What We Believe
An in-depth description of concepts we believe based on scripture.
The Authority of the Holy Bible
Throughout history, believers in Christ have often been prompted to make positive statements of faith over and against perceived error. The reason we have the Bible today is that the church rightly saw the need to preserve and protect those sacred writings which were recognized as especially inspired by the Holy Spirit. While many other letters and books were read and cherished by Christians in various places, the inspired writings alone were understood to contain the full and authoritative revelation of God.
In one of the ironies of history, the formal process of closing the canon of Scripture was prompted by the ditheistic and anti-Semitic heresies of a man named Marcion of Sinope (c. 85 – c. 160). It was Marcion himself who first set about defining which scriptures were to be considered authoritative. His errors were many, but the faithful recognized the need to establish once and for all a "measuring stick" (kanon in Greek), by which the truth of God might be verified.
We in the churches of Christ believe very strongly that the Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible, and authoritative word of God. It is the measuring stick by which we test every teaching. Though the formal process of determining the New Testament canon was not immediate, the principle of appealing to scriptural authority in order to maintain the true faith is seen even in the New Testament writings themselves.
Warning his spiritual son and protégé, Timothy, about the evil days soon to come, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
(2nd Timothy 3:12-17, KJV)
For Paul, the "sacred writings" were the scriptures of the Old Testament, as many of the writings we now know as the "New Testament" were still being penned. Yet there was a recognition that certain of these contemporary works were themselves inspired in much the same way that the "sacred writings" were. We see evidence of this in 2nd Peter 3:15-18, where the apostle is similarly warning his readers about the need to prayerfully and rightly discern God's word in order to guard against false teaching. He writes, "And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other [λοιποί- "remaining"] scriptures, unto their own destruction. 17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. 18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen."
With the Inspired Writings being such a powerful thing, 'breathed out by God', as Paul says, it is incumbent upon each of us to diligently study and explore God's word. We do this individually in private study (c.f. 2nd Timothy 2:15), but acknowledging our weakness as individuals, we also recognize that there is a special grace of God at work when we endeavor to discern the Scriptures together as a body of believers. (c.f. 2nd Peter 1:19-21; Acts 17:11; Matthew 18:20).
The Tri-Unity of God
It was necessary to establish at the outset that Bible is our "measuring stick" for God's truth, for we do not wish to put forth any statement of belief which is not rooted in Scripture. Yet we do not worship the Bible, we worship the One who inspired it. There is much to be gleaned from the created order which points us to our Creator (c.f. Romans 1:19-20; 2:14), but it is only by God's special revelation of himself that we may best discover who he is. A good place to begin is with the profound encounter which Moses has with God, recorded for us in Exodus chapter 3.
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
(Exodus 3:1-6, KJV)
Here we see three names used in connection with God and at least two heavenly beings involved in the famous episode of the burning bush: "the Angel of the LORD" (verse 2), "the LORD" (verse 4), and "God" (verses 1, 4, and 6). The names are distinct, but used almost interchangeably. Intriguingly, the "Angel of the LORD" (also sometimes called "the Angel of God", is a figure who appears all over the Old Testament in a similar way—being so closely identified with the LORD God as to stand in for him, yet obviously a Being distinct from him. We are greatly helped by dropping some of the baggage that the word "angel" has accumulated and remembering that in both Hebrew and Greek the words translated "angel" (מלאך and ἄγγελος, respectively) simply mean "messenger". It is a word sometimes used of heavenly (created) beings and sometimes used of human beings, and we would do well to conceive of the mal'ach/angelos as essentially a representative of the one who sends them.
The Angel of the LORD, however, is no created being. He goes so far as to identify himself as the LORD, such as in Genesis 22:15-18 when he stays Abraham's hand from sacrificing Isaac. Encounters with him are regarded as encounters with God himself. (see Genesis 16:7-13; 31:11-13; 32:24-32; Hosea 12:3-6; Judges 6:11-24; 13:2-22). Christians have long understood this mysterious figure to be none other than God the Son, the perfect representative of the LORD God. Intriguingly, in the New Testament, there are no further appearances of this singular "Angel of the LORD", because he becomes incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth.
We should not fail to grasp the fact that Jesus understood himself to be Immanuel—"God with us". (see Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23) In an incredible confrontation which almost got him stoned for blasphemy, Jesus declared himself by echoing the words of revelation given at the burning bush, and applying the divine name to himself. In John 8:54-59, Jesus responds unequivocally to the question "Who do you make yourself out to be?"
Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: 55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. 57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. 59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
This incident follows the famous encounter with the woman caught in adultery, wherein Jesus convicts those present of the universal nature of sin, and implicitly forgives the woman of hers while urging her to "go and sin no more." Elsewhere, he expressly forgave people their sins, something only God has the right, and the ability, to do. In Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, and Luke 5:17-26 we have the account of a paralytic being healed after his sins are formally forgiven by Jesus. By inspiration, Luke provides crucial insight into the perception of this act. He says in verse 21, "And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" The physical healing is done to demonstrate that Jesus did in fact have the authority of God on earth. A little later in Luke 7:36-50, he pronounced forgiveness of a contrite woman's sins as she endeavored to honor him as he was dining with Simon the Pharisee. The question which hangs in the air is articulated in verse 49: "And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?" The question is there for rhetorical reasons. John's Gospel begins by boldly declares the uncreated and divine nature which Jesus, as the Word of God, shares with God the Father.
However, there is a distinction to be made. The Apostle John declares in John 1:18, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." Reading the verses which precede this statement (John 1:1-17), we plainly see that the Scriptures, the Apostles, and the early church all affirmed Jesus' conception of himself: He was and is the Christ. He is co-eternal with God, as he himself is the creative Word which proceeded from the Father.
In other words, he is the Reason, Aim, and Agency of all creation. As Paul puts it in 1st Corinthians 8:5-6, "For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him."
Yet God is not limited to God the Father and God the Son, for there is another Divine Being who shares the same essence as these: God the Spirit. We first meet him in Genesis 1:2, hovering over the primordial deep. This third Person of the Godhead is indeed a Person, and not a force. He is himself more of a mystery to theologians and students of the Bible, because the fact of his being is plain enough, but as he is the one who inspires the prophets and holy writers of Scripture, he does not tend to directly disclose things about himself, but rather points to the Father and to the Son.
Throughout the Old Testament, it is he who inspires and compels the prophets. In the Gospels, he impels Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12), and appears as a distinct Person of the Godhead in the form of a dove at Jesus' baptism. Matthew 3:16-17: " And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." He rests upon the apostles in similar fashion on the day of Pentecost, when the church was first formed, and enables them to articulate the gospel for the first time in the native tongues of all those who had gathered at Jerusalem for the festival. (c.f. Acts chapter 2).
In keeping with the promise of that first gospel sermon, every Christian who receives Christ in penitent, faithful obedience to the gospel, signified by immersion in water, also receives the gift of the Spirit of God. Acts 2:38-39: "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. "
(See also Romans 6:1-5, Galatians 3:24-29, 1st Peter 3:21-22, Colossians 2:8-15)
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
The gift of God's Spirit is often misunderstood today, because it has come to be associated in some circles with certain ecstatic displays. There are those who even argue that the true sign of a Christian is the miraculous ability to speak in tongues. It would seem that among proponents of modern day tongue-speaking, these "unknown tongues" are never associated with actual foreign languages such as we seen in Acts chapter 2, but with the "tongues of angels" which are otherwise (conveniently) unknown on earth. Evidence from the Scriptures would indicate that while miraculous gifts of speech did manifest themselves for a time, not every Christian had them. They were never a test of salvation. In fact, the church at Corinth had a wealth of Spirit-given gifts, but were in grave error by esteeming one gift or ministry over another (and thereby one Christian over another.)
We should be careful not to fall into the same error as the Corinthian Christians. The miraculous utterances which the Spirit makes for the Christian were always intended to enable believers to declare the gospel plainly to hearers. In 1st Corinthians 14:6-12, he Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? 7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. 12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church."
We do not have the gift of unknown (foreign) tongues today, and in fact this special dispensation was short-lived. Early Christians took note of its cessation, and this is recorded for us by such notables as Augustine of Hippo (in his sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13) and John Chrysostom (in his commentary on 1st Corinthians). In other words, by at least 400 AD the special spiritual gift of "tongue-speaking" had ceased. A careful study of the book of Acts indicates that the passing on of miraculous gifts was an Apostolic privilege and a special provision for the seminal church. Those who received special endowment from the apostles themselves were not, in turn, able to pass on the ability to perform miracles to others.
It should be noted that the Spirit of God does still intercede for the Christian, but the utterances he makes he makes on our behalf, bridging the infinite qualitative difference between ourselves and God. Paul explains this wondrous and vital work of the Spirit of God which every Christian enjoys in Romans 8:26-27: "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God."
This surely describes the gift of the Holy Spirit, but it is not all that gift entails. To experience the repentance which leads to salvation is to a gift of God's grace in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. (John 16:8-11; Acts 11:17-18; Hebrews 6:4-6) To be able to bear the fruit of righteousness in our lives is to receive God's grace in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). To be called and equipped for certain ministries is to receive "talents" from God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-7; 11-13). To be able to conform to the Image of Christ and 'maintain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace' is surely the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-3; John 17:20-26). Jesus tells us that this is accomplished through discerning the inspired word of God by the same Spirit who moved prophets and holy writers to compose it (John 16:7-15). While all of these things and more might be described as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they more properly reflect the manifold nature of "the gift of the Holy Spirit"—that is, the advocacy and indwelling of the Holy Spirit himself.
While the Spirit's presence in the believer's life is not to be parsed, quantified, or constrained (John 3:3-8, 1st Thessalonians 5:19), we may say with confidence that he does, in fact, indwell us in a mystical, incomprehensible—but very real—way. In fact, this indwelling is a necessity. To the Christians at Rome, Paul writes, "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Romans 8:9-11)
Our Part in Salvation
This blessed estate is conferred upon us as we heed the call of the gospel. Our part in the process of salvation has often been described in five steps, though we should never forget that Jesus Christ is doing all of the real work. The first step which must take place is that we must hear the truth. We cannot respond to news we have not heard, and the gospel is quite literally THE 'good news'. It is the truth which we must hear in order to have the opportunity to believe.
Romans 10:17 puts it simply, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." A few verses earlier, in Romans 10:14-15, it is established that this word of Christ must of necessity be proclaimed to us by those who know the truth of it, and are called and equipped by God to articulate and embody it: "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" This is why teaching is a cornerstone the Christian faith, and an essential part of the Great Commission itself (see Matthew 28:19-20). We must encounter the truth in order to believe it.
So, what exactly is the gospel? It is defined for us quite succinctly in 1st Timothy 3:16, which may in fact be an early hymn of the church. "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
A more cogent definition is employed by the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:1-8: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."
In a nutshell, the gospel is the good news concerning Jesus Christ: that he is the promised Messiah who suffered and died in the fulfillment of prophesies concerning him (Isaiah ch. 53, etc.), and that this death was a sacrifice for our sins. Furthermore, God could not leave him in that condition, for death is the wages of sin (see Romans 6:23), and God's justice could not allow that punishment to rest on the only sinless man to ever live (see Acts 2:24) And so, three days after he became the Paschal lamb, Christ arose early Sunday morning. Before ascending to the Father, he appeared to hundreds of witnesses over a period of forty days, many of whom were still alive when Paul was writing and could attest to the experience.
Believing the gospel to be true is more than mentally assenting to the possibility of Christ's resurrection or divinity. As the Apostle James says, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." (James 2:19). Saving belief in the gospel involves embracing its essence: allowing its profound revelation about just who God is and how much he loves us sink deep into our hearts and inform our lives, encouraging and edifying us with its implications. Believing the gospel, then, is nothing less than the work of God. John 6:29: "Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."
This has two dimensions. First of all, God himself must grant us the opportunity and the capacity to receive the gospel. After that, it falls upon us to heed the call. What we believe concerning Jesus, and how we act on that belief, makes all the difference in eternity. Jesus himself declares in John 8:24, "I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins."
So, the gospel teaching we hear must be the truth, and while it is good news, it reveals the fact that we need to be saved from our sins. Without exception, we enter this world with a wounded will and inevitably transgress the Law of God. As we mature in understanding, we see this more and more clearly. And when we realize that we have willfully transgressed, we are held to account. Paul describes this process briefly in Romans 7:9: "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died."
Realizing what God has done to deliver us out of this deadly condition and give us a share in Christ's own heavenly inheritance should provoke in us a deep and profound sorrow for our prideful rebellion against the very same God who so deeply desires our ultimate good that he would go to death itself via the cross in order to redeem us from the curse of sin. When we receive the gospel, two things happen: we begin to love God and we begin to hate the sin which separates us from him. To repent is to turn away from evil and toward God. This is not merely an integral step along the path of initially becoming a Christian, it is a necessary constant in the Christian life—and decision which must be made over and over again. (see Romans 6:1-7; Acts 2:38-39 ; 2nd Corinthians 7:10)
As Christ has done so much for us, we are not ashamed of him before men. As a sign of our fidelity, we are called upon to confess Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God. The Lord himself declares in Matthew 10:32-33, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."
We must also confess our sins to God and his people.
1st John 1:8-10: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. "
James 5:16: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
In his great wisdom, God has given us a visible process by which we identify with the gospel, through which we are cleansed of our sins, receive the Holy Spirit, and joined to the body of Christ at large. That spiritual catharsis happens as we are baptized into Christ. Every account of conversion in the book of Acts involves baptism—which takes the form of immersion in water in the name of Christ or with the Trinitarian formula of the Great Commission. Other passages to consider include Mark 16:16, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-8, 1st Peter 3:21, Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 4:4-6; Colossians 2:11-15.
In the New Testament, baptism is instituted by Jesus himself as the outward sign of our identification with him and the good news concerning him, but it is not the only ordinance he established for our spiritual health. The other which pertains directly to the life of the church is Holy Communion. Just as the early Christians did, we celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday (c.f. Acts 20:7; 1st Corinthians 11:23-29). It is the centerpiece of Christian worship, the ultimate expression of God's desire to "Pass over" those who have obeyed him in faith, and an anticipation of the Great Marriage Feast of Christ the Bridegroom at the consummation of the Age, wherein the church will receive glory.
Worship is vital to the Christian life. God has always called his people together, and those who truly love him long to praise him in his holy house alongside their fellow-redeemed. Hebrews 10:19-25: "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."
Corporate worship involves not only a celebration of the communion meal instituted by Christ, but prayers offered up to him, songs praising him, an offering of our worldly goods to honor him and provide for the necessities of ministry, and the proclamation of his Word. These things are best understood by experience. We would very much love to have you worship with us this Lord's Day.