“Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner . . . So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:” (Acts 15:22-23, 30, AV)
I remember once being at my grandmother’s house and seeing or hearing something about A.V.O. This acronym stood for “Avoid Verbal Orders.” I am not certain why she had this. Perhaps it had something to do with her having a house built in the countryside. However, the main point of this was to get things in writing. When things are in writing they have a sense of authority and permanence behind them. Things are put in writing to avoid future disputations.
A last will and testament is done in writing so that they have the authority to direct the transfer of one’s estate upon their death. When one purchases a house there is much paperwork to be signed for various aspects of the transaction. It makes sense that decisions of importance be recorded in writing.
In the early church, there was a significant issue of legalism that threatened the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. This issue was so serious that Paul, Barnabas, and some others had to travel from Antioch to Jerusalem to meet the apostles and elders of the church to get an authoritative decision regarding circumcision and the Gentile believers. After much debate, they came to a resolution in which the apostles and the elders were unanimous.
James, the apparent leader of the gathering, decided to write their decision and have leading men among the believers go with Paul and Barnabas to deliver the letter to the Gentiles. This letter sent by reputable believers permanently established this decision so that it would be without dispute. In fact, we see that this letter is included in our Bible (Acts 15:23-29). It will stand throughout all time.
Today, we still have disputations in the church over doctrine. Churches often have to address these issues to clarify where they stand on various issues. Churches must address these issues through the examination of the Scriptures by Spirit filled leaders who come to agreement and then congregations commit to adopt such decisions. These are put in writing and called statements of faith. A statement of faith is an affirmation by a congregation of the biblical truths to which the church holds and the parishioners are to abide. In conjunction with the statement of faith, churches will establish written biblical policies regarding how they will function with regards to various issues that they must face in a pagan culture.
It has been my personal experience that having things like these in writing protects the local church. It also makes life easier for the spiritual leaders of the church. However, I have two precautions for the churches. First, do not err on the side of doctrine. If doctrine is not biblically established, it will be suspect. Second, do not err in policies by allowing them to become a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts. They too must be clearly established by the principles and practices of Scripture.