The Doctrine of the Church

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen (Eph. 4:20-21).

I believe that the church of God is the singular and spiritual (1 Cor. 10:32; 15:9) body (Col. 1:18, 24; Eph. 1:22-23) and bride (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25, 29-32) of Christ. As such, it is composed of all regenerate believers (1 Cor. 12:23) spanning from the Day of Pentecost (Mt. 16:18; Ac. 1:5; 2:38-47) until the rapture, whether in heaven or on earth (1 Ths. 4:13-18). It is a spiritual body assembled through Spirit baptism, in which all believers are placed both into full spiritual union with Christ and full spiritual union with all other believers as coequals before God (1 Cor. 12:13). The church is the center of God’s program for this dispensation of grace for His glory (Eph. 3:20-21) and will assemble in its entirety in Heaven (Heb. 12:23).

I believe that the church is distinct from the nation of Israel (Rom. 11:25; 1 Cor. 10:32), though it benefits from the spiritual blessings promised to Abraham through the Messiah (Gal. 3:7-9, 29) and includes many Jews who have believed on Jesus Christ for salvation (Ac. 14:1; 21:20; Gal. 6:16). It was a mystery revealed in the NT and unknown in the OT (Eph. 4:4-9; Col. 1:26-27), assembled upon the foundation of the NT apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5), with the resurrected Christ as the chief cornerstone (Mt. 21:42; Ac. 4:11; Eph. 2:20). I also believe that the church is distinct from the institution of human government (Mt. 22:15-21; Jn. 18:36-37), though it may influence government and all aspects of life in this world as salt and light through the effects of the gospel (Mt. 5:13-16; Php. 2:15).

I believe that the local church is the practical expression of the body of Christ and the focus of NT ecclesiological application (Ac. 11:22; 13:1; Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15; Rev. 2-3). The body of Christ functions through autonomous congregations. The local church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), a visible, representative part of the body of Christ that assembles in a particular place (Ac. 8:1; 13:1; Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 1:2), regularly and voluntarily (Ac. 2:42, 46-47; 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2) for the purpose of building up the saints (Rom. 15:2) through – baptizing new converts (Ac. 2:41), hearing doctrine, meeting one another’s needs, participating in the Lord’s supper, and praying together (Ac. 2:42). Other church functions include ministry in music (Ac. 2:47; Eph. 5:19), gathering financial offerings (1 Cor. 16:2), providing mutual accountability (Heb. 10:24-25), conducting business meetings (Ac. 6:2-3; 15), ordaining men to the ministry (1 Tim. 4:4; 5:22), selecting leaders and officers (Ac. 6:1-6; 14:23; 2 Cor. 8:19), sending missionaries (Ac. 13:1-3), and settling internal disputes (1 Cor. 6:1-5). All church activity should be motivated by a genuine spirit of love between its members (1 Cor. 13; 1 Jn. 3:11, 14; 2 Jn. 1:5) resulting in a unity of spiritual purpose (Php. 2:2-3; 1 Ths. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17).

I believe that each local church should function as an independent and autonomous congregation recognizing Christ alone as Head (Eph. 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 1 Pt. 5:2-4; Rev. 1:4), free from obligatory allegiance to any denominational hierarchy or association, which have no biblical precedent. Furthermore, every believer should be spiritually accountable to a local congregation and is responsible to participate wholeheartedly with the ministry of that assembly (Heb. 10:24-25), especially contributing according to their spiritual gifts (Eph. 3:7; 4:7; 1 Pt. 4:10). Ultimately, each local church is responsible to fulfill the Great Commission locally, regionally, and globally through the personal involvement of each member, making new disciples and planting new churches (Mt. 28:18-20; Ac. 9:31; 2 Tim. 2:2).

I believe that God has ordained two distinct offices for the administration of local church affairs (Php. 1:1). The first, the office of pastor, provides leadership for the church, while the second, the office of deacon, provides necessary service. The NT interchangeably (Ac. 20:17, 28) refers to the pastoral office with the terms pastor (shepherd) (1 Tim. 3:1; Tit. 1:7), elder (designating maturity, exemplary character, respectability) (1 Tim. 5:17; Tit. 1:5), and bishop (overseer, administrator) (Eph. 4:11; 1 Pt. 5:2-4). The pastor is responsible to preach (2 Tim. 4:2), teach (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; 4:11; 2 Tim. 2:24), pray (Ac. 6:4), guide (Heb. 13:17), and equip the congregation in truth and ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). The office of deacon is designated for the purpose of tending to practical and temporal needs so that the pastor may tend to his primary pastoral duties (Ac. 6:2-3). Though a church may benefit from a plurality of pastors and deacons (Ac. 20:17; Jam. 5:14), one pastor will invariably serve as the primary under-shepherd who is responsible to Christ as the Shepherd (Ac. 21:18; 1 Pt. 5:1-4). Pastors and deacons are accountable not only to Christ, but also to the congregation. These offices must be occupied by spiritually qualified men recognized by the congregation (Ac. 6:2-3; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:6-9).

I believe that God has commanded two ordinances to be observed by every local church: baptism (Mt. 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:2, 25). Baptism is a one-time act of obedience whereby a professing believer (Ac. 2:41; 8:36-37) is publicly immersed in water (Mk. 1:9-10; Ac. 8:38-39) as a symbolic testimony of his spiritual union with Christ through Spirit baptism (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12). It also affirms the believer’s desire to identify with and obey the Lord implicitly (Mt. 28:19-20; 1 Pt. 3:2). The Lord’s Supper is a repeated memorial to the work of Christ on the cross, a testimony to the believer’s union with Christ as a result of His atoning work, and a look ahead to our future union with Christ in heaven (Mt. 26:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). The bread symbolizes His broken body and the juice symbolizes His shed blood. Participation should be preceded by individual self-examination and should occur regularly until Christ returns at the rapture. Neither ordinance conveys sacramental significance.

I believe that a local church is responsible to uphold sound doctrine by consistently and thoroughly presenting the scriptures to the congregation through preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 4:11; 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:2; Jude 3). It is also responsible to promote conduct that reflects the holiness of God, in spirit and in practice (1 Pt. 1:14-16; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). These responsibilities must be carried out with an emphasis on a vibrant, obedient, personal relationship with God, enabling a church to uphold sound doctrine and godly living in a gracious, uncompromising, spiritually-minded way (2 Cor. 2:7; 6:1-3; Col. 4:5-6; Jude 20-23), avoiding both doctrinal belligerence (Php. 1:15-17; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:23) or naivety (Rom. 11:25; 1 Cor. 12:1; 2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Ths. 4:13; 2 Pt. 3:8), and Christian legalism (Gal. 4:9-11; 5:1) or license (Rom. 6:1-2; Gal. 5:13, 16-23; 1 Cor. 8:9; Col. 2:20-23; 1 Pt. 2:16; 2 Pt. 2:19). A church and its members should avoid behavior, programs, associations, or partnerships that plainly endorse any doctrine, philosophy, attitude, fad, or priorities contrary to Scripture (Rom. 16:17-18; Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Jn. 1:9-11). A church is responsible to exercise discipline for members who obstinately persist in unchristian behavior as specified by scripture; this discipline should be conducted in love with the goal of restoration (Mt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:11-13; 2 Cor. 2:6-7; 2 Ths. 3:6).