What we believe about the Church (July 2013)

We believe the Church is the Body of Christ.

The Church exists only because of the grace of God and the atoning work of Jesus Christ. It consists of all persons who accept Christ as personal Savior and Lord, leading a regenerate life. The Church is composed of all who have responded to the Holy Spirit’s call through the saving love of Jesus Christ. The Church is often called the people of God. Christians are described as “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…” (1 Peter 2:9). One of the significant images of the Church in the Scriptures is the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:4-16). The Church as the body of Christ is affirmed in Scripture (Romans 12:5).

All Christians are important to the effective working of the body of Christ, even though we may differ in spiritual gifts, in national origin, or in social standing. Even parts which seem weaker are indispensable.[i] The unity of the Body of Christ lies not in the sameness of its parts, but in its “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6). No Christian can live apart from the body of Christ any more than a hand or a foot can live apart from the human body. Christ is the head of the body (Colossians 1:18). All true Christians respond to him as Lord. Those ruled by Christ recognize that their lives form God’s temple and that he dwells within their fellowship (1 Corinthians 3:16).

We believe that God calls and equips men and women in ministry and leadership for the Church.

We believe that the calling and gifting of God are the essential prerequisites[ii] for service and leadership in the Church. The Apostle Paul makes a clear reference to all people being the same in relationship to their standing with the Lord Jesus Christ. In the body of Christ there are no differences in regards to gender, culture, economy, or geo-political boundaries when it comes to salvation or service (Galatians 3:26-29).

We believe the New Testament provides a framework for all persons to serve Christ in the Church according to their giftedness and calling. This means that all people should be set free to serve as God directs and do so for his glory.

We believe the Church enjoys a special kind of fellowship.

The quality of life in the Church is best expressed by the term “fellowship.” The New Testament word for fellowship, koinonia, suggests a special relationship rooted in the Christian’s common fellowship with the Father through the Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; Philippians 2:1-4).

Common worship is an important factor in establishing and maintaining fellowship. Early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,[iii] fellowship, the breaking of bread[iv] and prayer (Acts 2:42). Christians are to come together to encourage one another, to help one another, to show love, to do good, and to bear one another’s burdens (Hebrews 10:25; Galatians 6:2).

The Church in the New Testament is the household of faith and the family of God (Ephesians 2:19; Romans 12:10). The Ephesians are instructed to “be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1). The relationship between a husband and wife is compared to the love between Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:21-33). Christians are reminded that “he who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:21).

We believe the purpose of the Church is to proclaim God’s redemptive mission.[v]

We believe God commissioned the Church to declare the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. We believe the Church does that primarily through worship, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship, and service. In worship, we stand in awe of God’s power and celebrate God’s love for us (Psalms 105:2-3). In worship, we respond by giving God glory, honor, and praise through music, prayer, testimony, and the reading and teaching of Scripture (Psalms 95:6-7). In fellowship, believers gather together, living out our commitment to love one another. In evangelism, we desire the Holy Spirit to add to the Church those who by God’s grace are saved through Jesus. In discipleship, we follow the call to teach and obey all things commanded by him. In service, we care for one another and seek to meet the physical, mental, social, and emotional needs of others (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37).

Jesus commissioned the Church to make disciples of all people. We believe we are called to share the Gospel in every culture and among all peoples (Matthew 28:19-20). The central purpose of the Church is to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth (Acts 13:47).

We believe Jesus chooses to minister his work of reconciliation and wholeness[vi] primarily through his Body, the Church.

Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to be actively engaged in his work of new creation through us, as we experience, proclaim, and demonstrate his love. God includes his new creation, the Church, in the process of calling and reconciling the world unto himself (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).

As we carry the Gospel into the world, and demonstrate his love and grace in the reality of our lives, we create a loving context in which his reconciliation and re-creation can take place (Matthew 5:23-24). The Church, as a living expression of Christ’s redemptive reality, can provide a rare opportunity in this world to experience God’s unconditional love. As people are welcomed and accepted as they are, they can be listened to and affirmed as valuable and unique persons who were designed in the image of God. In relationship with the body of Christ, they can experience healing of heart and soul offered nowhere else (1 John 4:7-16). As such the Church through the Gospel must be committed to reconciliation between peoples across all divides, whether they are cultural, racial, economic, social, etc.

The Church also can provide a gracious context in which people can experience truly loving relationships. Here they can begin to discover the truth about themselves, be given the opportunity to become the reshaped persons God designed them to be, and gradually grow to be unique agents of God’s grace and reconciliation (2 Timothy 2:1; 2 Peter 3:18).

As Christ is building just one Church, he works and intercedes toward his ultimate end of making us truly one. Though many issues distinguish us from our brothers and sisters in Christ in other denominations, Jesus calls us to hold tightly to the faith we have received, and yet to offer freedom and grace in matters open to varying perspectives, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

We believe the local church is a part of the Christian Church of all believers.

We believe that the Christian Church is the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ, who is the founder and only head of the Church. The Church is the union of all believers of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord who desire to see every human being come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

The Church is the collective effort of all local churches to participate in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. The local church seeks to serve in harmony with the Christian Church of all believers in order to effectively advance the Kingdom of God (1 Peter 3:8). The Church enjoys a special kind of unity that transcends time. Jesus’ prayer for the Church was that the Church would be united as one (John 17:21). Despite differences, there is oneness in the Church. It is the common bond of love in Jesus Christ that unifies the Church (Colossians 3:14).

We believe the Church is to apply biblical principles in every area of its life.

Throughout its history, the Churches of God, General Conference, has maintained the importance of a strong doctrine of the Church, seeing it as basic to sound Christian theology. The Church’s doctrines of regeneration, the ordinances,[vii] church government, and church discipline[viii] are all affected by its doctrine of the Church and the high importance placed upon biblical principles.

From its inception, the Churches of God, General Conference, has maintained a high view of the Church. A thorough study of the Scriptures reveals that the name “Church of God” is the best biblical name for the Church (1 Corinthians 1:2 and others); that the presbyterial[ix] system of elders[x] (Acts 14:23) and deacons[xi](1 Timothy 3:10) is the biblical form of church government; and that the new birth through Jesus Christ is the only way of entering the Church (1 John 5:1-5).

[i] Indispensable – essential; absolutely necessary.

[ii] Prerequisites – something required beforehand as a necessary condition for what follows.

[iii] Apostles’ teaching – see “Apostolic” in glossary (No. 44).

[iv] Breaking of bread – could simply imply “eating together,” but commonly understood to mean sharing together in the Lord’s supper as a reminder of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

[v] Mission – God’s redemptive and historical initiative on behalf of His creation.

[vi] Wholeness – spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

[vii] Ordinances –acts authorized, practiced, and endorsed by Christ; religious rites in the Church. See section on “The Ordinances.”

[viii] Church discipline – the process of accountability in the Church whereby members receive spiritual nurture and correction (when belief and/or practice are contrary to Scripture).

[ix] Presbyterial – relating to a system of church government and organization in which authority is delegated to the elders (or Presbyters).

[x] Elders – persons holding positions of greatest responsibility and authority in local Church leadership. Pastors are considered “teaching elders” in the Church.

[xi] Deacons – literally “servant;” persons primarily responsible to serve practical needs in the Church.