More discussion on doctrinal and practical issues

This touches on some matters of great importance to the contemporary church. Points 1-3 are theological and just expand a little on our statement of faith; points 3-7 are probably more important, because they deal with our perspectives on issues that are highly relevant and yet are not usually dealt with in a statement of faith.

  1. The doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God must not be compromised. There has been a recent trend to propose that God does not fully foreknow the future, which implies that He is not in total control of His universe. This is unbiblical. On the other hand, we must also recognize that God has sovereignly determined to permit men to either submit to or resist His will, and that this limited freedom to accept or reject His grace is genuine, and not merely apparent.
     
  2. The absolute deity and complete humanity of our Lord Jesus cannot be over-emphasized. Our Lord, prior to His incarnation, was the Eternal Son of God, uncreated and timeless, sharing the full prerogatives of deity with His Father. As the ancient Nicene creed put it, "very God of very God ... being of one substance with the Father." In His perfect and total humanity the glory of His deity was veiled, but undiminished. He was the perfect Man, untainted by the consequences of the fall. And yet He was severely tempted, without committing sin, that He might become our perfect High Priest. It should be noted that only a Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead permits us to have a Biblical doctrine of the Incarnation.
     
  3. There are certain trends today which detract from the substitutionary doctrine of the atonement. We believe that Isaiah 53 and numerous other Scriptures indicate that our Lordís atoning death was substitutionary in its effects. Other theories of the atonement may have very limited explanatory relevance, but the substitutionary aspect of the atonement is primary.
     
  4. The importance of repentance must be re-emphasized. We live in a religious culture which has taught us that all we need to do to be saved is to believe that Christ died for our sins, and was resurrected for our justification. All too often such belief is merely doctrinal or intellectual, rather than wholehearted and genuine. We as sinners must come to a place where we recognize that our hearts are innately sinful and selfish, and that we are called to submit to Jesus and embrace obedience and the work of the cross in our lives. Repentance means a profound change of mind about ourselves and about God. There can be no genuine faith without repentance.
     
  5. A biblical emphasis on discipleship must be seen as absolutely congruent with the teachings of Jesus, rather than as a new outbreak of legalism. As someone has wisely said, "Grace is opposed to works, but not to effort." Ephesians 2: 8, 9 says that "by grace you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." In other words, we are predestined to exhibit good works as we experience fellowship with Christ. The fact that verse 9 is rarely quoted in conjunction with verse 8 reflects how deeply the tendrils of "cheap grace" have penetrated our religious culture. We are most certainly not saved by good works, but we are with equal certainty saved unto good works. This same balance between saving grace and maturation in good works is articulated again by Paul in Titus 3: 5, 8, and 14.
     
  6. There is an issue that has generated a lot of friction among Bible-believing Christians who share an evangelical statement of faith. This is the issue of end times prophecy, or eschatology, the doctrine of last things. The critical issue is the timing of the rapture, otherwise known as the Second Coming of Jesus. The typical differences of opinion center around the issue of whether the rapture will occur before the beginning of the Great Tribulation (pre-trib), during the Great Tribulation (mid-trib or late-trib), or after the Great Tribulation (post-trib). Some would even argue that the Great Tribulation has been in progress since the first century, and that there will be no definable seven-year Great Tribulation.
     
    The people in our fellowship hold a variety of opinions of this issue, and manage to embrace each other in Christ nonetheless. Unfortunately, some sincere believers feel that this is a matter of truth or error, and become very zealous to enlighten their fellow believers regarding what is so obvious to them. If you cannot fellowship warmly with those who hold a position that differs from yours, or if you feel a strong impulse to enlighten those who hold another position, you will probably not be comfortable in our fellowship. On the other hand, no matter how strongly you may hold your position, if you can embrace a brother or sister who differs from you in love, without trying to convert him or her, you will undoubtedly, at least on the issues of eschatology, feel comfortable among us.
     
  7. There is a second theological issue that has resulted in friction between believers. This is the issue of how the sovereignty of God relates to the freedom of man. Those who focus exclusively on the sovereignty of God are usually called Calvinists; those who argue that God permits a certain degree of freedom of choice in salvation are usually called Arminians. The issues are very complex, and even great theologians are sometimes inconsistent. Representing the Reformed or Calvinistic viewpoint, in the Bondage of the Will Luther argued that unconverted men have absolutely no capacity to respond to grace, thus making salvation dependent entirely upon irresistible grace and the electing will of God. However, he also believed that it is possible for a converted man to fall from grace at any point in his Christian journey, and thus experience condemnation (Donald Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Vol.1, p. 286, 1982, HarperColllins). The great American theologian, philosopher, and revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, was philosophically a determinist, and theologically a strong Calvinist. And yet he could express an evaluation of the working of grace in the believer that sounds almost Arminian: "In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor does God do some and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, and we act all ... God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors (Quoted in Donald Bloesch, op.cit., p. 204)."
     
    The leadership of our fellowship is convinced that a perfectly logical and internally consistent systematic theology cannot be written. In our limitation we cannot reduce the mystery and paradox of Godís salvation to a set of logical propositions; nor are we able, in our finitude and limited dimensionality, to fully comprehend the ways of God, Who is infinite and Who transcends dimensionality. Should we read theology? Yes, by all means, particularly if we are called to exercise a teaching ministry in the Body of Christ. Should we be dogmatically assertive about a particular system of theology? Not unless we want to risk acute embarrassment on that day when "we shall know as we are known (I Cor. 13:12)."
     
    To persons who feel that they must be dogmatically Arminian or Calvinist, and are persuaded that they have a mission to enlighten their fellow believers, we suggest that you will probably be happier in another environment. Conversely, if you have strong convictions but are able to dialogue in a give-and-take manner, and if you have the flexibility to learn from a fellow believer, then you might enjoy our company. Please note, however, that our focus is on glorifying Jesus and conforming our lives to Him, delighting in His Word, and loving one another. We donít spend much time discussing theology per se.
     
  8. There is one more issues that should be discussed. We are a charismatic fellowship, meaning that we believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit, detailed in I Cor. 12 and 14, and Romans 12; 2-8, are for the Body of Christ today. We not only believe in the gifts, but we practice them. To be very specific, we believe that the verbal gifts of the Spirit, listed in I Cor: 12: 8-10, are for the benefit of the Body today. We use the word conservatively, because we are convinced the gifts must be exercised in careful observance of the guidelines laid down by the Apostle Paul. We have observed the damage that can result from an unwise use of the gifts. For instance, personal prophecy, particularly if it is directive or predictive in nature, must be exercised very carefully and only under the covering of mature elders--much confusion and imbalance can otherwise occur.
     
    In recent years there has been a tendency among charismatics and Pentecostals to seek after so-called manifestations of the Spirit that have no Biblical support. Although there is a Biblical basis for the experience of being "slain in the Spirit," we believe that seeking to promote such an experience can lead to immaturity at best and delusion at worst. Such manifestations as barking, roaring like a lion, making other animal noises, or engaging in extreme attention-getting behavior, we believe to be unwise and soulish at best, and error-inducing at worst. We likewise have serious reservations about such "signs" as extended conversations with angels, regular visits to the third heaven or heavenlies (Paul apparently had a single experience); the appearance of gold dust on the hair or clothes; or gemstones suddenly materializing in the hand or pocket.
     
    When such experiences are interpreted as a sign of Godís endorsement of a certain ministry or teaching, we are on a slippery slope. If we are going to seek the miraculous, let it be in the healing of broken bodies or the multiplication of food in situations of need! We are convinced that many people who become preoccupied with the experiences listed above are sincere believers who want more of Godís presence. But our God is a holy God, and He is not running a sideshow. We must seek more of Him in the ways He has Biblically ordained, beginning with repentance, and always keeping Jesus and His call to discipleship right in the center of our focus.
     

How we relate to the house church movement

 
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