Christian creed statements were developed in the early centuries of the institutional church to identify and summarize essential truth which must be affirmed in order to be recognized as a real Christian. Specific examples are the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed.
Though many modern churches, identifying themselves a non-denominational, never mention adherence to the ancient creeds as part of their teaching, a great number of these same churches see fit to advertize a statement of faith of beliefs, which by implication describes what must be believed as an affiliate of that group. Specifically, for evangelical, fundamental churches, who believe in the doctrine of Christian exclusiveness, these statements of faith represent a list of beliefs which must be accepted in order to be classified as a Christian. As is so often declared by such fundamentalists, believing these essentials and thereby becoming a Christian is necessary to escape God’s wrath. In other words, by implication, affirming each item in the statement of faith is necessary to avoid eternal torment.
Even church groups which shun a formal statement of beliefs, referring solely to the Bible as their statement of faith, must have essential elements of faith, since they preach Christian exclusiveness. The Christian emphasis on faith and beliefs as the determinant of true Christianity requires such.
If one were to review the average statement of faith, historical or current, formal or unwritten, that review would uncover more than a few elements, generally dozens. Such beliefs would often include an inspired, inerrant Bible; the universal sin nature of mankind; the Trinity; the virgin birth; the sacrifice of Jesus as a debt payment to God; Jesus’ resurrection; the future return of Christ; a final judgment which results in many going to Hell; and numerous other tenets. In other words the list of essentials is not trivial and not easily explained and grasped in the typically short period of a weekly church sermon. Or in any reasonable duration lesson, for that matter.
Despite that fact, preachers in these churches routinely claim to be presenting the required message to potential Christians each and every Sunday. In listening to these presentations, I have never heard mention of each and every aspect of required belief to which evangelicals generally adhere. Instead the message is of necessity abbreviated, generally highlighting man’s sinfulness, Jesus’ sacrifice, and the specific steps required to become saved, be born again, or accept Jesus as personal savior. The requirement to accept the doctrine of eternal punishment, proper church organization, evangelical responsibility, or many other “essentials” rarely if ever come up in the abbreviated version of the “Gospel”. This “mini Gospel” is probably justified in the mind of the teacher by the imminent danger of “hellfire” which the unconverted person faces.
However, if the abbreviated message is sufficient to save the convert, what makes the rest of the statement of faith essential? If the doctrine of eternal torment and proper church stewardship is not a part of every gospel presentation, how does it become essential later? The impression one gets is that these churches want to draw in converts with an incomplete story, and then add to the salvation requirements once the candidate has been initiated. This would be wildly cynical and dishonest, if one really believed that other essentials were yet incomplete. In effect, the church would leave someone with the impression of salvation when, in fact, that was not thought to be true.
In my own mind, these statements of faith are largely cosmetic, developed as a demonstration of being legitimately Christian, without real regard for what is considered basic to the Christian faith. If churches really thought each element of these statements were essential to salvation, then conversion by means of the 30-45 minute sermon would not be accepted as valid. Orthodoxy, with all its emphasis on adherence to essential historical doctrine, heaps one conundrum on top of another. Instantaneous conversion by “sermonette” is just another example.