Some churches try to increase the impact of doctrinal statements on people’s lives by requiring their teenagers and potential members to memorize the doctrinal statement, or at least read it as part of every Sunday church service. The usual result of this practice, however, is that while a doctrinal statement can be memorized and recited, it rarely leads to real life change. The words can be faithfully spoken while the mind wanders to problems at work, what Mrs. Pilsnick is wearing in church today, and who is going to win the NFL game.
A better practice than memorizing and reciting the creeds might be taking people out into the community to love and serve others. In this way, they will truly learn about the truth of Scripture, the significance of death and resurrection, the importance of sanctification and holiness, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. A better practice than catechism and creedal recitation might be service in a community housing project or clearing trash from underneath the bridge where homeless people sleep.
Even among those who can memorize and recite the creed, does it really make that much difference in their lives? Have they really understood the gospel? If one believes all the right things, and can sign on the dotted line of the best doctrinal statements that the church has ever written, but their life is full of hatred, greed, and selfishness, I would argue that while they may have eternal life, and while they may believe some good truths from the gospel, they really have not understood the most essential parts of the gospel.
Yet the way many of our churches are structured today, a person can sign on the dotted line of their church doctrinal statement, and as long as they attend church regularly and put some money in the plate as it passes by, they can usually be a “member in good standing” even if their personal behavior follows more closely that of Judas Iscariot than to Jesus Christ.
We have all known people who believe all the right things, but are some of the most hateful and hurtful people you ever want to be around. They are porcupine Christians: they have lots of good points, but they stick anybody who gets too close. Have such Christians really understood the gospel? I think not. They may have believed some of the essential truths of the gospel, but they have not understood the central focus and point of the gospel, which is that as believers in Jesus, we must also follow Him into a life of love and service to others.
Therefore, the gospel cannot be summarized in a doctrinal statement because statements of belief usually do not also contain statements of behavior, and even if they did, such “lists” soon become legalistic rules, which undermines the gospel even further.
So in general, doctrinal statements lead people to think that if they just believe the right things, and sign on the dotted line, then they can live any way they want. In such a way, doctrinal statements have gutted the gospel of any real importance or significance in our lives.