‘Statements of faith’ are really long creeds for the anti-creedal

Christian Piatt discusses “The Fallacy of Statements of Faith“:

A while back, I was applying for an editing job with a fairly prominent Christian media company, and in the application process, I was asked to sign a statement of faith. For those unfamiliar, this is a list of things that the organization in question claims to believe, and they ask all who are interested in being a part of it to sign their name, claiming their personal agreement with and belief in the exact same things.

… I appreciate that some folks want to be very explicit and clear about what they believe. I also understand why those in charge of an organization would try to teach or persuade those involved with them to believe likewise.

But personally, I think the whole “sign the statement of faith” thing is more or less pointless.

The oddest thing to me about the prevalence of “statements of faith” in evangelical circles is that such statements arose due to an “aversion for all creeds but the Bible.” (That phrase is from the 1845 Address to the Public on the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

That anti-creedal Baptist impulse of “no creed but the Bible” is why most evangelical churches today, unlike their mainline Protestant counterparts, do not recite the Nicene or Apostles creeds in their worship — or pretty much ever. Instead evangelicals have statements of faith — the new creeds we refuse to call creeds.

Also consider this: The Nicene Creed is a mere 222 words long. The Apostles Creed is only half as long.

The statement of faith used by the Southern Baptist Convention and its seminaries is more than 5,000 words long.

At that length, a statement of faith no longer functions as a creed-by-another-name. At that length, the SBC’s statement of faith seems intended to provide denominational lawyers and scribes a pretext for condemning anyone who gets out of line.

* * * * * * * * *

What is evangelicalism?” John Turner asks at The Anxious Bench.

He offers his own definition of “evangelicals”:

Protestant Christians who readily talk about their experience of salvation in Jesus Christ, regard a divinely inspired Bible as the ultimate authority on matters of faith and practice, and engage the world in which they live through evangelism and other forms of mission.

Turner confesses that this is “a bit informal and imprecise,” but it’s not a bad effort at describing an American evangelical in, say, 1990.

In 2012, though, Turner’s definition is hopelessly out of date.

Evangelicals are a tribe of white Protestants who oppose legal abortion and civil rights for homosexuals. That is how evangelicals choose to define themselves today and thus that is what “evangelical” now means.

And that is all that “evangelical” now means.

You may “readily talk about your experience of salvation in Jesus Christ, regard a divinely inspired Bible as the ultimate authority on matters of faith and practice, and engage the world in which you live through evangelism and other forms of mission,” but none of that is either necessary or sufficient for membership in the evangelical tribe.

Opposition to abortion and gay rights are necessary for membership in the evangelical tribe. And they are sufficient for such membership.

That is why Jay Bakker is considered “post-evangelical.” Bakker supports full equality for LGBT people and thus he is not part of the tribe — never mind his theology and spirituality.

But Mitt Romney now opposes legal abortion and legal equality, so he therefore is part of the tribe — never mind his theology and spirituality.

  • Innisfree

    I’m not familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism, but I’ll look it up.  I don’t think I need to memorize 129 questions and answers.  The Apostle’s Creed is the most succint yet comprehensive Statement of Faith I’ve ever read.  Works for me…and I highly recommend it to all my fellow Christians.  Blessings & Peace, J 

  • Innisfree

    Hmmm.  You “take it as a given that the creeds can be understood metaphorically”?  Why not in actuality?  Yes, I get that the Bible has its allegorical elements and is not to be regarded as a historical treatise.  However, when it comes to the Resurrection of the Body, I believe that we–as Christians–really do believe that Christ actually rose from the dead and, eventually, ascended into Heaven and is sitting at the right hand of the Father.  I have a theory that those who believe this only in the metaphorical sense are afraid to commit all the way…either because they don’t fully believe in the Divinity of Jesus…or they think it all sounds “too good to be true.”  Sort of like a person who wants to jump headfirst into the pool…but without getting their hair wet.  It’s a cop-out to say, “…whatever that means.”  Words DO have meaning…and it’s incumbent upon us to understand what the meaning is.  Blessings, J 

  • mud man

    You let Satan steal all the good words, pretty soon you won’t have any words at all. You gotta fight for your right to party.

  • Tricksterson

    Since Fred is an Evangelical I’m guessing he goes regularly.  Maybe not though,  As fooor what I’d replace the carious Creeds and faith statements I offer the Discordian Credo:

    Think For Yourself, Schmuck!

  • Joykins

     However, when it comes to the Resurrection of the Body, I believe that we–as Christians–really do believe that Christ actually rose from the dead and, eventually, ascended into Heaven and is sitting at the right hand of the Father.

    It never occurred to me until you wrote this here that anyone thought that “the resurrection of the body” meant Christ’s resurrection.  That section goes like this:

    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; 
    he suffered death and was buried. 
    On the third day he rose again 
    in accordance with the Scriptures; 
    he ascended into heaven 
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 

    The resurrection of the body part comes later and I had always understood it to refer to the general resurrection as in Rev. 20.

    I think as Christians we are free to believe it (or parts of it) metaphorically or literally, however you come to it.  I don’t dictate how someone should engage with their faith. Meanings that seem obvious to one person are extremely murky to others, and vice versa. There is a long Christian tradition of understanding things that seem literal as metaphors–read Augustine on Genesis sometime–it’ll blow your mind (it did mine).

  • hf

     Why do you need to ‘reaffirm what you believe’ through empty words?

    Since I think you’re wrong both Biblically and morally, maybe I should encourage you to stick with the empty words. But I don’t know what that accomplishes, assuming you actually believe it and don’t just expect good results from making these noises with your mouth. And if you think you have good reason to believe it, which you can show or explain to others, then I’d expect the “statement” to look more like a syllabus of what you can teach. Nobody would have to affirm it going in (nor, again, would the test consist solely of repeating words). You just explain why you believe what you believe to anyone who wants to know.

    Though if you really think all your beliefs are clear and obvious readings of the Bible, then the question seems much easier. Drop all these man-made “statements” and direct people to the Bible.

  • heckblazer

    “Resurrection of the body” has generally been interpreted to mean that at the Second Coming  Jesus the dead will physical rise up and live again.   That’s why until about 15 years ago the Catholic Church forbade cremation, since destroying the body was seen as a denial.  It’s also why it was a practice in parts of Medieval Europe to bury the dead pointing west; that way when they rose up from the grave (like the vampire in Nosferatu I guess) they would be facing east and the glory of God.

  • Münchner kindl

    …except that “creed” comes from the Latin “credo”, meaning “I believe”. So really, “Statement of faith” pretty much *means* “creed” anyway, which just makes the whole thing more ridiculous.

    Only if you know heathen foreign tongues like Latin, which any RTC won’t. If King James English was good enough for God and the Bible, it’s good enough for everybody else! (Though they don’t even keep that – they speak contemporary American English, not King James English in their daily lives.)

  • Elizabby

    Whenever we decide to use the Apostles Creed, for example, you might hear me muttering under my breath “I believe in the … communion of saints whatever that means, the resurrection of the body whatever that means…”

    I think this is a bit of a shame. When I was confirmed in my church, we were required to take a short course to make sure that we understood what it was that we were signing up for. It included an explanation of “communion of saints” and “resurrection of the body” and “holy catholic and apostolic church” actually meant – probably the three points most likely to cause confusion.

  • http://politicsproseotherthings.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel

     You are clueless. How does he know? He is an evangelical. And if you think you are clever for accusing a liberal of “intolerance,” disabuse yourself of the notion immediately. Even our resident troll is smarter than that.

    P.S. To other posters, evangelicals may talk about Mark of the Beast. This post has the mark of the Christian Jerk. Its where they spend the entire post insulting and calling you names, then sign off with a finisher like “Blessings and Peace” or “God be with you.” Bonus points if they told you you’re hellbound in the post. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    And, do you…give away all YOUR possessions to the poor…O, Bleeding Heart?

    No, I don’t. I’m not expecting anyone to sign a statement of assent to biblical principles before they work for me, either. (BTW, I reckon caring for the needs of the poor is much more a “foundational tenet of Christianity” than opposition to gay marriage, which was a non-existent concept when Christianity was founded).

    Once again, I think you are misinterpreting the dialogue between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10, Matthew 19 and Luke 18). As was his wont, Jesus employs hyperbole to demonstrate the “one thing lacking” in the Rich Young Ruler: i.e., a lack of faith manifested in his greater love for his material wealth than his desire for eternal life. This is the point being made.

    I disagree with your interpretation. As, I believe, did the authors of the epistles of James and John, the gospel of Matthew, and numerous of the prophets both major and minor.

  • Tricksterson

    I think I’d like Evangelicals a bit more if they did speak Elizabethan English.  It’s one of the things I find cool about Quakers.  Not to mention their doctrine is about a thousand times more Christian than most fundies.

  • The_L1985

    …Um.  The idea of treating gay people the same as everybody else actually pre-dates the word “homosexual” by thousands of years.  Before Christianity arose, there was exactly ONE country that viewed homosexual sex any differently from heterosexual sex–Israel.

    And homosexual people are more than just the kind of sex they have, just as the rest of us are.

  • swbarnes2

    “Whenever we decide to use the Apostles Creed, for example, you might hear me muttering under my breath “I believe in the … communion of saints whatever that means, the resurrection of the body whatever that means…”

    What is the point of saying you believe X when you don’t know what X is?

    How would you ever detect that X is wrong, when you can’t articulate it what X actually is?

  • JenL

     Does  he not realize that the fee he pays to haul his trash away would go up if the company wasn’t subsidizing costs by recycling? That recycling income doesn’t just benefit the company, it benefits him.

     

    Since the recycling bins didn’t come with a reduction in the fees we pay, no.  The concept that increased/improved recycling over time will lower or slow the growth in fees – well, he’s certainly capable of understanding it, but you’d never convince him that a company would actually DO it.

    On the other hand, while utterly distrusting all corporations, his distrust of government is primary.  Mention a government-run healthcare plan, and oh, no that’s horrible and inefficient and full of fraud, and government needs to get out of healthcare.  Mention a health insurance company – they’re all just a bunch of scammers, cheaters, and liars.

  • Tricksterson

    So if he doesn’t trust public or private institutions with health care what is his solution?  Don’t know how old you are and therefore no real indication of how old he is but am gonna assume 40s-50s which means his health problems are only going to accelerate so I would think that paying for medical care would be a high priority for him.

  • JenL

    So if he doesn’t trust public or private institutions with health care what is his solution?  Don’t know how old you are and therefore no real indication of how old he is but am gonna assume 40s-50s which means his health problems are only going to accelerate so I would think that paying for medical care would be a high priority for him.

     

    He’s a crabby old guy in his 70s, who seems doom and gloom everywhere.  He’d MUCH rather complain than propose solutions.  Just like the recycling bit.  He’s sure they’re making a profit off of asking him to recycle, so he decides *he’ll* do the recycling instead.  Which translates to a garage full of bags of pop cans that he hasn’t actually recycled and has no real plans to recycle, just doesn’t want to put in the recycle bin.

  • Joshua

    Before Christianity arose, there was exactly ONE country that viewed homosexual sex any differently from heterosexual sex–Israel.

    What? No. Classical Greek culture had a different set of customs relating to homosexual sex (erastes and eromenos) as to heterosexual sex (marriage).

    So, out of the two ancient cultures I know anything about, they both viewed them differently. Neither had anything like a modern conception of a gay or a straight personal identity.


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