Writing a Personal Statement of Faith

Writing a Personal Statement of Faith

This painting depicts the meeting in Westminster Abbey of the clergy who drew up the Westminster Confession of faith. In 1643, the English Parliament called upon “learned, godly and judicious Divines”, to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, over a period of five years, produced the confession of faith, as well as a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. For more than three hundred years, various churches around the world, including the Presbyterian Church, have adopted the confession and the catechisms as their standards of doctrine, subordinate to the Bible. Painting: John Rogers Herbert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I just finished a draft (see below) of my fourth personal Statement of Faith.  I’m doing this to meet the requirements of the Peace River Presbytery so they may receive me as a member.  It’s a Presbyterian thing.

For a non-Presbyterian leader, preparing such a document  may sound like torture.  But, after 40 years of serving churches as a parish minister, I appreciate the importance of doing this.  Ministers, after all, preach to people.  Week in and week out we write down and proclaim what ought to be the most important truths there are.  It should not surprise readers that much can go amiss with the responsibility that goes with preaching.  The minister reads a compelling book or sees a stirring film; the ideas from business management, psychology, or politics flow into the minister’s head; and effortlessly we slip from exposition of the biblical text into sneaking into the sermon some tidbit from Dr. Phil or Richard Spencer.  It’s important that the minister believes in God, knows why Christ came, or has an idea what the Church’s mission is.

Additionally, no one other than the pew-sitters are monitoring what the minister is doing week in and week out.  Years of weekly teaching and preaching can slip by without any continuing education or check-up on the preacher’s personal faith and creed.

Against this, we Presbyterians ask of each other, usually at times when we’re changing churches, to write up a statement of our own personal creed.  Such writings usually take up about one page and consist of tightly worded sentences about the high points of Christian faith—the Trinity, Church, sacraments, Bible, Christ’s nature, human nature, sin, mission, and Last Things.

The Examination

Once the statement is written, some church nominating group or Presbytery committee will hold a half-hour conversation with the author of the statement.  These are commonly called “examinations.” These can be tense—especially if the writer of the statement is non-conforming or creative in his or her beliefs.

The first time I drafted a statement of faith was during my last year of seminary.  It takes seminary students months of drafts under the coaching of  their sponsoring Presbytery in order for the statement of faith not to become a 5 alarm career wrecker.  The purpose of the faith statement is to involve candidates and seasoned church leaders in one more inquiry about a minister-to-be’s suitability to be loosed on a congregation.

Other Statements

My second statement of faith was a lengthy one, which I wrote for my doctoral work.  There was no pressure here because no one was hiring me.  The point of writing up that faith statement was for me to become freshly conscious of what I believed.

I wrote my third statement of faith in order to gain membership in the Greater Atlanta Presbytery.  I needed to pull that document in a flurry of activity.  First of all, the Greater Atlanta Presbytery’s need for a faith statement came to me as a surprise.  I received a phone call from a presbytery representative and learned that Atlanta’s Examination Committee needed a finished statement of faith by the end of that day.  This rush was to meet the meeting deadline for a gathering of the entire presbytery.  Desperately, I fished out the old statement, the one which I had used thirteen years before for the doctoral program.  It was much too long.  I didn’t even read it carefully.  I hastily hacked whole paragraphs out of it and emailed it.

That year, 2003, when I relocated to LaGrange, Georgia, the Greater Atlanta Presbytery was a high functioning and fastidiously proper place under Ed Albright’s leadership.   Atlanta is the Presbyterian church’s largest presbytery and in some ways the gravitational center of the denomination.  I was learning something new about the former southern Presbyterian church.  Atlanta had an entire, blue-ribbon committee of lay elders, ministers, and seminary professors to examine incoming ministers.   Notably, the well-known theologian, Shirley Guthrie, who literally had written the textbook used by seminary students, titled Christian Doctrine,  also served on that committee.   I was to defend an expired, hacked up statement of faith in this company in order to be accepted into presbytery membership.

As meeting participants milled around minutes before we convened I noticed Dr. Guthrie standing at the conference table, arms acting as pillars holding his body up and pored over my statement.  He groaned as he read.  He growled to himself.  Then he mumbled audibly to no one in particular: “This is great—this is just how I’d write a statement like this.”

Hearing this, I was buoyed by an intoxicating sense of relief as the formal meeting started.  I answered all the questions with my arm draped around the empty chair next to me, unafraid to say that I didn’t know something or that sometimes I didn’t hue religiously to orthodoxy.  There was a lot of laughter during the hour as examiners admitted that they didn’t know some things themselves.  I was admitted to the Greater Atlanta Presbytery.

Tips for Faith Statements

Over the last four decades, I’ve usually been the one reading someone else’s statement and asking the questions.  I’ve learned a couple of things that ought to be included in this post, in case some reader is laboring with his or her own statement of faith.

  1. In presenting a statement of faith to any committee in a process that matters to you, don’t try to be creative. Don’t try to be the first to restate the nature of Christianity in, say the language of a 6 year old, or in some completely contemporary idiom.  I’ve seen such efforts and they greatly lengthen the conversation by those who are approving you.
  2. Always address these topics: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Church, Sacraments, Mission, Evil, Last Things, Scriptures, salvation. Omissions will be noticed.  You don’t want to be in a public conversation about your statement of faith and have someone say something like: “Why did you leave out Jesus’ cross?”
  3. The sequence that you present these topics will greatly influence how the whole thing turns out. You’ll need to sort out what comes first.  Creation?  God? Spirit?  It’s not as easy as one thinks before they try to work out the whole picture.
  4. When under pressure of an examination, especially before a whole presbytery, remember that questioners will use the conversation to show off or to bring up their own pet issues. Sometimes questions are ridiculously specific to the questioner’s personal obsession of the moment.  Don’t panic when you have no idea what answer they may wish to hear.  Instead, counter with your own question for clarification.  Counter again if you need to.  Eventually, the questioner will simply give you the answer.

    Personal Statement of Faith

Douglas DeCelle

God the Son

Christ the Key

The Christian life begins for me and for all humankind when we answer Jesus’ invitation to follow, learn, and abide forever in his company.  The life that Jesus lived in First Century Palestine, and continues to live, overflows with revelation, not only of God’s character, but also of the nature and purpose of human life.  Jesus Christ is the lens, through which followers see God’s intention for all that God has created.  Jesus’ original disciples were the first to recognize that their master embodied the presence and character of the God of their nation, Israel.   In Jesus’ rise from the dead, the disciples realized that Jesus’ teachings were divinely-certified and that indeed a fresh phase of God’s reign had commenced.  Ultimately, Jesus’ followers then and now began to recognize their Lord as God—as the God of Israel–in their presence.   In Jesus we see that God is good, true, and beautiful and is the only sovereign who if fair and life-giving.

Jesus nevertheless was equally a person.  Jesus’ example of living both in service to others and in intimacy with the Father and Spirit  discloses God’s design for each person’s life.   What we see in Jesus’ manner of living, confrontation with evil, return from the tomb, and continual reign is the breathtaking first example of the kind of existence that all persons as bearers of  God’s  image and likeness may live.

God the Spirit

Church

Jesus built and left in the world a community of followers.  Jesus’ presence with these followers continued and continues today through the Holy Spirit—God’s spiritual, or non-physical  presence.  Again Jesus’ program of traveling with and teaching his community describes the shape of the disciple community today and through history.  Jesus’ work of proclaiming the reign of God, calling disciples, being a blessing to all peoples, and confronting evil continues in the church.   There is a sense that the Spirit-empowered community of disciples can be equated with Christ’s presence in the world.

Scriptures

After Jesus’ public ministry in Palestine, his followers wrote an array of books and letters about him and the new life he gave them.  As these documents circulated in the ancient disciple communities, a distinct group of them came to be recognized as particularly inspired and inspiring.  Those writings—the New Testament–impressed themselves upon generations of Christians in many places as unique Spirit-rich vehicles for conveying God’s character and will.    A similar process had been underway with Israel’s scriptures, which were also seen in the Christian community to be of usefulness comparable to the New Testament.   The resulting collection of writings—our Bible—continues today as uniquely reliable in conveying God’s Word to all who by the Spirit’s guidance, encounter it.

Sacraments

As with the Community and Bible, I, with the entire Church, experience Christ’s Spirit-presence in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  These are acts within the worshiping community which remind and place disciples into fresh intimacy with Jesus’ life, death, resurrection.  As Jesus, for example, descended to earth, died and was lifted back into the Father’s presence, so the baptized person dips down into water and emerges again as a sign of that person’s connection with Christ.  Likewise, the bread broken and wine poured are reminiscent of Jesus’ broken body and bleeding in his crucifixion.  By Christ’s Spirit, these acts have consistently been experienced by the Church to carry his presence with greater intensity into the community which, through them is refreshed and empowered.

God the Father

Creation

The stage on which Christ, his disciple community, and the whole of humanity live out their existence is the world.  God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–created the world.  Making the world was a monumental act of love and the resulting work is brimming with God’s goodness, truth, and beauty.  God’s presence, guidance, and preservation of Creation is essential to its design.  The world’s goodness and beauty continues abundantly and testifies to the splendor of the God who brought it into being.  We may infer from God’s love for and nurture of what he has made that nothing, nor anyone which God has created will be surrendered to evil, ugliness, or untruth.   And by God’s providence, yet to be understood, the new life which flows through the life, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ will enfold all that is.

Evil

Within creation, and of human instigation, rebellion has broken out in opposition to God and God’s rightful reign over what God has made.   The rebellion, at its core is a struggle over who reigns.  It’s a struggle over what values will be prized, who will possess power, who will be lauded, and who will be enriched.  The struggle is insidious and entraps me, together with others and even groups of people in a destructive opposition to God and all the good that flows from God.

Jesus’ public ministry took place in the midst of this struggle.  Jesus was recognized by the power opposed to God as one with God and as a result Jesus was captured and murdered.  As with everything that Jesus does, even his death was Spirit-transformed into something good and beautiful.  First, Jesus’ rose from the dead and forgave his disciples who were complicit with his death.  Then, with time, the drama of Jesus’ execution, return from the grave, and resumption of heavenly reign, has come to be understood by his followers as a splendid new phase of God’s triumph.  I and all disciples experience this triumph personally in the reconciling and renewing power that Jesus’ sacrifice and rise from the dead holds for me.

Kingdom

Jesus’ core message was that God’s reign had, and was, and would continue to be established in Creation.  The deep struggle—even spiritual struggle—by dark powers over God and his yearning for his creation will eventually end in their defeat.  God’s goodness, truth, and beauty will assume its rightful place presiding over all that God has made, including all peoples.  Somehow by God’s wisdom and guidance, all peoples, creatures, and all things will be incorporated into Christ’s community of followers and will enjoy with him everlasting fellowship and joy.

This depiction of Christ, found in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, is particularly appropriate to the statement of faith above.  This mosaic of Christ is a famous example of the iconographic style that emphasizes both his divine and human character.   Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
Please follow and like us:
Download PDF

One Reply to “Writing a Personal Statement of Faith”

  1. Well, I made it. I was received by the Peace River Presbytery on November 14, 2017. Their Committee on Ministry did not require a personal interview with me. Instead they accepted me on the basis of the above statement, a brief life highlights summary, and a certification of my good standing with the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *