When people start a new church, one of the first projects seems to be the careful preparation of a formal “Statement of Faith”. You’ll find it under the link “What we believe” on the church web site. The idea is to concisely state the central truths that the church teaches and considers essential to their flavor of Christianity. A typical Statement starts something like this… “1. We believe the Holy Bible is the Word of God. It is divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant, and the only supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.” Then follows a list of items about each member of the trinity, sin and salvation, the church, and so forth.
“We believe…” is really a funny thing to say. Does it mean they asked everyone in the church what they believe, and listed the common items? Or that you will mysteriously come to believe those things if you attend the church? Or does “We” just mean the folks in charge? Or just the person who wrote the Statement? Or is the whole Statement just a copy of the denominational Statement that was crafted by a supreme council of belief experts long ago?
Some churches have rules that prohibit someone from membership or ministry unless they agree to believe everything in the Statement. Or perhaps you just have to agree not to disagree with any of it. At least you agree not to teach anything contrary to the Statement. It’s usually expedient to keep dissenting views to yourself, lest others be tossed about too much.
Really, I think the Statement is a sort of advertisement. It is the “Specifications” page of the church brochure. It is aimed at Christian shoppers who want to be sure they will fit in, and won’t be tossed about by doctrines they have not already embraced. The Statement also serves to differentiate one church from another in the market. For this purpose you have to skip the boilerplate about the Bible and God and spot the positions on baptism, tongues, healing, elders, communion, and most important, pre, post, or a!
Hopefully, these Statements do not represent what folks really find most important in their faith. For instance, see how many Statements you can find that use the word “love” to describe God.
Personally, I think we would be better off without these Statements. Why can’t we admit that we don’t know the right answers to all the essential questions. Maybe we don’t even really know what the essential questions are. Maybe it isn’t even questions that are essential.
In any case, I bet it’s a rare believer who came to faith reading a Statement of Faith. We come to faith by meeting the person of Jesus. Usually unaware of all the implications, we find we believe in this person. And so we stay.
I like Peter’s Statement of Faith: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”