Skeletons and Underwear: Why we have a statement of faith
By Pastor Mike
If you are a new believer, or even if you are just a physically younger believer, you may have never even given a single thought to whether our church has a statement of faith. In previous generations, especially in the United States, statements of faith were viewed as very important, primarily to distinguish one group of Christians from another. We don't baptize babies like those Lutherans do. We believe in a literal future millennium, not like those compromising Presbyterians. And so on... But does this mean that having a statement of faith is outdated or unnecessary? And, for those new to Christianity, what even is a statement of faith?
I will answer the second question first. Statements of faith are documents, or lists, that express a church or denomination's position on important doctrines. For example, all true Christians believe there is only one God and that this God is a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is a pretty important statement. Believing in only one God means we aren't Hindu or Mormon, and believing that God is a trinity means we aren't Muslims or Jehovah's Witnesses. So you'll find that most statements of faith include, or even begin with, a statement about believing there is only one God and that this God is a trinity. Also, like I had mentioned earlier, statements of faith are used to distinguish between groups that interpret aspects of the Christian faith differently. As Pentecostals, for example, we believe that there is a further experience of the Holy Spirit beyond conversion. We call it being "baptized" in the Holy Spirit, and we talk about it in our statement of faith. In this way, you could think of a church's statement of faith as being like your skeleton. Without a skeleton, you would be pretty much a shapeless blob. Your skeleton plays an important role in keeping things looking right, working right, and in the right place. Without your bones you'd basically by a bag of organs and muscle laying on the ground. You would not look like a human being at all.
In a similar way, statements of faith go unseen but play an important role. They give churches a doctrinal shape. They say what is "in" and what is "out" on certain key points. Our statement of faith makes it clear that we believe the Bible to be divinely inspired, for example, and so it is expected that anyone teaching and preaching in our church respects and interprets the Bible as God's Word written. Our statement says that we believe salvation is through faith in Jesus and repentance from sin, so any ideas that going to heaven is a result of our own good works or participating in religious rituals are off the table. And so on.
So are statements of faith still necessary? Well, if our main reason for having a statement of faith is to separate ourselves out from other Christians as better or smarter because "we're right and they're wrong," then perhaps the days of detailed statements of faith are past. Our culture is increasingly post-Christian and as believers we need to band together for mutual support and mission rather than focusing on our differences. But on the other hand, our culture's descent into post-Christianity also poses certain dangers to the Christian church. Increasingly believers feel pressure to compromise on biblical positions. Many popular authors and teachers who claim to be Christian are coming out with teachings that fit comfortably with the trends in our culture but less comfortably with historic Christian belief. And as many people come to Christ with little or no Christian background, it can be easy for messages and doctrines that feel right to be believed whether they are true or not.
Given our cultural climate today having a statement of faith is still important and valuable. With an increase in evangelical Christianity to make celebrities out of teachers whose messages feel good but contain no hard truths, its helpful for our statement to remind us of the need to grow in holiness and to remember that those who do not know Christ face an eternity without him if they don't hear the gospel and respond to it. Like our skeletons, the point of having a statement of faith is not mainly that it be seen, but that it be there and that it give shape to all we do.
**As an Assemblies of God church, we subscribe to the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths, or the "16 Fundamentals" as they are commonly called. If you would like to read our church's statement of faith in full, you can do so here.***