01 January 2016

The Statement of Faith. (And what the heck; mine too.)

Ever tried to write your own creeds? Your churches probably have.

Statement of faith /'steɪt.mənt əv 'feɪθ/ n. Or faith statement. A creed: The official theological positions of a religious organization.

Not every church, Christian charity, or not-for-profit-(but really pushing the limits of that law)-religious-organization, holds to the ancient Christian creeds. Unofficially they might; they’re totally orthodox, and believe the same as every other Christian. But they don’t point to the old creeds; they write their own. Which nowadays we call a “statement of faith.”

They do it for various reasons.

  • Their denomination has an official statement of faith, so they figure they’ll just use that one, and sync up with their organization.
  • They wanna write their own. And include all the things they wish the creeds included, like the bible, or how to baptize, or whether it’s okay to swap juice for wine in communion, or whether women can teach. (Or leave out a few of the creeds’ ideas which they don’t like.)
  • They’re bigoted against anything which sounds “too Catholic,” and aren’t aware the creeds predate the Catholics. (Nor care. To them, everything which came before their denomination is automatically Catholic. Except Jesus and the bible. Usually.)
  • They deal with a lot of the aforementioned bigots, or worry they might. So in order to preemptively placate them, they rewrite the Apostles’ Creed, throw in a few Protestant-friendly ideas, and there ya go.
  • They’re legalists, and want to preemptively make sure people know they take many things very, very seriously.

Sometimes these faith statements get ridiculously specific. Sometimes it’s because there was a debate over that issue in the past, so the leadership figured they had to get just that specific. The rest of the time, the leaders are control freaks.

I once applied for a job whose faith statement insisted the millennial reign of Christ Jesus is a literal thousand years, and all prospective employees must believe that. Now, this was a soup kitchen: Exactly why do you need to be a biblical literalist if all you’re gonna do is make sandwiches? Well, the leaders used their particular view of the End Times to scare the needy into turning to Jesus, and if I wound up speaking to one of those folks and telling them any alternate view of the End (namely, the one I hold), I’d undo all their hard work. Y’see? It’s why we gotta check out people’s statements of faith. Sometimes they’re big red warning flags relevant.

What’s your church believe?

Do you know your own church’s faith statement? No? You’d better read it then. Hop on their website and look it up. They’ll title it “Doctrinal statement” or “What we believe” or “Truths which define us” or some other synonym for the things they believe.

Didja read it? Good. Do you agree with it?

’Cause it’s gonna come up. Always does. Every time I’ve formally joined a church, and went to their membership class, the leaders sit all us prospective members down and give us the skinny:

  • A little history of the church. And its denomination.
  • How they govern it.
  • Their mission, their goals, what they’re doing in your city.
  • What they expect of their members (i.e. cooperation, participation, and financial support).
  • Their statement of faith.

We’re asked to accept the whole package, sign a paper, and we’re members.

Here’s the problem: Sometimes Christians don’t agree with the whole package. Yet they sign the paper anyway, ’cause they want in. Invariably this leads to trouble: Their real beliefs are gonna butt heads with the church’s official beliefs. They always do.

Some of these new members won’t care about theology, and just figure, “Yeah sure, I guess I believe this stuff… well, I have my doubts about this bit here. But I can sign it.” What’re the chances “this bit here” which they doubt is gonna become a major issue? Better than average. Especially when they want to get into positions of church leadership… and either hypocritically pretend they believe it, or quietly admit they don’t to anyone who’ll listen, and in so doing undermine the leadership.

And often this comes up because God brings it up. See, when you sign a paper, you’ve basically made an oath before God, and he holds us to them. Especially when we didn’t really mean it.

So, if you can’t agree with your church’s faith statement, don’t join. Don’t sign anything. You’re not ready. Either you still have some things to learn (as we all do)… or you probably shouldn’t be in that church, ’cause they believe some inappropriate things. Either way, straighten some things.

Christ Almighty’s faith statement.

So what things do I believe? Well, the ancient Christian creeds. So I refer you to them.

Apostles’ Creed. I believe in God, the almighty Father, creator of heaven and earth. And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our master. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was born from the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified. He died and was buried. He descended to the afterlife. The third day, he was resurrected from the dead. He ascended to heaven. He sits at the almighty Father’s right hand. From there he will come; he is judging the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, bodily resurrection, and eternal life. Amen.

Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed. I believe in one God, the almighty Father, creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one master, Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us humans and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate from the virgin Mary, and became human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), who with the Father and Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The stuff in the creeds define Christians (and me) as orthodox. Nothing else does. Every other Christian belief, whether I believe it or not, whether you believe it or not, is debatable. I may totally disagree with you on every single one of those secondary things—but if we agree on the creeds, I can’t call you heretic. I may call you wrong (and it’s certainly not impossible I may be the one who’s wrong) but not heretic.

Now, as for the debatable stuff I also believe in:

Protestantism. (Which is not anti-Catholicism.) Salvation isn’t based on church membership, but is entirely based on grace. Justification isn’t based on good deeds, but is entirely based on faith in God through Jesus. And Jesus only founded and established one church—but no single earthly institution comprises that one church, no matter what they claim. Not the Orthodox, not the Catholics, not the Fundamentalists, none of ’em. The body of Christ transcends our organizations. Granted, Jesus wants us Christians to be one, so we have to work together and iron out our differences—without compromising the scriptures nor the creeds.

Evangelicalism. Though Jesus died for all of humanity, it’s the individual, not the group, who turns to Jesus and is saved. Individuals must be encouraged to come to Jesus and declare him Lord. We must also hold to the authority of the scriptures (all of which were inspired by God and teach of Christ), and live as Jesus would have us live.

Arminianism. God is almighty and sovereign, but because self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and the Spirit’s fruit reflects God’s character, God is self-controlled: Jesus’s atonement applies to everyone, and God’s grace is available for everyone, but because we humans are totally depraved and self-willed, we can reject his salvation, resist his will, and refuse his free gift of eternal life. I don’t, and definitely recommend you don’t. But still: Arminians reject the Calvinist idea God needs, and therefore practices, no self-control; that sovereignty means he controls everything and everyone in the universe… which therefore makes God the secret mastermind behind sin and death. (Not the cause, they insist, but they gotta do some serious wordplay explaining in order to absolve God of suborning evil, at least.)

Pentecostalism. Miracles, prophecy, tongues, and healing, have happened throughout Christian history, and still do. Every Christian is entitled to the Father’s promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. It’s what the ancient Christians normally experienced, and with it comes the power to serve others and grow in Christian maturity. It’s not the same as salvation; it can take place at the same time, but might not. It’s marked by the physical sign of speaking in tongues. All empowered believers, Jew and gentile alike, men and women alike, can minister.

There’s lots more I believe, as you can tell from the many, many other things I’ve written on this blog. But that’ll give you the gist of it.