Trinity Evangelical Divinity School's D. A. Carson penned a small book some years ago—small in pages, not importance. Exegetical Fallacies is a catalog of ways to mess up understanding the Bible; we Christians are experts at it, too, from the new believer to the seasoned scholar. The title sounds stuffy but it is actually fun to read and, if a person is open to correction, it can help him avoid embarrassing blunders. The application takeaway value of Exegetical Fallacies is enormous.
Under the heading of Logical Fallacy number 15, "Fallacies based on equivocal argumentation" Carson makes an observation which is a particular peril for statements of faith. He writes:
Less commendable is that form of argumentation that earnestly seeks out the most ambiguous language possible in order to secure the widest possible agreement. Such statements are worthless, because they paper over honest differences. They mask more than they reveal; and they verge on the dishonest or disreputable, for they coerce apparent agreement where there is no real agreement.Frankly, I see this problem with some written statements of faith on websites for Church of God (Anderson) congregations in the area of sanctification. We in the Church of God are Wesleyan; however, some online statements of belief are so vague that an honest seeker reading what some Church of God congregations have to say about it wouldn't know who we are.
[Carson, D. A. Exegetical Fallacies. (GRAND RAPIDS: Baker Books, 1996. Second Ed.), 119.]
Let me give you an example, first from my own website:
• I believe that Christians are to surrender to the Holy Spirit for a deeper work of grace called by different names: Christian Perfection, The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Perfect Love, Entire Sanctification, Full Salvation, etc. This was made available by Christ's atoning work with provides for freedom from sin and is appropriated by an act of trust.Pretty basic Wesleyan definition. However, many Churches of God have general statements about the Holy Spirit without mentioning entire sanctification. Can you tell these congregations are Wesleyan by reading such statements? Can someone browsing the online statements see the distinctive Wesleyan doctrine that characterizes the Church of God (Anderson)? The statements aren't heretical, just incomplete. A Baptist and a Pentecostal would agree with them—and as well they should because it's orthodox biblical doctrine. However, they don't go far enough to distinguish our doctrine from a Baptist or Pentecostal congregation.
Please hear me: I'm pleading for more concrete and plain doctrinal summations that allow others to see a Wesleyan congregation's distinctions from other evangelical churches. If I have been less than clear in my formulations online then I as well need to revise my own wording for the sake of honesty, transparency.
However, there well may be some churches who deliberately are as vague as possible because either they don't want to turn people away or don't consider doctrine that terribly important. This is tragic. Truth in advertising! And stand for something!