Reasons to Hope for the Success of
The International Church Council Project
By Dr. Jay Grimstead
The members of the Church Council Steering Committee believe there is far more doctrinal unity within the Bible believing Body of Christ than most Christians can imagine. We believe that, to the surprise of the Church at large and the watching world, the participants in the proposed national and global Church Councils will arrive at a great amount of agreement on over half of the 24 issues up for debate.
One of our reasons for optimism over the potential for doctrinal unity has been our experience from 1977 to 1987 with the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI). When it looked like almost no one still believed in the historic, orthodox doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible, we formed an army of theologians and proved that, in fact, the vast majority of evangelical pastors, leaders and church members did indeed believe in inerrancy. But that fact was not known to be true until the inerrancy movement of the ICBI. At the beginning in 1977, most people could not believe that it would be possible to gain a broad consensus on the inerrancy of the Bible by the world’s leading theologians and Christian leaders. By God’s grace we did it.
The ICBI called together the Protestant theologians and leaders of the world and created The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) and The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982). Those events and statements and the momentum generated from them came to be called “the inerrancy movement,” which changed the theological landscape of that the time. The neo-orthodox and liberal professors and writers ensconced within evangelical colleges and seminaries had been coming “out of the theological closet” and proclaiming that the inerrancy of the Bible was only believed by those who were of an unenlightened, unscholarly, rigid and medieval mentality such as (they claimed) Francis Schaeffer and Harold Lindsell. They openly made fun of the classical, historical, mainstream view held by the Church for the first 1,900 years, a view proclaimed by Jesus and such heros as Paul, Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Spurgeon, Finney, Hodge and Warfield. As a result of the ridicule, many truly orthodox, Biblical professors and writers tended to keep quiet and “go into the closet” with their historical view of the inerrancy of the Bible.
The efforts of the neo-orthodox liberals were spent attempting to redefine what it is to be an evangelical Christian and they were rather successful in their subtle efforts. What the ICBI succeeded in doing was to change who was in the closet. From the time of the announcement of the Chicago Statement in October 1978 by 300 of the world’s leading theologians and Christian leaders, those neo-orthodox and liberal scholars within the evangelical colleges and seminaries shut their mouths and realized, to keep their jobs and some prestige within their denominations and various circles, they had better keep quiet about their neo-orthodox, Barthian view of Scripture. Many in fact began (deceptively?) announcing that they had believed in the inerrancy of the Bible all along but just wished to interpret it differently from Warfield and Francis Schaeffer. This was why we on the ICBI Executive Council decided we needed to create another statement on hermeneutics in 1982.
This was one theological battle our conservative scholars won in recent years. The systematic change of the Southern Baptist Convention from a neo-orthodox controlled (they euphemistically called themselves the “moderates”) denominational machinery to coming under the control of the inerrancy conservatives is one of the fruits. The 15-year game plan to recapture the Southern Baptist Convention by conservatives was developed during that first ICBI Congress in 1978 by the leading Southern Baptist conservatives.
Because those neo-orthodox scholars within evangelical circles never did really change to a true, historical, inerrancy view of the Bible, they are still there and recently they have been coming out of the closet again. This means the inerrancy battle must again be fought and won. Thus, because the inerrancy of the Bible is a foundational and watershed issue that has implications for all theological discussions, the Church Council Steering Committee has decided that all participants in the Council Steering Committee must be in agreement with the ICBI statements on inerrancy and hermeneutics. And to guard against cultists and those holding to classical heresy from being on the committee, we are also requiring agreement with the 42 Articles on Historic Christian Doctrine.
Dr. Francis Schaeffer, in his book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, makes this statement about the ICBI statements on inerrancy and hermeneutics:
Both statements are extremely valuable, in setting forth first, what it means to say that the Bible is without error, and second, how this applies to the understanding and interpretation of the Bible.”
Another reason for the optimism is the great success at doctrinal unity that was demonstrated by the broad acceptance of the 42 Articles on Historic Christian Doctrine that were created by the Coalition on Revival (COR). The 42 Articles have been enthusiastically accepted by a wide-range of theologians from many theological viewpoints and denominational backgrounds. Every theologian who has ever looked over these 42 Articles (and has given us their response) has been positively impressed with their precision, comprehensiveness and conciseness.
The 42 Articles document was an attempt to create a “generic statement of faith” for those who needed such a document. To create that document, our theologians boiled down 2,000 years of the Church’s theology from all different denominations and organized those statements in Affirmations and Denials in a topical outline but left unstated and untouched points of denominational distinction such as baptism and eschatology. We passed our first draft by all 112 members of COR’S Steering Committee, then after some editing, we sent the second draft to as many theologians of different denominations as we could and received their input. Our present version has received the input and approval of many theologians from every denomination we could reach. As a result, churches, colleges and organizations around the world have adopted the 42 Articles either “as is” for their own generic statement of faith or have used them as an initial outline to create their own statement of faith.
This all goes to say that, by our experience with COR’s 42 Articles on Historic Christian Doctrine, we have proved that there is a very large degree of doctrinal unity already within the Bible-believing Body of Christ. Even Catholic theologians have approved of the 42 Articles, although they find a bit of resistance with the point about justification by faith alone. Lutherans have loved it but wish we had been stronger on the sacraments. Yet they have understood that, because of what we were attempting to create, we could not do so. To our knowledge, no doctrinal statement in this century has been so comprehensive and yet has been so widely accepted by representatives of most of the denominations on earth. This has enabled us to proceed into the Church Council project with a great amount of optimism, confidence and a hope for a doctrinal unity at a worldwide level hitherto unimagined.
Though the Body of Christ on earth is vastly different organizationally and relationally from what it was in the first 1,000 years of its existence, and though we cannot recreate the setting or the situation of those first seven great Ecumenical Councils beginning with the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, yet, audacious as it may seem, we feel compelled by the theological confusion which exists to attempt a 1990’s version of those great Church Councils of the past.