In the life of any ecclesial body, theological controversies will periodically arise that require an intentional response from it leaders. The Vineyard movement is no exception to this rule. Discerning the best way to respond to theological controversy requires not only discerning the content of that response, but also discerning the form of response that is appropriate for a given situation. In regard to the latter, the national leadership teams of the various Associations of Vineyard Churches have several options available to them. The most formal of these options is to issue a “position paper,” a document articulating the stance of an AVC’s leaders on a given subject. Other options include educational programs, communal discernment processes, and direct personal dialogue with involved parties. Determining which of these forms of response is the most appropriate is not always easy.
In an effort to assist the leaders of AVCs facing theological controversies in the future, this paper proposes guidelines for determining when to develop a position paper or to pursue other forms of response. A chief goal in developing these guidelines has been to ensure that they are grounded in and directed by the Vineyard’s essential ecclesiological principles, and so the paper begins with a brief consideration of those principles as they apply to theological discernment. Building on that foundation, the discussion is directed by the following questions:
- How have Vineyard position papers functioned historically in the past?
- How do we differentiate between kinds of position papers?
- When is it helpful to use one kind of position paper or another, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of each kind?
- What alternatives are available besides creating position papers?
Finally, the paper gives methodological recommendations for how to discern the most appropriate form of response to a theological controversy in a given situation. The core proposal here is that the preferable way to deal with theological controversies in the Vineyard is via theological and spiritual direction and mentoring, with descriptive position papers as a fallback response appropriate for some scenarios, and prescriptive position papers reserved for use only as a last resort.
This paper was presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Society of Vineyard Scholars.
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