheep or Satan-Inspired Heretics.

That's where a Statement of Beliefs comes in, it's a church's way of advertising that they are, in fact, True Believers. Just seeing such a statement allows you to safely make two assumptions: the church believes there is one True answer, and the church believes that all members ought to believe the same things (although it does not mean that they all do believe the same). I'd assume these except in the rare cases where the statement explicitly says something to contradict these assumptions.

These two assumptions mean that I consider a Statement of Belief a Yellow Flag an indicator that it might be worthwhile to dig deeper into the church or organization to see what it's up to. There are many churches with statements that are not Dominionist, and there are some Dominionist churches without statements, but there is enough vague correlation so it's certainly more worthwhile than picking a church name at random in the churches section of the phone book.

Also a brief note on where the Statement comes from. This completely depends on how the church is run, but it often comes from the Church Elders, and not the Pastor (or whatever the church calls its ordained person who leads religious services), in fact it may predate the current Pastor (or even predate anyone living in the church today).

So to get back on track, a statement is an ad that these guys are True Believers. The way it advertises this is by stating that they have made the Right choice on each of the dogmatic splits that they care about. Very often, you can even map out these choices on a family tree of denominations, and see where this denomination fits in.

  1. We believe in one God-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.: This addresses several dogmatic splits. For one, they're clearly not atheists, not followers of a Pagan pantheon, or Buddhists or other people who don't believe in "one God". For another, they're not Jews waiting for the Messiah, since Jews just believe in the one God, not the Trinity. They're not Muslims, since Muslims don't believe in the trinity, they believe that Jesus was a prophet, and if I remember correctly, they believe the Holy Spirit to be an angel (Gabriel?), not God. Also, they're not Unitarians, Deists, Mormons or others who believe in Christ but not the Holy Trinity.

    Since they bothered pointing this out so forcefully, they're probably also trying to tell you that they don't consider any of those others to be Christian, even if they call themselves Christian.

  2. We believe that the Old and New Testament Scriptures, given by plenary inspiration, contain all truth necessary to faith and Christian living. They are traditional Protestants. This is the doctrine of sola scriptura that was part of the foundation of Protestantism that Martin Luther laid out. Catholics and Eastern Rite churches have never bothered with it, and some of the more modern and liberal Protestant denominations have discarded this doctrine. That's not them, they still follow sola scriptura like good Protestants.

  3. We believe that man is born with a fallen nature, and is, therefore, inclined to evil, and that continually This is just the doctrine of Original Sin. They are not part of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (Restorationists) of the early 19th century, they still believe in Original Sin as laid out by Augustine of Hippo.

  4. We believe that the finally impenitent are hopelessly and eternally lost. This is one I didn't expect to find. There are three principal Christian views of Hell and the unsaved masses. The Traditionalist view is the one most of us hear about, if you aren't saved, you are damned to Hell for an eternity of punishment. The Universalist view is there is no real Hell, everyone gets saved eventually, though the purification process to get there might be pretty hellish if you haven't lived a good life. Then there is the Annihilationist view, where the Saved go to heaven, and the Sinners go to either Hell or sleep until Judgement day, but when Judgement Day comes, all the sinners get tossed into oblivion, never to be seen again. This line labels them as Annihilationists.

    As you might expect, most Dominionist churches are Traditionalist. Most Universalist churches are pretty liberal (especially the Unitarian Universalist church, which is arguably no longer even Christian). Most Annihilationist churches are part of the Adventist movement, but the Adventist movement generally doesn't believe in creeds, so they're not likely to put out a Statement of Beliefs to begin with. The Nazarenes don't appear to be part of or offshoots of the Adventist movement. I'm going to have to shrug my shoulders at this one, I really don't know how it fits.

  5. We believe that the atonement through Jesus Christ is for the whole human race; and that whosoever repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ is justified and regenerated and saved from the dominion of sin. This is the doctrine of unlimited atonement, to distinguish from the limited atonement taught by the Calvinist movement, where only the elect are destined to be Saved. This is a more subtle point than it sounds, since the orthodox Calvinists also believe that only God truly knows who is elect, so they still can go around trying to save people's souls, trying to find the elect in the mass of sinners.

    As I'll discuss in more detail below, this appears to be them saying they are part of the Wesleyan revival movement.

  6. We believe that believers are to be sanctified wholly, subsequent to regeneration, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In more recognizable language, they don't believe Baptism is what saves your soul, it's something that needs to have happened before you are later saved. This is one of the defining beliefs of the Methodists, a church with this belief is probably Methodist, or an offshoot of the Methodists, or strongly inspired by the Methodists.

    Between this line and the previous, they appear to be identifying themselves as descended from the Wesleyan arm of the Methodist movement. The Methodist movement was a reaction to problems in the Church of England. The two main leaders were John Wesley and George Whitefield. Whitefield was a Calvinist and Wesley was an Arminian. Most American Methodists are from the Wesleyan side of things. Wesley himself never left the Church of England, so some followers of Wesley don't call themselves Methodist, but as an outsider I can't really see the difference between a Wesleyan Methodist Church and a Wesleyan Church.

  7. We believe that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the new birth, and also to the entire sanctification of believers. "New birth", like "regeneration" before is just another term for Baptism, especially adult Baptism (ie being "Born Again"). I suspect this is an allusion to the Nazarene-specific belief that, once you have been "entirely sanctified", once the Holy Spirit dwells fully inside you, a Christian actually can go without sin.

  8. We believe that our Lord will return, the dead will be raised, and the final judgment will take place. The doctrine of judgement day. This doesn't really add any new information, it's at the end of the list because it's about the end times.

So, first off, to address these items individually, do any of them scream "Dominionist"? No. Unless they write something along the lines of "We believe that God grants us the right to do as we will to the the earth, sea, skies, beasts and impenitent", you're probably going to only see beliefs listed that are held both by Dominionists and non-Dominionists. All of the beliefs above fall into this category. It's important, while fishing for Dominionists, not to cast your net too broadly, and mistakenly label people and groups who are not a problem, and might even help us.

So, looking instead at the whole list, the Nazarenes are an offshoot of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement. Does this make them Dominionist? No, but it places them square in the middle of where the Dominionists are actively working to expand their influence. The Salvation Army (another Methodist spin-off) has appeared entirely Dominionist for a long time, and I see many signs of increasing Dominionism within the Methodists (eg. George W. Bush belongs to a Methodist Church).

I'd say, chances are they aren't Dominionist (but don't expect sweetness and light out of them), but don't count 100% on that.

From a more general viewpoint, I hope I've better illustrated how these Statements can be used as part of an exploration of a group.

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