The faith statement. (And mine too.)

by K.W. Leslie, 30 March 2020

Typically when Christians talk about what’s orthodox Christianity and what’s heresy, we usually mean what we consider orthodox and heretic. Not what Christianity as a whole considers orthodox and heretic. We don’t think about the whole; honestly, too many of us suspect most of our fellow Christians aren’t real Christians.

But when you talk to individual Christians, we tend to not have all our Christian essentials, our “mere Christianity,” sorted out all that well. What’s the minimum requirements for Christianity?—well, for a lot of us it’s usually these.

  • Gotta believe in Jesus: That he’s real, was literally born, literally died, literally rose from the dead, and is literally coming back—to do what, varies. And his teachings are important… though how well we literally follow him also varies.
  • Gotta believe in the trinity. Though whether we actually understand trinity well enough, also varies. (Too many Christians don’t really understand what the Holy Spirit does, so they’ve largely replaced him with the Holy Bible.)
  • Gotta believe in the bible. Sometimes so much so, they make sure to prioritize bible before believing in Jesus. (Which they rationalize by saying, “Well, everything we believe about Jesus comes from the bible, so if you don’t believe in bible, you don’t really believe in Jesus.” But this only proves they don’t personally know Jesus; they’ve only read about him.) Also gotta interpret the bible literally… when convenient.
  • Gotta pray. Whether they recognize God talks back, varies.
  • Gotta go to church. Not necessarily so the church can be your support system; largely it’s just a demonstration of public piety, regardless of whether you follow Jesus the rest of the week. You know, hypocrisy; though they don’t always realize this is what they’ve demanded. Oh, it’s also gotta be a church much like theirs. And you should tithe.
  • Gotta believe as they do about water baptism and holy communion. Exactly as they do. Christians have killed one another over this, y’know, and it’s still not something most of us are willing to be gracious about.
  • Gotta be ready, at any given moment, to publicly declare you’re Christian. Because if you don’t, Jesus won’t recognize you as his, Lk 12.9 and you’re going to hell. We should probably be sharing the gospel with other people too.
  • Must’ve said the sinner’s prayer at some point. Or confessed with our mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts God raised him from the dead. Ro 10.9 Or some other introductory act which guarantees we’re born again.
  • Gotta share their politics. Not produce the Spirit’s fruit; you can fake that. Vote like they do, and support the same candidates and causes. Till you do, you’re suspect.

Whether they’ve actually sat down and sorted things through, or loosely glom onto these beliefs, that’s what most Christians have as their personal definition of Christianity. Some have more. Certain doctrinaires have tons of requirements. I know a number of Calvinists who are entirely convinced if you don’t believe in their six points as they do, you’re not Christian. Likewise a number of Roman Catholics who think if you’ve never been baptized into their church, you’re doomed.

Whereas if you asked these Calvinists and Catholics what their church’s official beliefs are… well, they don’t entirely know. Some of ’em will insist, “I believe what my church believes,” or “My church believes what I do.” But then you go check out the Roman Catholic Catechism, or their Calvinist church’s faith statement on their website… and you find out no, they really don’t. In fact sometimes they believe entirely different things.

The statement of faith, or faith statement, is a church or Christian organization’s official stance on Christianity. Often it’s loosely based on the ancient Christian creeds, like the Apostles Creed, plus a statement about believing the bible thrown in. Unlike the individual Christian, they have thought it through, and decided this is what they’ll declare to the world: “Here is what we believe. Here’s where we stand.”

Churches construct faith statements for various reasons; some valid, some not.

  • They’re just repeating their denomination’s official faith statement. They want it clear they’re on the same page as the other churches in their network.
  • They’ve read the creeds, and like some parts, and don’t like other parts. So they’ve rewritten things to suit themselves.
  • They don’t know the creeds at all; they’re suspicious of them because they fear the creeds are “too Catholic.” So they’ve reinvented the wheel. (Religious bigotry aside, if they wind up matching the creeds, they’re likely following the same Holy Spirit as the other churches, so relax.)
  • There was a massive disagreement in their church at one point, and leaders no longer felt Christians were free to disagree on this one, so they got specific and put it in their faith statement. The more legalistic the church, the more of these issues they’ll include. Some control-freak churches have huge faith statements for this very reason.
  • They’ve had to deal with a lot of suspicious visitors who demand to know what they believe. So their faith statement is more of a frequently-asked questions page: “Q. What do you believe about the trinity? A. One God, three persons.”

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 take this stance if all you’re gonna do is hand out sandwiches? Well, the leaders used their particular view of the End Times to scare the needy into turning to Jesus. So if I wound up speaking to one of those folks and telling them any alternate view of the End (like the one I hold), I’d undo all their hard work.

And this is why we gotta check out people’s faith statements. Sometimes they’re big red warning flags relevant.

What does your church believe?

Do you know your own church’s faith statement? Didn’t think so. Unless you’re in leadership (and sometimes not even then), most Christians won’t.

You’d better read it then. Hop on their website and look it up. It’ll be on their “About us” page, or attached to a link on it. They’ll title it “Doctrinal statement” or “What we believe” or “Truths which define us” or some other synonym.

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

’Cause it’s gonna come up. Always does. Every time I formally joined a church, and went to their membership class, the leaders sat all us prospective members down and gave 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 were 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 don’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 guess 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 privately 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 our oaths. 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, work out your differences before you commit.

TXAB’s faith statement.

So what 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 historic ancient creeds define Christian orthodoxy. Period. 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 legitimately call you heretic. I may call you wrong (and it’s certainly not impossible I’m the one who’s wrong) but not heretic.

Now, as for the debatable stuff I also hold to:

PROTESTANTISM. (Which is not anti-Catholicism.) Salvation isn’t based on church membership or good karma, but is entirely based on God’s grace. Justification isn’t based on good deeds, but is entirely based on faith in God through Jesus. And Jesus only has one body, and therefore founded and established only 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, refuse his free gift of eternal life, and even quit Jesus if we don’t want his grace anymore. I don’t reject his grace, 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, evil, 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.