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This We Believe document is a teaching tool designed to inform all interested parties concerning the faith as commonly believed in the Churches of God, General Conference. Within We Believe certain teachings could be defined as core while others are more descriptive of doctrinal distinctiveness when it comes to understanding and interpreting the biblical text. For example: one would not be considered a Christian if they did not confess Jesus as Lord, or believe in his atoning work at Calvary and his resurrection (Romans 10:9). On the other hand, the precise details of his return are open to discussion.
John Winebrenner put forward the first concise statement of faith for the Churches of God, General Conference in 1844. As he noted then, the Church of God has no other authority than the sixty-six books of the Bible which is her only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. As such the Church of God affirms no other creed or discipline as binding and holds the Bible as its supreme authority. That being said, Winebrenner believed that there was benefit in presenting the Church’s “avowed principles” consisting of a “short… declaration, showing her views, as to what may be called leading matters of faith, experience and practice” for the public good. Again in 1863, as an outline for instruction in the blessings of the Christian faith, Christian H. Forney pointed out the value of “a handbook for the ministerial novitiate, the layman, the Sabbath School teacher, and all those who love the doctrines of the Church.”
The Churches of God, General Conference does not object to publishing, for information, what it believes and practices or to studying historic creeds for personal interest, but it does not create any such statement or receive any historic creed as an authority or test of fellowship. Jesus Christ alone is Lord of the conscience and his Word alone can rightfully connect people to the truth. There may be God-ordained helps to understand the Bible—such as experience (John 9:24-25), Christian community (Acts 17:10-11), reason (Isaiah 1:18), and sacred history (Hebrews 11-12:1)—but all of these things are fallible and none of them is an authority. Only what is clearly taught in the Bible is necessary for salvation. The Bible alone sets the standard for general Christian principles and fellowship within the Churches of God.
At the centennial celebration in 1925, the General Eldership approved a summary statement of faith based on Winebrenner’s 1844 declaration but focused strictly on doctrinal matters. Fifty years later in 1975, the General Conference approved a condensed version of the 1925 statement. (See Appendix A for copies of these three statements.) Although these various declarations provide a succinct statement of belief for the Churches of God, General Conference, there still remains the need for a handbook to help those seeking more information. To this end the General Conference provided its churches and pastors with a brief view of The Distinctive Doctrines of the Churches of God in North America. Commonly known among the churches as “the yellow book,” it served the Church for nearly three decades beginning in the 1930s. Then in 1959 the General Eldership approved a new exposition in the Teachings and Practices of the Churches of God. That Bible-based booklet (called “the green book”) set forth in order things most surely believed among us.
Each generation needs to come to grips anew with the faith once delivered to the saints. So it was that in 1983 the General Conference produced the We Believe book as a statement of common faith across the Churches of God. This “blue book,” as revised in 1986, has served the Church well, but the time has come for the contemporary church to reaffirm its doctrinal understanding of God’s Word. Trusting the Holy Spirit to guide in the interpretation and application of the Bible, the General Conference undertook this revision. It is not a new statement but a refinement of We Believe—The Doctrinal Statement of the Churches of God, General Conference. It is the product of many persons. It received the invaluable attention of several general consultations and a review process that included input from across the CGGC. Many faithful students of the Word, drawn from all areas of the Churches of God, wrote, edited, evaluated and revised the various sections.
From its formation, the Churches of God stressed the importance of unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and charity in all things. The Church seeks to uphold biblical truth while respecting personal freedom. As such We Believe is not intended as the final word on the faith and practice of the Churches of God. Only God’s Word can do that and one day this current edition will likely be revised. Nor is it intended as a litmus test for fellowship or a proscription for ministry as there is diversity of thought and practice across the body on several items discussed herein. It needs to be remembered that this document is a “centered set” delineating the mainstream of the Churches of God and not a “bounded set” prescribing what is required of all.
The Churches of God, General Conference does not endorse any particular translation of the Scriptures. The statement on translations in the section on “The Bible” expresses the sense of the Church. The committee of writers contributing to this document used translations, not paraphrases, that best clarify and elucidate.
The same guidelines that governed the writing of We Believe in 1983 guided the writing of this new edition:
— to be a statement of faith apart from practice
— to present a positive expression of our faith
— to be concise
— to be a document for laypersons, non-technical, minimizing theological jargon and preaching
— to use examples and sources only from Scripture.
The Administrative Council extends deep appreciation to representatives from local conferences, Winebrenner Theological Seminary, the CGGC Executive Director and Regional Directors as well as the Associates in Ministry, writers of various sections and drafts, those who contributed editorial skills and many who shared input to prepare this document. Their attention to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and their love for God’s Church are evident in these pages. We particularly thank the persons whose names appear in appendix B of this document for their help over the past several years while the writing and rewriting process continued. Our prayer is that their work may serve the Church and the inquiring public well in the years to come. May Jesus Christ be praised!
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