The UCCF Doctrinal Basis
UCCF have not exactly been in my good books recently. It all started out with the whole shenanigans about Word Alive splitting from Spring Harvest (Dave Walker of the Cartoon Church blogged about it at the time. If you look at the relevant posts that should give you an idea of what went on. Start with the blog post “Word Alive is no more”). Anyway, it seemed that the split was seen rather differently by UCCF and Spring Harvest: UCCF claimed that the whole issue was about Steve Chalke / penal substitutionary atonement, whereas Spring Harvest claimed that it was about a whole lot more than that. I’m over-simplifying it a bit, but that’s the gist. Read the linked blog posts for some relevant quotes and what have you.
Then, a few years ago I heard via some friends of what was going on at Essex Christian Union. It seemed that what happened there was that the leadership had been away on a UCCF weekend, come back with the idea that “evangelism is the most important thing for a CU” and then proceeded to ignore pretty much everything else (everything except evangelism, that is. So socialising etc. weren’t really done very much). Again, simplification, but that’s how it seemed. Now, the CU leadership circumstances at the time might have caused this problem, but I don’t think UCCF really helped matters. But I won’t make too much of that because I wasn’t involved.
Anyway, the other day I was reading something about the inerrancy of the Bible in a doctrinal basis. This reminded me of the UCCF doctrinal basis, which is something I had to sign when I joined the CU committee. This is the relevant point (taken directly from the website): “c. The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.”
Back in the day, I signed up to the doctrinal basis without really thinking about it. I didn’t have a problem with any of the statements. But now I do. Why’s that?
Well, for comparison check out the 39 articles (which is the closest thing the Anglican church has to a Doctrinal Basis):
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. (source)
(I’ve been reading a book on the Anglican Church and I think I’m pretty much ‘converted’… but I digress). Also, check out the Evangelical Alliance basis of faith: “The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God—fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.”
The Baptist Union of Great Britain has a similar statement to the 39 articles and the Evangelical Alliance. Do you see the difference? The UCCF doctrinal basis is the only one to mention (1) the Bible as originally given, and (2) that the Bible is infallible. I disagree on both points.
The first one makes it sound like the Bible basically fell out of the sky, complete. The Bible wasn’t written as a complete unit, dictated by God! It was written by man, recording God’s actions in history. Which leads on to the second point – infallibility: this seems to be tantamount to saying that it’s inerrant, that it doesn’t have any errors in it. To my mind that is patently false – we know there are a few of various magnitude. Not really important ones, but nonetheless claiming that the Bible is ‘infallible’ is unhelpful and actually a misuse of the English language. I also think that this is actually far more than the Bible claims for itself (despite what some people will tell you, the well known passage in 2 Timothy does not claim that every single word is literally true).
I can wholeheartedly agree with the 39 Articles, the Evangelical Alliance and so on, but I just can’t agree 100% with UCCF. (This might prove to be an issue if I ever get asked to speak at a CU meeting, but let’s save that for the moment). In fact, it seems to me that this doctrinal basis was written to be exclusive rather than inclusive.
And this goes to the heart of why I disagree with UCCF: they seem to base what they believe and do around quite a narrow definition of what it is to be a Christian. That is to say, they define a Christian – and what it means to be a Christian, as well as a CU – that people and organisations that are legimately Christian would not be able to be affiliated with them.
This is particularly galling to me having been studying Ephesians for the past few months. What is the major theme of Ephesians? The unity of the body of Christ. Why introduce things like this into the doctrinal basis which are badly worded which some people won’t be able to sign for legitimate reasons?
Edit: Well, after having read through this, I realised that in my rush to write this I’d left out something important. I don’t want to come down too hard on UCCF because they do do good work. The UCCF worker we had at uni was very good, and he helped us a lot in various ways and helped to unite the CU. A good friend has also just told us tonight that she is going to be working for UCCF in London, and obviously that’s a good thing – I’m sure she’ll do a great job and be really helpful to all the CUs she’s involved with.
I think my issues with the organisation do in no way prevent them from doing good work, or God’s will. I wanted to make that clear because otherwise I was pretty harsh… also, I’m probably wrong. I expect there’s probably a good reason to have what they have in their doctrinal basis. Although I don’t know what that is… but there you go.
But I never let the truth get in the way of a good rant, so I’ll leave it as it is for now :p