this we believe

I have been researching and drafting confessions, and I’ve discovered a few surprises which I will share soon.  But first I would appreciate any thoughts which you might have on this one.  I wrote this for a nondenominational church which is baptistic and Calvinisticish.  They wanted a concise, clear statement that their people would read (a problem with many doctrinal statements) and that could be further unpacked by a longer, more detailed statement.

Please let me know if something doesn’t sound right or if you notice any important items left out.  At present it doesn’t mention election or the effectual call but it does teach the perseverance of the saints (I would put all of these into my confession, but this statement is not for me).  It also is silent on a view of the millennium and open theism (a flash in the pan?) but attempts to take a stand for penal substitution, exclusivism, and the direct creation of Adam and Eve (contra they evolved from fish).  I am prepared to add a second sentence to the section on God which addresses his providence, knowledge, and decree, though I fear it may detract from the simplicity of what is already there.

As you can tell, the first challenge to writing a doctrinal statement is to keep it concise and readable and yet exhaustive enough to do its job.  The second challenge is to write it well, which is a problem with many.

The EFCA recently composed an excellent confession, which I used as a template for mine (I used most of their outline and stole their sentence on Jesus’ two natures).  Here it is:

God

We believe in one holy and sovereign God who eternally exists in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who from love and for his glory created all things out of nothing and pronounced them good.

Revelation

We believe that God has revealed himself in the verbally inspired Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  These well-preserved and infallible books contain no errors in the original writings and are our final authority in everything they affirm.  These sacred texts lead us to Jesus Christ, the fullness of God’s revelation, and enable us to rightly interpret God’s general revelation in humanity, nature, and history.

Humanity

We believe that God directly created Adam and Eve in his image, but our first parents lost their original righteousness when they fell for Satan’s temptation and rebelled against God’s revealed will.  Now every human is born with Adam’s sinful nature so that we are depraved, alienated from God, and doomed to spiritual and physical death.

Jesus Christ

We believe that the Son of God became human to save the world.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  Jesus obeyed God perfectly; atoned for our sins by dying in our place and on our behalf; arose bodily and triumphantly over sin, death, and Satan; and ascended to heaven where he reigns at the Father’s right hand, intercedes for his people, and sends his Spirit to gift, fill, and lead his church.

Salvation

We believe that the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost to establish the church; that he uses the Word of God to give new life to those who repent of their sin and believe in Christ; and that only and all who trust solely in Christ’s finished work are justified by his shed blood, united with Christ, adopted into the family of God, forgiven of all their sin, indwelt and illuminated by the Spirit, empowered for Christian service, kept and assured of their salvation, and added to the church.

The Church

We believe that the one, holy, and universal church is the body of Christ on earth.  The true church consists of all who have been justified by grace through faith in Christ and is manifest in local churches of baptized believers.  The church gathers to celebrate the gospel through the preaching of the Word, prayer, fellowship, and the ordinances of believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and it disperses to proclaim that same gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to a sinful world which must hear the good news in order to be saved.  The church makes disciples of Jesus who embody the kingdom values of loving neighbor, serving those in need, and caring for creation and so anticipate the redemption of all things at Christ’s return.

The Return of Christ

We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ will personally, bodily, and gloriously return at any moment to consummate his kingdom by delivering this world from Satan’s power and handing it to the Father.  Jesus will raise the dead physically for final judgment; send the lost to everlasting, conscious punishment; and live forever with his redeemed people in the glories of the new earth.

14 Comments

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  1. More “manmade religion” as the early Quakers called it.

    READ THE GOSPELS. The folks Jesus had so much trouble with were those who had their doctrinal statements all together. He held up an obvious heretic as an example of what was needed for salvation. (Good Samaritan parable)

    It’s time the church focused on Jesus Christ and the transforming message he brought. I know it’s a lot easier to come up with doctrinal statements and then feel all self-righteous about them than to actually change our hearts and the way we live, but the latter is clearly what Christ asks of us. And unlike writing neat statements to put God in a box, this work is never over in our lifetimes.

  2. Dr. Wittmer, I think your draft is skillful. It contains meaningful content while inviting further engagement. I suspect many church members, and potential church members, will be particularly curious about one topic or another.

    Have you considered condensing this topical content into a single paragraph (~250 words)? It could link out to these topical statements, perhaps.

    I thought of this because I like brief, almost story-like presentations of the gospel. (I like Paul’s speech to the Areopagus in Acts 17). It would be pretty groovy if you wrote something even children would remember, naturally, from beginning to middle to end.

  3. Dr. Wittmer,

    This seems to me a clear and concise affirmation of faith. It was genuinely exciting to read all these truths packed so nicely into a small package. I like the idea of having a longer document that unpacks this and allows for the details that need to be articulated.

    I am curious as to why you did not define the location of the “everlasting, conscious punishment” as being “in hell” in contrast to the glory of the new earth. I imagine you have your reasons. Would you be willing to share?

    Also, as many other churches may be considering revisions of their statements of faith, do you have any qualms with others using this statement you have created?

  4. Jonathan Shelley April 7, 2010 — 2:30 pm

    Mike:

    Overall, good job. I’d give it a B+. See specific notes below (wow, does that feel good to say!)

    On the statement “Now every human is born with Adam’s sinful nature so that we are depraved, alienated from God, and doomed to spiritual and physical death,” do you mean that we are (only) corrupted by Adam’s sin or both corrupted by and guilty of Adam’s sin?

    Also, I’d prefer to see the Holy Spirit receive its own separate section rather than being subsumed under Jesus and Salvation. Maybe the Spirit isn’t as important a topic in Baptist circles as it was for say the author(s) of the Apostles Creed or the Athanasian Creed, but it was a big topic for Calvin, so it seems like a Calvinisticish church would want to follow his lead.

    Just my thoughts. Keep plugging away at it and you might have a future in theology.

  5. Bill:

    We’re just going to disagree on this one.

    Adam:

    That’s not what this church wanted, but it’s a good idea, and something to work on.

    Justin:

    Most confessions that I consulted don’t explicitly say “hell.” I think that’s implied with everlasting torment, so I’m not sure that it needs to be said, but I’m not against it. It’s fine with me if a church would like to borrow from this. Feel free.

    Jonathan:

    Sounds like someone’s looking for a little payback! I personally would speak of inheriting Adam’s guilt, but most evangelical confessions keep that point rather vague (probably in the spirit of Rom. 5). So while my personal confession would make that point, I’m not going to force it upon this church, but I will bring it up to them.

    Regarding the Holy Spirit, he sort of does have his own section with salvation. Would you recommend giving the Father his own section to, and then where does it stop?🙂 This is the rub when you’re trying to keep it short–no one will be entirely satisfied, especially grumpy Calvinists!🙂

  6. Jonathan Shelley April 7, 2010 — 4:31 pm

    Mike:

    Including the Spirit under Salvation is part of my confusion: are you indicating that salvation is a work of the Spirit (and not the Son) or that the work of the Spirit is confined to the agency of salvation and he does serve any significant purpose outside of that? Or are you simply indicating that Jesus is the only person of the Trinity who really matters? Words matter….

  7. As I read Mr. Samuel’s comments, I am reminded again that “emergents” are fond of calling any Christian doctrine “putting God in a box,” but then are telling us that they know the truth about what really happened.

    Yes, the Apostles and Paul were confused by Greco-Roman thought and created “Theos,” who really was a combination of Jesus and Zeus and Hulk Hogan. It is amazing to me how people who live 2,000 years after Jesus was on earth can know more about Jesus than the people who knew him and walked with him, or people who knew some of Jesus’ friends.

    By declaring God to be something other than what the Scriptures say, the emergents have done their own “God boxing.” Once Brian McLaren and the others declare that THEY know the real “secret message” that Jesus gave us, then whatever they say about Jesus must be true.

    As for “changing the way we live,” I absolutely agree, but the emergents mean that we are to adopt certain political views, be vegetarians, and agree with the New York Times on the Sexual Revolution. It is one thing to genuinely be seeking the Lord, but it is quite another to try to use post-modern methods of rhetoric to try to reduce every orthodox Christian doctrine to an absurdity, and that is what these people are doing.

    How do the “emergents” differ from Unitarians? There is appreciably no difference. Unitarians hold that all religions (except orthodox Christianity) are valid; they like the Sexual Revolution, many of them are vegetarians, and they vote Democratic. Now, there is that sticky problem of atheism, but I guess since Unitarians live the PC lifestyles, they really are the better “Christians.”

    It is one thing to have genuine differences and arguments. It is quite another to engage in sophistry, and that is what I believe McLaren and the emergents are doing.

  8. William,

    You haven’t really dealt with what I wrote, but instead launched an attack that has little to do with it.

    I am not a spokesperson for Emergents, which is a very loose network with great diversity in views on many things. McLaren favors the creeds, but I am skeptical of their use not because I disagree with their content (largely I agree with them) but because they were written for specific situations which were very different, and they wind up omitting some of the most important things while stressing some quite less important things. As generally used, I think they are part of a misplaced emphasis.

    Once again, I suggest that people read the Gospels with an open mind. There is very little systematic theology there. What they’re full of is Jesus trying to show us the way to live. He actually does ask us to become disciples, learning from Him in every way so that we will be transformed.

    Most liberals consider me very conservative on the “Sexual Revolution” which I feel largely led people in the wrong direction, namely selfishness and hedonism. I don’t know why you threw that and other things into this discussion in a way that implied that I agree with all the things you oppose.

    Myself, I came to a church some call “emerging” as a refugee from liberal Christianity which I feel often is not centered on Jesus Christ. Conservative Christianity seems to me also to often not center on Jesus Christ from a very different perspective. I landed where I did because I was looking for a community which focused on being disciples of Jesus Christ, rather than on the failed paradigms of either liberal or conservative Christianity.

    Is intellectual assent to a statement of faith an important step in being really transformed? I don’t think so, nor does having one get church members to agree with it, as poll after poll has shown widespread disagreement by long active members with the doctrinal positions of their own churches. I tend to think that mostly it’s a distraction from the work of opening ourselves to being transformed by the Spirit of Christ.

  9. Mike,

    I noticed you did manage to give a “tip of the hat” to Christus Victor as well as the affirmation of psa. Well done…

    Was there a reason for not metioning the intermediate state? That omission is not nesecarily fatal, but I was curious as to your thought at that point.

    Peace…

  10. Mr. Samuel,

    Here is the problem. You declared that those who hold to the creeds are guilty of being like the Pharisees. However loose you believe the Gospels to be, nonetheless, it is very, very clear that Jesus was not knocking theology or doctrine, but rather was dealing with the hardness of the hearts of these people.

    Theirs was a religion of works, and Jesus emphatically said he looks at the heart. To equate that with believing in a creed such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed is a perversion of what Jesus was saying. Furthermore, the Gospels are not loose in their theology, nor were the Apostles loose in how they promoted the doctrines of Christianity.

    Obviously, when I made the remark about the Sexual Revolution, I did not mean you personally, but rather pointed out that the emergents, not to mention their brothers-in-arms, the liberals, are big promoters of the Sexual Revolution.

    Furthermore, we should not forget that the people whose writing crafted much of the theology of the New Testament were the close friends of Jesus. They were with him constantly for three years, and ultimately they came to understand how the work of Christ was tied to God’s redemptive work from the time of Adam. They knew their theology, and they lived it.

    What you seem to be saying is that we really should not have any core beliefs other than to have a loose, as-you-like-it faith that is not easily defined. That is what the emergents have been preaching, and that is why I mentioned them in my earlier comments.

  11. Jonathan:

    I’m trying to be Trinitarian while privileging the person and work of the Son. I recognize that you or others may disagree with that last part, but that’s what I’m aiming for.

    Bill N.:

    For the purpose of this concise statement, I wanted to focus on what the Bible emphasizes, the return of Christ. But the intermediate state will certainly be in the longer form.

  12. I personally also found the section on Salvation confusing. It starts with the Spirit and church, moves to individual salvation, pops the Spirit back in, and then returns to the church. I like individual salvation in the context of the church, but this just isn’t working for me.

    The phrase” and that only and all who trust solely” really required me to stop and puzzle. Perhaps you need to insert “those” after “all”?

    Just my two cents….

    Brian

  13. Brian:

    You’re right about the need for a “those” after “all.” Thanks for that. I was aiming for an inclusio with salvation–emphasizing the importance of the corporate body by discussing individual salvation within its context–but I’ll take another hard look at that.

  14. Dr. Wittmer, what do you think of the Lausanne Covenant?

    I was delighted by the little spark of poetry in section 2: “ever more of the many-colored wisdom of God.” I like this phrase, “the many-colored wisdom.”

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