AN INTRODUCTION TO THE
BIBLICAL WITNESS FELLOWSHIP
INTRODUCING . . .
THE BIBLICAL WITNESS FELLOWSHIP
The Biblical Witness Fellowship is a confessing fellowship of ordinary people and pastors within the United Church of Christ. The organization was founded in 1978 as the United Church People for Biblical Witness and has existed under the name BWF since 1984. We welcome all who are committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and who believe that God’s written Word, the Bible, is true. Members of the BWF affirm the statement of faith known as the Dubuque Declaration (at the end of this document). We seek to hold fast to the historic Christian faith as it has been revealed in Holy Scripture and testified to in the great creeds and confessions of the Church.
The fellowship has been formed in alarmed response to decades of continued denominational decline that has resulted from the UCC’s theological surrender to the moral and spiritual confusion of contemporary culture. This is a movement of men and women who are committed to the renewal of the local church and the reformation of our denomination.
Through the publication of our newsletter, The Witness, we seek to inform the rank and file membership of local UCC churches concerning what is being done in their name and with their money in the wider church. Through local and national conferences, we work to empower the laity for service to Jesus Christ in the area of denominational and local church renewal.
WE ARE COMMITTED TO
THE LOCAL CHURCH
We believe that each autonomous congregation of Christian believers gathered together for worship, community, and mission is the most vital representation of the Body of Christ. We encourage the spiritual renewal and growth of congregations through prayer groups, Bible study, Godly pastoral leadership, and active participation in outreach ministry locally and around the world.
The United Church of Christ has had a net loss in members and congregations in every year since 1965. While this decline leveled off in the eighties, it once again intensified as we moved into the nineties. Since 1990 the UCC has lost more than 250,000 members and 500 congregations. We contend that those who have left represent some of our most spiritually mature and committed lay leadership as well as some of our most capable pastors.
We are alarmed by the increasing tendency of the UCC, as a bureaucratically structured denomination, to take actions and issue public statements which appear to threaten the autonomy of local congregations, create alienation and schism within our churches, or cause the local church to be viewed as “liberal” or “left wing,” by those living in the communities where our churches are located.
In recent years, the BWF has seen the need to offer an alternative to some of the radical social positions taken by the UCC which are serving to isolate our denomination from the ecumenical community of the wider church (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox). Therefore, we, like the majority of Christians world-wide have adopted the following positions concerning the sacredness of human life and the importance of the marriage relationship in God’s creative plan:
Human life is sacred from the moment of conception until the time God calls us to face eternity. Parents and medical personnel are divinely charged, regardless of their faith response, to protect, nurture, and sustain the human lives placed within their care even when that requires the sacrifice of their own comfort or well-being.
Human sexuality is a gift from God, a reflection of His creative plan. God ordained sexual intimacy to be expressed within the covenant of heterosexual marriage. Sex outside of that covenant dehumanizes, destroys and leads to fragmentation, social chaos, violence, and death. We believe our contemporary culture to be a vivid parable of this truth.
The BWF has consistently sought to remind the leaders of the UCC that the denomination is not supposed to be used to further the personal agenda of a radical few, but rather, exists to serve the local churches as we seek to serve Jesus Christ. Our goal is to educate and mobilize the members of local congregations in our denomination as we pray that God will move our beloved church to reclaim its proud theological heritage.
Sadly, today, the world missions agency of our denomination (Wider Church Ministries) has fewer than 90 missionaries remaining on the field with nearly as many personnel working in administrative jobs. Of the approximately $13,000,000 spent by the Wider Church Board and $39,000,000 spent by the national agencies annually, a huge percentage is used to send religious professionals to meetings with other religious professionals, sustain a confusing complexity of boards/agencies/commissions/councils/etc., produce volumes of religious paperwork that few people read, and sustain an often radically liberal political agenda which only a minority of UCC members know about or support.
Since the late eighties the BWF has generated a listing of UCC related missionaries who are committed to the Great Commission. Churches are invited to evaluate and support these faithful servants directly. We provide resources and meet with churches to enable the local congregation to define and pursue their own call to mission. Many BWF related churches now host their own mission conferences and are serving as models for other local churches looking to engage in dynamic mission activity. We encourage local churches to network together and use the many resources available to mobilize their own congregations for mission.
WE ARE COMMITTED TO
THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH
As the denominationally structured ecumenism of our formative period in the UCC has given way to the dynamic ecumenism of the evangelical and charismatic movements that are sweeping the globe, we believe it is critical to reaffirm our commitment to the unity of the universal church. We rejoice in the many ways in which God’s Spirit is moving through both denominational and independent churches throughout the world, bringing committed Christians together with unity of purpose as we seek to take the Gospel to the nations.
The BWF attempts to network with renewal movements in other “mainline” denominations as well as to expose churches to the rich diversity of resources available in the wider fellowship of the evangelical mainstream of the American church. In doing so, we hope to spark new vitality and faithfulness in the life of a denomination which seems to have strayed from its first love.
WE ARE COMMITTED TO
AUTHENTIC PASTORAL LEADERSHIP
We live in an age of leadership failure and betrayal when our need for pastors who live spiritually committed lives is more critical than ever before. The BWF encourages pastors to remain faithful to the basic doctrines of the Christian faith which have been affirmed throughout history as they develop their faith through prayer, Bible study and accountability to colleague groups. We maintain a scholarship fund for seminarians who affirm biblical principles, and we encourage pastors to be faithful to their families and ministry during difficult and trying times. Our Pastor Referral Network helps local churches in the search process to find Godly leadership. We have developed a Summer Institute for Renewing the Historic Church to encourage and equip clergy called to renewal of our local congregations.
We are deeply concerned about the alarming rate at which the UCC is encouraging the ordination of those who choose “alternative” lifestyles (i.e., homosexuality, bisexuality and sexual activity outside of marriage), embrace moral relativism, seek authority in human experience, or are ambivalent about such basic beliefs as the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the reality of the Resurrection and other doctrines of the church which are the foundation of our faith. Continued ordination of ministers who cannot accept even the simplest truths of the Christian faith will only contribute to the further collapse of our church to the prevailing mythologies of the culture.
WE ARE COMMITTED TO
THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH
The compelling mandate Jesus gave us following His resurrection is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” When we obey this great commission of our Savior and Lord, we enjoy His authority and power. When we devote our energies to the pursuit of our own social/political agendas, we become confused and demoralized as Christians.
We in the UCC have a mission heritage that was the heart of the great mission movement which effectively took the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to every continent. BWF’s Mission Renewal Network assists congregations in continuing this foundational piece of what the church has been commissioned to do.
HOW CAN I BE A PART
OF THIS RENEWAL EFFORT?
We invite you to join with us in working toward the renewal and reformation of the United Church of Christ. The first step is to make sure you are receiving our free newsletter. We encourage you to send us the names and addresses of other concerned lay people or clergy in the UCC. We will gladly add them to our mailing list as well. If you can send a donation, it is always appreciated, but not required!
Beyond becoming an informed member of the UCC, we encourage people with a heart for renewal to form local networks in their own geographical areas. When you call our national office, a representative may be able to put you in touch with someone in your area who is working in the area of renewal.
Finally, and most importantly, we ask that you include the BWF and its efforts in your daily prayers. True renewal can only come by the hand of the Lord. We must earnestly seek Him!
For further information or a subscription to “The Witness,” you can contact us at:
Visit our homepage on the internet at:
THE DUBUQUE DECLARATION
We declare our continuing commitment to the truths set forth in the Basis of Union and the Constitution of the United Church of Christ.
We perceive an erosion and denial of these truths in our church. Because of our concern for the people of our churches and the well-being of our denomination as a member of the body of Christ, we are called by God to make this confession:
1. We confess our faith in the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2. We confess that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. Because of our sin and estrangement from God, at the Father’s bidding the Son of God took on flesh. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, He became like us in all things apart from sin. He died on the cross to atone for our sin and reconcile us to God and on the third day rose bodily from the dead. He is the sole head of the church, the Lord and Savior of us all, and will one day return in glory, power, and judgment to usher in the kingdom of God in its fullness.
3. We hold that the Bible is the written Word of God, the infallible rule of faith and practice for the church of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures have binding authority on all people. All other sources of knowing stand under the judgment of the Word of God.
4. We affirm that the central content of the Scriptures is the gospel of reconciliation and redemption through the atoning sacrifice of Christ and His glorious resurrection from the grave. The good news is that we are saved by the grace of God alone, the grace revealed and fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus Christ, which is received only by faith. Yet this faith does not remain alone but gives rise to works of piety, mercy, and justice. The Holy Spirit, who spoke through the prophets and apostles, calls us today, as in the past, to seek justice and peace for all races, tongues and nations.
5. We confess as our own the faith embodied in the great ecumenical and Reformation creeds and confessions, finding them in basic conformity with the teaching of the Holy Scriptures.
6. We confess that the mission of the church is to bear witness to God’s law and gospel in our words and deeds. We are sent into the world as disciples of Christ to glorify God in every area of life and to bring all peoples into submission to the Lordship of Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We seek to obey this commission in the full assurance that our Lord and Savior is with us always, even to the end of the age.
November 17, 1983