by Matt Slick
Over the years, I've been asked to take a look at various websites of churches and/or religious organizations. I invariably gravitate towards the statement of faith. Unfortunately, not all websites have statements of faith. Of those that do, I find most are sufficient. However, occasionally I will find a statement of faith that is rather generic and woefully insufficient. So, how should we write a good statement of faith? I'd like to offer the following suggestions.
Of course, when delving into spiritual matters and seeking to accurately represent the word of God, prayer should be a part of the process. In fact, it should be the first thing we do. After all, we are asking for guidance.
Know what you believe
You can't write about what you don't know - though some try. You should know exactly what it is you believe so you can articulate it. Along this line of thought, I would recommend that people learn such terms as Trinity, hypostatic union, justification, sanctification, imputation, salvation, atonement, etc. Such words are theological as well as biblical. So, it helps to know what words to use. After all, words are the tools of theology.
Decide what areas are important
In order to do this, it helps to know what the essentials of the Christian faith are and are not. For example, the Trinity is an essential doctrine that defines the God of Christianity, but worshiping on Saturday or Sunday is not an essential doctrine since worshiping on either day does not make someone a Christian or not. This is important because the essential doctrines should be clearly defined, and the nonessentials should be approached with grace so that a variety of opinions are allowed.
Whenever possible, it is best to document your statement of faith with Scriptures. It is the word of God to which we must appeal in order to validate our faith. If your position cannot be found in Scripture, perhaps it should not be included in a statement of faith, unless, however, it is stated that such a position is not explicitly declared in Scripture but as an opinion.
Affirm and Deny
For clarity purposes it is best to affirm a doctrine and deny a heresy. In other words, declare what you affirm and also deny what you disagree with. So, an example would be in the doctrine of the Trinity. Here is a quote from the CARM Statement of Faith. Notice how it affirms and denies as well as provides Scripture.
"There is one God in whom are three eternal, distinct, simultaneous persons--the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. All three are the one God, coeternal, coequal, etc., yet there is only one God--not three gods--and not one person who took three modes, offices, or forms. (Isaiah 44:6, 8; 45:5; Gen. 1:26-27; 3:22; Matt. 3:17; 28:19; Luke 9:35; 2 Cor. 13:14)."
Examples of poorly written statements
"We believe in God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit."
This statement is not clear at all. It does not affirm or deny the Trinity. In fact, Oneness Pentecostal people could affirm it, as well as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, yet they deny the Trinity. They do, however, use the same words but they have different meanings. Oneness Pentecostal theology says there is one person in the Godhead who took three different manifestations. Some of them say that the Father became Jesus who then became the Holy Spirit. The Mormons teach that God is only one of many gods and that there is a God the Father, another God who is called Jesus, and another God who is the Holy Spirit. The Jehovah's Witnesses believe in God the Father, but say that Jesus is Michael the Archangel, and the Holy Spirit is a force like radar. So, without clarification the statement is completely insufficient.
"We believe in salvation by grace."
The term salvation would need to be defined. In Mormonism salvation is universal resurrection. In Roman Catholicism salvation is by grace, but they mean that grace enables them to do good works by which they are then saved. It is not clear. Here is the CARM statement of faith on salvation:
"Salvation is being saved from the righteous judgment of God upon the sinner. Salvation is obtained by grace alone, through faith alone, in the work of Christ alone (John 3:16) and not by our good works (Rom. 3:20; Eph. 2:8-9). We are chosen for salvation by God (2 Thess. 2:13)."
Please notice how salvation is defined and affirmed. Also, there is a denial so as to further clarify what the doctrinal statement means.
"We believe in the resurrection of Christ."
What kind of resurrection is intended? Is the resurrection physical, spiritual, or both? The Jehovah's Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ is resurrected, but not physically. They say it was a spiritual resurrection. So, in order to exclude them from the statement of faith, precision is necessary. Please consider again the CARM statement of faith on this topic.
"Jesus Christ rose from the dead in the same body He died in after being in the grave for three days. He was raised in a glorified, physical body (still retaining his crucifixion wounds). He ascended bodily into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and rules heaven and earth. (John 2:19; 1 Cor. 15; Luke 24:39). Likewise, we Christians will be raised bodily from the dead and spend eternity with the Lord."