Section 8: Concerning the Church
A. Concerning the Universal and Local Church
We believe all who place their faith in Jesus Christ are immediately placed by the Holy Spirit into one united spiritual Body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-32; Revelation 19:7-8), of which Christ is the Head (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18). We believe the formation of the church, the Body of Christ, began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21, 38-47) and will be completed at the coming of Christ for His own at the rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We believe the church is thus a unique spiritual organism designed by Christ, made up of all born again believers in this present age (Ephesians 2:11-3:6). The church is distinct from Israel (1 Corinthians 10:32), a mystery not revealed until this age (Ephesians 3:1-6; 5:32).
We believe the local church is the visible manifestation of the body of Christ in a particular time and place (1 Corinthians 1:2; Revelation 2:1-3:22); that the establishment and continuity of local churches is clearly taught and defined in the New Testament Scriptures (Acts 14:23, 27; 20:17, 28; Galatians 1:2; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1) It is comprised of a group of believers associated by covenant of faith and fellowship of the Gospel (Acts 2:47), organized with scriptural officers (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13), share the common faith once delivered to the saints (Acts 2:42; Jude 3), observe the ordinances of believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:41-42; 8:38-39; 1 Corinthians 11:18-20), carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and meet on the first day of the week at regularly stated times (John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Hebrews 10:25; Revelation 1:10). I believe the proper form of church government is congregational (Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-2; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 2 Corinthians 8:19). We believe the local church is God’s ordained instrument for His work and witness in this age (1 Timothy 3:15).
B. Concerning Church Officers
We believe the Head of the Church has ordained two offices in the local church, pastor and deacon (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11; Philippians 1:1), both of whom must meet biblical qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
The first office is described by three Biblical terms: bishop, elder, and pastor. They are different perspectives on the same office. The pastor has authority from the Head to preach the Word as he is led by the Holy Spirit, to set spiritual objectives for the flock, to see that Scripture is followed in the overall activity of the church, to warn of false doctrine and spiritual dangers, and to lead by example (Acts 20:28-32; Colossians 1:28; 1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 4:2). We believe a church normally has one pastor under whose direction other pastors function (if there is more than one pastor). We believe the Lord established the second church office of Deacon to assist the pastor(s) in implementing the ministries and programs of the local church, and so, freeing the pastor (pastoral staff) to meet the needs of the congregation through prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:1-7).
We believe the Holy Spirit’s direction in the choice of both pastor and deacon is through the congregational election; that these church officers lead or rule as servants of Christ (1 Timothy 5:17-22) and have His authority in directing the church. The congregation is to submit to their leadership, but that the voice of the church body is the final court of appeal (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
C. Concerning the Autonomy of the Local Church
We believe the local church in prayerful dependence on the leading of the Holy Spirit and following the teaching of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18) is fully autonomous and has the power and right to confess its own faith, to elect its own officers, leaders, and messengers (Acts 6:1-6; 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:19), ordain men to the ministry (Acts 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 4:14), discipline its membership (Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6), settle its internal affairs (1 Corinthians 6:1-5), and determine its relationship to other ecclesiastical bodies (Acts 15:1-35), free from any external authority or control, with the right of self government and freedom from the interference of any hierarchy of individuals or organizations (Acts 15:19-31; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 5:4-7, 13; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
D. Concerning Church Ordinances
We believe two ordinances have been committed to the local church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:38-42). Christian baptism is the single immersion in water of a believer, performed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit following salvation (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:41; 8:36-39). Baptism is the solemn and beautiful testimony of a believer showing forth his faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Savior, and his union with Him in death to sin and resurrection to a new life (Romans 6:1-11). It is also a sign of fellowship and identification with the visible Body of Christ. It is an ordinance of the local church and should, therefore, be done under the authority of a local church. Baptism is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and participation in the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:41-42).
We believe the Lord’s Supper is the commemoration and proclamation of the broken body and shed blood (Matthew 26:26-28) of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death. The Lord’s Supper is a token and symbol of the believer’s participation in the benefits of Christ’s atonement (1 Corinthians 10:26; 11:26). It is also a prophecy of the final gathering of the saints with Christ in His Kingdom (1 Corinthians 11:26). Regeneration, believer’s baptism, church membership, and an orderly walk are all required for communion (Acts 2:41-42; 1 Corinthians 11:28). We believe the Lord’s Table should always be preceded by solemn self examination and while we do not believe in “closed” communion, we do believe that “close” communion appears to be the normal practice in the early church (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:28-32).
E. Concerning the Mission of the Church
We believe God has entrusted to the church the Great Commission of proclaiming the Gospel to all nations, of winning converts and establishing other local churches so that there might be a great multitude from every nation, tribe, ethnic and language group who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:20). We believe, therefore, that all other Christian institutions and agencies should have as their objective to aid and strengthen the local church.
F. Concerning Ministry Gifts for the Church
We believe in the need of the church to cooperate with God as He accomplishes His purpose in the world. To that end, He gives the church spiritual gifts. First, He gives men chosen for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:7-12), and He also gives unique and special spiritual abilities to each member of the Body of Christ (Romans 12:5-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; 1 Peter 4:10-11) that every believer might have a part in the work of the ministry (1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 4:11-16; Revelation 22:12).
We believe there were two kinds of gifts given the early church: miraculous gifts of divine revelation and healing, given temporarily in the apostolic era for the purpose of confirming the authenticity of the apostles’ message (Hebrews 2:3 4; 2 Corinthians 12:12); and ministering gifts, given to equip believers for edifying one another. With the New Testament revelation now complete, Scripture becomes the sole test of the authenticity of a man’s message, and confirming gifts of a miraculous nature are no longer necessary to validate a man or his message (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). Miraculous gifts can be counterfeited by Satan so as to deceive even believers (1 Corinthians 13:13-14:12; Revelation 13:13-14). The only gifts in operation today are those nonrevelatory equipping gifts given for edification (Romans 12:6-8). We believe that no one possesses the gift of healing today but that God does hear and answer the prayer of faith and will answer in accordance with His own perfect will for the sick, suffering, and afflicted (Luke 18:1-6; John 5:7-9; 2 Corinthians 12:6-10; James 5:13-16; 1 John 5:14-15).