By Daryl Crouch
Many church website drop-down menus invite guests to examine the core doctrines of the church by clicking a button called, “What We Believe.” There’s a working assumption that what the church believes shapes what that church does and ultimately what kind impact the church has on individuals.
Doctrinal statements, or what have been called “creeds” or “confessions,” are not new. Paul articulated a confessional statement in his letter to the Corinthians:
“For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
Perhaps the most well known Christian creed is the Apostles Creed written in the first century. Other creeds and confessions of faith have followed in an effort to more clearly define foundational biblical teachings. They were written not to add to the Scripture in any way, but to respond to heretical teachings and to more clearly define the meaning of the biblical text.
The “average Joe” Christian or observer may be tempted to think about doctrine as dry, archaic, and even irrelevant language that attempts to prop up the out-of-date practices of the church. While studying doctrine does require thinking more deeply than most social media posts require, and while doctrinal statements are historic by nature, doctrine is anything but dry and irrelevant.
Consider for a moment these eight quick takes on doctrinal statements:
1. Doctrinal statements connect the church to its historical Christian roots.
We love new things. The new car smell intoxicates all of us. But the faith once and for all delivered to the saints is not something we invented. Rather, it’s something we inherited.
As Solomon reminds us, there’s nothing new under the sun. We stand on the shoulders of godly men and women who have held in trust the enduring message of God. A church unaware of or unhinged from historical Christian theology is a dangerous thing.
2. Doctrinal statements teach believers how to think about God and His redeeming work.
Love, for example, as much as we long for it, is not discovered within ourselves. And it’s not properly expressed according to our own thinking. The same is true for our understanding of an eternal God and His work in the world. We only know God by what He’s revealed to us in His Word, the Bible.
So doctrinal statements are humble expressions of our need for understanding that comes from outside of our own heart and mind.
3. Doctrinal statements shape values and priorities of daily church ministry.
Many churches are known for what they do, maybe for their unique style of public worship, or by the personalities of their leaders. It’s this reputation that often drives our evaluation of churches. If the church meets our preferred expectations, it’s doing a great job. If it’s not, we’re not so sure.
Although unhealthy churches can believe all the right things, a church cannot be healthy if it chooses to ignore the foundational, historical, theological tenets of the faith. Discipleship values, staffing decisions, financial priorities, and public ministry emerge from this foundation.
4. Doctrinal statements develop lifestyle habits for individual Christians.
What we believe ultimately leads us to the actions we take. Our personal beliefs inform our personal values, which then lead to our personal choices.
Our understanding of God’s design for marriage, for example, determines how we view the institution of marriage, how we pursue marriage, how we deal with trouble in marriage, and how we promote marriage in the public square.
Unfortunately, our views regarding gender, sexuality, marriage, and a host of other daily, practical issues are often shaped by cultural trends rather than biblical theology. When modern believers don’t know what the Bible says or how to apply it in this cultural moment, we’re unprepared to live a faithful Christian life.
5. Doctrinal statements impress essential beliefs upon the next generation.
It’s easier to pass along some things than others. Parents naturally expect our kids to walk, bathe themselves, and in time, communicate with words. There’s both a nature and nurture aspect to childhood development. Children adopt certain life skills simply by observing their parents.
That’s not necessarily the case with doctrine. Young children will often embrace the values of their parents, but unless parents intentionally instruct their children with sound doctrine, their children will grow into young adulthood with a uniformed belief system and a malformed value system.
Doctrinal statements, however, help catechize the next generation with essential truth. They provide foundational building blocks for life that, if ignored, will lead our children away from Jesus and away from His redeeming work in the world.
6. Doctrinal statements build a framework for unity among church members.
We often gravitate to people who look like us, live like us, and prefer the same restaurants we do. Those natural affinities are important to observe, but they don’t provide a firm foundation for biblical community. The unity among believers that Jesus prayed for in John 17 is not built on natural affinities, but on the immovable realities of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When this becomes the basis of our fellowship, both trite disagreements and theological divides among believers fade away, deep and lasting partnerships develop, and the gospel goes forth with power.
7. Doctrinal statements inform believers how to think and engage theologically in the public square.
It’s been said, “The next generation is asking questions the previous generation has never even thought about.” Whether the questions are related to marriage, gender and sexuality, or artificial intelligence to name a few, complexity marks the modern era.
Without a clear doctrinal framework, this complexity leads to confusion, anxiety, anger, and ultimately to all kinds of foolishness—the kind of foolishness that destroys.
Although historical doctrinal statements may not specifically address artificial intelligence, for example, they do address subjects like the nature of God as Creator and the value of human dignity, which then provide a basis for timeless application for every modern issue.
8. Doctrinal statements clarify church beliefs for the general public.
“What do you believe?”
That may not be the first question people ask about our church, but it’s close.
People are attracted to a church by the people who already attend, the children and youth programs, and the Sunday-morning worship experience. But they’re transformed and then rooted and grounded in the faith by core beliefs.
In an appropriate way then, churches must be transparent about the beliefs that form their ministries, for it is these beliefs churches intend to instill in the hearts and minds of everyone who follows Jesus.
Very simply, doctrine still matters. It matters as much as it’s ever mattered.
And if believers want to push back darkness, face down the cultural tides that destroy families, avoid heretical indoctrination, and build up the next generation to live the Christ-life, we must give ourselves to doctrine, being “diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).