Why Have a Statement of Belief?
The importance of creedal statements and faith commitments is long established in the history of the Church. Through and in the Church’s faith commitments, the Holy Spirit can be continuously shaping and revising our understanding of what we believe and who we are as God’s people. A faith statement can be dynamic in nature because it is an expression of our faith at a particular place and time in history, so it must be open to challenges and revisions if it is found to disagree with scriptural witness or the ongoing role of the Holy Spirit in the Church. At the same time, however, it is much more than a casual statement of what we believe at the moment–as if we expect it to change directions like the wind at any time. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples, and though his followers do not often get the answer to this question right at first, over time they come to speak a unified answer that is given voice in this statement of belief as well: “You are the Christ, Son of the Most High God.”
Our Essential Belief
We believe God desires a deep and intimate love relationship with us, and that this invitation to friendship with God finds its highest expression in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus perfectly reveals the Father as the One who from the very beginning created us to be with Him, and who sent His Son to shatter sin’s barrier between sinful humanity and a perfectly sinless God. Through Jesus’ life of obedience, His death on our behalf, and His resurrection from the dead, a way is made for us to be reunited with the One who made us. Filled with His Spirit and blessed with the gifts of the Spirit, our lives overflow with the very life of God.
The Validity of Our God-Talk
Theology has as its task the explication of the Christian faith. It focuses upon the confession and faith commitments of the Church and attempts to make clear and coherent the Church’s talk about God. It presupposes that humans can talk about God truthfully, without patchwork guessing, because it understands Jesus Christ as the true and decisive revelation of God.
We find the story of Jesus Christ in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Scripture records truthfully (though not exhaustively) the history and nature of God’s gracious dealings with humankind, witnessing to God’s covenantal love for all persons, first through the nation of Israel but finally with all of the peoples of the world through Jesus Christ. The foundation and basis of our ministry is our conviction that the Bible is the Word of God for our lives. We believe Scripture to be Spirit-breathed and is the final authority for the church’s life of faith and practice. While Scripture’s composition involves human authors writing from a specific world context, it is not simply a human book, or even a particularly great book about God, but the one in which God has uniquely, authoritatively, and faithfully revealed Himself. As such we look to the Bible to understand the truth as we seek to live out our servant calling in the world.
God: Three Persons, One Being
We believe in God as the divine unity of Father, Son, and Spirit; three personal identities in one being, whose intimate communion is the basis for the Christian grammar of love and the Church’s God-talk. That the Church can talk of God as a relational lover of humankind arises from the Father-Son relationship that Jesus and God the Father share through the unifying person of the Holy Spirit. While acknowledging that God is spirit, neither male nor female, we affirm the biblical language of God as our Father. It is in light of who God is in relationship to the Son and the Spirit that we understand God’s being in its essence: love.
It is important to say something about God’s attributes, about how God is who God is. We believe that God is wholly other, beyond and outside human thought and conception; that we can think or know of God at all is located in God’s prior decision to make Himself known. This divine-human conversation is initiated and facilitated by God. We believe that God is eternal; God is without beginning or end, not constrained by our notions of time. We believe that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful. God is a creator God, Lord of all existence. As Creator, God is the maker of all that we can see and all that we cannot; God’s creative act is ongoing, not static or once-for-all.
Humans Created in the Image of God
We believe that men and women are created in the image of God. We believe that this imago dei is most powerfully expressed in our capacity for a relational encounter with God. This is reflective of God’s own nature as expressed in the intimate, communal nature of the Father-Son-Spirit relationship in the Trinity. This relationality is at the core of who we are as humans, and it expresses itself creatively as we interact with God, each other, and the created order.
The Problem of Sin
We believe that women and men are separated from a holy God by sin. None are exempt from sin as sin is a universal condition of humanity. Sin is oppositional to the very nature of God, who is righteous and holy, and expresses itself in such things as faithlessness, pride, and self-justification. Through sin, evil enters the world and perverts the good that God intends for humankind; instead of harmony, factions; instead of love, hatred; instead of peace, war; instead of hope, despair; instead of blessing, suffering.
Salvation: Jesus is the Only Way
But sin does not have the final word–God in Christ does. Because humans cannot save themselves from sin, Jesus Christ, who is Himself fully God, yet condescended to become fully human for humanity’s sake that he might reconcile us to God through his life of perfect obedience, the suffering of death by crucifixion, and His bodily resurrection from the dead. Jesus Christ is the only one through whom and in whom there is salvation; He is the decisive and authentic revelation of God, for being in His very nature God He told the disciples (John 14:9-13): “The Father and I are one; if you want to know what the Father is like, simply look at me.” As God, Jesus is not just another great prophet, an uncommonly gifted teacher, or religious visionary; Jesus is God’s unique Word to the whole world, through whom alone we have forgiveness of sins, restored relationship with God, and eternal life. Humans cannot affect their own salvation. We believe that humans are justified (made right with God) only by grace through faith (which is itself not a human work, but a gift from God).
Ultimately there is no way to God except through Jesus Christ. This does not mean that all other religions are patently and entirely false, nor that the Jesus who is Lord of the Church excludes other religious traditions from the scope of his reconciling and redeeming love. It does mean, though, that if people from non-Christian faiths are to enjoy a restored and eternal life with their Creator, it will be as a result of receiving what God in Christ has done through the shedding of his blood on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for human sin.
We believe in the Holy Spirit as fully God, the third person of the triune God, who is co-eternal with the Father and the Son. The Spirit is not less than the Father or the Son, but with the Father and the Son is worthy of our praise, worship, and adoration. Through the Holy Spirit believers are led into all truth; as the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit is our Counselor, the one who plants richly within us the word of truth and a hunger for the things of God. The Spirit works within us to transform us–sanctify us–into the likeness of Christ, bringing us from childlike understanding of spiritual things to the fullness of maturity in Christ. We believe the Holy Spirit empowers the Church for its work in this world with spiritual gifts, which are given to believers for the encouragement and building up of the body of Christ. We believe that all the gifts of the Spirit recorded in Scripture are valid for believers today; indeed, their right use is necessary for the Church to live into her identity as the Bride of Christ. It is the Spirit who unifies and brings us into relationship with God and each other, in concert with the relational reality of the mutual love and self-giving among the Father and the Son and the Spirit in the Trinity.
The Church and the Sacraments
The Church is the assembly of the saints in the world, those who are integrated and unified by God’s Spirit in a dynamic event in which the love of God creates, gathers, and continuously re-creates God’s people. The Church’s call is to witness to the redeeming and reconciling love of God for all persons, a love that promises to heal brokenness and give life. In this assembly of the saints, the Gospel is preached purely (e.g., as the unconditional love of God for the ungodly) and baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered rightly (as divinely instituted signs that proclaim God’s love for all persons). The Word of God is offered in the Church as a living address which invades us from the inside, calling for radical change and creating new life, new values, and new commitment. Through baptism, God touches us with water and says “Yes! You are my adopted son or daughter; you belong to Jesus Christ and are completely forgiven.” As the bread is broken and the wine is poured in the Lord’s Supper, we understand that Christ is with us in memory, in the present, and in the future; the Eucharist celebrates that God is enfleshed and intimately involved in all of life. The Word and the sacraments together proclaim to all of the saints that they have been set aside to be ministers of God’s love and God’s truth.
We believe that the reality of Easter means that death is not the end. Though all people will die, this is not the final chapter of humanity’s existence. Hope has not been contained by the grave, and Jesus Christ promises eternal life with God for those whom He confesses before the Father. We believe that those who receive God’s grace will enjoy life with God forever. We believe God desires ultimately and graciously to restore all people and all created realities (the physical and spiritual cosmos) to Himself. But the “impossible possibility” is that some will refuse God’s liberating love, and by this refusal find themselves separated from God for all eternity. When Jesus returns for His bride, the Church, the consummation of this kingdom and new life with God will occur.
We believe that God is real and relevant to the concerns of this life; that God is personal and gives meaning to all human endeavors; that God is patiently, wonderfully, and unconditionally loving, longing to free us from sin so that we might walk in the cool of the evening in the garden with a God who not only loves us but is fond of us.