The 2011 General Conference of the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) passed a resolution to add an article of faith on the Atonement and another resolution that revises the existing article of faith on Conscientious Scruples. For these resolutions to take effect, they must be passed by two-thirds of the District Conferences by a two-thirds majority. The article on the Atonement is a needed addition. The proposed article on Conscientious Scruples, however, is unhelpful, and what it proposes actually disqualifies it from serving as an article of faith of the UPCI. It should thus be defeated in our District Conferences.
Dilemma #1 or #2?
The reason the proposed article is unhelpful is that, instead of resolving or clarifying our theology, it merely replaces one dilemma with another dilemma. Instead of removing the potential conflict, it merely shifts the conflict to the other position.
The dilemma involves ministerial applications. It does not, however, involve affirmation statements as the Preamble of the proposed article misleadingly states: “Whereas, In signing ministerial applications and affirmation statements, many ministers are not in agreement with our stand on Conscientious Objector Status and are consequently endangering their personal integrity.” The affirmation statement only applies to two articles: Fundamental Doctrine and Holiness. The applications for ministerial license say, “Have you read the Articles of Faith and do you agree with them?” (Local) and “Do you continue to believe in the Articles of Faith and ministerial obligations?” (General and Ordination).
Currently, those who believe it is permissible to take human life in military service—indeed, who may feel an obligation to take human life—are now unable to sign an application in good conscience. However, should the proposed article be passed, the opposite would then be true: those who are against the taking of life in military service could not sign an application in good conscience because they could not, of course, embrace an article of faith that permits the taking of life in military service. The more restrictive position cannot endorse the more inclusive position. Accordingly, the conflict has not gone away; it has only shifted. For one who is opposed to taking human life in military service, the proposed change would be analogous to having one who is against abortion affirm an article of faith that states abortions should be left up to personal discretion. To force brethren into such a position ought to strike us as repugnant and unconscionable.
The Purpose of Our Articles of Faith
Moreover, the content of proposed article itself disqualifies it from serving as an article of faith of the UPCI. To see this, we need to revisit the purpose of our Articles of Faith. Let’s begin with definitions: “Articles of faith are sets of beliefs . . . which attempt to more or less define the fundamental theology of a given religion” (http://www.wikipedia.com). An article of faith is “a very basic belief not to be doubted” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com). In other words, articles of faith express what a particular group considers to be timeless, unchanging truths that must be embraced. The purpose, then, of the Articles of Faith of the UPCI is to set forth in clear, concise statements only those core doctrines that we regard as fundamental and emphatically true and, therefore, not open to opposing views.
The proposed article of faith fails to fulfill this purpose. Rather than stating a specific position, it presents a choice between two mutually exclusive positions and allows the constituency to choose which they affirm. This is entirely unlike the rest of our Articles of Faith, which do not allow “individual choice” (Preamble to proposed article) with regard to other moral or holiness matters. The proposed article is rather a statement of inclusiveness about a moral issue about which we have differing opinions. Since it does not state a position that all must embrace, it is actually a non-position and therefore, by definition, can neither be part of our fundamental theology nor “a very basic belief not to be doubted.”
Agreeing to Disagree
People tend to feel deeply about the matter of Christians bearing arms in military service, but the fact we are considering this revised article at all is evidence that we seem to be comfortable with allowing diversity of opinion on this issue.
If this is truly where we are as a movement, and if the current article of faith on Conscientious Scruples does not “accurately represent our corporate identity” (Preamble to proposed article), then the primary question in this whole matter is not how can we draft an article that everyone can affirm, but why do we need an article of faith on bearing arms in military service at all?
Matters over which we have opposing and mutually exclusive views should not be contained in the Articles of Faith. If we have agreed that no particular position is required on a matter, this nullifies the possibility of formulating an article of faith about it. By approving the proposed resolution, we are saying it does not matter what one believes in regard to taking human life in military service, and whatever position one holds will not be an obstacle to belonging to the UPCI. If this truly is the way we believe, there is no need for an article of faith to say we do not have a position. The Articles of Faith are the core doctrines around which we gather for fellowship and mission. Following the example of Acts 15, these articles should be few in number, but once decided, should be strictly enforced. The Articles of Faith are what unite us, and strict adherence should be required. Whatever we need to say about bearing arms in military service can more appropriately be said in a position paper.
We have no articles of faith regarding other matters concerning life, including abortion, euthanasia, medical ethics, taking life in self-defense, taking life while serving as a peace officer, etc., but have chosen to express our views on some of these issues in position papers. Why have we singled out bearing arms in military service as an article of faith? Although we do endorse military chaplains, this does not require an article of faith on bearing arms in military service. In short, there are other ways to state our positions in our Manual that do not create the conflict for ministerial applicants that the current and proposed articles now create. Such a position paper on bearing arms in military service would be naturally situated among other position papers such as the existing ones on “Abortion” and “Church and State Relations.”
Whether the proposed article passes in our District Conferences is really moot. We still have an Article of Faith on taking human life in military service, a matter about which we are now willing to allow mutually exclusive views. Since the proposed article is thus disqualified from serving as a corporate article of faith, it should, therefore, be defeated, and then a resolution should be passed at the next General Conference to delete the current article of faith and add a position paper on this matter in the Manual.
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