What We Believe
Holy Scripture is the only set-apart and perfect source available to mankind.
1. Scripture is God’s revelation of himself. By Scripture we mean the special revelation of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, revealed to God’s chosen prophets, recorded, and canonized into the Bible. The Bible stands in a unique category as the self-revelation of God. “The divine revelation is God’s self-impartation” (Gustaf Aulén). Divine revelation is nothing less than God giving himself.
2. Scripture is the inspired word of God. Scripture is θεόπνευστος—God breathed. Scripture is set-apart from all other sources; it is the unique revealing of God by God. The term which we may use to describe the Bible’s set-apart from/unique nature is infallible. Since there are no errors within God, his word is necessarily infallible. The infallibility of the Bible entails God truly revealing himself. Infallibility means Scripture does not fail in any way and is incapable of failing.
3. Scripture is inerrant. The Bible is perfect. We describe the Bible’s perfection by calling the Bible inerrant. Stating that the Bible is inerrant means that the Bible does not contain any errors (human or otherwise). We may conclude, “the authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own” (Chicago Statement on Inerrancy).
4. Scripture is sufficient. God is entirely sufficient (ἱκανός) within himself. He who is sufficient in himself does not conform to some external standard or to some ideal. Rather, he is the standard. God provides a whole and complete special revelation, which is daily sufficient within itself for the revelation of himself to mankind. The sufficiency of Scripture entails salvation and sanctification (2 Tim 3:15–17), distinguishing truth from error (Ps 19), the standard of Christian character (2 Pet 1:19), worship (Ps 29), and blessing (Ps 119). The Bible is entirely and perfectly sufficient.
God is best described as the person (the superlative prime example), rather than as a person (Anthony C. Thiselton).
1. God’s Attributes are those individual irreducible characteristics of the divine nature, which are truly inseparable from each other. By his attributes, God is “distinguished from all created beings and without which he would not be worthy of worship” (W. T. Conner).
1a. God is holy. “Holiness is one of the most important, if not the most important, attributes of God, and certainly nothing that God does can be done apart from being in complete harmony with His holy nature” (Charles Ryrie). The first mention of God’s holiness is described in Exodus 3. God is perfect in all of his being (Ps 93:5). “The holiness of God is what he is in himself” (E. C. Dargan).
1b. God is self-existent. God properly belongs to himself; he has no cause to his being. God’s aseity means he is utterly set-apart from all other things. He is unique. “There is none like you, O Lord, you are great, and your name is great in might” (Jer 10:6). He is supremely himself. “There is no one holy in the same way that God is holy” (1 Sam 2:2, Exod 15:11). All being derives its existence from God, but God’s being is reliant upon nothing.
1c. God is Jealous. “For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exod 34:14). God is jealous for humanity; he created mankind to relate to him and for him. God is set-apart to have a relationship with mankind. God’s relationship to mankind is a holy relationship.
1d. God is immutable. God is set-apart from all creation; he does not change. In God “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas 1:17). God does react to the changing attitudes and actions of human beings. He is impassible. Stating God does not change is not the same as God does not move. God does not act out of compulsion or by changing emotions, but God acts in accordance with himself.
1e. God is love. God is set-apart to loving his creation. God gives of himself fully to his creation. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives” (1 John 3:16a). God is ἀγάπη—sacrificial love. No other term best summarizes the personal nature of God than love.
1f. God is spirit. Having declared the uniqueness of God’s being (aseity) and his immutability, we must now understand God and nature are separate. Since God is spirit, he is not the soul of creation (panentheism), nor should God be confused with creation (pantheism). God is rightly understood as a supernatural being, “because God is spiritual, or immaterial, he is not subject to measurement in the physical realm” (Malcolm B. Yarnell).
1g. God is Omniscient. God knows all things. His knowledge rightly includes all those things which have not yet come to pass. We reject the idea of Open Theism on the grounds of the perfection of God’s knowledge (Acts 15:18).
1h. God is Omnipotent. Only God is all powerful (Rev 19:6). His power rightly includes the security of salvation (1 Pet 1:5), the power to create (Gen 1:1), and providence (Heb 1:3). By reason of God’s perfection, we reject the notion that God is limited in his power by any external force or law. God may act supernaturally upon creation. His supernatural acts upon creation are known as miracles.
1i. God is Omnipresent. God’s omnipresence is set-apart from anything in creation. God is everywhere present, but he remains separate from creation. Therefore, nothing in creation may escape from God’s presence (Ps 139:1–6).
1j. God is one. The Shema makes this clear, “Hear; O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6:4). God’s oneness is here framed by the imperative to listen (שְׁמַ֣ע). We believe God is one by meaning he is only, but not he is alone. When we worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we are worshiping only one God.
1k. God is YHWH. “Like all the attributes of God, the attribute of holiness is an indication of the name of God. God’s name is his enacted identity” (John Webster). God is YHWH—“I am who I am” (Ex 3:14a). God is who He is; He is unique; He is self-existent, unchangeable, and spirit. Within the revelation of God’s unique nature, he also tells Moses to say, “I am has sent me to you” (Ex 3:14b). God is personal in sending Moses to the Israelites. He is jealous, loving, and the only God. There is nothing in creation to compare to God. He is the Holy One.
The Triune Holy One
The Triune God
There is no contradiction to God’s oneness for Jesus to declare, “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). God’s relational mission (redemption) is crucial to his oneness. Believers are baptized into his one name. Therefore, “we believe in one God” but follows this statement with “the Father . . . and in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . and in the Holy Spirit” (Nicene Creed). “We do not say three gods, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, we say only one God, the Holy Trinity, the Son and the Spirit going back to only one Principle, without composition or confusion” (John Damascene).
- God the Father is set-apart from God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. John 3:16 declares, “for God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son.” “The name ‘Father’ is neither a name of essence nor a name of energy. It is a name of a relationship and it tells us how the Father is with regard to the Son and how the Son is with regard to the Father” (Maximus the Confessor). God the Father is unique in his person from God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and by his relationship to both the Son and the Spirit.
- God the Son is set-apart from the Father by being the begotten one. John declares, “no one has ever seen God; the only God (μονογενὴς Θεὸς), who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (ἐξηγήσατο)” (John 1:18). The Father is not begotten. The Holy Spirit is not begotten. God the Son is set-apart from the Father and the Holy Spirit as the begotten one. John’s prologue is even more explicit in declaring the full divinity of the Son, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and was God” (John 1:1). Therefore, the Son is set-apart from the Father, but he is not less divine than the Father. We believe the “Lord Jesus Christ . . . who was begotten from the Father before all the ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made,” is “one essence with the Father” (Nicene Creed).
- God the Holy Spirit is set-apart from God the Father and God the Son by spiration. The Son declares, “if I do not go away, the Helper will not come (ἔλθῃ) to you. But if I go, I will send (πέμψω) him to you” (John 16:7b). While the Son is set-apart from the Father by being eternally begotten, the Holy Spirit is set-apart from the Father by his eternal procession. “The Spirit comes from the Father through the Son” (Gregory of Nyssa). God the Holy Spirit did not beget the Son, nor is he begotten. “The Spirit is not another Son” (Yves Congar). Yet, we must not see his eternal procession as a subordination of the Holy Spirit’s divinity. God the Holy Spirit is fully and entirely God. He is to be equally worshiped with the Father and the Son (2 Cor 13:14).
The proper subject of creation is God. Creation is set-apart from God creation is set-apart to the glory of God; creation’s perfection springs from God and is fully reliant upon him. The Holy Bible introduces God as the creator (Gen 1:1). “Creation comes first in the series of works of the triune God, and is thus the beginning of all things distinct from God himself” (Karl Barth). When Moses pairs “beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית) with “he created” (בָּרָ֣א), the author makes clear God created ex nihilo (see also Ps 33:6, 9). By ex nihilo “we mean that free act of the triune God by which . . . he made, without the use of preexisting materials, the whole visible and invisible universe” (Augustus H. Strong). The biblical witness rejects the premise of eternal matter, which prevails in the philosophy of naturalism and materialism.
Creation obeys the will of God (Gen 7:16). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). Therefore, nature is in a relationship with God (Ps 100:3). Since creation derives goodness from God, it requires God’s presence and governance to exist (Johnathan Edwards). Therefore, the relationship of creation to God is not one sided. God’s relationship to creation is known as providence.
Providence relates to God’s governing (Ps 103:19), preserving (Col 1:17), and sustaining (Ps 104:24–30) creation. Not only did God create nature, but he governs and rules it sovereignly. Creation maintains goodness by maintaining a relationship with God. We reject Naturalism’s notion of fate, luck, or chance. “The lot is cast into the lap but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov 16:33).
The relationship of Man to God is different from the rest of creation. Mankind is set-apart from creation as the imago Dei. The imago Dei refers to mankind being the embodiment of God’s image on earth. We affirm that all mankind shares equally in the image of God. No other authorized image of God exists. “The creation of man in the divine image is without doubt the focal point of Gen[esis] 1” (Gordon Wenham). Genesis 1:26–27 teaches the imago Dei relies on two factors: mankind’s dominion and relationship to God. Mankind is enabled to worship, obey, and maintain his relationship with God. Where creation sits in strict subjugation to obey God’s authority, mankind’s enabling is a crucial identifying mark of the imago Dei.
Mankind was created male and female. The created order of mankind recognizes man as a social creature, existing as only two genders: male and female. “Any departure from the biblical standard of male and female, whether that be a rejection of biological gender or an attempt to alter biological gender, is contrary to God’s design and plan for humanity” (David Allen). Genesis 1:26–27 does not declare that man and woman are each one half of the imago Dei. Both genders are fully the imago Dei (Gen 1:27). The Bible does not affirm the modern distinction between sexuality and gender. Outside of marriage, absolute chastity is the only biblical norm; singleness, in this respect, is approved by God (1 Cor 7:25–35). Genesis 1:26–27 affirms the full image of God in both male and female separately; which means neither masculinity nor femininity are perfect representations of the imago Dei on their own.
Gender is complementary. Recognizing the distinction between men and women is known as complementarianism. The Bible recognizes a fundamental difference in the creation of male and female (Gen 2:21–22), their roles in marriage (Gen 2:24), and their roles within the home (Eph 5:22–31, 1 Pet 3:1–7). However, we must be very careful in applying complementarianism into societal constructs, which form beyond the limits of Scripture. Genesis 2:18–24 affirms male and female are meant to complement each other in a relationship. “This distinction in unity forms an integral and inescapable part of human reality” (G. W. Bromiley).
Marriage is “the closest possible fellowship of one human being with another being who is equally human yet also different” (Bromiley). Marriage is defined by God as a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife (Gen 2:24–25). “God has not designed or approved marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship” (David Allen). The complementary nature of marriage is meant to reflect the Trinity (Eph 5:22–33), raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Deut 6:7), and sanctify those within the marriage (Eph 5:31–32). A marriage is only holy when it recognizes the Lord’s headship and in him finds ultimate fulfillment.
Mankind has Dominion. Mankind is set-apart from creation by God ordaining him to rule over creation. By dominion we do not believe man may dominate creation. “The capacity for dominion always presupposes a power of command that is based on a principle or purpose” (R. R. Reno). Mankind’s authority over the earth is not despotic. He must answer to God for his authority.
God grants mankind dominion over three areas:
1. Dominion over nature. While “there are at least certain areas of Nature that exist within an order of their own and in conformity with their own laws, which Man is required to acknowledge,” mankind is yet morally responsible for subduing and governing creation (Walther Eichrodt). Mankind is commanded and blessed by God to work (Gen 2:15). If mankind does not work and exercise his dominion over nature, he is not living out his created and holy purpose (Ps 6:8). Poor exercising of dominion over creation leads to an “ecological crisis”. The proper understanding of man’s dominion ought not to be understood as conquering, but as stewardship.
2. Dominion over the creatures. Over everything on the earth, mankind has full dominion (Gen 1:28). When exercising hedonistic passions over creatures, mankind abuses his authority. Mankind is not permitted to squander the life of God’s creatures by gluttony (Lev 24:21), masochism (Prov 12:10), or perverse sexual pleasures (Lev 18:23).
3. Dominion over each other. God gives the right to govern each other to humanity (Gen 9:5–6, Rom 13:1, Dan 4:17). Every government is subject to God’s authority first. Even a representative government does not guarantee freedom from despotism.
Mankind is made in two principle parts:
1. Mankind’s body is formed from creation. Mankind is taken out of the earth and set above it, to rule and have dominion. God shaped mankind’s body artistically; the work implies skill and planning. Therefore, we reject the Gnostic view that the body is a prison. Modern issues which disregard the body of an unborn or treat it as a waste product must also be rejected. God shapes more than the dust; he preeminently forms the body in the womb (Isa 44:2). Disregarding the wellbeing of babies and the elderly is therefore regarded as an attack on God’s image.
2. Mankind’s soul is breathed into him. Unlike any other of God’s creatures, mankind is indwelled with a soul. While the soul is not eternal, it is everlasting. Man possesses the breath of life and is a living creature. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,” says Paul, “we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:49). By possessing a soul man is capable of, having a fellowship with God, the capacity for dominion, and able to obey the statues of God.
Mankind is both body and soul together; they are not to be separated or restrictive of one another. The two are deeply interrelated. A sickness of the body may be caused by the sickness of the soul. The soul may be led astray by the misguided passion of the body (gluttony, lust, etc.).
Sin: Sin is defined as the contrast to God’s being. If God is love, sin is hate.
1. Sin is rebellion. No better definition can be given for the severing of man’s ties to the Holy One than rebellion ( פֶ֖שַׁע). Sin as rebellion means the inability to distinguish between the Holy One and creation (Jer 2:27–29), or ascribing the source of holiness to anything other than the Holy One. “The law of God orders one thing, the heart of man desires another. There is not the basest thing in the world, but man would sooner submit to be guided by it, rather than by the holiness of God” (Stephen Charnock).
2. Sin is Missing the Mark. Missing the mark is by far the most common biblical understanding of sin. Whereas rebellion denies mankind as set-apart from God, missing the mark (ἁμαρτία and טָּ֣את) denies mankind as set-apart to God. “When one misses the right mark and thus sins, he also hits the wrong mark” (Charles Ryrie). Sin as missing the mark is directly related to mankind abdicating his dominion. Mankind is pictured as a skilled sharpshooter who misses the mark on purpose.
3. Sin is corruption. Corruption (עָוֺן) is the inability to distinguish between deprivation and perfection, the inability to recognize privation. Corruption’s insidious nature deforms the good. Corruption causes man to either become apathetic toward evil or to delight in it; in both cases, mankind believes privation to be the hopeless and gratifying norm.
Sin is universal. “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa 53:6, Rom 3:23). Sin is universal, because “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12).
Original sin may be defined as the permanent severing of man’s connection with holiness and the death of derived holiness for man and his posterity. Though mankind was created in a relationship to God (deriving his nature, purpose, personhood and perfection from God), man is now severed from God. Original sin infects mankind from the womb (Pss 51:5; 58:3, Job 15:14). We do not, however, affirm the concept of original guilt. God only punishes sin which an individual commits (Deut 24:16, Ezek 18:20). However, without a connection to the primary source of holiness, “man cannot change his fundamental preference for sin to love God, nor even make an approach to such a change” (Louis Berkoff).
The result of sin is far worse than one paragraph could describe. Only the Bible accurately describes the results of sin. Mankind is willing to sacrifice his lordship over nature to raisin cakes (Hos 3:1). He willfully gives up his birthright for oatmeal (Gen 25:31–33). He perverts justice for expediency (Luke 23:15–16). He plots the rape his own family and leaves them defiled (2 Sam 13:14). “The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children” (Lam 4:10). Even the best of mankind are described as “fickle, treacherous men” (Zeph 3:4). “Let everyone beware of his neighbor, and put not trust in any brother, for every brother is a deceiver, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongues to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord” (Jer 9:4–6). The result of sin is total depravity.
God’s Judgment on Sin
As Sinners, we fear God. Servile fear of the Lord is a direct result of sin. The proper response of a sinful creature before the Holy One is fear (Exod 19:16, Ps 99:1–3, Isa 66:2, Dan 6:26, Isa 64:2, Ps 199:120, Job 26:11, Ezra 10:3, Isa 2:31, Ps 9:20, etc.). Even the believer is to work out his faith in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). All of mankind ought to fear the day of judgment (Acts 17:31, Matt 12:36, 2 Cor 5:10). All of mankind ought to fear the wrath of God.
The Wrath of God may be defined as God’s holy and settled disposition toward sin. God is an impartial judge (Rom 2:11). However, we may not understand God’s wrath as a “merely an inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe” (Dodd). Rather, the wrath of God relates directly to his jealousy (Deut 6:15). Since God’s jealousy relates to his personal attributes, his wrath is also personal. God’s wrath is “distinguishable from the usual arbitrary maliciousness of deities of other ancient Near Eastern religions” (J. W. Simpson, Jr.). God’s immutability insures his wrath is not capricious or arbitrary. Unlike human anger, God’s impassability insures his wrath is not the product of an explosive anger. The Bible describes God’s wrath as a cup filled to the brim being poured out upon the earth (Jer 25:15–17). While under God’s wrath, mankind “in a in a stupor, asleep, or drunk, lurches irremediably toward the approaching disaster” (Eichrodt). Drunk on God’s wrath, the world finds itself condemned in two ways:
1. God removes his presence from sinners. Romans 1 describes God’s wrath in terms of darkening the human mind. God’s wrath (ὀργὴ) pours out on mankind because they suppress the truth of God (Rom 1:18). Once mankind suppresses the truth of God, God’s wrath gives mankind over to his own passions (Rom 1:26–28). A nation which finds itself unable to distinguish right from wrong is under the wrath of God. When the people pray but God does not listen, the people are under the wrath of God (Isa 1:15). “Therefore our sins effectively separate us from him, so that his face is hidden from us and he refuses to listen to our prayers (Hab 1:13)” (Stott).
2. God is set-apart from sin as the judge. God swears by his holiness to judge sin (Amos 4:2). The ultimate culmination of God’s wrath may be known on the day of judgement (see Eschatology). The day of judgment refers God pronouncing sinners guilty. Not even the heavens will escape the judgment of God (Isa 24:21–22). Every single deed of mankind will be judged (Eccl 12:14). Every inner thought and intention of the heart will be judged (1 Cor 4:5, Rom 2:6-10). God’s impartial judgment (Rom 2:11) ought to give Christians pause (1 Pet 1:17). Since God is perfect and set-apart from sin, he alone judges it.
The result of God’s judgment is death (Gen 2:17, Rom 6:23, Jas 1:14). Death is the enemy of God (1 Cor 15:26). Death of the body is not the only fear (Matt 10:28). Death of the soul, an eternal punishment, awaits those who die in their sin. The eternal punishment for sin is defined as hell. Since God’s holiness is eternal and man’s rebellion separates himself from God’s holiness, we may properly say hell is an eternal punishment. Hell is a complete loss of relationships, purpose, and nature; it is most often symbolized by fire, weeping, and despair (Rev 20:10, 14–15, Matt 25:41, 46).
Salvation is from God alone.
“A holy God could not ignore man’s sin” (Herschel Hobbs). God’s holiness assures us he is able to forgive without depriving sin of evil. He singles out his holiness and swears by it twice: first, he swears by his holiness to judge sin (Amos 4:2), second, to uphold his promise of redemption. (Ps 89:35).
God redeems. When God swears by his holiness to redeem mankind (Ps 89:35), he “lays here his holiness to pledge for the assurance of his promise, as the attribute most dear to him, most valued by him, as though no other could give an assurance parallel to it in this concern of an everlasting redemption” (Stephen Charnock). Redemption carries with it the definition of purchase. God must purchase his children. The Bible illustrates the payment for mankind’s sins by calling the payment a ransom (1 Pet 1:18, 1 Tim 2:6). The wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23) and therefore the payment for sin is death. God paying the ransom for sin is properly called atonement.
Atonement is the covering over and removal of sins. Atonement for sins can only be made by providing a ransom for sin. In the Old Testament the ransom price was the sacrifice of an animal. The blood of the animal was substituted for mankind. Atonement involves both an objective and subjective element. The work performed (substitutionary sacrifice) is objective. The faith in God required for the removal of sin is subjective. Since God’s atoning work is complete in Jesus, we believe that once one is saved by God they are always saved. However, since God’s atoning work requires belief, in order to be saved one must believe in Jesus Christ.
The Person and Work of Jesus:
Jesus is set-apart from the Father and the Holy Spirit by his incarnation. Jesus is fully God from eternity. We do not believe that Jesus was adopted by God the Father and became man. We do not believe that Jesus only appeared to be human. Jesus was fully human in every way. “Whatever [Jesus] does not assume, he does not save” (Leo the Great). When we state, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16, emphasis mine), we means the incarnation is the cynosure of God’s will—Jesus is the ultimate gift. The giving is not partial or temporary. Jesus “descended from heaven and took on flesh by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became” fully “human” (Nicene Creed). He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6–7). He is Emmanuel, God with us (Matt 1:23).
We believe that Jesus is one person, fully human in body and soul and contains two natures and two set-apart wills: one Divine and one human. He is The Holy One, the Son of God, Jesus called the Christ who is to be blessed forever and ever. Amen.
Jesus is the perfect high priest. “Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by [God]” (Heb 5:5). He was set-apart by the Father to perform the sacrifice (Heb 5:5b) and he maintained his own holiness by obedience to the Law (Heb 5:6–10, see above). He completed once for all the sacrifice required for sin (1 Pet 3:18). “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:9).
Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. Jesus was set-apart by the Father to be the sacrifice for sins (Ps 40:6–8). He bore upon himself the sins of the world (Isa 53:4). His blood paid the ransom for sin and made mankind clean (Isa 52:15). “Jesus suffered . . . to sanctify the people through his own blood” (Heb 12:13). Understanding Jesus as the ransom, atoning sacrifice, and substitution for mankind is properly called penal substitutionary atonement.
Jesus is God with us. Jesus was God tabernacling among us (John 1:14). He is Immanuel, God with us (Isa 9:6, Matt 1:23). Through him the curtain, which symbolized God as set-apart from mankind, has been opened (Heb 10:20). If we have truly seen Jesus, we have seen God (John 14:7).
Jesus atoned sins. The atonement entails both an objective and subjective element. Objectively, Jesus expiated and propitiated the wrath of God and satisfied the righteous demands of the law. Expiation refers to the removal of sin, guilt, and the effects of sin. Propitiation refers to, “the turning away of God’s wrath against sinners (Rom 1:18)” (David Allen). Since Jesus died once for all (Rom 6:10), represented all of humankind (1 Cor 15:45), and wills everyone to repent (1 Tim 2:4), we may say his death provided an atonement for all. The subjective element, however, requires belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, and thus limits atonement to those who believe in Christ. The benefits of the atonement are only applied on condition of faith.
Justification is for the believer only. While the atonement is unlimited, salvation (the application of the atonement) is available only to those who believe (Jn 3:16, Rom 10:9). We cannot truly see Jesus as God without faith. We conclude “by grace through faith” we “have been saved” (Eph 2:8). The justified are set-apart from the world by salvation; they are properly made perfect in Christ.
Justification entails two aspects:
1. Justification means the removal of sin. Jesus truly bore our iniquities (Isa 53:4). He truly became sin (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus drank for us the wrath of God (Luke 22:42) and therefore propitiated God’s wrath (Heb 2:17, Rom 3:25). Through Jesus’s blood, we are no longer set-apart from God (Col 1:21–22).
2. Justification means the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. By imputation we mean by the grace of God, we are counted as righteous by receiving the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5:21). We are no longer set-apart to corruption and destruction and enslaved to sin (John 8:31–37, Rom 6:6). Through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we are set-apart to obey God.
Those for whom Christ atoned are properly called saints (Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:2, Col 1:2, Eph 2:19). As holy ones, we may see God for without “holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The resurrection of Christ is the receipt by which we know our forgiveness has been purchased. By his resurrection, death has been overcome for us all. We may say, “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven” (Nicene Creed). The unlimited provision of the atonement provides mankind with hope and all believers with a universal mission.
We may speak of the church in two ways: the one holy apostolic church, and the local church.
1. The One Holy Apostolic Church refers to all those who are redeemed in Christ Jesus. They are united with him in salvation, sanctification, and glorification. However, the only gathering of the church universal will be at the second coming of the Christ and, therefore, is treated in Eschatology.
2. The local church refers to “an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel” (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000).
The local Church is set-apart from other earthly fellowships. Those who belong to the local church are set-apart by salvation. In order to be a member of a local church, one must be saved (Matt 16:15–19). The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:19–20). Therefore, the local church recognizes only one true foundation, Jesus Christ the Lord. Confession of Jesus Christ as Lord is a requirement for belonging to the church (Matt 16:15–19).
The Local Church is set-apart to the mission of Christ. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 sets the church apart to the mission of God. The local church is to make disciples, baptize, and teach believers to observe Jesus’s commandments (Matt 28:19, 20). The local church is given ordinances from the Lord for the continuation of its mission. Since they are given directly from God, the church may not redefine, add to, or take away from the ordinances. There are two ordinances given to the local church:
1. The Church is set-apart to baptize believers. Baptism “is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus” (Baptist Faith and Message 2000). As an ordinance of the local church, baptism may not be performed outside the church. Baptism is a requirement for entrance into the local church and a requirement for participation in the Lord’s Supper.
2. The Church is set-apart to the administration of the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus himself (Luke 22:19–20), handed down by the apostles (1 Cor 11:23–29), and must be taken with reverence (1 Cor 11:27). It involves two elements: bread (symbolic of his body) and fruit of the vine (symbolic of his blood). We reject Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation. Since “the Supper bears eloquent testimony to both the incarnation and the death of Christ” (Paige Patterson), we may therefore say the Lord’s Supper symbolic. Symbolic means the Lord’s Supper is holy, deriving its holiness from the Lord himself, and symbolic of his obedience to death on the cross. Therefore, Jesus’s divine and human holiness are both represented. Treating the Supper as merely symbolic fails to recognize the holiness of the ordinance. However, failure to recognize the symbolism of Lord’s Supper confuses Christ’s two natures. Church members ought to approach the Lord’s Supper reverently, understanding failure to treat it as holy is cause for judgment and even spiritual illness (1 Cor 11:28–29).
The Local Church is a priesthood of believers. “We do not share in [Jesus’s] priesthood; he makes us a priesthood” (Yarnell, see 1 Pet 2:5–9). Therefore, believers do not make any sacrifice for sins. As a priesthood of royal believers, church members are to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. These sacrifices include but are not limited to: “offering one’s entire life, engaging in good deeds, sharing material wealth, worshiping, proclaiming God’s Word, seeing people believe and accepting martyrdom” (Yarnell).
The local church is to be led congregationally. Since believers are a royal priesthood, holy, and directed by the Holy Spirit, the local church ought to be led congregationally. The congregation is responsible is for determining the theology, covenant, and direction of the church. “The congregational nature of Christian priesthood eliminates the idea that individuals may appeal to their personal priesthood in order to oppose the congregation or its leadership” (Yarnell). Therefore, the congregation ought to work in a Spirit-led democratic process for Christ’s evangelistic mission, by which one may only vote after having prayed, sought the will of God, and set aside any personal agenda.
There are two offices for the local church:
1. Pastors are set-apart to lead the church. The only head pastor of the local church is Jesus Christ. He is the promised shepherd of the Old Testament (Isa 40:11, Jer 31:10, Mic 5:2–4). Jesus calls under-shepherds (bishops, elders, pastors) to set the example, lead, teach, and care for the local church (Matt 20:25–28, Acts 20:28, 1 Tim 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9). The under-shepherd job entails equipping, building, unifying, and maturing church members (Eph 4:11–15) and exercising oversight in theological matters (1 Pet 5:1–3). The pastor ought to be a believer, above reproach, husband of only one wife, sober minded, not given to drunkenness, gentle, not greedy, well disciplined, able to teach, and well thought of by people outside the church (1 Tim 3:1–7). “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” (Baptist Faith and Message 2000).
2. Deacons are set-apart to serve the church. The true example of service in the church is Jesus Christ. Deacons are to reflect Jesus and serve like him, as if it were for the Lord himself. “The creation of the office of deacon recognizes the fact that the duties of pastors are preeminently spiritual; and that they should not be overburdened with other interests of the churches” (J. M. Pendelton). Deacons are not given the authority to define theology for the local church. Deacons ought to be “men of unblemished reputation, ardent piety, and good common sense” (Pendelton).
The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is set-apart from the Father and Son by the filling and indwelling believers. The Holy Spirit does not take the spotlight in the work of God. He is the power behind the incarnation, Jesus’s ministry, and resurrection; yet, he is not the subject of these events. The Holy Spirit’s work in believers is set-apart from the Son’s. “If Jesus is the Way, the Spirit is the Guide” (H. B. Swete). The Holy Spirit’s role is to convict sinners of sin, and to regenerate and sanctify believers.
The Holy Spirit’s name in Scripture is the Paraclete (Advocate, Comforter, Helper, John 14:16). “The first and most obvious of the functions of an advocate is to defend those whose cause he undertakes from the charges laid against them by their accusers” (Henry B. Swete). Therefore, the Holy Spirit’s role is to defend believers against the accusation of sin. The Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit results in his leading believers into maturity.
The Holy Spirit leads the local Church. We must understand the Spirit’s leading, his advocacy, as corporate. “The whole history of the Church, and the lives of countless believers who have no place in history, bear witness to the fulfilment of this office of the Paraclete-Spirit in the Body of Christ” (Swete). Personal worship, family worship, and parachurch ministries are important, but they are not the local church. A Christian alienated from the local church is alienated from the leading of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit, therefore, are not to be thought of in terms of the individual. The gifts of the Spirit are for the church. The gifts include but are not limited to: prophesy, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, speaking foreign languages, and interpretation. The gifts are neither guaranteed to any individual nor permeant.
The Holy Spirit leads individually. The Holy Spirit leads parents in the raising children (Judg 13:4, 1 Sam 1:11, Luke 1:6, 28). Christians who lead pious lives at church but secular lives at home have impaired the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives (Deut 6:6–9, Eph 5, Col 3:18–25). Second, the Holy Spirit and alcohol are at odds with each other (Judg 13:4, Luke 1:15, Eph 5:18). While we cannot conclude that all drinking is prohibited, we may say that choosing to drink directly impairs one’s ability to be led by the Holy Spirit during the duration of the impairment. Third, the Holy Spirit always leads the believer to obey the Word of God. If one feels led to disobey the Word of God, that certain passages do not apply to them, or that they may interpret Scripture themselves, then they are led by a spirit but not the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit leads believers to Christ. “The Holy Spirit enables the members of Christ to realize their consecration by creating in them a sense of their filial relation to God, and opening and maintaining communication between God and the individual” (Swete). The Holy Spirit does not indwell people to increase holiness, but does sanctify the believer.
Discipleship and Growth:
A new believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. She has a “circumcised heart.” However, the new believer is not fully mature. They still crave infant’s milk; they have not yet gone onto deeper things. Therefore, the new believer needs to be matured, i.e. progressively sanctified (1 Cor 3:2, Heb 5:12–14, 1 Pet 2:2).
Progressive sanctification is the process by which a believer matures in their relationship with the Triune God. Jesus makes this clear when he states, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
Progressive sanctification means being set-apart from the common. Progressive sanctification means being set-apart to a relationship with the Father and our neighbor. Leviticus 19:3–4 highlights this idea. Mankind is to revere his father and mother (set-apart to each other) and keep the Sabbath (set-apart to God). We love and serve the Lord (Lev 19:4) and our neighbor (Lev 19:18). If we are to mature in holiness, it must be in setting ourselves apart from evil, setting ourselves apart to loving God and our neighbor, and in daily reliance upon the grace of God. The maturation process of the saints will continue until death or the return of Christ. When Christ returns the process of sanctification is replaced by glorification.
Jesus Will Return:
The resurrection of Jesus was the firstfruits of the resurrection of the saints. “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5). While resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of God’s acceptance of his atonement, it is also the hope of tomorrow. Upon Christ’s return he will, resurrect all of mankind, establish his kingdom, and judge sinners.
The Day of the Lord is set-apart from all other days. It refers to the Day when Jesus Christ will return in full accordance with his promise and the Scriptures (Matt 24:27, 44, John 14:1–3, Titus 2:13, Rev 3:11, etc.). We reject the premise of Amillennialism and Postmillennialism. We believe God will not abandon the earth to corruption; rather, he will restore the earth and refashion creation in to a new heavens and a new earth (Ps 102:26, Isa 65:17, Rev 21:5). Just as the coming of the Lord replaced the shadows of the Old Testament with New Testament realities, so also will the second coming replace the shadows of the New Testament with their proper realities. There are three shadows which are celebrated ‘already’ but are ‘not yet’ fulfilled:
1. Death will be ultimately destroyed. The resurrection of the Christ took away death’s sting. However, death has not yet been put under the feet of the Lord (Ps 110:1, Heb 10:13).
2. The bodies of believers will be made incorruptible. Just as the Lord took his body with him and glorified it at the resurrection, so also will the bodies of the saints be taken and glorified (1 Cor 15:35–58).
3. The Bride will be with the Bridegroom. The Bride will no longer need to celebrate the symbolism of baptism, since she will have truly undergone a resurrection like his. Neither will she need to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, since she will sit at the banquet feast with the Lamb.
In light of the eternal judgments rendered upon the earth and her inhabitants, the Church must partner with the Holy Spirit and evangelize those who are not holy. “The Spirit and the Bride” say, ‘Come’” (Rev 2:17). For the waters of eternal life, the reestablishment of the holy among mankind, and the relationship with the Holy One are without price. The Holy One, the Lord Jesus called the Christ, is coming soon. Let us prepare our hearts to meet him.
Our basic statement of beliefs as a Southern Baptist Church can be found in the Baptist Faith and Message.
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