A Voice Against the Statement of Faith: a conversation with Dr. John H. Roller
*Please note, these are excerpts from an informal email exchange between Dr. john H. Roller and Pastor Corey McLaughlin that have been edited and shared with permission in hopes of creating dialogue about the upcoming Triennial vote on the Statement of Faith. This statement is the same as that of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
[Corey McLaughlin] Dr. Roller, would you say that those who oppose the upcoming NAE vote rally around both of these core guidelines?
A. No creed but the Bible precludes accepting the NAE statement.
B. Accepting the NAE is a slippery slope that will lead to (eventually) breaking fellowship with those who do not agree with it, i.e. primarily non-Trinitarian factions.
[Dr. John H. Roller] I would say that almost everybody that I know who opposes adopting the proposed Statement of Faith would affirm BOTH of those statements.
[Corey] IF this the NAE statement is rejected, it would send shock waves at least through the Eastern Region and probably be interpreted by many as though the denomination is saying, "Whatever we are, this NAE statement is NOT it!"
[Dr. Roller] I’m saddened to hear that anybody would interpret it that way. It SHOULD be interpreted as, “The AC denomination tolerates diversity on Theological issues and is NOT prepared to take ‘stands’ that would exclude people who have been Advent Christians for generations from being considered as ‘real’ Advent Christians in good and regular standing.”
[Corey] So perhaps a bit more nuance here. Either way the vote goes one could say the ACs value theological diversity isn't that so? If in favor then they still stand for diversity but within the boundaries of the NAE statement, if against it then they are clearly saying they value diversity outside of it.
[Dr. Roller] Only insofar as that “diversity” DOESN’T include positions that “affirm” anything that the Statement “denies” or “deny” anything that the statement “affirms” – yes, surely, one could say that the ACs “value theological diversity” on questions that aren’t covered in the Statement (such as charismatic gifts, or the role of women in ministry, or the “schedule” for the fulfillment of “end-time” prophecy, or even the final destiny of the unsaved); but one certainly couldn’t say that the ACs value theological diversity on the nature of God, could one?
[Corey] So, what you are saying is that a “no” vote does not mean the denomination as a whole rejects the Trinity per se, but that they accept the Trinity as well as other views too, thus seeking to affirm a broader theological pluralism.
[Dr. Roller] Exactly! (That’s why I’m voting “no”)
[Corey] I do wonder, what the boundary lines are in this kind of affirmation then? Does it not give carte blanche to any church within the denomination on pretty much any issue without even basic standards?
[Dr. Roller] Isn’t that what we already have? A “no” vote would merely be a vote to retain the status quo. I happen to *like* the status quo; it’s one of the things that drew me to affiliate with the denomination in the first place.
[Corey] Are those who are Trinitarians who stand against the NAE not saying by their actions that they value personal fellowship as a higher essential over against properly defining the nature of God? In this sense the issue is not really about valuing theological diversity (would we value diversity if we had a contingent of pro-gay churches I wonder? …clearly not as the most recent declaration indicates), but an emotional appeal to not losing, offending, or excluding those considered friends that is pushing the resistance.
[Dr. Roller] I’ll admit to saying that. I do not believe that “properly defining the nature of God” is a high-priority task for a denomination to take on. Maintaining the spiritual unity that Jesus demands of His followers is a much higher task.
[Corey] And are we not told to watch our “life and doctrine” closely (1 Tim. 4:16)?
[Dr. Roller] If you read the Bible carefully, as I have done, you will discover that it never uses the word “doctrine” to refer to points of belief about theology. It uses the word “doctrine” to refer to points of belief about moral standards. So biblical “doctrine” is all about MORAL STANDARDS, NOT THEOLOGY! I hope that I never live to see the day when there is “a contingent of pro-gay churches” in this denomination. I would vote with all my energy to exclude such abominations from our fellowship. But, IMHO, it’s “apples and oranges” to compare THAT scenario with the one that we are presently discussing. I would NOT want to see the AC denomination adopt the NAE Statement of Faith (in its present form) as its creed, precisely BECAUSE it would define as “essential” a doctrine that some of my best AC friends don’t subscribe to.
[Corey] To personalize that a bit, the feeling I have from myself and others is that if this is rejected, we will have to seriously pray about our future with the AC’s.
[Dr. Roller] So, I’m EXTREMELY sorry to hear that, but I am UNWILLING to support a motion that would say: “If this is accepted, several dozen of your friends will no longer feel welcome in the Advent Christian denomination and will leave because they don’t want to stay in a room where that fact has been publicly stated.” As I said before, if I had to choose, I would rather lose the fellowship of a group of hard-liners who believe that everyone must agree with their (and my) interpretation of the Bible than lose the fellowship of a handful of dedicated Advent Christians who have supported this denomination for generations despite every attempt that has been made in the past to drive them out (even if I happen to disagree with them on certain points).
[Corey] Do you think those in the non-creedal contingent have considered the possible fall out of rejecting this proposal outright for those that want to be identified formally as a Trinitarian denomination?
[Dr. Roller] Yes. From my point of view, there’s a BIG difference between people who would leave the denomination because the denomination was requiring them to assent to a Statement of Faith that their conscience forbids them to accept and a group of people who would leave the denomination because the denomination failed to require such an assent from its minority membership. The former are friends with whom I would sympathize; the latter are friends with whom I vigorously disagree about the “polity” of our denomination (even if, as is the case, I happen to agree with them about Theology).
[Corey] Just to clarify, non-Trins may certainly see the NAE as a statement against them personally, but is it not more to be taken as a statement of what ACs are FOR first and foremost? In this sense, the goal is not to require assent from its minority membership, but to state clearly where the vast, overwhelming majority stand and let the minority assent or dissent according to their conscience and respond accordingly as they see fit.
[Dr. Roller] Fair enough, IF that actually IS the goal. It seems logical to me to think that the “goal” is further down the road than that. What you have stated as the “goal” might be equivalent to “scoring a point” whereas I think the ACTUAL “goal” is to “win the game.” Again, do you see it otherwise?
[Corey] I do see it otherwise, and Steve Lawson has said as much as well (“It is not a litmus test…”). I have a desire for the denomination to align with a biblical view of the nature of God formally, but informally allowing non-Trinitarian churches to continue on, and those members in good standing to continue serving, without repercussions or penalty (a grandfather clause idea). In fact, I thought this was how the denomination was structured.
[Dr. Roller] It is.
[Corey] So, e.g. non-Trins could vote against the NAE, lose (let us say), and still continue to be part of us.
[Dr. Roller] They could, IF the motion to adopt the NAE Statement of Faith made it clear that we are NOT changing the structure of the denomination and the Statement will NOT be used to exclude non-Trinitarians who are already members of Advent Christian churches (many even holding ministerial credentials). And, that has indeed been “promised” in a “cover letter” that has been issued by the General Conference offices. But, does the “cover letter” have any “weight”? Without a SPECIFIC statement IN THE MOTION, how can we know that the Statement will NOT be used in such a manner? If there is no intention to use it that way, why would anyone object to making that clear by a specific statement in the motion? (Yet, I think that you’ll find that there would be a significant amount of opposition to doing that, coming from the hard-line Trinitarians)
[Corey] I don’t hear people calling for excommunicating non-Trin churches.
[Dr. Roller] Maybe you haven’t been listening to all of the same people that I have. I know at least one who, allegedly speaking for a group, was prepared to tell me that “we” are not only planning to “eliminate” Arianism from the denomination, but then Arminianism, and then women preachers, and then some other things (that wouldn’t be relevant to me anymore, since I’d have been eliminated in the anti-Arminian round and my wife would have been eliminated in the anti-women preachers round).
[Corey] Well, I certainly understand that, I do see Arianism as a blight and not one I would want to encourage, though as I said I’m in favor of some level of tolerance with very deeply and firmly held convictions about eliminating any present or future new growth or spread (e.g. church plants, or churches accepted into the denomination).
[Dr. Roller] I see this as a highly moot point. During my 39 years in the denomination, I’ve only heard of ONE new church attempting to join the denomination that didn’t affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, and its “application” was rejected by its local Conference without any input (positive or negative) from the General Conference. The non-Trinitarian Advent Christians aren’t doing any church planting these days, and they aren’t making new converts; they aren’t even doing much of a job of training new ministers. They are merely trying to “survive” as a recognizable “wing” of the denomination, and the only thing that they ask is that they not be required to subscribe to a Statement of Faith that contradicts what they believe. THEY are NOT a THREAT to the future health and growth of the denomination (if there is likely to be any). IMHO, it’s the hard-line Trinitarians who ARE. I’m sorry if saying that causes any offense. I don’t ask any hard-line Trinitarian to cease believing in the doctrine of the Trinity. I ask only that they switch to MY “team” by becoming soft-line Trinitarians!
[Corey] No offense at all, you define the “essentials” with a much broader brush stroke than I believe the Bible intends or allows and you are equally as “hard-line” in your view in that respect as I am in believing that biblical fidelity demands we have not only a statement of faith but an accurate one that sets good basic theological boundaries.
Thank you for your thoughts and help with this!
[Dr. Roller] You’re most welcome: and, again, please understand that I’m speaking mostly for myself (and, perhaps, for a few friends with whom I have discussed this issue); I’m certainly not speaking for any large “block” of delegates to the upcoming General Conference. I don’t really know what any others think, but I’ve told you what *I* think, as you asked me to.
*EDIT: Dr. Roller intended to say "anti-Arminian round" rather than what was first published as "anti-Arian round"