In the category of things that slip you by, the UK EA last month announced a new basis of faith. Things could get interesting around September time when this becomes active- it seems to me some of these items have been sharpened- I wonder how many people will struggle to affirm 3, 6, and for that matter 11.
It seems strange that the EA have moved quickly to remove mention of the old basis of faith from their website- perhaps to avoid the kind of point by point analysis I am going to attempt here.
Fortunately, I found a website with an old copy of the EA’s basis of faith on it. I know this will be hard for some to understand, but the family of churches I am part of doesnt actually have a statement of faith of its own, prefering to maintain its amazing degree of doctrinal consistency by relationships. Thus, for many of our churches including York City Church who’s website had a copy of the old one, the EA’s statement of faith is the nearest we come to a statement of faith to define our doctrine. Thus, its probably a good idea for us more than anyone to note any differences in what the EA basis of faith actually says.
I assume that at some point all member organisations (and individuals?) will be asked if they are still happy to affirm the new statement- I suppose that may happen after Sept 2005.
New Statement of Faith
We believe in…
1. The one true God who lives eternally in three persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
2. The love, grace and sovereignty of God in creating, sustaining, ruling, redeeming and judging the world.
3. The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.
4. The dignity of all people, made male and female in God’s image to love, be holy and care for creation, yet corrupted by sin, which incurs divine wrath and judgement.
5. The incarnation of God’s eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ born of the virgin Mary, truly divine and truly human, yet without sin.
6. The atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross: dying in our place, paying the price of sin and defeating evil, so reconciling us with God.
7. The bodily resurrection of Christ, the firstfruit of our resurrection; his ascension to the Father, and his reign and mediation as the only Saviour of the world.
8. The justification of sinners solely by the grace of God through faith in Christ.
9. The ministry of God the Holy Spirit, who leads us to repentance, unites us with Christ through new birth, empowers our discipleship and enables our witness.
10. The Church, the body of Christ both local and universal, the priesthood of all believers given life by the Spirit and endowed with the Spirit’s gifts to worship God and proclaim the gospel, promoting justice and love.
11. The personal and visible return of Jesus Christ to fulfil the purposes of God, who will raise all people to judgement, bring eternal life to the redeemed and eternal condemnation to the lost, and establish a new heaven and new earth.
Old Statement of Faith
Evangelical Christians accept the revelation of the triune God given in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and confess the historic faith of the Gospel therein set forth. They here assert doctrines which they regard as crucial to the understanding of the faith, and which should issue in mutual love, practical Christian service and evangelical concern.
* The sovereignty and grace of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in creation, providence, revelation, redemption and final judgement.
* The divine inspiration of the Holy Scripture and its consequent entire trustworthiness and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
* The universal sinfulness and guilt of fallen man, making him subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.
* The substitutionary sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God as the sole all-sufficient ground of redemption from the guilt and power of sin, and from its eternal consequences.
* The justification of the sinner solely by the grace of God through faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
* The illuminating, regenerating, indwelling and sanctifying work of God the Holy Spirit.
* The priesthood of all believers, who form the universal Church, the Body of which Christ is the Head and which is committed by His command to the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world.
* The expectation of the personal, visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory.
So comparing the two statements point by point, using the new statements numbering system, what are the main differences and do they matter?
1. The word “triune” has been dropped in favour of a description of doctrine that few would be able to deny amounted to the trinity. Since some would have a problem with the word “trinity” but still believe in a three-in-one God, this difference seems minor. I certainly dont think its worth getting excited for. To make the statement more accessible to someone looking at Christianity without the benefit of knowledge of theological words this change may well be sensible.
2. By making love explicit the statement is more true to the Bible which states “God is love”. We are wrong to assume that everyone understands this, so it is good to add this statment. Removing the concept of providence and revelation seems to loose something in my view which is not fully captured in the notion of sustain. Maybe this is a concession to Arminians (many of whom I would of course recognise as genuine evangelicals) but for me Gods sovereignty over the nations is more than a mere sustaining. History is HIS-STORY which he ordains and over-rules. It concerns me slightly that this new statement of faith would initially appear to leave open the option of Open Theism, although to be fair in my mind at its most extreme that would exclude the notion of a sovereign God.
3. The supremacy of the Scripture- now theres a welcome addition that is sure to rile some of our “emergent” friends. I couldnt agree more. Much as I believe in the personal relationship with God, it is vital that we have a source of authority to appeal to- not the church, not my hunch, not a pope-like figure, but the Bible. I believe this language strengthens the view of scripture compared to the old one.
4. I like this rewording, as it emphasises that man remains made in God’s image, without denying the doctrine of the depravity of man.
5. It seems strange that the old statement did not talk of the incarnation of Jesus, and again this statement appears clear and concise.
6. I am not sure on reflection who wins on this one- “in my place” would to me mean “substitutionary” but I wonder what those who deny penal substitution make of this. Wheres Richard and Sven when you need them?
7. Making the statement about resurrection explicitly bodily and adding the fact Jesus is the only saviour of the world is a good step also.
8. The change here seems insignificant
9. Although a new expression is unlikely to be controversial
10. I am thrilled at the mention of the local church, which needs to be reinforced as a vital part of Christian doctrine. I am surprised by the mention here of gifts of the Spirit, and here wonder what some of our less charismatic brothers might make of this statemement. I do hope it wouldnt define jollyblogger as a non-evangelical!
11. Talking of defining great men as non-evangelical didnt Stott at one point have a problem affirming this last point?
Finally, At first glance it seems that concepts like “mut
ual love, Christian service and evangelical concern have been lost”, in fact these now sit in a mission statement that is also available online.
What are we to conclude in all this? This new basis of faith is definitely an attempt to make the doctrines of the church more understandable to modern man, which is a good motivation. All in all, I welcome this new statement and have no qualms in affirming my personal allegiance to it as a clear and simple statement of what I believe. I am eager to see what some of my readers and commentators think.
Having said that, the devil is always in the detail and I sincerely doubt the value of any document like this in protecting doctrinal unity. It will only be in discussion of each of these points and there implications that someones true doctrinal stand becomes clear. Thus clarification of doctrine can be done to some degree in writing, but I am increasingly convinced is best done through personal relationships.