What We Believe
Almost every Christian church has a statement or statements of its fundamental beliefs. These are often called articles of religion or articles of doctrine. (The word "doctrine" simply means "teaching.") In this section of the United Church website, important statements of our doctrine are presented. These historic statements have a unique defining role in the faith of the church. At the same time their authority is not unlimited. From the beginning, those who envisioned the United Church believed that Christians could distinguish between "the substance of the faith" and all particular (e.g., denominationally or culturally specific) expressions of it. For our forebears, this meant that there would be an ongoing clarification of this substance through periodic restatement, given changing context and challenges. Successive generations in the church have shared this outlook on the ongoing task of restatement. Thus in 1940 the 9th General Council adopted "A Statement of Faith," and in 1968 the 23rd General Council adopted "A New Creed." Currently the Committee on Theology and Faith is beginning work on the draft of "a timely and contextual statement of faith," as mandated by the 37th General Council.
Below follows the most recent interpretation of the ongoing task of restating the faith, as expressed by the November 1997 meeting of the Executive of General Council:
Three words are helpful in clarifying the place of doctrinal standards in The United Church -- continuity, context and diversity.
The doctrine of The United Church of Canada is set forth in the Basis of Union (1925). From time to time, the church restates its faith in new ways, as it did in the Statement of Faith (1940). Currently, the church is exploring and discussing a new draft Statement of Faith that will be considered by the 39th General Council (2006). As well, "A New Creed" (1968) is an affirmation of faith used widely in our worship. These standards are authorized by General Councils and belong uniquely to the unfolding life of the United Church. Yet we do not seek to stand alone. As members of one body of Christ, we acknowledge our Reformation heritage and the teaching of the creeds of the ancient church (particularly the Apostles'* and Nicene* Creeds). Our membership in the World Council of Churches* today links us to a fellowship of churches "which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures". Above all, we trace our continuity in faith to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, whose witness is the ultimate standard for Christian faith and life.
The Statement of Faith of 1940 reminds us that "the Church's faith is the unchanging Gospel of God's holy, redeeming love in Jesus Christ". It also declares that each new generation is called to state this gospel afresh, "in terms of the thought of their own age and with the emphasis their age needs". The call to renew our confession has led us not only to the Statement of 1940, but also to "A New Creed" and to other statements such as "The Lordship of Jesus" (1978) and "The Authority and Interpretation of Scripture"(1992). No single statement or creed can capture all that may be required of the church to make the good confession in a new context. Our claim that "Jesus is Lord" must be a timely one. The journey of a pilgrim people goes on.
Based on the understanding that the Bible is the ultimate standard for our faith, the creeds and confessions formulated by the church can only possess a "subordinate authority". Thus, membership in the church is based on a profession of faith and not on a credal subscription or test. New members are asked to profess their faith in the triune God and to commit themselves to faithful conduct in church and world. What is required additionally of those being ordained or commissioned in the United Church is "essential agreement" with the doctrinal articles of the Basis of Union.
We have doctrinal standards and attempt to set them forth in continuity with the Biblical faith. But our grasp on the truth of God is finite and fallible, and we do not believe that faithfulness consists in assenting to particular statements. Rarely, if ever, do we use doctrinal standards to exclude anyone from the circle of belonging. Rather we lift up Jesus Christ and his way, saying to all who seek God's grace and service, "Come and see."