Definition: What is a Statement of Faith?
A Statement of Faith is a concise summary of doctrinal beliefs held by a particular church, usually required to be signed by all members of that church as a form of agreement with said doctrines.
Purpose: Why do we have a Statement of Faith (SOF)?
Quinault Baptist Church has a SOF for a number of important reasons:
- Protects the Gospel
- While a SOF lays out more than the minimal doctrines needed to explain the gospel (see point 2), it does contain a clear, concise explanation of what an orthodox gospel is. Many people today may claim to know Jesus or be a Christian, but their definition of key gospel terms may be wholly different than the Bible’s. A SOF explains the particularities of each fundamental element of the gospel so that those who are believing in a pseudo-gospel will not be left in a dangerous state of false assurance. Jesus warned of there being “false Christs and false prophets” (Matt 24:23-24). A SOF guards against being deceived by these imposters by articulating all of the angularities of the real, Biblical gospel, and helps protect the church from distorting the gospel in its teaching.
- Protects our Unity
- A SOF is not merely a summary of beliefs required for one to be a Christian, but also a summary for what needs to be believed for our church to maintain its unity. This means that there are some points in our SOF that other Christians could disagree with and we would still be able to call them a “brother” or “sister” in Christ. At the same time, however, we would not be able to be members of the same church. Why? Christians in the same church who disagree on second-tier issues will eventually rupture their fellowship or lead each other to violate their conscience.
- Here is an example: we are a Baptist church, which means that we believe that one must first believe in the gospel and then be baptized. Our Presbyterian brothers would disagree with that and believe that we ought to baptize the infants of believers. We can still see that we believe in the same gospel, but we disagree on a “second-tier” issue, and so we are members of different churches.
- A church that lacks doctrinal distinctives in their SOF seems to be more ecumenical and accepting, but it actually winds up setting up a church for serious division and disunity. How could someone convinced that their infant should be baptized, but is not allowed to, not feel as if they are sinning against their conscience? A SOF provides clear boundaries around what the gospel is and what are the unique doctrinal distinctives of this church in particular, and so preserves the unity of the church.
- Protects our Freedom
- Alternatively, a SOF also protects a Christian’s liberty precisely by what it excludes. A SOF is not meant to bind a Christian’s conscience on every doctrinal matter that comes up in Scripture. Rather, it is to bind our consciences only on matters that are essential to the gospel, essential to godliness, and essential to the unity of the church. On other matters, church members are free to differ in their opinions. So, a SOF should remain silent on issues where Scripture does not speak loudly on. This isn’t to say that these matters are unimportant—anything addressed in the Bible is important!—rather, it is to say these matters are ones where we can lovingly enter into a debate with one another and, if we still disagree, we can happily remain fellow members. A SOF is an exercise in theological triage, containing first and second-tier issues, and excluding third and fourth.
- Protects our Church
- A SOF will help protect the church from being filled with pseudo-Christians (see first point). This will protect the church through only allowing (to the best of our knowledge) only regenerate individuals to become members of the church. If you fill a church’s membership roles with people who are not yet filled with the Holy Spirit, it will often spell disaster for that church. How will an unregenerate church membership handle cases of church discipline, church budgets, and elder nominations, or the more mundane dilemmas that come up in the body? Further, a robust SOF will protect the future of the church from false teachers who want to slip into a leadership or teaching role in the church and spread destructive heresies. A robust SOF will provide a fence of doctrinal clarity that will keep potential wolves and charlatans out of places of leadership in the church. Further, requiring all of our members to positively affirm the SOF (not merely consent to sign it without truly believing it) as a summary of their beliefs codifies this body of doctrinal truth within the DNA of our body, making it even more difficult for false teachers/ing to slip in.
Summary: A Statement of Faith explains what doctrines define and unify our church. Our membership covenant defines and protects what the culture and practice of our church is. Together, these two documents are two tools by which our church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, strives to pursue its mission of creating a covenant community who worships Christ above all.