I have been blessed to be able to run competitively for most of my life. At the age of 26 I had the pleasure of running the Boston Marathon. Needless to say, it was a great experience.
After recovering for a few weeks from the grueling race, I ran a local 5K road race. Afterward, I met a shoe store owner, Gary Church, who sponsored a road racing team. We discussed the Boston Marathon, and he asked me if I would be interested in joining the team. As I recall, I would receive benefits: some clothing, and perhaps paid entry fees. But the biggest draw for me was the opportunity to be part of a team - a racing fellowship if you will. But there was one requirement - the team was for Christians only. He asked me if I was a born again Christian.
Now back in 1983 I was sporadically attending the local Catholic Church. I had no idea what he meant by "born-again" but I reasoned that at least I qualified for the last part. I thought I was a Christian. I
wanted to be part of the team, so I lied, saying, "Sure, I'm a born again Christian." I was very willing to "sell my integrity" for a free singlet and the opportunity to be part of a race team.
I never did end up as a member of his Christian racing team. I think Gary could sense that I wasn't being forthright. [
American Athletics, a shoe store in South Park Mall in Charlotte. When his lease ran out, the Mall was going to require all stores
to be open seven days a week. This violated Gary's conscience, so he shut down his brick and mortar store. He continued to sell shoes out of the back of his truck and became one of the original shoe e-retailers online.]
Fast forward about eight years. On December 8th, 1990 I received Christ as my Lord and Savior - I was born again! For a while I continued attending the Catholic Mass. [You can read my testimony
]. One day I approached a Catholic friend (a
at the Church) to share a faith crisis. I told him that I did not believe in papal infallibility. I asked him, "Should I still be attending the Catholic Church?" He responded, "Of course. You don't have to believe that the pope is infallible to be Catholic!"
He basically advised me it was okay to sell out my integrity and become one of the millions of "Cafeteria Catholics" that deny and violate the infallible Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Roman Catholic religion.
I share these two stories with you as a prelude to discussing the appropriateness of signing/affirming a Statement of Faith in order to become a member of a local church. In this article, we will investigate the problems of personal integrity.
Unlike the Bible,
A Statement of Faith is a fallible document written by fallible persons, which is agreed to by fallible members and which is enforced by fallible leadership. What could possibly go wrong? Well, here are some potential issues:
1) Since the document is fallible, it could be changed by the fallible leadership after you agree to it. You may not concur with the new version. You have invested many years in the congregation, being knit together in love with fellow members. Now you may need to leave for the sake of your conscience.
2) Even if the Statement of Faith doesn't change, your own thinking may! Since each member is fallible, he or she could discover after signing that it no longer represents one's beliefs. This is highly likely as we experience a changing understanding of the truths of God's Word. Again, you find yourself "out of integrity" with your church.
3) I think the local church puts the cart before the horse when it comes to church doctrine and membership. She expects a person to sign on the dotted line before they are discipled and taught! The last membership class I attended covered an entire systematic theology in one hour. How could a new believer sign? Signing is a tacit agreement on the young Christian's part that "Pastor Knows Best" and I should believe what he believes.
4) Since you are a fallible sinner (is that an oxymoron?), you may even agree to a document that you don't believe in or fully understand. You may do this because you like the preaching, the music, your friends, or a particular ministry of the church. You may feel coerced to sign, since it is difficult to find a church you can attend that doesn't require it. So, you justify that the benefits of signing override your conscience. You sell out your integrity in order to reap the so-called benefits of church membership.
5) Since the enforcers of the church are fallible, you may find yourself in a sticky situation. Many church covenants and bylaws do not permit one to teach if you disagree with any portion of the Statement of Faith. You may not be able to exercise your God-given gifts of teaching or leadership. You may even find yourself under church discipline, like this 103 year old member.
never again take an oath of submission to a creed. There is One who is infallible. God has spoken infallibly. Countless times I have heard words such as these spoken from the pulpit: "The Bible is inerrant, our only infallible, sufficient authority for faith and practice. Scripture equips, corrects, rebukes and trains us in all righteousness." Tell me again why I am required to submit to a lesser written authority?
Here are three case studies of people selling out their integrity by agreeing to a Statement of Faith that they apparently did not adhere to. The
Sold-out Pastor, the
Sold-out Seminary Professors, and the
Sold-out Seminary President.
Case Study No. 1 - The Sold-out Pastor
Dave attended a large Baptist church in Charlotte, NC. The church affirmed the
Baptist Faith and Message 2000
. Dave felt the call to be a pastor, so he enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to obtain his MDiv. After graduation, he received a pastoral internship to a well-known church in Washington, DC. He became a member and elder of that church. At this church, he was required to submit to the
1853 New Hampshire Confession of Faith
. After spending years ministering at the D.C. church, he felt called to become "lead pastor" at a church "replant" in Charlotte. Ultimately, Dave would be financially supported by both his church in D.C. and the large Baptist church in Charlotte.
Let's look at the two Statements of Faith as they relate to the "Christian Sabbath":
Baptist Faith and Message 2000:
1853 New Hampshire Confession of Faith:
We believe that the first day of the week is the Lord's Day, or Christian Sabbath; and is to be kept sacred to religious purposes by the devout observance of all the means of grace, both private and public; and by preparation for that rest that remaineth for the people of God.
So, the Charlotte church's affirmation concerning the "Christian Sabbath" allows secular activities and recreation based on one's conscience. "Let your conscience be your guide." But the D.C. church's confession requires that the "Christian Sabbath" be "kept sacred to religious purposes." Written in 1853, this certainly precluded working on Sundays.
: When Dave leads his new congregation, will he ask his flock to avoid work and recreation on the Sabbath, or will he leave it up to the member's conscience? What Confession will they be required to submit to?
: Dave decides to go with BOTH the
Baptist Faith and Message 2000
1853 New Hampshire Confession of Faith
deletes the section
on the Christian Sabbath from the 1853 Confession!
Link to his church's SOF
Did his understanding of the meaning of the Sabbath rest change back and forth? Or is it possible that
Dave decided that the opportunity for an internship in D.C. was worth selling out his conscience when it comes to his understanding of the "Christian Sabbath?" My guess is that he didn't take submission to the
New Hampshire Confession of Faith seriously.
But this should not be the case for an elder of the Church. Especially when that church makes members "responsible for believing and living in accordance with it (the New Hampshire Confession)." Does the D.C. church usurp the authority of Scripture and replace it with their Confession?
Case Study No. 2 - The Sold-out Seminary Professors
Pastor Dave received his training at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). Perhaps we can discern what he was taught or what example he followed during his years in seminary. What does SBTS teach concerning the "Christian Sabbath?"
In order to be a seminary professor at SBTS, one must hold to the
Baptist Faith and Message 2000
and also subscribe to
the Seminary's Abstract of Principles
." Here is what the
Abstract of Principles
requires concerning the Lord's Day:
XVII. The Lord's Day.
The Lord's Day is a Christian institution for regular observance and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, resting from worldly employments and amusements, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.
As we saw, the
Baptist Faith and Message 2000 allowed the conscience to hold sway in regarding the "Christian Sabbath." It appears that in order to be a professor at the seminary, one must both bind and loose their conscience! Is this not being double-minded? Which Confession takes precedence? How can the Seminary professors be held accountable?
Case Study No. 3 - The Sold-out Seminary President
Frank was a Christian football star. A quarterback, he led his team to the greatest comeback (at the time) in the history of college football. As a professional football player, he led his team to the
greatest comeback ever
in an NFL playoff game. He played in two Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills, and became the first quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. After his football career ended, Frank attended seminary at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Charlotte, and obtained his MDiv. He was then offered the position of President of the Seminary, a position which he held from 2003 to 2006. After this, Frank became pastor of Ballantyne Presbyterian Church. Several years later, he accepted a coaching position with the Indianapolis Colts.
In order to be on the Board or faculty of RTS, one must agree that "
the Westminster Confession of Faith
and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms
as accepted by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America as its standard of doctrine at its first General Assembly in 1789 is the system of doctrine taught in Scripture." Ballantyne Presbyterian Church also holds to the Westminster Confession.
What does the Westminster Confession teach regarding the "Christian Sabbath?" It must be kept holy to the Lord.
One must "rest the whole day from their own works and words, and from thoughts about their worldly activities and recreations and take up the whole time in public and private worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy."
So apparently Frank was able to perform his work as a quarterback on Sunday without violating his conscience. Then he submits to the
Westminster Confession which does not allow work on Sunday. Then he leaves to coach in the pro ranks, which again requires Sunday work. What was Frank thinking when he accepted his leadership positions at the Seminary and the local Church?
I am the first to admit that my personal beliefs have changed numerous times over the years. And that could be the case for Dave and Frank. But this is
all the more reason not to submit to a fallible creed.
I do not mean to denigrate these men and institutions. I am sure they are godly and have good intentions. Rather, I hope these case studies lead you to consider carefully whether it is wise to bind your conscience by submitting to a mandatory Statement of Faith.