I have been sent a thing by the Christian Union asking me if I want my 'church' to be advertised to next years freshers by them. Unlike previous years, this year the CU are asking all churches (and it seems also the chaplaincy) if they would sign a piece of paper to say they agree with everything the CU believes. This is known in the trade as the 'Doctrinal Basis'
As I flick through it though I have a problem:
It doesn't say anything.
There is stuff there like “There is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” and “The one holy universal church is the Body of Christ, to which all true believers belong.” which is just stuff that every Christian believes.
Sometimes it is very badly phrased so that it is actually difficult to ascertain quite a lot of the time what it is claiming to believe. Sometimes the tone is spectacularly unhelpful such as:
“The Lord Jesus Christ will return in person, to judge everyone, to execute God's just condemnation on those who have not repented and to receive the redeemed to eternal glory.”
The idea of a last judgement goes back to Jesus himself who talked about sheep and goats but while nearly every Christian affirms the idea of a last judgement most of us like to be quite vague about who is in and out because it is not nice to condemn people and also Jesus told us not to judge other people. This line just seems to gloat a bit.
However the bit that everyone has a problem with is this:
“The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God”
What does that mean?
Does it mean every single word is true? Does it mean for example that evolution did not happen during the six day creation? That interpretation is exactly what most people understand by Biblical infallibility, but I'm far from sure that creationalism is the official doctrine of UCCF.
Does it therefore mean that doctrinally the Bible is sound but that certain sections such as Genesis 1-3 are not meant to be taken literally? I think is quite mainstream albeit at the protestant end of the spectrum, but the Doctrinal Basis doesn't say. To be honest if UCCF are not saying “there was a literal Adam and a literal Eve and they lived 6,000 years ago and used to hang out with dinosaurs” then they are stretching the English language a bit.
When Catholics use the word infallible (with reference to the Bishop of Rome) they are very clear to establish exactly what they mean and when and how said Bishop is infallible. The basic problem here is that the Doctrinal Basis is so short it does not have space to clarify things. So we are left with a statement which ends up being vacuous since the reader essentially has to decide for him or herself what it means. Therefore my contention that UCCF doesn't “officially” believe anything apart from basic mainstream Christian theology.
So if the Doctrinal Basis is so vague why is it so important?
I think that it does not serve to state what UCCF or anyone in the organisation actually believes but rather by chucking in a few well chosen words it serves to exclude people. So the word infallible is important as it scares off the liberals. Most liberals aren't creationists so they refuse to sign.
I'm sure that if anyone from UCCF read this (which of course they wont) they would think an attack on their DB for being vacuous and woolly was a bit left field but this does give me a slight ethical dilemma. This rather lengthy post is a preamble to that...which I shall share with you next.