W.In her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead Books, 1998) poet Kathleen Norris discusses "scary" words that we use in talking about faith. Creed is one of these. Creed is a scary word because of its defining and demanding quality. It is hard to own a creed without being owned by it. Statement of faith seems a friendlier term that nevertheless possesses the same power and ought to engender the same respect as the word creed.
W.A statement of faith is simply what we believe. But what we believe is not simply a statement of faith.
W.Statements of faith serve many purposes. They are summaries -- highlights of a larger body of belief. They serve to define who we are. In so doing they are inclusive -- they create and unite a self-defined group that believes certain things. In so doing they are authoritative -- i.e., they are a touchstone by which we and others know who belongs and what it means to belong to our faith.
W.Statements of faith have also been used historically to define who we aren't. When controversial new interpretations or beliefs arise we must eventually decide whether they belong to our body of belief or not. The response can be a new creed designed to exclude new beliefs. So creeds can also be exclusive.
W.Statements of faith are bound closely to the idea of community -- the community of faith. Historically membership in this community has been a dangerous activity and so from time to time has been deviating from the accepted idea of what faith is. Knowing who was in and who was out was a matter of some importance in these cases and is the historical root of the authority of these statements.
W.The statements of faith we say and learn about in church remain corporate not personal property -- a fact sometimes overlooked in our personal struggles with them. When we use them in worship we are joining together with each other and with other communities of faith in other times and places. Since we believe that the church is the body of Christ and the vessel of the Spirit of God this symbolic act joins us with God as well as each other.
W.To some it may seem that formal statements of faith are restrictive. If believers think and use them that way they will be. Viewing faith as a destination defined by statements of faith leads to this abuse. However it is also possible to view these same statements of faith as either a starting point or goal in a journey of faith. We need not limit ourselves to or ascribe to every stroke and dot of a statement to use it with others or for ourselves.
W.Finding fault with statements of faith is a pastime made easy by a literalist turn of mind. Those who are not otherwise literalists in faith sometimes even have this problem. They are unable to separate the literal meaning of these words from any other meaning they might have. So they proclaim that they cannot say they believe in a bodily resurrection or the virgin birth or some other specific. They may feel they have maintained their integrity at the same time failing to notice that they have separated themselves from their faith.
W.To the extent that we think understanding our statements of faith is a matter intellectual assent to the words and their meanings we can miss the point. Faith is not just an intellectual process even if modern protestantism often talks and acts as though it is. The function of words is not just their literal meaning. Words possess an evocative power that is realized only through non-intellectual, non-rational usage. Repetition and memorization are not just for the weak-minded but can serve those too who will let go their preconceptions.
W.Struggling with the words of faith is a key component in the journey of faith and the struggle is not always a rational one.
W.Not all statements of faith are corporate. To be ordained in my church ministers must write and defend their own statement of faith. And it is the practice of congregations I have been associated with to have communicants do the same. This is a practice to be commended to everyone. Certainly anyone who feels restricted or coerced by our corporate statements of faith should consider writing their own. However this is not the only possible motivation. Writing such a statement is simply a good way to explore your own faith.
W.The main danger in writing a personal statement of faith may be the result -- a written statement. There is no less danger in being possessed by this than there is in being possessed by any other statement of faith. If faith is a journey then the danger is the temptation to linger -- to stop at a sign post which simply says "You are here" -- and not go on. A personal statement of faith needs to be alive, changing to reflect changes in us. Why do you think the Church has had so many over the centuries? God did not change! Christ did not change! Where we are, WHO we are always changes.
W.Another danger is that having created a personal statement of faith we might lose it. This is precisely the predicament I found myself in when I started to write this. I know I had written a personal statement of faith years ago but I wouldn't know where to look for it now. Though I suspect a lot has changed in the intervening years without that statement I have no way of knowing. And I suspect that I might have been adrift for some time not having that marker to measure any progress or provide any guidance.
W.Sailing ships used to measure their speed with a rope knotted at intervals and tied to a log . The log was thrown over the side and as it bobbed in place where the ship had passed the rope was paid out and the knots counted for a set period of time. Their number gave the speed. That speed and other details of the journey were recorded in a book which was also called a log. A personal statement of faith is such a dual object -- marking both our place and recording our progress.
W.I have created another personal statement of faith recently. It is really the reason this page exists -- as reflection of that process. I call it a brief statement of faith -- hopefully just the essentials. There is a lot more to say about faith but I have this and other pages here to say it.