Thursday, April 28, 2011

On "Statements of Faith"

I think it is good for Christians to state their faith. As a Lutheran, I state, or confess, my faith freely and publicly. I say what I believe, for my own benefit and for others. And because, frankly, Jesus Christ tells us to confess him before men (Matthew 10:32, Luke 12:8).

Some Baptists would say, "I make no statement of faith except the Bible". This paradoxical statement is itself a statement of faith, isn't it? Even so, it's not very handy. Shorter confessions of faith help us to define and differentiate what people teach about what the Bible actually says. Does the Bible teach that God is Triune or not? Is Jesus the Son of God, or not?

Others feel free to write their own statements of faith - and while this isn't forbidden (if those statements accord with God's word) - it may not always be most helpful. Isn't it better to subscribe to those time-tested universal Christian confessions known as the Ecumenical Creeds (the Apostle's, Nicene and Athanasian)?

Still many who confess the three Creeds would differ on important points. So we Lutherans subscribe to the Augsburg Confession, for instance, and the Book of Concord. These longer statements of faith express more clearly what we believe God's Word actually says. But we shorthand this confession as well, even by saying, "I'm a Lutheran" or "I'm a Confessional Lutheran".

I've been thinking a bit about the seemingly ubiquitous statements of faith that emerge from generic Evangelical American Christianity. You can see some examples here and here and here. Then there was the Christian Musician who emailed offering to come to our church for a concert.

Well, you get the idea. Once in a while members of our congregation will see these statements and ask me, "Pastor, don't we believe the same?" Of course, the answer isn't always so simple.

As my wife and I have been looking to homeschool beginning next Fall, we came across a local homeschool organization. They also have a "statement of faith" that we'd be required to sign if we join. Here it is:

Statement of Faith:

1.We believe the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, and it is the supreme and final authority for all matters of faith and life.

2.We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father , Son, and Holy Spirit.

3.We believe in the perfect deity and perfect humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, His sinless life, His miracles, His bodily resurrection, His ascension, and His bodily return in power and glory.

4.We believe that man was created in the image of God, but chose to sin and Is therefore lost and only those who put their faith in Jesus Christ alone are saved.

5.We believe that salvation is the gift of God brought to man by grace and is received by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ whose substitutionary death on the cross paid the penalty for man's sin, through His shed blood.

6.We believe that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to convict men of their sin, indwell, guide, instruct, and empower the believer for godly living and service.

7.We believe in the spiritual unity of believers through our common faith in Jesus Christ.

So some further thoughts:

Like many LCMS Lutherans, I find myself largely, if not entirely in agreement with many of these kinds of statements. We share much with conservative, Bible-believing Christians from many other denominations (or non-denominations).

Here's the rub. Notice what is usually conspicuously absent from these statements? If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran, you'll probably read them and scream in your head, "BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SACRAMENTS?"

I don't know why any one such group or person omits Baptism or the Lord's Supper from a statement of faith like these. But I figure it's one of two reasons. A) To be generic enough to avoid offending those who hold differing views on the sacraments, or B) Because the sacraments just aren't that important to their faith system.

I did note that the Campus Crusade for Christ statement mentioned "ordinances", which is a "red-flag" to a very different theology about Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Even the different terminology (ordinance vs. sacrament) shows this.

A trained theologian can also get a whiff of some other distinctions that may lie behind the statements - but often by what is NOT said as much as by what is.

What is fascinating to me, is that many who put forward such statements do so to differentiate themselves from liberal Christianity and from Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. Fair enough. But by the same token they want to minimize distinctions, it seems, within the certain bounds of conservative Christianity. It seems a bit inconsistent.

So, my questions for thought:

Can, or how can, a Lutheran, in good conscience subscribe to or agree with such a statement of faith? Surely it depends somewhat on the specifics of the particular statement. But in general, should we be signing on to something that doesn't fully confess what Lutherans do? That leaves out key teachings for the sake of an outward agreement or the appearance of such?

Could a Lutheran sign something like this with a "p.s., I also believe in the sacraments...." (if the group would allow it)?

...Oh, and I believe the Holy Spirit does all of that.... but His main work is to call us to faith in Christ by the Gospel.

...Oh yes, I believe in the "spiritual unity of all Christians" (we call it the "invisible church" or the Una Sancta), but Scripture also teaches that we are called to flee from error and have nothing to do with false teachers. That's why I belong to a particular denomination that confesses the truth rightly and clearly. Doesn't signing a vague statement which can purposely cover many different views run counter to that?

In fact, Lutherans have gone through this whole debate before. Phillip Melancthon and the Altered Augsburg Confession come to mind. He wanted to make our distinctive confession of the Sacrament more palatable to Calvinist Christians. But the Gnesio (genuine) Lutherans rejected this approach. That's why so many of our congregations bear the "UAC" moniker today - the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. Isn't this the same issue all over again?

1 comment:

Emily said...

Rev. Chryst,
I found your blog on Issues, Etc. As a 4-year veteran homeschooler, I have avoided groups that require a statement of faith for some of the reasons you cite. Also I think they allow members to feel a sense of security that is rattled when they find out you baptised your children as babies, for example. Furthermore, I don't think they are necessary. A Mormon friend of mine, and one of the best mothers and women I know, was a member of such a group for a year until they changed their statement of faith policy to one that specifically excluded her. I prefer my local Catholic homeschoolers group's approach: We are Catholic, we will do things according to the Catholic church, and with this in mind, all are welcome to join (the statement of faith you cited would exclude Catholics too, by the way, and I'd say we probably still have more in common with them than with many other denominations out there).

In general, I prefer my creeds and theology at church, and my homeschooling groups to be "all-inclusive." I find I can self-select with families we get along with, and who are respectful of our various beliefs (which we tend to discuss in great detail!)

Blessings to you and your family on your homeschooling journey,


P.S. Maybe your area is different, but in Virginia I never paid to join a group, either. I found there were so many people willing to organize outings and activities for free (including me!) that it wasn't necessary.