There are several types of churches that you can encounter. I categorize these churches on a spectrum based on one factor – a Statement of Faith.
On the far right of this spectrum is the type of church who have a Statement of Faith published. From center to the far right of this spectrum, you will have churches where the leaders are not sure where they got the Statement from or do not really care that they have one. Or you might find that the Statement exists because their church’s website needed one. Also on this side, you will find if this church has multiple leaders, they may not all agree with the Statement. In some cases, the leaders may not even teach the Bible in keeping with the Statement of Faith.
On the far left of this spectrum is the type of church whose leaders passionately believe that they do not need to have a Statement of Faith. They believe that such a Statement is human tradition and thus want to have nothing to do with such a Statement. On the left side of this spectrum, if there is a church with multiple leaders, you may or may not find much difference between what leaders teach. If you find that there is a uniform teaching that the leaders teach despite not having a Statement of Faith, it is not an argument for not having a Statement of Faith, but rather they do have a Statement of Faith – they have just not written it down anywhere.
At the center is a church who has a Statement of Faith. The leaders of the church not only know and understand the Statement, but they agree with this Statement. Not only do they agree with their Statement of Faith, but they teach the Bible in keeping with this Statement of Faith. The leaders use the Statement of Faith in the teaching ministry. Members of the church know where to find the Statement of Faith and use it for discipling their children in the Faith, and as a tool in evangelism.
I believe that the Bible teaches us to be like the church on the center of the spectrum. While I desire to persuade you, whichever side on the spectrum you are on, to move towards the center of the spectrum, I will only do so briefly as others have already done so on this platform. My aim is to provide you with some practical advice that you may be able to furnish your church with a Statement of Faith.
Let me take a moment to address those who think that a Statement of Faith is a bad idea. You think that a Statement of Faith, or a confession (as they called it in earlier times) is a human effort to say something. And I agree with you fully that such is the case. It is a human effort. It is not inspired and therefore it is not inerrant. Scripture is inspired (2 Tim 3:16). Scripture is our only authority and rule of faith and life. However, some say that churches that hold on to Statements of Faith are as being captivated by a ‘human tradition’ quoting Colossians 2:8. And the hang-up for such persons is the word ‘tradition’ and not the adjective ‘human’. It feels Roman Catholic to some because it is not the Word of God, but a Statement of Faith made by man. It feels like we have an additional authority. While I agree that we should not have any other human authority, I disagree with such a reading of Colossians 2:8. Let us examine the verse:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
This verse does not claim that tradition is bad. Rather, it teaches that a certain kind of tradition is bad. The tradition of human origin, or according to the elemental spirits of the world is bad. Good tradition is the tradition according to Christ. Good philosophy is the philosophy according to Christ. It is a poor reading of this verse that concludes that all philosophy and all tradition is bad. A careful reading of the verse acknowledges that there is a bad way to do philosophy and there are bad traditions. A careful reflection on the verse would lead us to recognize that we must be captivated by good philosophy and follow good traditions – those that are according to Christ. Therefore, we should not war against philosophy and traditions in general, but we must identify the source of every philosophy and tradition to discern if it is according to Christ or according to human or demonic origin.
What then would be another way to speak of the way of life? A philosophy. What would be another way to speak of a handing down? An entrusting or a tradition. What may we call a philosophy or a tradition which is according to Christ? What did Jesus teach us? “The kingdom of God is at hand!” “Good news!” A more common word – the gospel. Colossians 2:8, teaches us, therefore, that we are to be captivated by the Gospel and the person of Jesus and not by the worldly teaching which is empty. Being captivated by the Gospel and the person of Jesus, we receive Jesus and his forgiveness and every wonderful spiritual blessing that the Bible promises us in Christ. This is our Faith. This is what we are entrusted with when we believe and in this we grow as we grow in the understanding of the Faith.
Concerning this I do not think there is any genuine Church that will disagree. We all agree that we are to proclaim the gospel and entrust the gospel – the Faith from generation to generation. We all receive this gospel – every Christian has been entrusted with this Faith. (To clarify, I am not talking about faith as believing or receiving, but as the belief concerning the good news.) What does the Faith look like? Paul describes this as a pattern or standard of sound words (2 Tim 1:13) There is a standard or a pattern that Christians are taught. This pattern is of such importance that Paul claims that Jesus himself guards this Faith that is entrusted to him (2 Tim 1:12). Not only is it guarded by Jesus, but he calls Timothy to actively guard this Faith by the help of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 1:14). And it is this Faith that Timothy must entrust to people of Faith (2 Tim 3:1-2).
I have spoken of two words so far: tradition and entrust. The tradition is something that is handed down. The entrusting is a depositing into. Tradition goes down generations while entrusting is the act of one generation carefully transferring the tradition of the previous generation into a new generation by means of deposition. This my friends are the works of evangelism and the pastoral labor of preaching and teaching.
As a teacher of the Word, you teach young and old Christians to believe in Jesus. As you teach some may ask you the question – who is Jesus? You describe him as divine, the son of God, as human, as having a virgin birth. You describe his death by crucifixion, his burial, his glorious resurrection, his ascension, his promised return, his future visible reign. And as you do this, some may ask you, why? You may describe how sin entered the world, how the wrath of God is upon all mankind, how God loved us and sent his Son to die as a propitiation for sin. Some may ask you, why does God care? You can describe who God is and how he created the world and how he is holy and just and loving and merciful. Then they may ask you the most important question, what must I do? You respond with repent and believe, be baptized, join yourself to a church, be taught the word, grow in Christ. The inquirer may press on and ask, how long? Until Jesus returns or until you die. What happens then? You will be with Jesus who will make all things new. With what strength am I to obey all this? By the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in you.
These everyday conversations are all describing a part of the gospel of Jesus – the tradition according to Christ that has been handed down to us from the apostles. This is the Faith that has been entrusted to us. This is not human invention. This is not human tradition. This is not demonic. It is of Christ! The only part that makes it human is that humans are entrusted with the tradition and that humans transmit this tradition. To call this gospel message human is wrongful on our part. Of course, you agree that the gospel message is not of human origin.
When you document these teachings in a well formatted manner – the pattern or standard of sound words – the outcome is what is generally called a Statement of Faith. It is the gospel explained in words that is taught from generation to generation. The Statement of Faith is not to be mistaken for a what-makes-us-different-from-another-church document. It is not a ‘fashion Statement.’ It is not to be created to be a point of difference from others. Instead, a Statement of Faith is a document that explains the Gospel in a format that covers all the major areas that the gospel covers in a manner that is helpful in discipleship and shepherding. A benefit of having this Statement is not just to have unity among leaders. It is not just so that the leaders teach only according to the Statement of Faith. Those are good and necessary things to have in a church to prevent disunity and altercation. But it is a way for the people of faith to be able to learn their Faith and to teach their Faith. It is a way to ensure faithfulness to the gospel. It is a summary of the gospel for everyone to see and know.
While I want your Statement of Faith to primarily be a well formatted summary of the Gospel, I would suggest that you exercise your discretion to also add a few articles concerning Gospel application. This section will be beneficial to your leaders and the church members. For example, when you are asked – how do I recognize a church? Your response may be – a gathering of the saints of God where the Word is rightly preached, and the ordinances rightly administered. The next question may be on what are the ordinances? What is its right administration? This will help your church function well. Must this necessarily be part of your Statement of Faith? I think this is a prudence issue and not one of Gospel fidelity. For they do not answer the question about the Faith, but it answers the question of how this Faith is practiced. This is a helpful guide that fosters unity in the church. My reason for distinguishing this section of the Statement of Faith from the previous section – the Gospel section – is to recognize that within the orthodox Christian Faith we do have some differing views on Gospel application.
An uncomplicated way to think about the Statement of Faith is that it must answer the following questions concerning the Gospel – the What and the Why. It may also answer a few essential questions concerning Gospel application – the How.
The practical way to furnish your church with a Statement of Faith need not be complicated. First, there are quite a few old Statements that have been with the church for many generations. It would be prudent to go through them. One or more of them would be your primary or foundational Statements of Faith. Some of those even come with a Question-and-Answer format called a Catechism to help teach young converts and children the Faith. You may have some minor disagreements with those Statements. If so, you can clarify those by annotating the Statement to rightly reflect your church’s understanding of the Gospel. Some of the early church creeds may not be your church’s official Statement of Faith, but nonetheless they are to be your church’s creed too. To deny creeds such as the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creeds, the Athanasian Creed is to deny the orthodox position of Christianity. The only reason you should pursue a longer Confessional Statement is because those creeds alone do not fully flesh out the gospel. Those Creeds served a different purpose. The Confessions on the other hand are more helpful since they had a wider scope in mind. Each church tradition has a particular Confession. These have been around for a few hundred years now and have proven to be useful Statements that have helped the churches to teach the gospel clearly. Remember, we are not seeking originality of the gospel message. The Bible does not have anything good to say about such attempts.
The second way is to have an original Statement of Faith that you write (I do not mean an original gospel, but an original Statement). Such an attempt is acceptable as well (if you are faithful to the scripture). You may choose to be detailed and specific, or you may choose to be generic and broad. You may be inclined to do so because you want to take ancient truths and word it in a way that is relevant to the context you are in. By this I do not mean that you change the message, but you chose words that help make the message significant to your context. Your intent in developing an original Statement is for clarification and not for correction of the gospel message.
Whichever way you chose to go, do so with prayer, counsel, and the intent to guard the gospel and to proclaim the gospel.
As you consider furnishing your church with a Statement of Faith, may I recommend a few helpful thoughts to consider.
- Seek godly counsel – within your church leadership and from other trusted pastors. The counsel may be both in terms of the wording of the Statement of Faith and the manner of adopting the Statement of Faith.
- Slow is fast. Do not be in a hurry. Have a sense of unity with your leadership on both the wording of the Statement of Faith and its need. You may begin with reading this article and the series together and praying through the process. Once the leadership is in agreement, teach the church the Gospel message – use the wording that you plan to adopt to help them hear those words preached before they see the words on a paper or a website. If they are already in your founding documents or on your website, help the church understand its meaning and importance. When the leadership has a sense that the church has a good grasp of the practical importance of a Statement of Faith, then you may encourage them to adopt it. Whether or not your church votes on this matter, it is good advice to teach your church on any matter before you ask her to act decisively. In that way you set your church for success and foster unity. Failing to do so is setting the church for failure and breeding distrust and disunity. Church leaders who prefer speed and efficiency on these matters hurt the church.
- Once you have adopted a Statement of Faith, use it. Use it in your worship services – read articles of Faith in the service. Sometimes you may do so congregationally, sometimes a person could read it aloud and the congregation can respond with an Amen. It is a wonderful practice to confess the Faith regularly. It may be appropriate to do so before having communion or during baptisms. Churches may use the Statement of Faith as a Catechism for young Christians preparing for Baptism. You will serve your members well if you have a Question-and-Answer Format of the Statement of Faith so that they can use it in evangelism, in apologetics, and in parenting. This document will prove beneficial when training new leaders. As a part of their affirmation process, it should be incumbent that they affirm the Statement of Faith and teach no other Gospel. This helps them know what the Gospel is. As a part of their training process, they should be able to teach and defend the Statement of Faith. This demonstrates that they can teach and are able to guard the church from false doctrine.
- The Statement of Faith also helps you as you consider partnerships with churches. You can recognize if they are likeminded or different. This enables you to determine what degree of gospel partnership you would like to pursue with the other church/organization.
- Finally, the Statement of Faith also helps your church prepare for your departure. Should the Lord’s coming tarry, you will one day either depart and be with the Lord or be called to a different service/ministry. The Statement of Faith will help the church to remain faithful to the message that Jesus died for, and you labored for; to find a likeminded new Pastor who will continue to labor for her; and to be able to recognize false teachings and prevent her from being devoured by wolves. You are preparing the church to outlive you when she has a clear understanding of what she must believe. It is your duty to prepare the church to be faithful in all circumstances, which includes your absence.
 The empty deceit of human or demonic origin is contrasted with the fullness that is in Christ in verse 9.
This blog post was written for Equip Indian Churches. When it gets published, links to the publication will be attached here.