Statement of Faith

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!”

2 thoughts on “Statement of Faith”

  1. Interesting. I am in the process of creating a statement of faith for the youth ministry and trying to reform the statement of faith for the church. Or really, the statement of faith and practices. It is the practices that give me problems. Here we were obligated by law to have a set of practices or moral standards that is more or less prescribed by an ancient body of moral experts. Then, once we are legally accepted, we are free to change them. At any rate, your blog entry makes me think about what is the purpose to having a statement of faith and practices. Practically, it is a statement of what I think is essential and what you have to be in agreement with in order to be a member of the group. I do not intend it as advertisement or exclusionary, yet at some point a group has to be defined by some commonality to have meaning as a group. I have long held that there are only a few doctrines that are essential as Christians. These would be your boilerplate. But being boilerplate does not make them insignificant. It just means they are common in their application to all such statements. So, if they are common does it make sense to state them or require agreement? Well, it seems to me that a church should be open to all, but reserve membership to those who are in agreement on what it means to be a Christ follower. How far you go in making this one-mindeness is the question. Few would have problems requiring that all have to agree that Jesus is Lord, God and the son of God. If someone does not agree with that they are fairly far outside of Biblical Christianity. But is it necessary that we all agree on tongues or prophecy or tribulation schedules. I do not believe so. Take tongues as an example. There are people on both radical ends of belief about this. i.e. that anyone who speaks in tongues is of the devil or that anyone who does not speak in tongues is not truly of God. Obviously these two groups will not have much fellowship. And what time they do spend together will be mostly spent poorly. It is probably best that such people do not form the same local church. However, it might be healthy if the rest of the people, those who hold less extreme views or admit to not really knowing, were able to be together and help each other in seeking what is true or at least in practicing the self-humiliation required to love others who disagree with you.
    Last night, in our gringo fellowship, we talked about how the church seems to be known too much by it’s beliefs – especially those about what you should not do, and not enough by it’s love. This is getting somewhat long and rambling but let me finish by saying that to me there seems to be two basic approaches to Christianity. Some groups/people are focused on the external attributes of the religion. Taste not, touch not, believe this, believe that, and so forth. The other group focuses on the relationship with Christ. Call it performance based Christianity vs relationship based Christianity. I think to anyone who knows me it is clear what group I fall into. Still, I, as a leader of others, have to constantly struggle to find the balance. I do not mean that performance based Christianity is ok. I truly believe it is not. But rather what is right to say about behaviour and belief, sepecially as it pertains to the group. I think that part of it is a matter of oreder, if you will. That is to say when our behaviour flows from our love relationship with Jesus that is correct. However, when we expect His love to come because of our behaviour we are in dangerous error. Also , if we say our beliefs and behaviour do not matter as long as we love Him, we are on dangerous ground. It is true that if we love Him the other things will sort themselves out. But we are habitually self deceptive creatures. We can easily tell ourselves we love Him but He says (at the end of John) that the mark of our love is our obedience to Him. Along with this,for me, is the balance of giving people freedom so that the Holy Spirit can work with them vs our obligation one to another, that is to through love help others love Jesus more and know Him better. I have not found a formula for how these all work but I know that they must all be there. Thanks for the though provocation.

  2. Is any “doctrine” really critical?

    Certainly no one is saved by having correct doctrine.

    The thief on the cross beside Jesus was not asked about his doctrine, and yet it certainly sounded like he was invited into heaven.

    The reference “Away from me you evil doers, I never knew you,” does not imply doctrine.

    Should difference in doctrine divide? Is it a fruit of the Spirit? “Love, Peace, Patience, Kindness, and Theological Bigotry.”

    We love doctrine, because it defines the safe thoughts. Fortunately, we do not have a safe God (Aslan).

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