How the Basis can help a student group
The Doctrinal Basis expresses and provides a foundation for unity, for Christian union – and therefore for evangelical student groups or Christian Unions. It focuses on essentials and so helps to minimize or eliminate division.
What should a group do when a divisive issue arises? Sometimes the answer is to say to both parties: ‘Yes, we do differ on this issue and we may not be able to resolve the differences. But maybe we can agree on two things. First, the matters on which we disagree are not as important as the gospel itself; and second, our energies are much better spent on our united battle for the minds and hearts of unbelieving students than on battling with each other.’ The Doctrinal Basis helps to keep the essential convictions to the fore, so that we focus on evangelism.
The Basis also helps to guide and guard the leadership of a student group or CU. It can help to steer it away from actual errors or from culs-de-sac or diversions. It is a marker set down on our way, a signpost to the path of truth along which God’s witnesses have walked in every century. It is not formality or constitution-mindedness that moves a Christian group to ask their leaders wholeheartedly and thoughtfully to affirm that these are their convictions too. It is the desire to hand on the baton of faith to reliable men and women (2 Timothy 2:2).
The Basis and Christians
We assume that the group has regular teaching meetings. We also assume that their aim is to give the best possible coverage of Bible truth in each individual’s (three or four) student years. In those circumstances the Basis can be a regular ingredient in such ways as these:
1. The weekly teaching meeting could take one or two clauses per week, to fit in with the length of term or semester.
2. One meeting each term could take a clause of the Basis, aiming in that way to cover the Basis in three years.
These meetings could take an overview of the Bible’s treatment of each doctrine, as in this book; or they could find one passage of the Bible relating to each truth and open that up.
When so many Christians mistakenly assume the three ‘Ds’ (that Doctrine is Dry and Dull), the approach to such meetings is crucial. It may help to use three questions — why, what and how?
Why, what, how?
Why is the chosen doctrine important? This is the question of relevance. The Bible handles truths in a way that constantly relates them to life. So it is worth showing at the outset of any talk the particular aspects of the Christian life to which the truth relates. All these convictions have a practical bearing on, for example, our ideas of God (and so our devotion), our praying or assurance, our evangelism or message, our obedience or temptations. All of them stand in some contrast to views of God, Jesus, human nature, community, hope, and so on, that are current in society. If we bring out these connections, Christians will quickly see the relevance of truth.
What does the Bible teach on the doctrine? The speaker (or group leader) will need to study to bring out a clear statement of what the Bible says – not what the speaker thinks or what the hearers prefer, but what the Bible says. (We do not believe the Bible’s truths because they are all congenial, but because they happen to be true.) If a student group is having to prepare its own talk or study, the suggested hooks (see below) will be a great help.
How does this truth affect our lives? An abstract talk on doctrine will not be very biblical, because the Bible always challenges us with truth, to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Often such a meeting will appropriately close with a time of thanksgiving for what God has revealed, and of prayer for grace to live it out.
The Basis and non-Christians
The Doctrinal Basis for non-Christians? No and yes. No, in that no-one would argue for starting evangelism by thrusting the Basis at an unbeliever. But yes, in that the truths of the Basis all have an evangelistic force. It is quite possible and appropriate to take the central thrust of each clause and turn it into an evangelistic or apologetic theme. The clauses could be used like this, though these are only examples:
Clause (a) There are many pressures today for a multi-faith approach, in the belief that all religions are equally valid, that pluralism is the right stance. So a meeting on ‘only one God’ could challenge the basis of other beliefs and present the God of the Bible.
Clause (b) ‘Why does God allow …?‘ is often asked. Behind that is the question ‘Who is in control – of the world in general, or your individual life?’ Is life led by fate or chance or evolution? The sovereignty of God comes in here.
Clause (c) As James Sire puts it ‘Why should we believe anything at all?’ In what do people ground their beliefs – for beliefs they all have? Is there one voice to which we should all listen? Has God spoken? The Bible comes in here – perhaps the evidence for the Gospels’ accounts.
Clause (d) Everybody observes and suffers from human nature. What is wrong with the world? Do the secular explanations stand up? How to explain conscience? What the Bible says on people is right up to date, uniquely able to explain what everyone experiences.
Clause (e) Always sharply relevant is the person and life of Jesus. Was he mad, bad or God? What claims did he make? How to explain the resurrection?
Clause (f) What is the answer to the human condition? How can people cope with failings, frustration, hopelessness? Are we driven to despair, the logical end of a godless outlook? Can anyone help? What is the connection between all this and why Christ died?
Clause (g) Is it possible to have a new start, the slate wiped clean? Can a guilty conscience find rest? What can be done about the sense of accountability that we cannot totally escape? Justification speaks here.
Clause (h) Many feel trapped not only by their external circumstances, but also by their inner drives and pressures. Can anyone get them out? The work of the Holy Spirit is vital.
Clause (i) Once delivered, how will they then live? Where can the power come from to live for God, to follow Christ, to do good rather than evil? From the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Clause (j) Many people feel essentially alone in life, with no sense of being part of any meaningful group. They feel alienated and lonely in the midst of hundreds of fellow students. The church speaks of belonging to and being valued and loved by others, as all are loved by God.
Clause (k) How will things end? For the individual, for society for the world? What is the future? What about death and after? Christ’s return has a dear evangelistic thrust of challenge and hope.
Many other evangelistic or apologetic themes will come to mind, but these are enough to show that the truths in the Basis have an application to evangelism, as well as to building Christians up in the faith.
Maybe the teaching meeting for Christians and the evangelistic meeting could be related, so that the one becomes preparation and training for the other – or follow-up to it. Why not devote a session of your student group’s committee to discussing these possibilities before you plan the programme?