Doctrine is divisive, and division is difficult. Why should Christian higher education institutions (CHEIs) take the time to articulate faith statements that express their beliefs and distinctives knowing it will lead to division and difficulty? In many ways, would it not be much easier just to operate under the general label of “Christian” and not articulate our beliefs through statements of faith?
The early church faced a similar dilemma when new beliefs like Arianism, Sabellianism, and Nestorianism were introduced. Their options were clear: tolerate and/or embrace these beliefs, ignore them and hope they go away, or stand unified against them. The church did the latter through early councils and their subsequent creeds at Nicaea (325 A.D.), Constantinople I (381 A.D.), and Ephesus (451 A.D.) to name a few. There, they articulated their beliefs and distinguished themselves against those who flew under the banner of “Christian” but denied the faith “once for all time handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3b NASB). In a similar way, with the rise of secularization in the West, many CHEIs today are having to decide if they will clarify their beliefs through similar statements of faith or loosely operate as a Christian institution with no clear articulation of what that means. Below, I seek to spark discussion on faith statements within CHEIs by listing 10 reasons I find to support them.
1. Faith statements distinguish Christian higher education from secular education. Said another way, there is something unique that CHEIs offer that no public institution can. A faith statement is a way to show that distinction. Christian campuses should be more than just places where students can exercise and grow in their Christian faith, for they can exercise and grow in their faith at public institutions as well. Faith statements declare that the institution itself embraces, encourages, and fosters Christian belief and practice amongst all who are involved within its campus community, something that can never be said about secular institutions.
2. Faith statements continue the legacy of Christian higher education. Many of the greatest universities across Africa, Europe, and North America owe their formation and continuance to Christians who believed in higher education. By embracing our Christian identity through faith statements, we embrace our Christian heritage and ensure its livelihood in current and subsequent generations of secularization.
3. Faith statements bring unity to the Christian higher education movement as a whole. CHEIs are stronger when they stand united together. Granted, there are and will continue to be significant points of disagreement in the belief systems of CHEIs. However, through statements of faith, we can find areas where we do align so that together we can join as a unified voice for matters important in higher education.
4. Faith statements provide a framework for all curriculum. Faith statements are of tremendous service to the faculty who can clearly know (and do not have to assume) what is of primary, secondary, and tertiary importance in teaching at the institution. Relatedly, faith statements articulate what is clearly unorthodox at that institution. Removing the guesswork on what is theologically important to an institution is most helpful as faculty prepare and deliver instruction.
5. Faith statements provide transparency to students. By publicizing what a CHEI believes, students (and the parents that send them) know what will be taught and embraced by the institution. Many students come to a Christian campus with assumptions of what a Christian higher education means and what that institution believes. Only time will tell if their assumptions were misplaced – that is, unless that CHEI has a faith statement. Because not all CHEIs believe and value the same things, they have an ethical responsibility to articulate their positions to those they would seek to recruit.
6. Faith statements assist in employee recruitment and evaluation. They serve as a tool to evaluate the institutional alignment of faculty and staff from their earliest stages as candidates to their annual evaluations as employees.
7. Faith statements align the institution with the denominations and churches that founded and supported them. Sometimes, there can be a theological disconnect between denominations and the CHEIs of that denomination. Faith statements assist in aligning that institution to the beliefs of the churches that established them so that they accomplish the mission their founders set.
8. Faith statements protect religious freedoms. Religious organizations have constitutional rights that secular organizations do not. The more that CHEIs embrace and solidify their Christian identity, the more freedoms they enjoy. The more secularized CHEIs become, the more they forfeit their constitutional liberties protected by the First Amendment.
9. Faith statements anchor institutions through changes in theology and society. Higher education has undergone unprecedented changes in the last few decades, much of which is positive. However, CHEIs will have noticed changes in theology and culture that may go contrary to their institutional beliefs and values. Faith statements hold CHEIs to those beliefs and values despite the ebbs and flows of cultural beliefs and values. For them, they have already stated where they stand and can build a heritage around their historic beliefs.
10. Faith statements unite the campus community. Institutions who might consider adopting a faith statement (or have only recently adopted one) may question this claim that they truly promote unity; however, institutions that have had longstanding faith statements typically find little lasting division (despite initial controversy). When the church first established some of their earliest creeds and councils, there was initial division and discord; however, in the long run, these statements of faith led to lasting unity which is still celebrated over 1,500 years later. In the same way, faith statements (when truly embraced and abided by) will unite the campus community as they share common alignment of what it means to be a Christian institution.