JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 4, 2005 – Although a statement of faith doesn’t ensure future adherence to Christian orthodoxy, it still serves as a type of guardrail in theological matters, Union University president David S. Dockery said Friday.
“The statement of faith, while true and trustworthy, is no guarantee that in itself it will prevent the rise of error on this campus,” Dockery said. “Yet, it nevertheless is a safeguard and it is an identity marker of our orthodox and evangelical convictions, and it demonstrates our connectedness with the primary emphases of historic Christianity.”
Dockery spoke to the Union community in a chapel service about the significance of Union’s newly-adopted confessional statement, developed to solidify the university’s mission and to strengthen its identity.
Following Dockery’s address, campus leaders took turns signing a statement pledging their commitment to the confession.
Too many once-Christian universities and institutions – like Harvard – have abandoned their heritages and embraced secularism, Dockery said. The Union statement was designed to help prevent the same thing from happening to Union and to tie the university to its Christian roots.
The purpose of Union’s confession is to “cultivate across the campus a holistic orthodoxy,” Dockery said. That orthodoxy includes a high view of Scripture and strong commitments to “the Trinitarian and Christological consensus of the early church.”
“Only in this way will we avoid a kind of fundamentalist reductionism on the one hand or liberal revisionism on the other,” he said. “Such revisionism often takes place without notice at an institution over a period of time. Certainly that is what has happened in dozens and hundreds of institutions who at one time held forth a vibrant Christian commitment.”
Dockery cited Harvard University as an example. The school’s original motto, “Veritas pro Christo et ecclesia,” means “Truth for Christ and his church.” Eventually “and his church” was dropped from the motto, followed by “for Christ.”
Now Harvard’s motto is simply “Veritas,” or “truth,” and Dockery said some might question Harvard’s commitment even to that.
Though not “distinctively baptistic” in nature, Dockery said the Union statement of faith is consistent with affirmations found in Baptist confessions. It also recognizes common convictions Baptists share with other orthodox Christians “who stand in continuity with the consensus of the early church on matters such as the truthfulness of holy Scripture, the doctrine of God and the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
Dockery described Union’s statement of faith as a summary of other well known confessions, such as the Baptist Confession of 1678 (often called the Orthodox Confession), the Nicene Creed, the Apostle’s Creed and the Chalcedon confession. These statements have successfully and succinctly articulated the first order principles of Christianity.
“We recognize this morning that we drink from wells that we did not dig and eat from gardens that we did not plant,” Dockery said. “And thus today we are accepting our responsibility to receive this tradition and to pass it on to others here at Union University, and therefore to pass it on to the ends of the earth.” These confessions of faith and others like them are important because men and women are intelligent beings.
“Many significant Christian thinkers have claimed that what cannot be thought through critically and expressed with reasonable clarity cannot demand the allegiance of men and women,” Dockery said. “Understanding, they have maintained, is necessary for full commitment.”
That’s not to suggest that the entirety of the Christian faith must fit within the confines of reason.
“It does mean, however, that faith must require neither the closing of the mind nor the sacrifice of the integrity of the mind,” Dockery said.
The Union president acknowledged that the statement of faith isn’t on the same level as Scripture. It is not infallible, nor is it free from possible revision in the future.
“The Union statement has been developed at a particular time as the university seeks to clarify what it means to be a Christ-centered institution within the larger secularized academy of higher education, for it is in this context that we carry out our commitment to academic excellence in the Christian tradition, even recognizing that we are swimming upstream in doing so,” Dockery said.