Friday, May 25, 2012

Why We Do and Don't Have a Statement of Faith

I know it sounds confusing, but our church family both does and does not have a statement of faith. While that sounds like it breaks the law of non-contradiction, it really doesn't.

Although we've never written it down, it's safe to conclude that our church family's statement of faith is a simple yet profound one: Jesus is Lord!

What we do not have is a lengthy statement of our beliefs. The reason for this is that we don't all agree on many of what we might call secondary doctrines. For example, I'm sure that we see differently on the doctrine of predestination. Our views of eschatology don't all line up. Our views of women's roles do not all fully correspond. If we had a statement of faith that demanded agreement, it would automatically force a wedge between us. It would create division.

That said, I wouldn't mind a statement of faith that focuses on core truths. If I had to select one, it would likely be The Nicene Creed. Core doctrines, by definition, are things that all Christians should agree upon. Therefore, a statement with only these should not be a problem.

The real difficulty becomes the secondary doctrines. This is what has led to the multitude of denominations we have today. Many of these newer (post-Reformation) statements of faith are solid documents; however, if adherence to one of them acts as a separator between Christians, then "Houston, we have a problem!"

As individuals, it is important for us to know what we believe. However, we may be in a place where we honestly do not know what we believe on certain issues. For example, I'm currently working through what I believe about women speaking during church gatherings. I'm in flux, and that is acceptable.

My encouragement to all believers is to know what you believe, but don't use this as a force to divide. Especially on secondary doctrines, it is fine to believe differently from other Christians. This is no reason for division.

Regarding statements of faith, focus on the essentials.

If you'd like to read through some statements, try this link.

What do you think about statements of faith? Do you have one? How does this affect your unity with those in your church family? What about other believers?

6 comments:

Philip Wood said...

I often go back to Hans de Ries' comments, when completing a creed. He said it was 'subject to improvement'. It's always been a matter of discomfort to Anabaptists that so many of the historic creeds were used as tools of persecution. The relationship between Word and Spirit has been there since the beginning.

In general I'm not a fan of statements of faith. They have a habit of setting solid like concrete.

Eric said...

Philip,

Thanks for commenting. I agree completely. The danger is how unchangeable they become. Just imagine if some Presbyterians today wanted to change the Westminster Confession.

Norm M. said...

I believe that creeds are generated in a noble, but misguided attempt to unify believers by crystalizing the essential beliefs of Christianity.

I think the problem with creeds is that they are excerpts of Scripture (hopefully) at best. While there are certainly elements of Scripture that we may legitimately disagree on, establishing human-derived criteria for church membership sets a bad precedent of making man the arbiter of who can be a member of the church.

Eric said...

Norm,

I agree with you. The initial actions of putting together a creed/confession may even be helpful to some in a local body in knowing what they believe.

The problem is as you have stated. When the creed becomes a requirement in some way, then it becomes a stumbling block.

So there's the rub. Confessions begin with good intentions but eventually become problematic. This is not always the case, but does seem to be be the norm. This is why we do not have one.

Dustin Segers said...

Eric,

I appreciate this post and after leaving the traditional/institutional church, I am wrestling with this issue as well. The biggest reason I wrestle with it is because, using your example ("Jesus is Lord"), many cults confess that "Jesus is Lord" too. Of course, when they say this they mean something completely different than you do. For instance, JWs confess that "Jesus is Lord", but they certainly don't think this means that He is fully divine. On the other end of the spectrum we have Oneness Pentecostals. They think Jesus is fully divine, but they see no Biblical justification for distinctions between Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for they believe that these three "titles" are simply different manifestations or "modes" of the one same God.

The post-apostolic church dealt with these issues by formulating extrabiblical creeds such as the Nicene Creed, but it seems that in certain sectors of the house-church/organic church movement there is a real disdain for appealing to any creeds outside of Scripture.

My concern with this is that this fails to take into consideration that the Lord providentially guided His church.

On the other hand, my 8 year old daughter, my 66 year old mother, and my stepdad can't clearly articulate the doctrine of the Trinity though they would all affirm it because its what their church has always taught. We allow them to be a part of our organic church. Thus, if we don't have an extrabiblical statement of faith (i.e., one of the ecumenical creeds or something that reflects the basic teachings in those creeds), upon what basis do we prevent the Oneness advocate from participating in our house/organic churches?

I realize most here would say, "I'd refute them with Scripture". The problem is, they have verses too, *and* they have interpretations of your verses that you use to substantiate your belief in the Trinity that supposedly prove that Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are all actually different modes of the same one God and that there really isn't three eternal persons in the Godhead. [FWIW, I am a convinced Trinitarian].

Thus, would you allow a Oneness advocate to become part of your fellowship? If so, why? If not, why not?

I realized I may have fully opened up a can of worms, but brother Eric cracked the lid. :-)

Eric said...

Dustin,

Great comments. Thank you.

As I stated in the post, we don't have a more extensive statement of faith than "Jesus is Lord" because we don't see more than that given to us in scripture. Additionally, we do not want division over secondary doctrines.

You've brought up an important issue though: primary doctrines. This is why some other simple churches do have more extensive statements of faith. I can understand this.

If folks started joining with our local body and presented heretical doctrines, we would confront them about it. My hope is that they would just be confused as opposed to adamantly holding to error. If they refused to repent of their faulty beliefs, we would eventually have to ask them to leave. Upon what basis would we do this? Upon the teachings of scripture.

In some ways, we do have an unspoken statement of faith that lines up with the Nicene Creed and Apostle's Creed. They are both orthodox statements that we agree with. However, we do not refer to them as authoritative because we do not want to divide over any secondary doctrines they might contain.