You and Your Church’s “Statement of Faith”

This from a friend …

If you attend a typical independent evangelical church, even one that is more pragmatic than doctrinaire, the church probably has a written “Statement of Faith,” which members are supposed to uphold.  As someone who participates in a community like Jesus Creed, you’ve probably thought through some of the issues reflected in your church’s Statement with some care — and there likely are points at which, at the very least, you’d want to interpret your church’s Statement in a way that almost certainly diverges from the intention of its original authors.  There may even be some points at which, if you’re honest, you’d have to say you really don’t agree with it.

Do you let the other stuff in the “Statement of Faith” slide, privately interpret it very broadly, hold your nose a little, sign up and then ignore it?  Do you initiate conversations with leadership to try and change things? Do you submit a statement of “reservations” as is permitted in some strongly confessional traditions?  To maintain your integrity, do you have to not seek or withdraw from membership and/or leadership?  Do you have to switch churches?  As a further twist, let’s say the senior leadership understands your reservations, doesn’t necessarily agree with all of them, but considers them secondary and is willing to tolerate them — but that the written Statement won’t or can’t be changed.  Is your subsequent ministry constrained by the Statement?

Just as one common example, many people eager to uphold the authority and integrity of scripture might nevertheless be very uncomfortable with language couched in terms of “verbal plenary inspiration” and “inerrant in the original autographs.” Some of you might even say you’re uncomfortable with such language precisely because you think it actually weakens the integrity of scripture (how would you even identify an “autograph” of a pseudepigraphical epistle, for example??) — but such language is very common in evangelical “Statements of Faith” (often because such Statements are recycled forms of things that have been around since the Bible Wars of the 1970’s).  And there are various other elements of the typical Statement of this sort that you might offer major or minor quibbles over — maybe it’s a reference to the rapture or the millennium, or overly specific language about Heaven and Hell, or something else.  The purpose isn’t to debate the merits of any of those things right now — just to identify some common ones that could be subject to question by a theologically informed person.

So what do you do, if you are or want to be an active “member” or leader in such a church?  Let’s say you’re fully happy to affirm a basic outline like the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed and to put them into a context of active piety, mission, and worship, and let’s also say that you genuinely want to participate faithfully in the body and your views of important ethical / moral issues are consistent with what the church expects.

Do you let the other stuff in the “Statement of Faith” slide, privately interpret it very broadly, hold your nose a little, sign up and then ignore it?  Do you initiate conversations with leadership to try and change things? Do you submit a statement of “reservations” as is permitted in some strongly confessional traditions?  To maintain your integrity, do you have to not seek or withdraw from membership and/or leadership?  Do you have to switch churches?  As a further twist, let’s say the senior leadership understands your reservations, doesn’t necessarily agree with all of them, but considers them secondary and is willing to tolerate them — but that the written Statement won’t or can’t be changed.  Is your subsequent ministry constrained by the Statement?

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  • In my case, in order to be a licensed minister in my denomination, I am supposed to uphold and not teach anything contrary to the denomination’s entire Constitution. This includes not only articles of faith and practice but even specific issues of polity, etc. When applying for my ministerial license, I noted a few objections I had to the Constitution but was licensed nonetheless. So, am I now supposed to keep quite about the objections I already confessed? Or do I preach and teach on those issues to try to effect change? (Parenthetically, one of those issues is that of women in ministry.) So far I have taken the latter approach. But then I’m a grad student who currently has very little to lose. I imagine if I were a longtime ordained pastor with a pension and health benefits, it might be more difficult to speak out. At the same time, I would venture to say that no one believes every last thing in the Constitution. Does this situation not erode the credibility of our Constitutions and/or our ministers?

  • Cameron

    My church (the Salvation Army) has a very broadly worded set of ‘Articles of Faith’. The idea is that we need to subscribe to a very general set of beliefs and anything else is negotiable.

    Of course, there is an accompanying ‘Handbook of Doctrine’ which narrows things down a bit. That’s reissued every few years, and more than one Honours thesis has reviewed the differences between the various editions.

    However, we do pride ourselves on pragmatism, and it’s more indicative that very few Honours theses are written by our members on theological topics. As long as you can sort of ascribe to the Articles, even if you have to squint a bit and cross your fingers, you’re probably okay. We think of ourselves as theologically conservative, but I’m not aware of anyone being shown the door for heresy.

    (Although there was an incident recently where one of our more, shall we say, outspoken members publicly denounced any Officer who doubted any of the articles as a ‘scoundrel.’ Lucky for him that he doesn’t allow comments on his blog!)

  • Mark Edward

    There are two or three churches, each from very different traditions, that I attend freely. (It depends on which of three areas of the US I am in at the time.) One is Wesleyan, one is Assemblies of God, one is Vineyard. For any of the three, I don’t intentionally interpret any of the points from their statements of faith just to make it fit my own views. Such would be simply dishonest.

    Out of the 21 of the Wesleyan Articles of Religion, there are at least 8 I disagree with in whole or in part, to which I would make editions (or omissions) in order to clarify my own beliefs when asked. Of the AoG Fundamental Truths, it is 6 of 16. Of the Vineyard Statement of Faith, it is 3 of 12.

    My point being that although I disagree with a third or more of any of these three groups’ creeds, I still gladly attend the churches. I am not formally a member of any of them (and probably can’t be, for some of those things I disagree with), but otherwise I gladly serve in the kingdom alongside them.

  • There is nothing in my church’s statement of faith that would make me “hold my nose”.

    There are things I am not as convinced about as the statement’s authors seem to be, but that does not bother me or anyone else at the church.

    In fact, I think it would be impossible for me to find a church where I agree with everything; in other words, a church which in its entirety is at exactly the same point, spiritually and theologically, where I am at this moment.

    If I insisted on that I would not go to church and would not be involved in ministry anywhere.

  • I should point out that I am in Vienna, Austria, where there are nowadays many more churches than back when Scot visited here; but nevertheless the choice is much more limited than in North America. We also face different issues as Evangelicals here than over your side of the pond.

  • Paul W

    I’ve never been a member at a church where one had to “sign off” on a doctrinal statement. Churches I have attended (for the most part) have typically had something like (1) a credible acknowledgement of having faith and/or (2) baptism as the requirement(s)for membership. I think the reasoning had something to do with having the same sort of entrance into the church that Jesus did for entrance into the kingdom.

  • My church, International Baptist of Vienna, actually does require agreement with the Doctrinal Statement as well as believer’s baptism in addition to faith in Christ, in order to become a member. But there is nothing in the constitution regarding what is supposed to happen if one’s convictions change at a later stage.

  • DRT

    I held several volunteer positions at my church where we told everyone that we do not have a statement of faith. That was one of the big draws for me to the church. But after repeatedly trying to get a bible study with a more emergent flair to it they finally showed me the documents and said I could not do that. In other words they had been lying to me for years and simply using passive aggressive tactics to get their way. I resigned my positions and when I asked to speak they filed a no trespassing rule so I could not even come on the property. Yikes!

  • My EFCA church requires that I “be in agreement with” the EFCA statement of faith in order to be a member. When I joined I wasn’t in disagreement about much of it (with the exception, perhaps, of the word “premillennial”.

    Three and a half years later there are a few more phrases that I find myself uneasy with, things like “without error in the original writings” and “eternal conscious punishment”. Like Wolf, who commented above, there is nothing in our bylaws regarding what happens if convictions change after the fact.

    Were I to serve in a teaching or leadership role, I would try to gracefully refrain from teaching in or addressing those areas. If there are brothers and sisters who really want to discuss those topics with me, I can carefully address it in terms of where my views are and why I have concerns with the official position… but those conversations can happen quietly to the side, and don’t need to interfere with me being a faithful member of my church community.

  • Phil

    This post is a timely reminder to me of why my denomination (the Evangelical Covenant Church) does not have a “statement of faith”, nor do most of our local churches. All such doctrinal statements are incomplete and (sorry to say this) just plain boring. I’m still waiting to see a doctrinal statement that articulates that most important of all New Testament doctrines: the primacy of the Jesus Creed as the only Jesus-endorsed standard for assessing Christian orthodoxy.

  • Norman

    Makes one wonder how Paul would have accommodated himself to those in the various churches today considering how he is on record with his attitude toward those in the past.

    1 Cor 9: 19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 TO THE JEWS I BECAME LIKE A JEW, to win the Jews. To those under the law I BECAME LIKE ONE UNDER THE LAW (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I BECAME LIKE ONE NOT HAVING THE LAW (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I BECAME WEAK, to win the weak. I HAVE BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

    How much do we think Paul would have stirred the pot to set people right or could he have compromised to work with those who didn’t quite have their theology right?

  • Emily

    I have attended a various number of churches and types of churches. Generally if I do not agree with the statement of faith, I don’t become an official member. I don’t particularly agree with the typical conception of “membership” anyway.
    At one particular church, I was urged to become a member. I didn’t ever officialize it, but I took membership classes to learn more. Eventually my pastor discouraged me from certain types of ministry God was leading me into that didn’t align with his beliefs (or was it the Westminster Confession of Faith?) and I left.

  • Percival

    I am like Chris (#9) also a member of the EFC and I was told that I need to be in general agreement with the statement of faith. I trust that the word “general” was an accurate implication of what it means to “in agreement with” instead of having to “agree with” everything in the statement. At the time, it made sense to me. I hope the church has not narrowed their requirements since then. I also have to agree with the doctrinal statement of the mission I work for. They have tried to make it general enough to work for them. I’m sure my interpretation of the language might stretch it a bit further than some are willing to allow.

  • I’ve always felt that an affirmation of inerrancy (or frankly, anything else, although I’ve never seen anything else affirmed) of “the original autographs” to be perhaps on of the most pointless affirmations available.

    This is not so much because the way inerrancy is usually defined makes me uncomfortable (although it does), but because affirming something about documents we don’t (and almost certainly can’t ever) have access to is an exercise in futility.

  • T

    Phil (10),

    You should check out the Cape Town Commitment from the Lausanne folks. It’s a “statement” of faith that is couched in terms of love. It’s pretty fantastic.

  • NathanS

    I’m new to church rules, policy, Statements of Faith, etc. And as such, I’m just wondering, is it difficult to find a church that states the same beliefs that individuals are looking for? And are we certain we don’t have this backwards? We obviously have much higher trust in ourselves, in our own opinions than we do in church in general, and maybe Church. Why do we expect to be able to form our own Statement of Faith and then change church to us, or even find a church that agree with us? Perhaps this is a bigger issue than our game of matching each of us to the ‘right’ church. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m new to this… These are just the questions that sparked as I read today.

  • Rick

    Phil #10-

    “the primacy of the Jesus Creed as the only Jesus-endorsed standard for assessing Christian orthodoxy”

    Perhaps the only one He spoke of. But is it the only God (Trinity) endorsed standard?

  • Blake

    I’m a strong believer that partaking in communion is more than a symbol of being a part of the Body of Christ. I believe it is a symbol of covenanting with the local Body of Christ in the work of God. For a while I would not take communion with churches that I had disagreements with regarding their confession. I began to realize that this is insufficient to my convictions regarding discipleship. Discipleship is more than orthodoxy it is also orthopraxy. Now I also won’t take communion with churches who I may agree with but don’t approve of the life of the church as it fails to live according to its own confession. Unfortunately, this means I don’t take communion anymore.

  • In danger of losing job

    I am an associate pastor at a church that requires me to be in 100% agreement with everything their doctirnal statement says. When I came here that was alright but over time I realized that some of the stuff was just plain wrong and even harmful to the cause of Christ. If they knew that I disagreed I would more than likely be let go and this poses a really serious problem for me. On the one hand I want to be faithful to God’s word and on the other keep my job because I have mouths to feed and student loans to pay back. So I am at a loss. What am I supposed to do? currently, I just keep my mouth shut and watch what I describe as a theological train wreck, all you can do is watch the train wreck.

    This has lead to a great deal of stress for my wife and I because at times I feel like I am being deceptive but I am just not sure what I am to do.

  • T


    I’m not following your question. Can you elaborate?

  • MD

    i expect all writers (i’ve read responses 1 – 15) think of themselves as “biblical” christians, or as faithful followers of jesus. how is it that i read comments such as “my church,” “my denomination,” “official member,” “officer,” “constitution,” “pension,” “health benefits,” “licensed minister,” AND references to the various statements of belief, most of which will have some elements which will conflict with one another (“handbook of doctrine – reissued every 5 years,” “articles of faith,” “wesleyan articles of religion,” AoG fundamentals of truth,” “vineyard statement of faith,” ” ‘my church’s statement of faith’ ,” “EFCA statement of faith?” seems to me that there is a whole lot of “STUFF” that we accept in the church, as it has been ordered throughout today, that is in conflict with biblical teaching and/or being faithful in following jesus.

  • (Caveat: this is off track, I admit, but since I see this mistake is made often it might be worth a brief mention.)

    Mark (13), there seems to be an unspecified conflation in your comment between the autographs as physical objects and the autographic text that was written on them. With regard to the former, all text critics would agree we have no access to. The latter is a different story, however. Many text critics (even non-Evangelical and non-Christian) are still very happy to affirm that we have the autographic text and can indeed access it in the vast majority of cases. Pete Williams of Tyndale House had some good, clarifying thoughts on this a few years ago.

    I’m not suggesting this settles the issue of inerrancy. But I am saying that when the meaning of “autograph” is clarified, the claim to inerrancy is not an obviously pointless one.

    Hope that helps some.

  • T


    What have you read specifically that is in conflict with biblical teaching and/or following Jesus? I’m not much of a defender of statements of faith as they are commonly used, but I’m curious about the conflict that you see from the comments and/or the post.

  • Pat Pope

    Hmmm….I left a church last year that was pretty firm about people being able to affirm all the points of doctrine for membership (I didn’t leave the church for this reason, but it did factor in to my leaving). Case in point, for a long time there was a strict policy on members not drinking until I, as an elder, broached the issue and we revised the stance to be a little more lenient in that if a person drank, we would discern whether not alcohol was a controlling factor in their life. The difficult one the I had to deal with though, was a straight woman who could not affirm that homosexuality is a sin. She went through the membership class with her husband and was honest about her feelings. When it came time for the overseers to review the application and proceed with an interview, they chose not to as they had great reservations about her view. These people were not mean, but could not move beyond their own views on the topic as well as their view that people needed to adhere to everything on the doctrinal checklist. We had many long and torturous conversations about the issue with me running as go-between listening to their concerns and the feelings of hurt of this young woman. The overseers were not able to move past their reservations, even when assured this woman wasn’t interested in teaching (an opportunity in which she might share these views). The woman was deeply hurt as she went through the required steps to membership, was honest about her feelings and then was rejected. It hurt her even more because she used to be a pagan and she endured a lot from Christians while in that lifestyle and in her mind it (persecution) was happening all over again, only now she was a Christian. It was during this same time that we tried having conversations about different levels of membership because we were noticing a lot of people coming to the church as a result of outreach that was being done in the community and many had an affinity for the church and the preaching even though they might not line up 100% doctrinally. This too was a hard sell for people who found the whole idea foreign and questioned why people would even want to be members if they couldn’t fall in link lock, stock and barrel. It was a painful time for me and really was going to require a culture shift for many in the church. Contrast that with a Baptist church I’m now part of that while they are aligned with American Baptist, have as part of their mission statement that they are open theologically and
    “individuals are free, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret scripture on their own.” It also recognizes the diversity of its congregation. So, there are gays in the congregation (in fact, a gay couple that felt rejected at my previous church are here), the pastor leads a Living the Questions class, which for those familiar with it, gets into some deep and controversial topics, a class I decided not to offer at the last church because it was clear their reticence at having such conversations. At this church, I’ve found an environment where the hard conversations can be had and there’s room for disagreement. What I found so ironic at the last church is that while there was an insistence that all members believe the same thing, in truth that was hardly the case. I know of people personally who drink and who joined before the rule was relaxed. Others have differing views on other topics. Sometimes with strict adherence, I think what a church ends up with is people who say what they have to in order to get in even if that means being dishonest to their real beliefs. But is that really what we want–people viewing membership as a hoop to jump through rather than truly engaging with the doctrines and being allowed freedom of thought? As for what I would do if in leadership again, I would hope to be somewhere that I could express my doubts, questions, etc. and not be penalized for it. But it’s tough when you’re dealing with institutions that will use that as an opportunity for exclusion. Every church has a right to its doctrine, I just question how unswervingly we hold to it, not even allowing room for other opinions. What happens when a person’s opinion changes over time? Should their membership be revoked? Going back to the woman I mentioned earlier, she would have been free to continue coming to the church and I know they wouldn’t turn down her money, but membership? That was out of the question. Having walked this road, there are no easy answers.

  • Pat Pope

    Sorry for the long post.

  • AHH

    This is a big question mark with the new ECO denomination (Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians) which the (PCUSA) church where I’m a member is considering joining.

    The denomination’s leadership says it wants to be oriented toward the center, not obsessing over boundaries. And they have explicitly denied being “subscriptionist”. Yet their polity seems to require pastors and church officers to adhere absolutely to an “Essential Tenets” document, even though an author of the document (which covers many nonessential points) has said it was not meant to be an object of subscription. So I don’t know if my disagreement with a few items in that document (like a statement about how God created humans) would disqualify me or not.

    There have been calls for them to clarify this apparent disconnect, but so far it has not happened. If the current polity and Essential Tenets documents stand, then I would have a decision about remaining an Elder which might require me to cross my fingers during my vows on the ground that agreeing with 95% of the document was close enough to 100%.

  • MD

    i read the elements i placed in quotes as generally accepted expressions of the church that turn an intended movement into an organization, that turn “mutuality” into hierarchy, and that divide rather than unite.

  • megan

    My church’s doctrinal statement is pretty light–none of the usual problems, except for the dreaded “inerrant in the original autographs.” When I became a member and was asked if I could affirm the statement of faith, I was honest about my reservations with that phrase. The leadership was more than willing to have me as a member despite my disagreements.

    Now that I’m in a leadership role, I’m honest about my feelings on this and other controversial topics not covered in the doctrinal statement, but where I know I’m outside of the mainstream thought. But in general, I try to avoid forcing my viewpoint not because I’m afraid, but because I don’t want to create an environment of division on contentious issues. I’ve been through plenty of churches where I was made to feel stupid or rebellious for my beliefs. I have no desire to do that to anyone else.

    That said, there is always a nagging fear in the back of my mind that something could change and send this whole arrangement south. I doubt it will, but I still fear that.

    It’s honestly never occurred to me to approach the leadership about changing the statement of faith, but if I had my way we’d stick with one of the creeds that have worked just fine for centuries and stop adding on.

  • Percival

    Blake! (#18)
    Brother, that is wrong on so many levels.

    Communion and statements of faith are completely different issues! One is about polity and the other is an acknowledgement of the lordship of Christ.

  • Rick

    T #20-

    Would “Jesus is Lord”, or 1 Cor 15 be a standard of orthodoxy, even though those were not said by Jesus? Cannot the Holy Spirit inspire what is considered orthodox?

  • Jeff Martin

    Gordon Fee is an example of someone who is ordained with the Assemblies of God, but should not be because, as he has written in many places, he disagrees with at least one of the fundamental truths. Many faculty members of Seminaries are part of the ETS yet do not agree with its base doctrine of inerrancy. They should do the right thing, and give up their membership.

  • Kenton

    Wow, this hits home for me. I have issues with a few points in the doctrine statement: eschatology, the role of women, the phrasing that makes scripture “authoritative and without error in any category of knowledge, including science and history, and are of supreme and final authority in all matters about which they speak”. To answer your questions: I privately interpret it very broadly. I hold my nose a little and ignore it. I have initiated conversations with leadership but for the most part what is said falls on deaf ears. (The ones that “get it” fall back on company line. No one really wants to rock the boat.) And I have tried to maintain your integrity by avoiding conflict. I haven’t had to switch churches yet, but I wonder how long I’ll be able to bear the tension. They ARE like family to me, and I would hope the feeling is mutual.

  • Doctrinal statements and mandatory subscription are the only protection that regular sheep have from the occasional wolf. So it is a good idea to make clergy and church leaders sign on to the appropriate doctrinal statement. Why this would be necessary for lay folks is a total mystery. It is a little like making students pass a final exam before they take the course. If you venture into many Sunday School classes and Bible studies, there is a wide variety of error and misunderstanding. Lay people should not be expected to conform to a precise theological statement, especially when so many teachers seem to be doctrinally challenged. I am an Anglican, so (for clergy, leaders and teachers) it’s the 39 Articles, the Creeds and the Christological doctrines of the first four ecumenical councils.

  • Pat Pope

    @Kenton, where there’s only one to find out just how much like family there are. Throw out a controversial thought, and you’ll quickly find out. Some will be tolerant and engage you in dialogue, while others will seek an audience with you demanding an explanation. I’ve seen it happen.

  • dopderbeck

    Pat (#33) — really? And not scripture, community, and the Holy Spirit? And don’t forget that in most evangelical churches “lay people” teach and lead small groups.

  • steve jung

    Not a member of an independent non denom because I could cut the “covenant of membership”. The first statement in the statement of faith is the inerrant view of scripture. I am into infallibility and authority (formerly of Evangelical Covenant). Because of this I am not supposed to be in any teaching ministries. Well, three years have passed and I’ve had meetings with a couple of the pastors and elders. I’ve substitute taught some adult Sunday School and led an evening college service (with communion). Though I am not a member, it is my church and my community.

    Prof. Jung

  • dopderbeck

    To me, among the difficult questions here for independent, non-confessional churches, is that there is no history / idea of what “subscription” or of the possible difference between “strict subscription” and other modes of affirmation; and correspondingly there is no notion of subscription with reservations. I’m guessing that even a strict subscriptionist Anglican like Pat (#33), for example, doesn’t really insist on putting into practice Article 35 of the 39 Articles concerning the public reading by ministers of the Second Book of Homilies.

    If a church is going to have a tightly defined, propositional statement of faith that requires some kind of subscription for membership and leadership, I think it ought to also have an “ecclesial” practice whereby an individual can file with the Elders (or whatever the leadership body is titled) a set of interpretive clarifications / reservations for consideration. The Elders / leaders can then decide, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whether the person is close enough to the general intent of the Statement to be invested with membership / leadership.

    But honestly — if it were up to me, the old form of bullet point propositional statement would give way to a narrative that tracks the form and general content of the Nicene / Apostle’s Creed, perhaps with some “evangelical” distinctives such as the importance of living faith and mission; and the prospective member would need to affirm that as a member he or she will strive to live the truths of that narrative, under the guidance and authority of the Elders and Pastors of the Church.

  • Dana Ames

    In the early stages of my Protestant journey, the statement of faith and its particulars meant a lot to me, both in what it said and my intention to follow it. It became less meaningful the older I got, and that sort of bothered me; I would rather have had a “looser”, more generalized list that everyone agreed on, than any kind of list against parts of which one had to hold one’s nose.

    When I was in the “evangelical wilderness” looking for a place where I might fit in, one of the first things I did when visiting a church’s web site was to go to their statement of faith page – or whatever they called it; a few were creative. If the first article was about the bible, I moved on. I think more than 90% of them had such a first article, no matter how trendy and skillfully built was the web site. A few had a narrative, usually beginning with creation. A very few had the Jesus Creed, or something like. A few had the Nicene/Apostle’s creed (or both). That was an interesting little survey.


  • dopderbeck

    Dana — you landed in the EO right? I still don’t fully understand how they regard such things.

    I resonate with your experience of website-visiting! There is nothing so jarring, IMHO, as a really cool, relationally-oriented website linking to a Statement of Faith from the 1970’s!

  • Blake

    Percival (#28),

    I think communion is meant to be done in community. It’s practice in scripture is in the context of a body of believers recognizing together the foundation for their fellowship. In that sense who is a part of taking communion is as important as the statement of faith. We have baptism to symbolize the new birth into the Body of Christ witnessed immediately by the local representatives of that Body. Communion is therefore also symbolic of being in good standing together reaffirming both fellowship with each other and the foundation from which it comes. Something important is lost to the church when communion is a ritual of the individual believer divorced from the larger body. Communion has meant something to the Church over time and part of church discipline used to be the withholding of it to those gone astray. If you went to a church that granted membership to people who were functionally unitarian universalist wouldn’t you have concerns about that church even if confessionally they were otherwise orthodox? In what sense can I or should I be in fellowship with a congregation that ignores open and flagrant sin, heresy or regular unChristlikeness in its midst?

  • Jon G

    Unfortunately for me, not believing in the Trinity has severely limited my ability to be a member in a church.

    Fortunately for me, I’ve found lots of ways to serve as a non-member and the current church I attend has no membership.

    Still, I believe if a church requires you to sign a statement that you believe what they profess, it would be wrong to sign such a document while believing otherwise.

  • Dana Ames

    dopderbeck @39,

    Yup, that’s where I landed.

    How they regard such things is that baptism ushers a person into a life lived the Holy Spirit of Jesus, but that nothing is “magical”. It’s very resistant to compartmentalization. However, every Liturgy (and at least once during daily private prayer) we recite the Nicene creed (absent filioque); so that would probably be the closest thing in EO to a “statement of faith”. But that needs to be “unpacked”, as N.T. Wright would say, and for EOrthodox it doesn’t make sense outside the Life of the Church.

    Interestingly, the Nicene Creed is just about the only prayer we say together that is first person singular: I believe… All the rest are plural: we, us throughout. As something that developed as a baptismal confession – though the catechumens did not recite it until after they were baptized, even having been taught about what it proclaims – it reflects that we are all together the Church and each human Person comes into the Body of Christ as a distinct hypostasis 🙂


  • dopderbeck

    So Dana — to “join” the church or participate as a lay leader, what do you have to do?

    In my evangelical church, we literally are asked to sign a document that includes a number of affirmations, including a form of a statement of faith.

  • Dana Ames

    You “join the church” when you are baptized and chrismated.

    If you want to participate as a lay leader in my parish, you have to be a faithful participant in the sacramental life of the parish in general, exhibit something of the love of Christ in your life, and have a blessing from the Rector (a bit more than simple permission – involves assessing and affirming gifting, desire, appropriate skill set, etc. but is not a “check the box” type of thing).

    Parish Council members are nominated and voted into office. Other things on a parish/local city level, you talk it over with the priest. Anything you want to do that’s more than parish/local city level, you and your priest talk it over with the bishop.

    When I was chrismated, I didn’t have to sign anything. Since I was an adult, during the reception of the Sacrament I had to specifically renounce some of the teachings of the churches I had been in, along with a sort of “blanket renunciation” of all heterodoxy. One has to be prepared to do that in good conscience. I promised in front of all gathered that I would be faithful, and witnessed to that by kissing the Gospel Book and the Cross. There was no specific test about knowing and agreeing with the finer points of O. theology. Confession of the Nicene Creed in good conscience is enough, and if a person is cognitively impaired and cannot understand it, but is otherwise of good will, to my knowledge the Sacrament is valid. It’s not about how much a person knows – babies and developmentally disabled people are communed, and Communion is the whole point…


  • Mike Sangrey

    I can’t help but think how far we’ve come (or gone). Paul did NOT confront the Corinthian unity issue (first few chapters) with any kind of a creed-is-normative answer. A rhetorical, “I wonder why?” seems obvious to me. Nor did he express any creedal motivated assessment in 1 Cor. 14 where mutual ministry is stressed. He didn’t say, “Two or three prophets who have signed the Statement of Faith should speak and the rest should determine whether or not their teaching agrees with the Statement.” His framework for resolving the types of issues we think we’re addressing with a Statement of Faith was entirely different than ours.

    I also couldn’t help but think that if persecution or oppression were the norm for us, then “Yes, I’m a follower of Christ” would be all the creed any of us would need with each other.

    For me, there are no right answers to the questions asked. I would have had to say ‘yes’ to many of the questions at one time or another. I’ve always justified (rightly or wrongly) the answers by acknowledging to myself the obvious: A Statement of Faith fails to adequately do for anyone (or the Church) what the originators thought it would do.

    I’ve also always discussed with the leadership any topic that seemed to be important to them. I think the ‘integrity’ point is an important one. Sadly though, this dialogue has always been met with either suspicion (on their part) or highly flexible answers. Answers which could result in their highly involving me in the Church or could result in me being shown the door.

    And, to be clear, I’ve always understood their dilemma (having been in a Church leadership position myself): it’s not like they’re going to be able to change the Statement of Faith.

    Sadly, the answers for many are to simply go elsewhere to a “Church of like common faith.” And such an attitude breaks the fundamental character of unity within the body of Christ.

  • Dana, may I ask what were some of the teachings from your previous churches you were required to renounce when you were chrismated?

  • Dana Ames

    1) The Filioque – I grew up Roman Catholic.
    Interestingly, I did not have to be re-baptized, because I’m old enough to have been baptized before the rite was changed as a result of Vatican II.

    2) Calvinism – since the last Protestant church I attended, for nine years, was Presbyterian. It was PCUSA, and our particular congregation and presbytery hardly had Calvin on the radar, but when I became a member there I promised to hold to the creeds and the Presbyterian confessions as far as conscience allowed. So there you go.

    The chrismation service for adults is sort of tailored to the need, in terms of renunciations 🙂


  • Chris White

    My church is Arminian but unofficially holds to the security of the believer. Yet it allows teaching of the other side of the issue–even one of the elders believes a believer can lose their salvation. When the issue arises in the Sunday teachings or in lay leadership classes–both sides are taught as acceptable positions so that the lay leaders (home church leaders) will be familiar with the issue and not let it become a controversy.

    On the other hand, in the church I used to attend, I did a survey of the lay teachers, board of ministry leaders, trustees and found that most of them did not have a clear (full) grasp of the Christian faith. The failed attempts to rectify this situation led me to find another church.

  • Darren King

    I can’t help but wonder if statements of faith are really, more than anything else, throwbacks to a time when Christianity was the go-to religion for the vast majority of Americans, and when “going to church” was the dominant way to express one’s Christianity. In that era statements of faith were more like advertising i.e. “We’re unique in the market because of A, B, and C. Come join us instead of them!” (Them meaning the church down the street)

    But in post-Christendom, in this “spiritual but not religious” climate, I wonder if they make much sense.

  • Bob Smallman

    I know I’m getting in on the tail end of the discussion (I’m on vacation, enjoying three of our grandchildren!), but I’d like to put in a good word for SOME kind of creedal statement — if for no other reason than to give folks a framework for what will be preached and taught. It’s nice to say, “We’re just going to follow Jesus,” but that could mean lots of different things to different people. (Mormons and Baptists both “believe the Bible,” but their output varies considerably.)

    Having said that, I’m part of a denomination that subscribes to an incredibly long and detailed doctrinal statement (the Westminster Confession of Faith). And while I as a pastor must subscribe to it (with reservations noted to and accepted by my presbytery), we receive members only on the basis of their “credible profession of faith” and don’t require them to subscribe to our confession. As I explain to people, it shouldn’t be harder to get into our church than it is to get into heaven! So we have lots of non-presbyterians in our congregation and people at all stages of their spiritual journeys.

    But our creed at least gives people a sense of what they can expect in terms of preaching content and provides a certain continuity amidst pastoral changes. [I could say a lot about preaching the text not the framework, but that’s a topic for another post!]

    Everybody has a creed, even if it’s not written down. The moment you answer the question, “So what do you believe about Jesus (or any other topic in the Bible)?” you’ve constructed a creed. So why not take the time to put together a thoughtful document of a particular church’s views on important doctrinal issues? For many, the Apostles Creed or one of the other early ecumenical creeds will be sufficient (and probably far better than some of the ad hoc statements I’ve seen).

  • Beakerj

    Our British church, which is an Independent Evangelical church ( but is influenced by American evangelicalism as we originally grew out of the work of L’Abri) has an ‘infalliblity & inerrancy’clause in our membership requirements. I believed this at the time, so signed (but couldn’t now), whereas my husband has always refused to sign because he believes it is a step too far & an expression of underlying bible worship. He holds scripture very highly, but this is not enough for membership, meaning he can’t lead anything in our congregation. The question is, do I resign my membership now my views have changed, or just not take it that seriously?

  • Kenton

    Pat #34-

    Yes! And I’ve done that. Not so much as a fleece, but because when you have those differences, integrity demands they get laid on the table. (While love demands care in the time and place for that.)The reaction has been everything from a sense of tolerance to a frustration that I’m out of line to full acceptence and in some cases – surprising cases even – full agreement.

    Kinda like what happens with a family. 🙂

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Pat Wood,

    I’m not sure what country you live in, maybe it’s different in England, but I’ve never heard that Episcopal clergy or laity in this country are expected to the sign on to the 39 Articles. I see them (and I think plenty of others agree) as an expression of what the Church of England believed in the 17th century, but not necessarily binding on us today.

    There are a bunch of the 39 Articles that I don’t agree with at all (in general, they’re too ‘Protestant’ for me to be comfortable with them).

    I think there are also a lot of Anglicans who would acknowledge seven ecumenical councils, not just four (personally I don’t see why the first four are qualitatively different from the three after that, and they all make important theological points).

    Dana Ames,

    Does the Orthodox Church do re-baptisms? I wasn’t aware of that.

  • Sherman Nobles

    I’ve come to the place, because of having come to believe that Jesus does not fail to save anyone (Universal Reconciliation), that most fellowships and denominations will not accept me as a member; their statement of faith precludes it.

    It’s very sad that “loving God and loving people is not enough.”

  • dopderbeck

    Bob (#50) — I think those are very helpful comments and I tend to agree with you. A framework of some kind is important. A distinction between ordained clergy and “members” maybe is appropriate. But I also think what you said here is key: “And while I as a pastor must subscribe to it (with reservations noted to and accepted by my presbytery)….”

    A confessional tradition with broader oversight bodies (e.g., a presbyterian form of government or something like that) can deal with nuance, conscience, etc. by allowing for “reservations” that are subject to review by the broader oversight body. There simply is no such mechanism or even the concept of any such mechanism, in my experience, in “independent” evangelical churches.

    Darren (#49) — the kind of “Statement of Faith” I’m referring to comes directly from the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the early 20th Century, the neo-Evangelical movement of the 1950’s-’70’s and the Bible Wars of the 1970’s-’80s. The distinctives in those statements that go beyond the basics of the early Creeds are directly tied to those movements. And, at least in my experience, that is what makes them difficult for “younger” evangelicals who want to maintain an “evangelical” ethos without necessarily tying it to the extremes of those historical battles.

  • C

    If I may put this one up for consideration. It’s the church I attend:

    It gets a bit too specific for my liking on one or two of the points in the “Some Essentials We Believe” section, but overall, I love the heart of it. And I especially love that this isn’t just a document, but actually how they operate day to day.

  • Scot,

    Here are seven guiding concepts I feel are relevant for statements of faith:

    1. God lavishes love and truth on his new-covenant communion of faith that is one in Christ

    2. The Spirit of Truth continuously “scouts” ahead of and guides the faithing-into-Christ community towards greater truth and transformation as circumstances change and mission outreach warrants—even before human leaders start acknowledging such need (e.g., Peter on seeing the Holy Spirit’s coming upon Gentiles in Acts 10:44–47)

    3. The Gospel “as the power of God for salvation” is too vibrant and dynamic a story of grace, deliverance, redemption, resurrection (etc.) to reduce to static, once-for-all propositions

    4. Summary statements of faith serve as temporary “teaching approximations” of orthodoxy and othopraxy (right belief and right practice)—in marked contrast to the abiding authority of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in particular and the word of God in general

    5. By responding to the perfecting Holy Spirit, our prayerful discussion of variances in understanding may contribute to upbuilding, uniting, and maturing the community of faith

    6. Boastful conflict and promoting polarization are contrary to the divine gift of unity, solidarity, and togetherness (*sobornost*)

    7. Not even doctrinal differences “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)


  • So, is “loving God and loving people” sufficient? My immediate reaction for “members” is, of course! Please remember that this comes from an Anglican (39 Articles and all that stuff). In my part of the Anglican universe, Anglican Mission, clergy, leaders and teachers sign a statement of belief annually subscribing to the Articles, Creeds, first four ecumenical councils, the 1662 prayer book, and our own Solemn Declaration. To repeat, doctrinal statements are an excellent way to protect sheep from wolves. But what about when one of the sheep starts making the other sheep sick? It may be enough to love God and neighbor, but this can easily shift to minimizing essential doctrines (the resurrection, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and so on). People who are going to teach, or otherwise spread serious errors need some pastoral attention. Practically speaking, there are probably a lot of opinions on how that should happen. If some church member holds an erroneous private opinion, it is the church’s job to teach and encourage that person toward the correct doctrinal position but probably not impose discipline. When we start dealing with individual believers, things get messy. Also, thanks to everybody that connected Baptism with Holy Communion. We are all “members” of the same church by faith in Jesus Christ and Baptism into his church. Baptized Christians who are not involved in serious public sin may freely come to the Lord’s Table. We should generally presume the best of fellow Christians. And we can probably let reading the Homilies slide (Article 35),

  • Dana Ames

    Hector @53,

    Yes – and it depends on some things. Generally, in order not to be re-baptized you have to have been baptized by triple immersion, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dipped (or poured on) once for each Person of the Trinity. There are some other considerations as well.

    Things were “looser” in the “olden days”, because entering Orthodoxy from another Christian confession was nearly universally done so that a couple could get married. In order to marry my Greek Orthodox uncle, my Italian Catholic aunt became Orthodox in the 1930s simply by profession of the Nicene Creed without the Filioque, I believe; I don’t think she even underwent chrismation. Nowadays, with lots of people coming from lots of different places and some groups and their practices unknown to the Orthodox, or viewed as heterodox by them, most “converts” in the US are re-baptized.


  • Sherman Nobles

    Is “loving God and loving people enough” in most churches? To put it simply, no. Some congregations, some statements of faith, are more exclusive than others, but most are exclusive to one degree or another. There is little or no room for honest disagreement in beliefs. I find this to be very sad. I also believe that truth is more powerful than error; and thus I do not fear others, even my own children, hearing or considering things that I don’t believe in. In fact, I enjoy studying scripture and considering concepts from different perspectives, seeking to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. I’d love to be part of a fellowship where loving God and loving people is enough, where there is room for open questions and disagreement, where humility, recongnizing I/we could be wrong, is prized more than certainty in what we believe. I’ve come to believe that how one lives, how one treats others is more important than one’s doctrinal beliefs. In fact, most passages concerning judgment deal with how we actually live, what we do with what has been given us, how we treat the less fortunate, how we treat others when we’ve been given authority, etc. Passages about judgment don’t worry me for others, but they sure scare the hell out of me!

  • Darren (#49), this is totally off topic, but I’m just curious – are you in the habit of wrapping duct tape around you head?

  • On “Loving God and Loving People” —

    well, while this sounds very nice, it is not really sufficient to define a CHRISTIAN church and its membership, is it? A Muslim could be said to love God and love people, so could an animist, or anyone else with some concept of God.

    So, in order to be a Christian church, we do have to expect a bit more than that …

    I understand Dana’s comment about being put off when the Scriptures are the first point of a Statement of Faith, because being a Christian church, our first article of faith should be about Christ — but in defense of those statements, isn’t it through Scripture that we know, authoritatively, about Christ?

  • Sherman Nobles

    Yes, but a Muslim is not a follower of “Christ” and does not claim to be such. For a “Christian” fellowship, being a follower of Jesus should be enough. Can one be a follower of Jesus and not understand or believe in the concept of the Trininty? I think so. Can one be a Oneness believer or even a Binitarian, and still love God, love people, a follow Jesus as best then can? Of course they can and I know people in each of those “camps” who I recognize as brothers in Christ, followers of Jesus.

    For me, I can worship God with anyone who wants to worship Him with me. I’ve even prayed with Jews who do not believe Jesus is the Messiah, prayed with them to God, whom we both believe in. Of course, they would not desire to be part of a “Christian” fellowship because they do not desire to follow Jesus or put their faith in Him. And I’d be glad to pray with any Muslims if they’d like to pray with me.

    So for those who want to follow Jesus togther, I believe “loving God and loving people is enough.”

    My daughter, 11, asked me a theological question one Sunday morning, a topic that divides many Christian fellowships from one another. I shared with her what various people believe, what I believe, and encouraged her to think about it on her own because I could certainly be wrong. Anyhow, my son, Daniel, 7, spoke up and said, “Dad, you know, I’d like to be part of a church where loving God and loving people is enough” to which I replied, “Me too!”

    Concerning knowing about Christ “authoritatively” through scripture, I’ve found that personal experience is much more “authoritative” for me. I share from what I’ve experienced of God, not just what others have written about their experience. I believe that scripture, reason, experience, and tradition are all important means of faith in knowing God. To me, scripture is primary, but it is not sole. Others have had tremendous experiences of God without knowing scripture. And some times, God breaks through our traditions and teaches us something different either through scripture, reason, or experience.

  • dopderbeck

    “Loving God and Loving People” is not in itself a sufficient principle for fully participating in a Christian community because this doesn’t necessarily say anything about Jesus. IMHO, the most helpful Biblical text here is the letter of 1 John. The criteria there are acknowledging that Jesus has come in the flesh — i.e. that Jesus is really human and really divine — and loving others. 1 John of course responds to a specific circumstance (probably some kind of Gnosticism), but it establishes a helpful pattern: the central affirmation is about Jesus (which of course implies something about God as “Father” and “Spirit” as well), and the central practice is love.

  • dopderbeck

    Wolf Paul (#62) — I would say yes and no — I think we “know” about Christ “authoritatively” (1) through the Apostolic witness of the Church’s experience with the living Christ — that is, through living testimony to the transforming power of the living Kingdom inaugurated by the living and risen and present Christ; (2) through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit as present within the life of the Church; and (3) through the testimony of Scripture which bears witness to and is understood in light of the Apostolic witness and the present experience of Christ through the Spirit. Scripture, I would say, anchors tradition (Apostolic witness) and experience as the unique deposit concerning Christ. So yes, we do know about Christ through Scripture, but not until we already know Christ experientially as the living Lord of the Church, and then accordingly read Scripture as a testimony to him.

    So maybe I’m kind of agreeing with you, but looking at it in this light — Christ comes first, then we can talk about “Scripture” — is really contrary to what these old-school evangelical “Statements of Faith” do when they start with the Bible in a foundationalist fashion.

  • dopderbeck

    Pat (#58) — but if you let Article 35 slide, why that one and not others? I’m not being argumentative or facetious. I think this just illustrates that even the strictest of strict subscriptionists in the tightest of denominations must at some point not actually be so strict.

    The reality is that all confessions, creeds and doctrinal statements must be provisional, contextual, second-order statements about first-order realities; they are not the realities themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re useless, but I think any realistic use of them must acknowledge the need for possible development and some degree of flexibility.

  • RJS

    dopderbek (#66)

    I really like the way you put it in the second paragraph – they have value, but must be held with some flexibility.

  • No offense taken, dopderbeck. Your observation about Article 35 is very much on point. I am certainly not a theologian, but the language of theology is precise. Those who know how to use it are able to finesse the finer points of scripture and doctrine so that there always seems to be some wiggle room. Lay people are at a considerable disadvantage in this realm, which is why one should be suspicious of requiring some sort of subscription from the laity. I don’t expect doctrinal statements to be anything more than a minimal protection against those who might teach some serious error. Those confessions, creeds, and doctrinal statements, however, address the spiritual dangers faced by human souls, and that is very real. Each of those statements is subject to interpretation, so one might get soft on Article 35, but we are never entitled to compromise essential doctrines. Again, a human judgment. We are all imperfect and that is why we must ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Now, I have to go track down a modern language version of the Homilies.

  • Dana Ames

    what dopderbeck said @65.

    Knowing happens with more than the brain dealing with a text, no matter how “authoritative” the text; otherwise, “God” is merely a concept.


  • It’s no longer an issue for me. I have left my last affiliation with an institutiona church (which had several items in it’s statement of faith that I was not onboard with, some having changed over the course of my 10 years there.) Moving forward, I have no intention of ever formally joining an institutional church again.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: Yes – and it depends on some things. Generally, in order not to be re-baptized you have to have been baptized by triple immersion, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dipped (or poured on) once for each Person of the Trinity. There are some other considerations as well.


    That’s really interesting, and I wasn’t aware. I know that the Catholic and Anglican communions generally frown on re-baptism, and will only do them if there’s evidence the first baptism was invalid. (E.g. if it was done using a non-Trinitarian formula like ‘in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer’, as some culturally-liberal Episcopal parishes are trying to do, then Rome has said that such baptisms are not valid). I would have thought the Orthodox would share that critical view of re-baptism, so I was surprised to hear that’s not true.

    I’m really interested in Orthodoxy, and though I doubt I’ll ever convert, it’s not impossible.

  • Sherman Nobles

    dopderdbeck @ 64, “loving God and loving people” is what I believe should be the foundation of our relationships with one another. If we do that then the other things will fall in place. It reminds me of what Jesus said was the first and foremost commandments, to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The rest of the law/teachings hangs on these attitudes. If our attitudes towards one another are right then we can grow together in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. If our attitudes stink though, then our agreement on any statement of faith is about useless, imo, or at least that’s what I’ve experienced.

    As you said though, statements of faith are not useless, they are important, but I don’t believe they should be the “line in the sand” that separates those who are in and those who are out. I think that if God accepts a person into The Church, then we should accept a person into our church. And Jesus said you would know His followers by their love for one another.

  • Dana Ames


    In the words of Fr Stephen Freeman, the situation of Christian churches these days is “unnatural”. In the past, esp in “the old country”, if one said one was baptized “X”, everyone knew what “X” was and what it entailed. In this country at this time, hardly at all… So most of the time now in the US, reception of adults into Orthodoxy is by baptism and chrismation. It’s not that a previous baptism was without meaning; it’s just that it’s not known exactly what meaning it had, so bases are being covered.

    Do visit Fr Stephen’s blog,


  • Any group has to have an idea of why it’s there, what it stands for, and where it’s intending to go. “Squish room” is needed to prevent this from becoming a straightjacket. A congregation is no different.

    The more complicated thing is to establish what it is you *teach* and *attempt to live by*. (Hence the reference to much longer documents in many of these comments.) What is the thinking and the behavior that the group functions by? If it goes unstated, there is only the broad guidance of the statement of faith, and thus drift and some confusion; if it is stated, then it will inevitably block people from exercising gifts (and new direction) that the Spirit is giving them.

    Then, there is the question of a person’s change of beliefs or approaches to those beliefs. I would suggest that at some point, the person’s participation in the community *as a member/part/example of that specific community* becomes spiritually dishonest. On of the things that has long plagued Catholicism and the mainline churches (and now evangelicals too) is the person who calls for a particular change. I can’t tell you how many times I speak to such folks only to find how far they’ve actually moved in their thinking, to the point that they’re advocating and *committing* to opposing foundational beliefs of their identifying community. The argument is that a community is defined by its people; if this is who you came from or who you worship with, then that’s who you are. But at what point do your changes make that identification a lie? When does it become time to admit “I’m not an XXX, I believe as a YYY”? And when does the community itself or its leaders have the right to say it has happened?

    Please, don’t get me wrong here – I’m not an advocate of purges and shunning and hateful fights. But can’t a group decide that we’ll respect and listen to person X’s point of view, but not as coming from one of our own but as someone from another belief family, despite their claimed identity? Because quite often, that’s more true.