Part of my ordination required me to agree to a number of statements. Some of my more ‘independently’ orientated friends had me on about these afterwards! One point of contention was me agreeing to this statement:
Do you hold to the doctrines of the faith as this Church understands them?
The suggestion was that I was agreeing to believe the doctrines of the church solely because they were the doctrines of the church. If this were the case then it might be problematic. Exegesis, of course, comes to our rescue.
First, exegesis of the liturgy. The statement quoted above was the second I agreed to. The first was this:
Do you believe that the Bible contains all that is essential for our salvation, and reveals God’s living word in Jesus Christ?
The doctrines of the Church are grounded in the Bible. The ‘the faith’ of the second statement refers to that which is found in the Scriptures upheld in the first statement. ‘The faith’ could be epexegetically translated as ‘the faith revealed in the Scriptures’.
Second, exegesis of the Scriptures themselves. In 2 Timothy Paul urges Timothy to identify and equip men to carry on the work of gospel proclamation. In 2 Timothy 2:2 Timothy is urged to entrust ‘the things you have heard me say’ to reliable men. There is meant to be a progression of teaching throughout time in the church (for part of what these 'reliable men' is to do is pass on to other reliable men that which was passed on to them). And this teaching is described a few verses earlier as conforming to the pattern of u`giaino,ntwn lo,gwn – sound words, or correct, or well grounded words. u`giai,nw is used 8 times in the pastorals and every time it refers to sound teaching, sound faith, or sound words – that is, sound doctrine. Sound doctrine, grounded in scripture, is to be held, believed, and passed on by the church (those reliable men). I think that the 39 Articles are a good articulation of u`giaino,ntwn lo,gwn – maybe not as good as the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, but then, on this side of glory, we live in an imperfect world!