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With regard to a Statement of Faith, there are several types of churches that you can encounter. On one extreme of this spectrum is the type of church which has a published Statement of Faith. However, within this, 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 such a 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 other extreme 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. Within this, you will find that in a church with multiple leaders, there may or may not be much difference between what different leaders teach. (If you find that there is 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.)
Between these two extremes is a church that not only has a Statement of Faith, but additionally, the leaders of the church know, understand, and agree with this Statement. Along with agreeing with their Statement of Faith, they teach the Bible in a way that is consistent 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 churches which are in the centre, between the two extremes. While I desire to persuade you, whichever side on the spectrum you are on, to move towards the centre of the spectrum, I will only do so briefly as others have already done so on this platform1. My aim is to provide you with some practical advice so that you may be able to furnish your church with a Statement of Faith.
Before that, let me 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 being held captive 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 – tradition of human origin, or according to the elemental spirits of the world. 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. And 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 origin2.
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 of 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.
I do not think there is any genuine Church that will disagree with this. 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. Tradition is something that is handed down. Entrusting is 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. My pastor friends, these are the works of evangelism and the pastoral labour 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, and 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, and how God loved us and sent his Son to die as a propitiation for our 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 baptised, join yourself to a church, be taught the word, and grow in Christ. The inquirer may press on and ask, “For 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 a 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 encourage that your Statement of Faith 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 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 “What are the ordinances? How should they be administered?” Covering such areas 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 practised. 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 empty deceit of human or demonic origin is contrasted with the fullness that is in Christ in verse 9