Adopting and Choosing a Statement of Faith
Many churches, including my own, either do not have a statement of faith or they have one that only vaguely affirms their adherence to the teachings of the Bible. The goal is to rid themselves of “man-made traditions” and affirm the authority of Scripture alone.
Those are admirable motivations, but not adopting a statement of faith undermines them. It exposes a church to every individual’s own interpretations of various doctrines, and opens the door for denials of biblical authority.
As part of a revitalization effort, our church has recently worked to adopt a statement of faith. Our leadership has realized that any effort to change the trajectory of our church will not succeed if we fail to establish foundational agreements about our identity.
WHY HAVE A STATEMENT OF FAITH
Why have a statement of faith at all? We heard this question a lot at first. Not only had our church never had a defined list of beliefs, few in our congregation recognized their importance. Many church members thought doctrine belonged only to theologians, and that a focus on theology was only marginally important or maybe even dangerous to the church.
But here is how we answered the “why” question.
To Promote Unity among Church Members
A statement of faith will promote unity among members. It
- protects the teaching of elders against subjective interpretations of Scripture.
- establishes doctrinal essentials (and distinctives).
- provides unifying language to explain complex doctrinal truths.
- protects the integrity of the church’s gospel message.
- identifies what doctrines and distinctives are (and are not) primary to the identity of the church.
For example, if one member of the church is a strict Sabbatarian, but Sabbatarianism is not among the tenets in that particular church’s statement of faith, the Sabbatarian and the non-Sabbatarian can practice (or not practice) their conviction in freedom and love.
To Protect the Future of the Church
A statement of faith will protect the future of the church. It
- establishes benchmark standards for the selection of teachers.
- fortifies the church against shifting cultural and denominational beliefs.
- trains potential members in basic Christian doctrine and distinctives of the church.
- becomes a tool in the discipline process for those promoting false doctrine.
For more information about the importance of a statement of faith, visit this The Gospel Coalition article written by Thabiti Anyabwile.
WHAT ISSUES SHOULD BE CONSIDERED WHEN ADOPTING A STATEMENT OF FAITH
After determining to adopt a statement of faith, we wrongly assumed that developing it would be easy. In our minds, the process for accepting a statement of faith was as simple as conducting an internet search of likeminded churches, clicking on the “What We Believe” section, and hitting copy and paste.
Though there was great value in looking at multiple statements from different churches, we discovered that not all statements of faith are alike. There are historical statements, statements that detail a sparse orthodoxy (i.e., Nicene Creed), statements that include distinctives of the church, statements for members, statements for elders, and everything in between. In the beginning, we found ourselves spending more time evaluating the other statements rather than considering what we should have in our own.
It was not until we settled the issues below that we were able to move on in the process.
Accuracy in Summarizing Biblical Truths
The first concern with any statement of faith is whether it accurately summarizes biblical truth. A statement is not Scripture, but it should affirm key biblical truths. As you approach each article, do so with both scrutiny, because you don’t want to misrepresent what Scripture says, and leniency, because summary statements cannot encapsulate every bit of biblical truth. For this reason, many churches list Scripture references to help the reader more fully understand the concepts that are being conveyed.
The Extent of Items Covered
Our team struggled with this issue for quite some time. Our major questions centered on whether the statement should include only the basics of orthodoxy or if we should also include items that distinguish our church from other evangelical churches.
As a Baptist church, we wondered if we should include our belief in believer’s baptism by immersion. Our answers to these types of question largely centered on the purpose of the document. If the statement of faith is only intended as a testing tool for new members, one would want to limit it to only matters of orthodoxy. However, if the statement is intended to both define orthodoxy and facility unity in governance and practicing the ordinances, then the church should adopt a more detailed statement of faith.
The Need for Clarifying the Nature of the Articles
If the church decides to include distinctives, the next matter to consider is how to distinguish what’s a matter of orthodoxy and what’s a distinctives. This can serve the purpose of affirming our gospel unity with churches with whom we disagree.
In general, the statement of faith can train new members to understand what their new church believes and teaches.
The Benefits and Difficulties in Using Historical Statements
Our leadership team selected one of our denomination’s historical statements of faith. We saw great benefit in adopting a statement that had stood the test of time, addressed our distinctive issues, and represented the best of scholarship from within our denomination.
Despite our preference for these historical statements, we did find wording difficulties that needed greater clarity. Much of our concern centered on the need to modernize the language, but in a few instances there were doctrinal issues that had arisen since the documents’ inception that we wanted to address (i.e., marriage and the family, homosexuality, etc.). We had to determine if we found it acceptable to adopt a revised version of a historical statement and how much revision we could undertake and still refer to it as an “historical document.”
Responding to Opposition
If your church does not currently have a statement of faith, the biggest issue you will face will not be the statement itself, but it will be those who oppose having a statement altogether.
It’s important to explain why a statement of faith is important, but how you present and defend a statement is important as well. If a primary goal of a statement is to work for unity, you don’t want to destroy the unity en route to adopting a statement. Exercise patience with those who do not immediately see the need or who are actively opposed.
Obviously, this brief article cannot fully address every issue that may arise when adopting a statement of faith. However, the things mentioned above were helpful for our church as we went through the process, and I am hopeful that thinking through them will be helpful for your church as well. Please do feel free to comment below if you can think of other reasons to adopt a statement of faith or issues to consider in the process.