Our Church Statement of Faith: why do we need it? what do we do with it?
Written by Pete Lowman
Why do you need a church statement of faith?
The answer’s simple. We live in a postmodern world where there are strong emotional pressures against keeping on believing anything clearly and firmly. But if the leaders of your church are not people who `hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught` (Titus 1:9), sooner or later your church is going to lose its way. Secondary issues and goals will take the place of the things that really count, and you will slowly stop preaching the true gospel that really saves, and stop living by and promoting a discipleship that really reflects the Word of God.
What should be in your church statement of faith? It depends what you want to achieve. If for example you want to anchor your church and its leadership in a particular theological or denominational tradition, then you will need to spell out the main components of that. But at the very least, you should include the things the new testament describes as being `as of first importance` (1 Cor 15:3-8). Look at these verses; here are the fundamentals of the gospel on which the new testament will not compromise an inch (see Galatians 1:9-10): the deity of Christ, the reason why he died, the certainty of the bodily resurrection, and the full authority and reliability (both are essential, one is useless without the other) of the Bible that teaches us these things.
There are other things you may well want to include without which these will tend not to have logic or impact, and there are many well-thought-out examples of evangelical statements of faith that you can draw upon. You can read Living Leadership’s here. Another statement regarded as a classic, which has been immensely valuable in British church history, is that of UCCF; the current version is here. But whatever you decide, the central fundamentals of the gospel must be included; these above all are the things to which you need to ensure all your leaders stay faithful.
Remember, though, that the new testament distinguishes clearly between primary and secondary doctrines. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:17, `Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel`. So think carefully before you make particular formulations of secondary doctrines, over which equally biblically-minded believers disagree, into non-negotiables for your church. Our own church, for example, is Baptist, and believer’s baptism is what we teach and practise; but we do not include believer’s baptism in our statement of faith, because we welcome into leadership believers from (for example) Anglican backgrounds who have been christened as infants and believe wholeheartedly that, as such, they have obeyed the biblical command of the Lord to be baptized. If we included believers’ baptism in our leaders’ statement of faith, we would exclude these sisters and brothers from leadership; by not including it, we have made clear that they are welcome in these roles, even though they need to accept that their position on baptism is not that lived out by the church as a whole. But we would not have done the same thing with (say) the deity of Christ, or the absolute reliability of the Bible!
And what do you do with your statement of faith? Some fellowships ask all their members to make clear that they share these fundamental beliefs; and it certainly makes sense that all new members should endorse the basic beliefs of the fellowship they are joining. Others will feel that new believers are not yet in a place to make such a commitment intelligently, and that it is more for leaders. (Perhaps having a doctrinal commitment from your members is more important if your church is committed to a form of government where congregational decisions are crucial.) But Titus 1:9 makes clear that what’s really essential is ensuring your key leaders are committed unambiguously to the statement of faith: pastors, elders, preachers, and anyone else involved in teaching or policy, particularly homegroup leaders and leaders of the youth and children’s groups. And this wholehearted commitment needs to be indicated unambiguously (in writing is best) every year. It is not enough for someone who has a significant influence in the church to have been committed to a biblical faith five years ago and to have lost their way subsequently, due to a midlife crisis, or reading too much of the wrong kind of theology, etc. If that has happened, the annual signing of the statement of faith gives an opportunity to face up together to the issue, without the pastoral awkwardness of having to raise it `out of nowhere`.
But think how you can make the signing of the statement of faith itself into an act of worship, accompanied by prayer and jubilant thanksgiving for the wonderful things you are affirming; for example at an elders’ meeting, a homegroup leaders’ meeting or children’s leaders’ meeting. Or it may be something we will want to do as a whole church, reciting it joyfully in the context of teaching just why it is these particular things on which we stand so firmly.
Stacey Woods, IFES’ first general director, emphasized that a statement of faith is an anchor, not a flag. It is not phrased as a simple communication tool to embody what we want to proclaim to the world; rather, it is phrased carefully to distinguish key truths from deceptively similar errors, and to define the underlying doctrinal principles that must be reaffirmed (or not). But an anchor is what it is. It doesn’t protect you from the equally important leadership issues of moral failure, casualness of discipleship, coldness of heart, or strategic blindness. But by ensuring that all your leaders are still faithful to the truth of the gospel, it plays a key part in stopping your fellowship drifting onto the rocks.
Do you have a statement of faith, and do all your key leaders indicate their wholehearted agreement with it every year? Perhaps you feel it is not needed, because everyone in your leadership is clearly biblical in their faith. If that’s so, put this arrangement into place while it is still not a controversial thing to do! It is too late when one of your key leaders has lost their way, and personality and friendship issues mean that people don’t want to face up to the disastrous fact that this is so.
© Pete Lowman.