National Covenant Association of Churches
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Critical Beliefs

Critical Beliefs or Distinctives

Diversity is an inherent part of God’s creation.  Not all trees are alike, yet they are all trees.  Not all organs in the body are alike (and the diversity is necessary for life), but all are parts of the body and belong together.  Not all Christians are alike, nor should we be.  And that diversity extends to our beliefs.  There are beliefs that define Christianity (the Essentials and the Imperatives) but there are also things about which Christians may, and even should, disagree with one another.  We choose to call these “critical” or “distinctive” beliefs.  So what are they?

Obviously, an exhaustive list would be difficult and unnecessary.  In fact, what might be considered a critical belief to one person might be considered trivial to another.  Deciding what is critical is a definition that must be provided by the person holding the belief; it cannot be decided by someone else.  However, there are some larger categories that could be considered “critical” with regard to how congregations, and individuals, function together in any kind of cohesive unit.  Our hope is that if we can clearly define these beliefs for ourselves, it can lead to a connection that truly affirms our common ground as Christians (the Essentials and the Imperatives) and also good working relationships based on common critical beliefs.  Rather than endlessly debating, let us clarify, communicate, and cooperate with one another.

Some Categories of Critical Beliefs or Distinctives

Church Governance

Should the Church be governed by Bishops or by Elders or Deacons?  All three are Biblical terms and it would appear that the first century churches used all three models.  How is authority in the Church used, by whom, and under what terms is it binding?  The difference of opinion on this is not trivial, but crucial.  The National Covenant Association of Churches seeks to respect and affirm those differences and the choices that go with them.  Each “branch” has the need and the right to state and enforce their own rules for governance.

Ordination and Membership Standards

Affirming the Essentials and the Imperatives is a given for membership in the National Covenant Association of Churches, so those standards do not need to be restated.  However, additional requirements and standards for ordination and membership are the right and responsibility of each “branch”.  Is seminary required for clergy?  How does a congregation call a pastor, or are they assigned?  These are critical questions for working under the same authority, but they do not define the faith.

Views on the Sacraments

Infant, or believer baptism; full immersion or sprinkling; transubstantiation or consubstantiation; the belief about the Sacraments has divided the Church over the centuries, but again, it does not define it.  Rather than argue, the National Covenant Association of Churches is designed to permit? each “branch” to clearly define its own beliefs on these while at the same time providing individuals and/or congregations with a connection and knowledge of similar groups and their beliefs.  If a person or congregations changes their beliefs on these critical issues, rather than fight internally, they could have an opportunity to consider switching “branches”.  While the NCAC would not dictate such rules, it is in the spirit of the Association to recognize that you cannot coerce free choices.  Allowing movement under the umbrella of the National Covenant is one of the benefits, not shortcomings, of this arrangement.

How Many Others?

Again, that is not for us to say.  The NCAC seeks to provide the foundations for connection, while? each “branch” would provide the definitions of the distinctives.

Can this really work?  We think so.  Has the current arrangement of denominations and congregations worked?  Certainly not as well as we would like, or we wouldn’t be here now.  Jesus’ great desire for his Church, expressed in his prayer in John 17, was that we would be one.  We don’t believe that he meant a numerical one or a oneness that would equate to all being alike.  If that were the case, if all were one organ, where would the body be?  The metaphor of the body tells us about unity and diversity, not unity or diversity or unity is spite of diversity.  Our hope is that we can achieve that kind of unity and diversity and provide a witness to the world with clarity and integrity.

Comments? Responses@nationalcovenant.org

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