Statement of Faith; Mark D. Roberts Statement of Faith; My Statement of Faith
My Statement of Faith
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright © 2008 by Mark D. Roberts
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My Statement of Faith: Introduction
Part 1 of series: My Statement of Faith
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As most of you know, I recently left my position as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in order to become the Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence of Laity Lodge. My new position, though not in a parish, is still something that "counts" for my Presbyterian ordination. In other words, though I'm not working in a church, I remain a "Reverend."
In the Presbyterian Church (USA), the question of whether one should be ordained or not is answered by the local presbytery, a group of churches in a given area that acts rather like the bishop in other denominations. When I was pastoring in Irvine, California, I was a member of Los Ranchos Presbytery, a region that included all of Orange County and a small portion of Los Angeles County (something like 900 square miles). When I left Irvine Presbyterian Church, Los Ranchos Presbytery voted to release me to Mission Presbytery in Texas, which includes Boerne, the town where I live, as well as Laity Lodge. In fact, Mission Presbytery is quite large, consisting of 157 churches and more than 55,000 square miles. That makes my new presbytery about the size of the entire state of New York! Things are bigger in Texas! (Photo: The state of Texas with Mission Presbytery highlighted.)
When Presbyterian pastors move, they are almost always received into their new presbyteries with minimal hassle. The receiving presbyteries do, however, examine each potential minister with respect to theology and views of church order. Today I was examined by a committee of pastors and elders from Mission Presbytery. They were interested in my spiritual journey, my sense of call to Laity Lodge, and my basic beliefs.
In order to prepare for my examination, I was asked to write a one-page statement of faith. This is exactly the same thing I was asked to do when I was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor twenty years ago. Statements of faith usually follow a trinitarian pattern, with sections on the church, the sacraments, and mission added in.
Though I could have put together such a statement with relative ease, I didn't want merely to list out my core beliefs. I was asked to write a statement of faith. So I thought I would try to represent, not just my basic convictions, but my actual faith, my relationship of trust with God. This was not easy to do in just one page, let me tell you. (In the end, I used two pages.) It's one thing to list one's core belief. It's quite another to try and capture a living relationship in a few sentences.
In the end, I did something unusual with my statement of faith. I'll share this with you in my next post, and then add some explanation. But before I tell you what I did for my statement of faith, I want you to think about how you might write your own statement. If you had no more than 1000 words in which to capture your faith, what would you write? What form would your statement of faith take?
Think about this for a day. Tomorrow I'll share with you what I wrote.
My Statement of Faith
Part 2 of series: My Statement of Faith
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Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with thee; Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; As thou hast been thou forever wilt be. (1)
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! (2) (Photo: Zion National Park)
Sing praise to God Who reigns above, the God of all creation, The God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation. With healing balm my soul is filled and every faithless murmur stilled: To God all praise and glory.
The Lord is never far away, but through all grief distressing, An ever present help and stay, our peace and joy and blessing. As with a mother’s tender hand, God gently leads the chosen band: To God all praise and glory. (3)
Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature, O Thou of God and man the Son, Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor, Thou, my soul’s glory, joy and crown.
Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations! Son of God and Son of Man! Glory and honor, praise, adoration, Now and forever more be Thine. (4)
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne. Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own. Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee, And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity. (5)
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer. (6)
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart; Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move; Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art; And make me love Thee as I ought to love. (7)
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee. (8)
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will, While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Hold o’er my being absolute sway! Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see Christ only, always, living in me. (9)
O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy grace, Lord, like a fetter, Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee: Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above. (10)
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled? (11)
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. (12)
The Church’s one foundation Is Jesus Christ her Lord, She is His new creation By water and the Word. From heaven He came and sought her To be His holy bride; With His own blood He bought her And for her life He died.
Elect from ev'ry nation, Yet one o’er all the earth; Her charter of salvation, One Lord, one faith, one birth; One holy Name she blesses, Partakes one holy food, And to one hope she presses, With every grace endued. (13)
We are the Body of which the Lord is Head, Called to obey Him, now risen from the dead; He wills us be a family, Diverse yet truly one: O let us give our gifts to God, And so shall his work on earth be done.
We are a temple, the Spirit’s dwelling place, Formed in great weakness, a cup to hold God’s grace; We die alone, for on its own Each ember loses fire: Yet joined in one the flame burns on To give warmth and light, and to inspire. (14)
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, Till all the world adore His sacred Name. (15)
Multiply Your love through us To the lost and the least. Let us be Your healing hands Your instruments of peace. May our single purpose be To imitate Your life. Through our simple words and deeds Let love be multiplied.
Let us see Your kingdom come To the poor and broken ones. Let us see a mighty flood Of justice and mercy, O Jesus. Let love be multiplied. Let love be multiplied.
Multiply Your church through us To the ends of the Earth. Where there's only barrenness Let us see new birth. Use us as Your laborers Working side by side. Let us see your harvest come. Let love be multiplied. (16)
Finish then Thy new creation, Pure and spotless let us be; Let us see Thy great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee! Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise. (17)
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed thy hand hath provided; Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! (18)
(1) "Great is Thy Faithfulness" by Thomas Chisholm, 1923. Refrain.
(2) "Holy, Holy, Holy" by Reginald Heber, 1826. Verse 1.
(3) "Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above" by Johann Schütz, 1675; trans. Frances Cox, 1864. Verses 1 & 3.
(4) "Fairest Lord Jesus" from Münster Gesangbuch, 1677; trans. Joseph Seiss, 1873, Verses 1 & 5.
(5) "Crown Him with Many Crowns," by Matthew Bridges, 1852. Verse 1.
(6) "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," by Joseph Scriven, 1855. Verse 2.
(7) "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart" by George Croly, 1854. Verse 1.
(8) "Take My Life and Let It Be," by Frances Havergal, 1874. Verses 1 & 3.
(9) "Have Thine Own Way" by Adelaide Pollard, 1907. Verses 1 & 4.
(10) "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," by Robert Robinson, 1758. Verse 4.
(11) "How Firm a Foundation" by John Rippon, 1878. Verse 1.
(12) "Trust and Obey" by John Sammis, 1887. Verse 1 and refrain.
(13) "The Church's One Foundation," by Samuel Stone, 1866. Verses 1 & 2.
(14) "We Are God's People," by Bryan Jeffery Leech, 1976. Verses 3 & 4.
(15) "Lift High the Cross," by George Kitchin, 1916. Refrain.
(16) "Multiply Your Love," by Andy Park, CCLI #3278422.
(17) "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" by Charles Wesley, 1747. Verse 4.
(18) "Great is Thy Faithfulness" by Thomas Chisholm, 1923. Refrain.
My Statement of Faith: Why Hymns and Songs?
Part 3 of series: My Statement of Faith
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When Presbyterian pastors or candidates for ordained ministry are being "checked out" theologically, their statements of faith usually take the form of six or seven paragraphs of prose. Each paragraph includes carefully chosen, tightly-packed theological language. They are basically creedal in form, touching upon such key doctrines as the nature of God, the nature and mission of Christ, salvation, the church, the sacraments, Scripture, and Christian mission in the world.
If you look closely at what I submitted, you'll see some of this familiar structure and content. I though upon the following themes in the following order:
God as Father
God as Trinity
God as creator, lover, savior
Jesus as both divine and human
Jesus as savior
Jesus as sovereign
Jesus as friend and one to whom we pray
The Holy Spirit in us
Commitment of my whole self to God
Submission to God's sovereignty
Desire for God's deliverance
The trustworthiness of God's Word
Trusting God's Word
The church founded on Jesus
The church as God's elect
The church as unified yet diverse
The church as the temple of the Holy Spirit
The church's mission as lifting up the cross of Christ
The church's mission as multiplying God's love, especially to the poor
The promise of the new creation
God's great faithfulness
You'll see that the basic form and content of my statement is pretty much standard Christian orthodoxy of a Reformed, evangelical stripe. Nothing particularly surprising here.
What's unusual about my statement of faith is the use of hymns and songs. Why did I opt for these poetic expressions of faith rather than more standard prose?
Before I answer this question, let me say that I am not opposed to prosaic, propositional statements of faith. I believe that genuine Christianity affirms certain core beliefs, and that these can and should be expressed in propositions. Human words can never fully capture God's reality, of course. But the use of our limited words in sentences is an essential aspect of Christian faith. It's not an accident that the church, throughout the centuries, has written creeds and confessions to express what it believes (and, at times, what it does not believe). In some quarters of the church today you'll find postmodern people who are also post-creedal. They're nervous about the limitations and demarcations that come from words and statements in theology. So they are apt not to express their faith in creedal forms, and to criticize the church for being overly doctrinal. Just for the record, though I have some sympathy for those in this quarter of Christendom, I don't live there myself.
Yet Christian faith is not just a series of propositions. It includes sentences of belief and is in many ways based upon them, to be sure. But Christian faith transcends such statements. It is a living relationship with the living God. It is belief put into practice. It is conviction expressed through adoration. In this way Christian faith is rather like a marriage. I could say, truthfully, that I love my wife. But my marriage is not just an affirmation of this truth, but a daily experience of it as well. So with my faith in God.
Thus when I was asked to write a statement of faith, I interpreted this as more than a statement of my core beliefs. Yes, yes, I realize that what the committee needed to do its job was a statement of these beliefs. They needed to make sure I was orthodox in a Presbyterian sort of way. And I supplied this orthodox summary in a poetic way. But what I gave them was more than just my crucial beliefs. I shared in an open-hearted way my faith in God, my relationship with God, my love of God.
For me, nothing expresses this kind of faith better than hymns and songs. For one thing, I've been singing many of these lyrics for most of my life. Some of them I've sung at least several hundred times. I think, for example, that I sung "Trust and Obey" just about every week of Sunday school during my elementary years. And even though I don't sing it much any more, it has been forever burned into my memory. Ironically, my journey of faith in the last year has been mostly a matter of trusting and obeying God. The old song sings anew in my heart. (Photo: The First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, where I grew up singing "Trust and Obey.")
Hymns and songs have a way of joining heart and mind like nothing else I know. If I say, "God has been very faithful to me," I can mean it, but my heart remains unmoved. If, however, I'm singing "Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me" in a worship service, I am often moved to tears. Why? Partly it's the power of poetry. Partly it's the power of beautiful music. Partly it's the memories I associated with this hymn. Add them up and you have a profound statement of truth, "Great is Thy faithfulness," expressed with deep emotion. Plus, when I'm singing, my body is involved too. I'm loving the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Many of the hymns and songs I chose are prayers to God:
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.
Fairest Lord Jesus, . . . Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart.
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Multiply Your love through us To the lost and the least.
Finish then Thy new creation, Pure and spotless let us be.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
They are not only statements about God, but also statements addressed to God. Thus they represent communication that is intimate as well as truthful. My faith in God is not merely propositional. It is also worshipful, relational, and emotional. It touches everything that I am, not merely my intellect. Thus hymns and songs enable me to state my true faith in a more complete and, in some sense, more honest way. When you listen to what I sing to the Lord, you peer into the depth of my heart.