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In my previous article, I aimed to persuade you to be a church that joyfully adopts and teaches a Statement of Faith. In this article, I aim to furnish you with some practical tips to furnish your church with a Statement of Faith. This exercise may become complicated when done unwisely or hurriedly. But it can be a simple, joyful, and fruitful task if you consider some of the suggestions mentioned here. Broadly speaking, there are two ways that you can go about the process. One way is to adopt a historic confession; another is to create a personal confession.
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 could be the foundation for your Statement 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 Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds 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 Confession1. 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 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 up 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.
Finally, here are a couple of additional benefits of having a Statement of Faith. First, the Statement of Faith helps you as you consider partnerships with churches. You can recognize if they are like-minded or different. This enables you to determine what degree of gospel partnership you would like to pursue with other churches or organisations.
Secondly, the Statement of Faith 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 laboured for; to perhaps find a like-minded new Pastor who will continue to labour 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. A well-articulated Statement of Faith is one practical way you can work towards this.
- For example, a Baptist Confession: https://www.the1689confession.com/ and a Presbyterian Confession: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/westminster-confession-faith