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Are Statements of Faith Harmful?

Posted by Scott on February 25, 2008


“Belief Statements Create Harmful Borders?”

Tony Jones was recently asked about the concerns being expressed by some – that Emergent has no doctrine or a statement of faith. His response: “I’m even more concerned that people [do] have statements of faith. Statements of faith are about drawing borders, which means you have to load your weapons and place soldiers at those borders. You have to check people’s passports when they pass those borders.”

Tony Jones is the National Coordinator of Emergent, an organization that endeavors to be heard in the Emerging Church conversation. Others who have had a role in Emergent include Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt.

The quote above comes from an interview by Relevant Magazine;
Tony Jones continues his statement by saying:

It becomes an obsession — guarding the borders.
That is simply not the ministry of Jesus. It wasn’t the ministry of Paul or Peter. It started to become the ministry of the early Church, and it abated somewhat in the Middle Ages and blew back to life in the time of modernity. For the short duration of time that I have on this planet to do my best to partner with God and build His kingdom, I don’t want to spend it guarding borders. I’d like to spend it inviting people into the kingdom. Statements of faith don’t do they. They’re a modernistic endeavor that I’m not the least bit interested in.

That’s such a 180 degree turn from most of the Christianity of past centuries, and it deals with something static that should not be susceptible to cultural changes. Our more firmly grounded brothers and sisters of the past would have expressed sentiments similar to this video clip:

Later in that same interview, Tony Jones is asked about Emergent’s willingness to fellowship with lesbian pastors and others with diverse beliefs.
Part of his response was:

I certainly don’t think that the issue of absolute truth is a
good reason to break fellowship with someone who’s trying to
follow Jesus.

My response to that is – what Jesus are you talking about?
Since you don’t have a statement of faith to answer the question,
I have to ask – which Jesus do you mean?

  • Is the Infant Jesus of Prague the same Jesus that you’re talking about?
  • Jesus of Latter-Day Saints? Mormons do read the same bible you know.
  • What about that cab driver named Jesus; is he the same Jesus?

What if we are worshipping together and while you are worshipping your idea of Jesus, I am worshipping a Jesus that doesn’t have the attributes described in the bible. Do we really have unity in that case, or are we simply covering-up our disunity by pretending to worship the same Jesus together? Before you follow Tony Jones and burn your statement of faith, remember that this issue is not as simple as saying “my Jesus is the one in the bible“; after all – there are numerous cults that say the exact same thing.

I’m not the only one to be concerned about making sure that we are talking about the true Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 11:4 Paul speaks negatively about the Corinthian church that puts up with someone who “comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed”. And in John 8:24 Jesus says: “unless you believe that I am he – you will die in your sins“. The word ‘that‘ denotes some facts follow that must be believed. And so it’s more than just “who” that matters but it’s also “what” you believe that matters.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was arguably England’s greatest preacher of the 20th century, seemed to be on a completely different wavelength than Tony Jones, in terms of doctrine and history. The reality is, the borders that Emergent is afraid of, were warmly embraced by leaders in church history, and were necessary for a healthy church, as Lloyd-Jones explains:

The Creeds were attempts on the part of the Church to define, and to lay down, what is true and what is not true. And in this way they were able to brand certain teachers as heretics, and to exclude them from the life of the Christian Church. … During the great period of the Protestant Reformation likewise the different sections of the Reformed Church drew up their Confessions of Faith. … What was their purpose? I ask the question because we are living in an age when many say,
Of course, these things do not matter at all, they have no relevance to us“. I am trying to show their vast importance, their extreme relevance at this present time. Confessions were drawn up for the same reason as held good during the earlier centuries. Church leaders, led by the Holy Spirit, and enlightened by Him, saw very clearly that they must, as their first duty, lay down clearly and on paper what is true and what is not true. In part they had to define their faith over against Roman Catholicism. And not only so, but also over against certain heresies that were tending to rise even amongst themselves. So they drew up their great ‘Confessions’ — which in a sense are nothing but the Creeds once more — in order to give the people light and guidance and instruction with respect to what they should believe. [read more]

In the Relevant Magazine article, the interviewer poses this to Tony Jones: “You mentioned earlier that you have lesbian pastors and conservative absolutists. It seems that it would create a tension point when it comes to endorsing that person’s view or platform“. Tony Jones responds:

If you believe that Christianity is — at its very heart —
a tension-filled, dialectical endeavor, you have less problems with these tension-filled relationships with believers. Christianity is paradoxical. Life comes out of death. Jesus was fully human and fully divine. We haven’t yet found that there’s anything that justifies us breaking fellowship with somebody else who loves and is trying to follow Jesus. Why would you break fellowship with someone because you have a different understanding of the atonement than they do? Or a different understanding of human sexuality than they do?
It seems nonsensical that we’d give each other tests and try to hang it over someone else’s head and say, “Hey, dude. I’m going to break fellowship with you if we can’t come to agreement on this particular issue.” It just doesn’t seem to be the nature of human life.

Here again Emergent seems to be on a different wavelength, certainly than the apostles. Richard Ganz wrote a book that reflects the concerns that Paul had with the Corinthians. Ganz’s book is called “20 Controversies That Almost Killed a Church“. Perhaps these controversies would be swept under a carpet of ‘love’ by many postmodern folks, but the Apostle Paul was one absolutist who loved the church too much not to address these controversies head-on. Romans 16:17 says: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them“. In his book, Richard Ganz addresses that directive to avoid certain professing Christians, by saying:

These individuals who tear up churches and who teach doctrine contrary to what they have learned, are selfish, self-centered, self-indulgent individuals, with whom believers are to have no fellowship. Unity in Christ does not mean that you have fellowship with everyone, but only those who are biblical.

But isn’t that exactly what Emergent is trying to do? They are trying to extend their umbrella of unity over almost anyone who professes to be a Christian, regardless of whether their beliefs are biblical or not. Someone need only claim to be a “follower of Jesus” to be accepted into this unity, and little or no attempt is made to determine which Jesus they may be following. But as Charles Spurgeon warned, among the casualties of this anti-credalism includes truth itself:

The arch-enemy of truth has invited us to level our walls, and take away our fenced cities. He has cajoled some true-hearted, but weak-headed, believers to advocate this crafty policy; and, from the best of motives, some foolish brethren are almost prepared to execute the cunning design. “Away with creeds and bodies of divinity.” This is the cry of the day. Ostensibly, it is reverence for the Bible, and attachment to charity, which dictates the clamorous denunciation; but at the bottom is hatred of definite truth, and especially the doctrines of grace, which has suggested the absurd outcry. It is a very high honour to our systems of divinity that the gentlemen of the new school cannot endure them … where there no other argument in favour of articles and creeds, the destestation of Neologians might go far to establish them in Christian estimation.

Certainly, unbelievers should be welcomed into our churches; none of the above is meant to say otherwise. It should be clear in most cases however, who the unbelievers are so that evangelism can take place by believers who have love for one another and have all things in common, all things – including beliefs.

Related Information and Resources:


3 Responses to “Are Statements of Faith Harmful?”

  1. Evangelist said

    Excellent post. In our global society of tolerance, so many are willing to forsake truth in the name of unity.

    So long as professing Christians are splintered even in key issues such as the nature of Christ and salvation, there cannot be a dissolution of denominational walls (although it might be amusing to watch a Catholic, Fundamental Baptist and Charismatic Pentecostal all try to share a worship service – the priest giving last rites to a spirit-slain gospel dancer while the Baptist preacher admonishes the congregation on the doctrine of separation).

    Denominational walls, statements of faith and separation will be necessary until God we meet in glory.

  2. fireonyourhead said

    I’m finding ministry’s and churches to be a bit misleading in their statements of faith these days so as to not be exclusive towards charismatics and not look like they opppose certain things. I’ve read ministry’s lately whose websites talk a great deal of how they believe the Holy Spirit works today, but then if you hear the pastor teach on the subject you find out exactly their opinion–cessationist.

    So I agree pretty much that defining a collective body’s faith is important, but just for that–defining it. Otherwise, I find most statements I read to be pretty broad-sweeping anyway, so diametrically opposed congregations could basically agree with them!

    Blessings and fire on your head!

  3. qbaileys said

    Your comment here is true. Too many churches are simply copying a bible based churches statement of faith, but it does not take a person long once under the teaching of the pastor to see if that statement is true of that church or not. What we are speaking of in this topic really is the deep underlying faith of the church and its leaders more so than what is written. Much of what is written and the actions do not match up with their statement or God’s word and that is tragic.

    Pressing on in Him,

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