The Bible is Primary!
We believe that the only infallible standard for faith and life is the Holy Bible. It alone is inspired by God Almighty, and it alone is free from all errors in every matter on which it speaks (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Consequently, we claim the Holy Bible as our primary standard for all that we believe and do. What it affirms, we seek to affirm. What it commends to be practiced, we seek to practice. What it condemns, we seek to condemn. The Holy Bible is our foundational and unquestioned authority, for it is God’s Word and ought to be believed and obeyed. We affirm the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura.
Nevertheless, not all branches of the one, true Church of Jesus Christ are agreed on what the Bible teaches about certain doctrinal and practical issues. Therefore, in the interest of clarity and the promotion of greater unity, it is fitting that local congregations summarize their corporate understanding of the Bible’s teaching on various important topics in a systematic way. Historically, this was done through the formulation and subscription to creeds and confessions. These systematic creeds and confessions serve as a church’s secondary standards and are always subservient to the Bible; for, as with any secondary and man-made standard, all creeds and confessions are subject to error and are only authoritative and binding on the human conscience insofar as they rightly summarize the teaching of Holy Scripture. Wherever a human creed or confession is indisputably shown to contradict the clear teachings of the Bible, that creed or confession must be amended or rejected accordingly. Conversely, wherever a human creed or confession rightly summarizes the teaching of God’s Word, it is authoritatively binding and cannot be denied or rejected by anyone. The secondary standards fall into three categories for us, namely, the Ecumenical Creeds of Christianity, the Westminster Standards as adopted by the OPC, and other Presbyterian and Reformed Standards.
The Ecumenical Creeds
Firstly, then, as a congregation within the universal Church of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:4), we affirm the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed as correctly summarizing the true Christian Faith, which was once and for all delivered to the Saints by Christ and His Apostles. Further, we believe that any group or organization which denies the doctrinal content of these early ecumenical creeds cannot rightly be called Christian.*
The Westminster Standards
Secondly, as a congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, we not only affirm but also subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms as likewise rightly summarizing the system of doctrine given in the Holy Scriptures. These three doctrinal standards (the Westminster Standards) are part of our denomination’s constitution. And, while lay members of OPC congregations need not affirm these standards in every detail in order to be received as members, all OPC officers (i.e., ministers, ruling elders, and deacons) must vow to “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church [i.e., the OPC], as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.”
Other Reformed Standards
Thirdly, as a congregation which is committed to Reformed and Presbyterian beliefs and practices, we also commend the reading of the Belgic Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Cannons of Dort, even though we do not subscribe to these standards denominationally, nor are they officially part of our constitution. Nevertheless, they are doctrinally sound documents summarizing the teachings of Holy Scripture and Reformed theology, to which we are unashamedly committed.
While we highly recommend you read the above-mentioned creedal and confessional documents in their entirety (especially the Westminster Standards) for a full and systematic presentation of our beliefs, below are summaries of our views on several topics:
As stated above, we believe the Holy Bible alone is divinely inspired, inerrant and infallible. As such, all people must submit to its teachings and directives. No part of the Holy Bible may be ignored or re-interpreted to fit modern-day morals, ethics or cultural conventions. In short, we believe that man’s thinking and conduct must conform to Scripture, rather than Scripture conforming to man’s thinking (2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 1 Peter 1:20-21). As Protestants, we do not believe the books of the Apocrypha are part of the Holy Scriptures. The Aprocrypha is not divinely inspired, nor inerrant, nor infallible. Consequently, the Apocrypha is not to be regarded as God’s Word, nor authoritative for directing the doctrine, worship, government or piety of the Church. Nevertheless, as a document of antiquity and history, the Apocrypha may be studied academically like any other historical document.
We believe that the one true God exists in three unique and eternal persons designated in Scripture as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are distinct from one another and yet each are fully and eternally the one true God. In other words, we do not believe that each person is merely a part of God; each person is fully God. At the same time, we do not believe in three Gods, but only one God. Indeed, this is a great mystery to us, and we cannot comprehend this reality logically by human wisdom; nevertheless, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is true and must be affirmed as an essential truth of the Christian Faith, for the Bible reveals it (Exodus 6:4; Isaiah 44:6 and Mark 12:29; compare with Matthew 28:19; John 1:1 & 14; John 20:26-28; Acts 5:3-4; and 2 Corinthians 13:14) and the New Testament Church has affirmed it as a standard of orthodoxy since the days of the Apostles.
We believe that before the foundation of the world, God the Father chose a certain number from among fallen mankind to redeem from the estate of sin, misery, and eternal condemnation, which resulted when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God by eating from the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The elect of God are redeemed in the course of human history, at God’s appointed time, when the Holy Spirit effectually applies the saving work of Jesus Christ to them by the act of regeneration, which is more commonly called “conversion” or “being born-again,” through the preaching of the gospel. The outward and visible evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration in and upon an elect sinner is repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ alone as Savior and Lord, as well as a sincere desire to serve the Lord through a life of obedience. The election of God is not based on any foreseen faith or good works of the sinner, but soley upon the good pleasure of God Almighty, who has mercy and compassion on whom He wants and hardens whom He wants (Romans 9:6-24 and Ephesians 1:3-14; also John 1:9-13 and John 3:3-8). In short, salvation comes by God’s grace alone, apart from good works or foreseen faith.
We believe that God made all things–both visible and invisible–out of nothing, by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3 & 10; and Colossians 1:15-17). We empatically deny the false teachings of evolution and theistic evolution. In addition, we believe that God continues to uphold all things by His almighty power and, for His own glory, governs and directs all things in the course of human history toward His predetermined purposes and goals (Acts 17:24-28 and Ephesians 1:11). Regarding the age of the earth, the OPC has allowed for the toleration of various views on this question so long as there is no effort in one’s position to promote a mythological understanding/interpretation of the creation account (including a denial of a historic Adam and Eve from whom the whole human race has descended), or to affirm or promote any form of macro-evolution, whether it be atheisitic Darwinism or some form of theistic evolution. We affirm the doctrine of creation “ex nihilo” (viz. “out of nothing”).
We believe that Adam and Eve were real persons in human history from whom all humanity has descended by natural generation. Adam was created by God from the literal dust of the ground (after which God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life), and Eve was created by God from a literal rib taken from Adam’s body. We emphatically deny the theory of mankind’s origin by means of evolution. Furthermore, we believe that the first temptation and fall of mankind into sin, misery and death, as well as the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, were literal occurances of history. In short, we maintain and teach that the events recorded in Genesis, chapters 1-3 are literal, true, and should not be understood in any sense as mythology or fable.
We believe that the fundamental way God deals with mankind is by means of covenant, which is a formal relationship established between two or more parties in which conditional promises are made by both parties toward one another and oaths are taken by the contracting parties to be faithful to the conditions of the covenant or else face certain negative consequences threatened in the covenant against any who would fail to fulfill the promises made. Covenants can be either divine (God with man) or human (man with man). While covenants between men can be either between equal parties or between superior and inferior parties, divine covenants are always between a greater being (the triune God) and lesser beings (mankind or individual men and families). Most often, covenants are made with representatives of larger groups, which means that the obligations and potential consequences affect more than just the two representatives present at the ratification of the covenant relationship.
We affirm that there are essentially two great covenants God made with mankind in history. The first is commonly called the Covenant of Works (also called the Covenant of Life), which God made at Creation with Adam as representative of the whole human race. In this first covenant, God promised Adam (and all those whom he represented) confirmation in the estate of holiness and the granting of eternal life, if Adam would obey God by not eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The potential threat in this covenant is found in God’s warning that in the day he ate of that forbidden tree he (and all his posterity) would die (both physically and spiritually). Adam broke that covenant by eating of the forbidden fruit and so plunged himself and all mankind decending from him by ordinary birth into sin and misery. This is why all are conceived and born in sin and are naturally under the wrath and curse of God and are in need of salvation from God’s just judgment.
The second great covenant God made with mankind in history is called the Covenant of Grace. In this covenant, which was necessitated by Adam’s transgression of the Covenant of Works, God promised, through the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to give eternal life to all those who would believe upon Christ by faith alone. In this covenant, Christ is the representative, as Adam was in the first (see 1 Corinthians 15). And whereas in the first covenant, Adam disobeyed and plunged mankind into sin, misery and condemnation, in this second covenant, Christ obeyed God and died as a substitutionary sacrifice for repentant and believing sinners. This second great covenant is truly gracious in that the conditions of the covenant are soley met and provided by Jesus Christ, the God-man. As such, eternal life is not earned (merited) by the sinner through personal obedience but is graciously and mercifully confirmed as a divine gift upon all who repent and believe in Christ alone.
On Judgment Day, all will give an account to God for themselves. Either they will stand as fallen sinners in Adam, having never believed in Christ. Or they will stand as redeemed and justified saints, having fled to Christ by faith for divine mercy. Only those who are trusting in Christ’s work and sacrifice in the Covenant of Grace will be granted eternal life. The rest will be justly condemned as covenant breakers in Adam and by virtue of their own personal sins committed throughout life but not atoned for by the sacrifice of Christ. In short, on the Last Day, all people will stand before God, the Eternal Judge, either on terms of the Covenant of Works in Adam (and thus be found guilty), or on terms of the Covenant of Grace in Christ in whom the sinner has placed his/her trust for salvation by grace alone (and thus be found justified, having had their sins atoned for by the blood of Christ and having had the righteousness of Christ imputed to their account by faith alone).
We believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, equal with the Father in power and glory, though He willingly submits to the Father’s will and plan of redemption. As such, Christ agreed in eternity to become incarnate of the Holy Spirit and be born under the Law as representative of the elect of God chosen from among fallen humanity. On behalf of the elect, Christ obeyed the Law perfectly to merit eternal life (active obedience) and also laid down his sinless life as a substitutionary sacrifice on the cross to pardon their many sins (passive obedience). After His crucifixion, He remained under the power of death for three days and thus suffered the pains of Hell for the elect sinner and satisfied the Father’s justice on their behalf. On the third day, Christ rose physically and bodily from the dead, appeared unto His disciples for a time, and then was physically taken into Heaven to receive the Throne of David. After His ascension into heaven, He sat down at the Father’s right hand where He continues to reign and rule in righteousness, subduing the nations and building His kingdom, the Church, as well as making intercession for all the saints. He will continue this Messianic activity until His second coming at the end of human history (a Day only known by the Father), when He will appear physically and bodily for all the world to see. At this second Advent, Christ will resurrect all the dead, translate all the living, judge all mankind according to righteousness, and bring in the eternal state of the New Heavens and Earth. Those found in Christ will be glorified and enter in to the joy and rest of eternal live. Those found outside of Chrsit will be condemend and enter into the torments of eternal punishment.
We believe that when man was created God gave him both the freedom (liberty) and power (ability) to do what was morally upright and well pleasing to God. Man had a free will in the absolute sense of the term, namely, he had both the liberty to do what was right and the ability to do what was right (Genesis 2:15-16).
However, when Adam used that freedom of will to sin against God by eating the forbidden fruit, he fell into an estate of sin and misery, which included (among other negative consequences) the loss of the natural power (ability) to do what was morally upright and well pleasing to God. Thus, by the Fall, Adam–and in him all humanity descending from him by ordinary birth–became totally depraved in mind, heart, and will. As such, while man still retained the liberty to choose the right, he now lacked the ability to do choose what was right. Being totally corrupted by sin, man (left to his own power) now wanted nothing but to flee from God and His moral Law (Romans 3:9-20).
Thus in the estate of sin and misery, we understand that man has, in one sense, a free will, namely, he is still at liberty to choose right over wrong (i.e., God does not force men to do that which is contrary to their own inward desires. Men choose what they want. See John 8:45). But, in another sense, man is no longer free in that he lacks the natural power/ability to choose what is well pleasing to God and that which pertains to salvation (see John 8:43-44). He has become a willing slave to sin and death (i.e., because he is a sinner, he inwardly desires sin over rigtheousness and thus chooses rebellion against God over obedience to Him, which leads to eternal punishment, see John 8:34 and Romans 6:16-23). In this way, we see that mankind is both responsible and guilty before God (Acts 2:22-23), but also that he cannot save himself from sin and judgment, nor is he even willing to seek salvation apart from grace, for he is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). All this means that nothing short of God’s initiative and power in the sinful person’s life can enable him/her to seek after anything pertaining to eternal salvation or spiritual good (1 John 4:10).
But there is hope! In the work of redemption, Christ (the God-Man) restores the sinner’s ability to do what is right, thus empowering the redeemed both to desire and fulfill righteousness according to God’s Law (Ephesians 2:4-9)–not in a meritorious way but as a response of love and thankfulness for God’s redeeming grace apart from works. This begins when the Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ in regenerating the sinner’s heart (i.e., being born of the Spirit or being born again, see John 3:3-8) which leads to repentance and faith in Christ as Savior and Lord and produces the fruit of righteousness and obedience to God (Ephesians 2:10). However, in this present life, even the redeemed person still struggles with the old corrupt nature (see Galatians 5:16-25 and Romans 7:14-8:11), which is being progressively subdued by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Christians, while having been given back that natural ability to do good through Christ’s work of redemption, still struggle against sin and temptation throughout their lives but are increasingly victorious as they rely on God’s power (James 4:7-10). And thus we see, that the redeemed cannot be saved by their own works of righteousnes (i.e., they cannot merit eternal life), for even after conversion their goods works are far from perfect. Rather, good works flow from salvation by God’s grace in Christ; they are never the cause of it.
But there is more to come! When Christ returns at the end of human history, He will finally and ultimately perfect all those who have believed in Him by grace. As such, the sinful nature will finally and eternally be destroyed, never to rise again. At that time, all believers in Christ will forever cease to struggle with temptation and sin. They will be confirmed by God’s power in true holiness and righteousness. Thus what Adam lost for mankind by his free choice of disobedience in the Garden of Eden, Christ (the last Adam) has regained at the cross and will consummate for His chosen people at His second coming (see Romans 5:11-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 & 47-57).
We believe that there is a logical order to the way God applies Christ’s redemptive work to the lives of His chosen people in their conversion experience, which indicates the sovereignty of God in man’s salvation. While many evangelical Christians argue that one must first believe in order to be born again (and thus “saved”), we argue the Bible teaches the opposite. For instance, in John 3:1-8 Jesus tells Nicodemus that a person must first be born again or he cannot even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it by faith. This is only logical given the fact of total depravity and the bondage of man’s will (see “Man’s Will: Free or Bound?” above).
According to Reformed convictions, we affirm that God is the author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2) and takes the initiative in applying it to the lives of sinners (Matthew 1:21;Luke 19:10; John 15:16; and 1 John 4:10 & 19). As such, we believe that God first regenerates the sinner by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus enabling him to see his need for salvation (Ephesians 2:1-9). Having thus been regenerated (i.e., born again), the sinner is then irresistably moved to repent and believe in Christ, the only Savior (i.e., conversion). God then justifies the converted sinner by delaring him righteous in Christ by faith alone and adopting him/her as a His child. Then follows the work of sanctification whereby the Spirit over the lifetime of the believer progressively makes him/her holy in heart and conduct. At death, the believer’s sanctification is consummated in the divine act of glorification, in which all remaining sin is finally and eternally removed (see Romans 8:28-30).
To put this matter succinctly, we believe that conversion (repentance and faith in Christ as Savior) is the result, not the cause of being “born again” and that from start to finish it is God who saves sinners (Jonah 2:9). This is only logical, for as a fallen creature, man cannot and will not save himself. To be sure, the sinner must repent and believe in Christ in order to be saved (Matthew 3:1-2; Matthew 4:17; and Acts 2:37-38), but such faith and repentace is impossible for the sinner apart from the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit working first to change his heart of stone into a heart of flesh which is then able to perceive and embrace the gospel message freely and willingly(Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 1:12-13; John 3:1-8; Acts 13:48, and Ephesians 2:8-9).
We believe that all those who are truly converted by God’s Spirit can never loose their salvation or fall from the estate of grace. This is because God is all-powerful and faithful to His promises (Romans 11:29). As such, God will preserve the elect sinner to the very end (see John 6:37-40 and Philippians 1:6).
However, we also affirm that only God perfectly knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). As such, we may be decieved into believing that one is truly born again when in truth they are not–only God can see the heart and spirit of a man. Consequently, there are some who dwell as part of the Church for a season (sometimes a very long season) but eventually turn away. This is because their faith was something short of true saving faith, which always produces good works and perseverance by God’s power to the end. Such people, though seemingly saved from our perspective, were never truly converted to Christ which is why they eventually abandoned Him (see 1 John 2:19).
Because man can be decieved by superficial faith, we are called to examine ourselves carefully and to make our calling and election sure by perseverance in trusting Christ and obeying His commands (see 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 and 2 Peter 1:10-11). As such, this doctrine of eternal security should not result in a presumptive spirit or a lack of diligence in resisting sin and temptation. On the contrary, believers are strongly warned against apostasy and faithlessness (see Hebrews 3:12-4:1 & 11-13; also see Hebrews 10:23-27 and 12:14-17). We must not persume upon God’s grace nor sin with impunity, lest we find on judgment day that though we did many great things in the name of the Lord and even called upon Him, we never really knew Him and thus stand condemned (Matthew 7:21-23).
We believe that God’s moral Law, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21) is forever binding and is not in any sense abrogated or lessened with the coming of Christ. On the contrary, Christ taught that He did not come to abolish the Law of God but to fulfill it and that not the smallest part of the moral Law would be lifted until heaven and earth passed away (see Matthew 5:17-20). In part, this is because the moral Law is based upon and flows from God’s very nature of holiness and righteousness. Since God does not change, neither does His moral standard. As such, we affirm that truth and morality is objective and eternal. It does not change in God’s eyes, despite man’s ongoing attempt to define his own morality with the passing of time and the changing of cultural preferences.
To be sure, the New Testament states that believers are no longer under the law but under grace (Romans 6:14b). But this is often misunderstood and misapplied. This statement does not mean that God’s moral code has been removed or lessened with the coming Christ. Rather it means that believers are not justified in God’s sight by keeping the Law (works righteousness). Believers are only justified in God’s sight by faith in Christ who died for their sins. Furthermore, it means that the Law no longer condemns believers because Christ is now their righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21 and Galatians 3:10-14). This interpretation is clearly taught by Paul in Romans 3:27-31, who writes that we do not nullify the Law by faith but rather establish it.
All this is only logical when one thinks about it. To contend we are no longer obligated to keep the moral Law of God is to contend that we are free to hate God and our neighbor, for Jesus Himself taught that all the Law and Prophets are summed up in this: Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). As such, how could anyone reasonably contend that the moral Law is no longer obligatory? To remove the moral Law of God is to remove all morality. Perish the thought!
All this is not to say that various ceremonial and judicial laws during the Old Testament period are still obligatory. We must distinguish between God’s moral law (which flows from His changeless character and attributes and thus forever binds all mankind) and various ceremonial and judicial laws which we given to the people of Israel to foresignify Christ and His work of redemption (e.g., the animal sacrifices), as well as to govern the theocracy of Old Testament Israel (e.g., particular judicial punishments meted out for particular offenses). The New Testament teaches in numerous places (e.g., the book of Hebrews) that the ceremonial laws passed away with the coming of Christ. In addition, the judicial laws and penalties unique to Old Testament Israel are no longer binding beyond general equity, for church and state are no longer one in the New Testament era.
We believe that sinners are in no way justified by their own works, which the Bible says are as filthy rags before a holy God. As the New Testament clearly teaches, we affirm that justification (i.e., the forensic declaration by God that the sinner is accounted righteous in Christ and thus acquitted and accepted as such) comes only by faith alone in Christ and His redemptive work alone. What is more, even saving faith is not possible apart from the power and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8-9). In short, eternal life is not something sinful man earns by meritorious works of obedience and righteousness; it is wholly a gracious gift from a merciful God and received by faith alone.
But this is not to say good works (obedience) are unimportant or unnecessary for the Christian. On the contrary, the apostle James writes, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), and the writer of Hebrews boldly declares, “Pursue . . . holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Jesus Christ Himself said that teaching men to obey all that He commanded was an essential part of the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:20). And the apostle Paul, after asserting salvation by grace alone apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9), went on to assert in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
How do faith and works–which are distinct–operate together, then?
We believe that faith alone justifies the sinner; meritorious works (of his/her own) are never the grounds for the sinner’s right standing before God. But, having been justified by true, saving faith, good works will necessarily and naturally follow, for good works are the evidence and fruit of a living faith in Christ. To put it simply: we a justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Saving faith always produces good works, as surely as an apple tree always produces apples and not some other fruit. Yet, such good works produced by the Christian are not an effort to earn salvation but are the grateful, loving response to the salvation already given by God’s grace in Christ and recieved by faith alone.
So, good works are necessary in that they are the fruit of a true and saving faith (“as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead”). But such good works are never meritorious, nor perfect in this lifetime. We stand and can endure the holy judgment of God by the person and work of Christ alone. But Christ has saved us from sin that we might not live in it any longer (see Galatians 5:13-14 and Romans 6:1-23). And so, the true believer is known by the fruit of obedience which naturally results from the work of God in his/her life. As the apostle John clearly wrote, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).
Our good works do not save us, but they are the evidence that we have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; therefore, one cannot have faith without good works. To put it another way, if you have Jesus as Savior, you will necessarily have him as Lord. If you are justified, you will be sanctified. Faith and good works are distinct from each other and must not be conflated, but they always exist together. A true believer in Christ, while never perfect in this life, will not continue in or increase in a sinful lifestyle but will turn from evil and ever pursue growth in holiness by the power of God’s Spirit because he/she is grateful for salvation and want to please a holy God out of love.
We believe that marriage was ordained by God after He created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He appointed this institution for the good of mankind wherein individual men and women could have lifelong companionship which included respectable intamacy and a legitimate offspring.
As an institution of God, marriage is defined and regulated by God Himself; it is not a man-made institution which may be molded and shaped into whatever the individual or the state wishes it to be. Therefore, we affirm that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, who are properly related to one another (i.e., not closely related from within the same family), who have been formally joined as husband and wife, either by an official of the church or the state.
Furthermore, marriage is ordinarily a bond lasting all of life. Jesus clearly taught that what God has joined together no man should separate and the Apostles taught that a husband and wife are bound as long as they both live. As such, divorce should only be approved by the church and granted by the state for the most serious of circumstances. According to the Word of God, divorce is only permissible in the cases of adultery or such willful disertion as cannot be remedied by the church or the state. The Bible does not acknowledge the category of “no-fault divorce” as is so common in the secular legal system today. In the case of a divorce that is granted on biblical grounds, the innocent party is free to remarry, as if the guilty party were dead. But in cases where the divorce is not biblical, the separated parties must remain unmarried or be reconciled to one another.
While marriage is not limited to Christians but is given to all humanity for lifelong companionship, respectable intimacy between a man and a woman, and a legimate offspring, Christians are commanded in the Word of God to marry “only in the Lord,” meaning Christians beleivers should not marry unbelievers, for God does not want households to be unequally yoked. Nevertheless, a man or woman converting to Christianity after marriage should not seek to divorce his/her spouse even though that spouse is an unbeliever.
We believe that the people of God are organized by the Lord into a group called “the church,” a word meaning “those called out,” which alludes to the fact that believers are to be separate from the world.
The church my be looked at and understood from different vantage points, each emphaisizing different aspects or qualities. Many categories could be named, but we would highlight the following four:
1. Organism vs. Organization: On the one hand, the church is likened to a living being (i.e., an organism). As such, it is called in Scripture “the body” and “the bride” of Christ, as well as His “sheep/flock” and “His choice vine.” This emphasizes the life and vital connection believers have to Christ as the Redeemer and Giver of Life. From this perspective, the church is made up of all those who are born again and truly have eternal life by spiritual union with Jesus Christ. In this sense, the church is the communion of saints.
On the other hand, the church is likened to an institution (i.e., an organization). As such, it is called in Scripture “the kingdom” and “household” of God, as well as “His vineyard” or “field” This emphasizes the order and structure of the community to which all professing believers (and their children) belong. It likewise emphasizes the connection professing believers have to Christ as Lord and King. In this sense, the church is the community of saints.
2. Universal vs. Local: Moreover, the church may be considered from a universal (i.e., catholic) or local (i.e., particular) perspective. From a universal perspective, there is only one Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, which exists across time and space. It is made up of various denominations and congregations which profess the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone. It not only includes Christians in different places on the earth at the present time (every tribe, tongue, people, and nation), it also includes those who are already in heaven.
From a local perspective, the one universal Church is viewed from its division into parts, both in time and space. It refers to the various denominations and local congregations which profess the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone in a particular place or in a particular time in human history. In this sense, we may speak of many “churches” even though we recognize that ultimately there is but one Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each local church/denomination is a part of the whole body of Christ, called “the Church.”
3. Invisible vs. Visible: But there is still another way the church may be distinguished and understood, namely, the divison between the invisible and the visible church. The “invisible church” refers to the body Christians from God’s perspective, that is, as only including those who are truly born again. The membership of the invisible church includes only those who truly have eternal life because they have true union with Jesus Christ by faith.
The “visible church” on the other hand, refers to the company of Christians from our perspective, that is, it includes all those who profess to be Christians, along with their children. As such, the “visible church” is made up of a mixed company, some who really are born again and others who merely profess faith but are not truly born again. Only God knows those who are His (i.e., the invisible church/true believers); we can only judge by what we see and hear (i.e., the visible church/a mixed company of those professing to be believers). On Judgment Day, when Christ comes again, the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats and the tares from the wheat, so that the membership of the visible church will match that of the invisible church perfectly.
4. Militant vs. Triumphant: Another way the church may be distinguished is between the church militant and the church triumphant. The former refers to Christians on earth, who are imperfect and still struggle with sin and the effects of the fall, including pain, suffering, and phyiscal death. The latter refers to Christians who have passed from the sufferings and struggles of this life and have been perfected and confirmed in holiness by the power of God. These are the saints in heaven. The militant church still struggles and fights with sin and its effects; the triumphant church is at reset and beholds God face to face.
While we do not believe church membership is what “saves” us, we strongly affirm that all professing Christians ought to be members of a local church and under the authority of ordianed church leadership. The main reason for this is because there is a correspondence between the inward and the outward of our lives. If one has faith in the Lord Jesus, and thus is united to Him by that faith and so made a member of his spiritual body call the church, then that person should want to demonstrate his/her commitment to the Lord by membership in the outward expression of the community of the saints. In other words, if you are a member of the church invisible, you will desire to be part of the church visible, for Christ has called all Christians to be a community of saints as well as a communion of saints. True, church membership doesn’t save you, but church membership is the natural outward expression that you are saved; for if you are a Christian, you will not only want to obey your Savior who calls you to be a part of His body, but you will also want to be in the company of others who profess union and communion with Christ as well. It is there in the company of saints (the church) that you will be nutured by the means of grace and grow in faith and sanctification. As surely as true faith ought to issue forth in the fruit of good works, so membership in the invisible church should issue forth in the fruit of membership in the visible church. Christians should long for and belong to the visible church.
We believe that God appointed one day in every seven (i.e., one full day in every week) to be a day of rest from work and worldly cares and concerns, wherein God’s people are to give themselves to public and private worship of the Lord, as well as to acts of mercy and necessity.
From creation until the resurrection of Jesus Christ (i.e., the Old Testament period) this day of rest was on the seventh day of the week. This is evident by the divine example when God ceased from His work of creation on the seventh day and blessed and sanctified it (see Genesis 2:1-3). It is also evident by the express command God gave in Exodus 20 to the Israelites when He said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work . . . For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” The importance of keeping the Sabbath day rest was emphasized during the Old Testament period (see, for example, Isaiah 58:13-14). And so, before the resurrection of Christ, we see Jesus and His disciples keeping the Sabbath day in obedience to the Father’s command (see Luke 4:16).
But because of Christ’s work of redemption, which ushered in a new creation (see 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 6:15) and by the resurrection of Christ, which occurred on the first day of the week (see Matthew 28:1-7), the day of rest has been changed from the last day to the first day of the week (see Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2) and is called “The Lord’s Day” (see Revelation 1:9-10). Now God’s people rest and worship on Sunday rather than Saturday in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and the new creation which the Lord has accomplished for us by His work of redemption. Jesus has both accomplished our spiritual rest (see Matthew 11:28 and Hebrews 4:3a) and He Himself IS our rest (see Colossians 2:16-17).
We further believe that though there is an outward change in the day of the week on which the Sabbath rest is to be observed, it is still kept in fulfillment of the moral principle of the 4th Commandment, and so may rightly be called the Christian Sabbath. We recognize, however, that Jesus has fulfilled the ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament Sabbath and likewise has removed the many legalistic requirements which had been wrongly added to the Sabbath day observance by the Scribes and the Pharisees, who failed to grasp truly what the Sabbath was meant to be and to teach God’s people (see Mark 2:23-28).
Moreover, we believe the Christian Sabbath/Lord’s Day is not only a time to look back at the rest Jesus’ has accomplished for us, it also looks forward to the eternal rest to which both the Old and New Testament days of observance always pointed, that is, our eternal rest with God in the new heavens and new earth. We still have yet to enter that full rest (see Hebrews 4:1 and 9) which will not be achieved until the second coming of Christ. This is why, in addition to the permanance of God’s moral law, we believe the Lord’s Day is the Christian’s Sabbath day and should be kept holy to the Lord in obedience to the 4th Commandment. Therefore, we endeavor to keep the whole day set apart for God, to worship and serve Him, to minister to others in His Name, and to be refreshed both spiritually and physically. We endeavor to refrain from work on Sundays and from worldly cares, concerns, and actvities. In an effort to encourage our members to keep the whole day holy to God, we ordinarily hold both morning and evening worship services, a pattern we see in the Old Testament Temple worship of morning and evening sacrifices. We call the Sabbath a delight because God gave it for our good and by delighting in His day, we ultimately delight in Him.
We believe there are only two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). These were both appointed by Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry to be signs and seals of His person and work and of all the benefits true believers experience in Him by faith in the covenant of grace. They are to be perpetually observed in the visible church on earth until the second coming.
Baptism is a sign and seal of the believer’s union with Christ, of the cleansing which comes through the blood of Jesus recieved by faith, of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit who is poured out on all true believers, of death to sin and being raised to live a new life of obedience. Administratively, it is the rite which joins us to the visible church. And because the promise of these blessings are not only to adult believers but also to their children after them by way of covenant, this initiatory rite of Christian baptism is to be administered to the infant children of even one adult believer. Baptism is to be but once administered, though it is to be improved upon throughout the Christian’s lifetime by growth in holiness and the continual resisting of temptation to sin. We do not believe baptism with water itself regenerates but rather that it is a sign and seal of regeneration and is a means of grace in the life of the recipient. We believe tthat Baptism may rightly be administered by sprinkling and pouring, as well as by immersion.
The Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of Christ’s sacraficial death to redeem sinners, as well as of the believer’s ongoing nourishment in Christ. In the sacrament the bread represents Christ’s body and the cup represents His blood outpoured. The partaking of these tokens is a picture of the believer’s faith whereby he/she is nourished by the person and sacrafice of the Lord on his/her behalf, as surely as the body is nourished by eating and drinking. We do not believe the bread and cup become the body and blood of Jesus, nor that the body and blood are added to the elements; but we do believe it is something more than just a memorial, which is why the apostle Paul warned against partaking in an unworthy manner, which could lead to negative temporal consequenses (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-34). It is a true and real, yet spiritual, “communion” with the risen Christ to all who partake in sincere faith (1 Corinthians 10:15-17). Unlike Baptism, the Lord’s Supper is to be adminstered repeatedly and often (1 Corinthians 11:26), and that only to members of the visible church who have reached the age and understanding so as to make a personal, public and credible profession of faith in Christ before the congregation and are able to examine themselves before partaking (1 Corinthians 11:28). As such, we believe the Lord’s Supper is not to be given to children of the church who have not yet been examined by the session and made a public profession of faith in Christ.
We believe that as surely as Jesus Christ came in the flesh just over 2000 years ago, He will come again, thus ending human history, consummating His kingdom, and ushering in the eternal state, called the New Heavens and the New Earth (John 14:1-3; 2 Peter 3:10-13; and Revelation 21:1). We believe that Jesus will come literally and bodily, just as he left this world at His ascension to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:9-11). All eyes will see Him when He returns; it will not be a secret or merely spiritual advent but a true and public event of history (Revelation 1:7).
At Jesus’ second/last coming, the dead will be raised and the living will be translated into their final conditions/estates. This will be true for the believer and the non-believer alike and at the same time (John 5:26-29; cf. Acts 24:15). At Jesus’ appearing, believers will be raised to glory and enter into the eternal joy and rest of the Lord who redeemed them (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). But the wicked/unbeliever will be raised to condemnation to spend eternity in Hell, where God’s wrath will be fully and perfectly outpoured (Revelation 20:11-15). We do not believe in the anihilation of the wicked after the judgment, but that they will live on as surely as the righteous will. However, the two groups will be forever separated, the wicked in Hell and the righteous in Heaven (Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 21:1-8). This will be the final estate of all mankind and of the angels, both holy and fallen.
While we are open to various millennial views, we do not advocate any view of end times events which would deny (1) the literal, bodily return of Christ, (2) the general resurrection of all mankind (believer and non-believer) at the same time, and (3) the general judgment of all mankind (believer and non-believer) on the same day of judgment. While we certainly do believe in the translation and catching up of believers at the second coming of Christ, we do not believe in a secret rapture of Christians/the Church as is taught by Dispensationalism. We believe the rapture will occur as part of the second coming and will be witnessed by all unbelievers just before they face the final judgement before the throne of God
The State and Secular Government
*This statement about affirming the ecumenical Creeds is not meant to be understood as applicable to the Orthodox Church of the East, which has not adopted the Athanasian Creed nor the Filioque clause of the Nicene Creed; for that branch of Christendom does affirm the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, both of which uphold the essential doctrines of the Trinity and the incaranation of Christ spelled out in detail in the Athanasian Creed. In short, we maintain that in order for any church to be legitimately called “Christian,” it must affirm the doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, and the hypostatic union of the two natures of Jesus Christ (i.e., that He is fully human and fully divine without confusion or comprmise of either nature). And these the Orthodox Church does embrace. Nevertheless, we would only concede that the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church are Christian in the general and historic sense. However, in doctine and in practice, we stand with the Protestant and Presbyterian churches of the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries, which are grounded on the Bible’s teaching that the sinner is justified by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.