“Declaring What is Profitable”: Using Doctrinal Statements
In previous articles in this series, we have seen how Creeds, Confessions, and Statements of Faith are documents which articulate the Faith that has been passed down to us. With that having been established, this article offers some suggestions for how such documents could be used in the life of the church. I suggest that such doctrinal statements are helpful as people join your church, worship in your church, are fed by your church, and leave your church. (If you do not have a Statement of Faith, you can begin by incorporating the use of Creeds and Confessions, as you consider working on your own Statement of Faith)
1. Use Doctrinal Statements to Teach People Joining Your Church
Churches have different understandings of what membership is, and churches have different levels of structure relating to the way people become members. Whatever the “process” is in your church, it would seem wise to go over your church’s doctrinal statement with all those who want to meaningfully join your church. Whether it is part of a series of membership classes, part of casual conversations over chai, or whatever the process is in your church, it would be beneficial for newcomers to read and interact with the doctrinal statement. This is a great opportunity to teach and build up new believers who are baptised into church membership. This helps them to put some flesh and bones into their faith. And it is also a helpful practice for people who have been members of another church and are considering joining your church. They can see what the similarities between the churches are (hopefully most of it!) and what the distinctive beliefs are (hopefully not in the core doctrines!).
Going over the doctrinal statement will set out what your church believes about God, salvation, and the church. And it will answer questions like: What do you believe about the Lord’s Supper? Do you baptise infants, or don’t you? What do you believe about the gifts of the Spirit? Clarifying things before someone commits to join a church can guard against potential confusion and disillusionment of stumbling on things later.
So, the next time your church is thinking about new members, consider incorporating the doctrinal statement into the process.
2. Use Doctrinal Statements in Your Church’s Worship
When doctrinal statements are well thought-through and full of Scripture, they can enrich the gathered worship of a church. If done meaningfully and not just as a matter of tradition and ritual, reading Creeds or sections of Confessions or Statements of Faith can drive the hearts of worshippers to worship God for who He is and what He has done.
Reading historical Creeds and Confessions of Faith helps our churches to acknowledge that we aren’t that unique. Instead, we are part of a long line of faithful churches which trace their origin to the New Testament church. Also, the true unity of the universal church (which Christ prayed for in John 17) is highlighted when churches across the world and even across denominational lines read and affirm the Ecumenical Creeds. Practically, Creeds can be used to help prepare a church to unitedly participate in the Lord’s Supper. There is something about reciting our beliefs together that strengthens our bonds of unity with one another. Also, they can be used to form the basis for prayers of thanks and prayers of confession. They provide well-thought-through language to describe God and His works and thus draw out praise and thanks from His children’s hearts.
So, as you plan worship services for your church week after week, consider ways to use doctrinal statements to teach your church and enrich its worship.
3. Use Doctrinal Statements for Your Church’s Discipleship
Doctrinal Statements can be excellent resources to use to teach and train your church members in their spiritual growth. Since your church’s Statement of Faith would cover all the important topics central to our Faith, it can be used as a template for discipleship. Whether in class settings or in one-on-one discipling relationships or in small groups, it would be a good investment of your time to help believers familiarise themselves with the Statement of Faith and also to study the points more deeply. This would whet the appetite of believers to dive deeper into the Scriptures and could help you to identify young men who could potentially be interested in pastoral ministry.
Another avenue to help your church would be by preaching through your Statement of Faith. While it is wise for the regular diet of a church to be preaching through books of the Bible expositorily, there is also a place for occasional topical sermons and series. Instead of trying to come up with new and relevant topics, you could spend a couple of months (or maybe spread it out gradually over a longer time) in your Statement of Faith This would be an opportunity to strengthen the foundation of your church’s faith.
So, as you think about the discipleship diet of your church, look for ways your Statement of Faith can be a resource you can draw from.
4. Use Doctrinal Statements to Help People Leave Your Church
Finally, doctrinal statements can serve believers by helping them when life circumstances force them to move from your church. Whether it is because of a transfer or some other change in life situation, Christians are often in positions where they need to commit to a new body of believers. When faced with many potential churches to become a member of, which one should you choose? Several practical considerations go into a decision like this, like distance, parking facilities, and children’s ministry options, and these are things to take into account. But, if you teach your church that Truth matters, and help them use doctrinal statements to define what you believe, you give them tools to evaluate other churches.
It would be reassuring to know that the church they are considering does indeed affirm the Ecumenical Creeds (and worrying if they do not). Perhaps they would like to have a look at the Statement of Faith of a potential church and see how it compares with their old church. This does not mean that they can only become part of a church which agrees with your church in every little detail of Theology. Instead, it provides a helpful grid to clarify the similarities and differences. This would be very useful even if there are not multiple potential churches. If there is only one church in a particular place, it would be good to know how it stacks up doctrinally to the church someone is leaving.
So, the next time your church goes through the pain of seeing someone relocate and move to another church, remind them of your doctrinal statements(!) and encourage them to look for churches which hold to the same core beliefs as your church.
The goal of all of this is not to obsess over the church’s Statement of Faith, but to use the Statement of Faith as a means towards the goal of presenting everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). May God help us hold on to the Faith that we have received, and faithfully pass it on so that God would be glorified and the churches in our country would be biblically grounded.