Clarification of Certain Doctrinal and Practical Issues

The following material is presented by the Elders as a means of clarifying the church’s position on certain issues. As you read this, please remember that this is not meant to be a comprehensive statement of what we believe in every area. You may consult the Articles of Faith for a full statement of our doctrinal position. We welcome your comments and feedback on anything presented here.

I. Issues Relating to Church Life

A. The Role of Elders in a Nondenominational Church

As a nondenominational church we recognize that a variety of opinions may be found within our congregation (Romans 14:1-4). While we applaud this diversity, we also realize that certain beliefs and practices bind us together (Acts 2:42). The Articles of Faith serve as a useful summary of those non-negotiable truths we hold in common.

As elected leaders of the congregation, the elders are given the task of protecting the church’s doctrine and practice. They are also charged with prayerfully determining the overall direction of the church’s ministry (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2).

Since no doctrinal statement can adequately address every issue, the elders must from time to time issue policy statements and doctrinal clarifications regarding disputed points within our church fellowship (cf. Acts 15:19-29). Such statements will only be issued after much scriptural study, discussion, consultation and prayer. When such statements are issued, they represent the teaching position of the church at that particular point in time. All staff members, elected and appointed leaders, teachers and other ministry leaders and workers are expected to support those statements and doctrinal clarifications.

Since the elders do not possess infallible insight, such statements and clarifications may by changed, expanded, or otherwise revised over time. We welcome questions and comments, feedback, and suggestions for improvement. We believe that a healthy ongoing dialogue between the elders and the congregation strengthens the church.

B. Counseling

It is our desire that our church should offer short-term pastoral guidance. Specifically we define this as meeting with an individual (or a couple) for a maximum of 3-6 sessions. We do not believe our pastors or lay leaders should engage in long-term, in-depth psychological counseling or treatment of serious mental or emotional problems. We believe those persons with serious problems of this nature should be referred to competent, well-trained, godly Christian counselors who can provide the kind of in-depth care that is not possible in a local church setting.

Since the Bible teaches that every Christian should be “able to admonish” other believers, we will train godly men and women in the areas of teaching, discipleship, people helping skills, and spiritual encouragement (Romans 15:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Hebrews 3:13).

C. Church Discipline

The oversight of church discipline is one of the most important functions of the elders. Since believers sometimes fall into grievous sin, the elders are charged with protecting the integrity and reputation of the church. The basic biblical pattern is laid out clearly in Matthew 18:15-18. Church discipline may take many forms, such as a friendly word of exhortation or a caring hand extended to a Christian who has strayed from the truth. Many times discipline need go no farther than that.

However, each case must be judged on its own merits. Certain sins (especially sexual sins) are singled out in Scripture as having an especially negative effect both on the person committing the sin and on those around them ( Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Every sin is an affront to a holy God; some sins also impact other people. In some cases, the sin of a believer is so notorious that it impacts the entire church (Acts 5:1-10).

When individuals holding leadership positions fall into sin, they will be asked to step down from those positions for a period of time. Such stepping down allows individuals to concentrate on rebuilding their spiritual life without the pressure of serving in the church. It also allows a time for re-establishing trust and spiritual accountability.

The elders may also in certain cases ask a person to refrain from taking communion for a period of time. Such a step will be taken when it is judged necessary due to the gravity of the sinful behavior. Refraining from communion allows a person to reflect on the nature of their commitment to the body of Christ and to understand what it means to be live in covenant relationship with other believers.

On certain occasions the elders may ask a person to make a public confession either before a small group (such as a Sunday School class) or before the entire congregation (1 Timothy 5:20). Generally speaking, this step will only be taken when the person sinned deliberately and repeatedly while holding a leadership position—thus violating the trust of the group (or of the whole congregation).

Finally, in extreme cases, when there is no evidence of repentance, the elders may take the ultimate step of publicly excommunicating a person from the fellowship of the church (Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; Titus 3:10). This action will only be taken when all other means of restoration have failed.

In all of this, it must be borne in mind that church discipline serves several purposes: 1) Restoring the sinning believer, 2) Protecting the church from moral or doctrinal error, 3) Upholding the sanctity of the church covenant, 4) Warning others who may be tempted to dabble in sin, 5) Preserving the reputation of Jesus Christ, the head of the church.

II. Issues Relating to the Christian Life

A. Sin in the Christian Life

We believe that sin remains an abiding problem in the believer’s life until the moment of death. We specifically oppose any teaching that shifts the responsibility for personal sin away from the individual to any other source, whether the world, the devil or old patterns of life. Scripture clearly shows that believers sin and must take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions (1 John 1:8-2:2). We do not believe it is accurate to say, “That wasn’t me” or “That wasn’t you” when sin occurs. Nor do we believe it is helpful to suggest that the devil comes to us with temptation primarily through “first-person pronouns” (i.e. “I am angry” or “I want to look at pornography”). We believe it is far more biblical to say, “I chose to get angry” or “I chose not to show compassion” or more simply, “I blew it.”

One writer goes so far as to say regarding thoughts of depression, impurity, selfishness and covetousness, “They are not my thoughts, they are from the Power of Sin, who is also the one condemning me.” Whether intended or not, such teaching shifts responsibility for sinful behavior away from the person and to some vague “power of sin” operating within the physical body or to Satan himself. It also misrepresents Paul’s teaching in Romans 7.

It is far better and far more biblical to say, “I sinned and I take full personal responsibility for all my thoughts, words and deeds. I cannot blame my circumstances, my friends, my loved ones, the world, my flesh, the power of sin within me, or even the devil. I must admit that I chose to sin and I confess it. I did it, no one else made it me do it. Now I must face the consequences.” Any teaching that moves away from direct personal responsibility for sin must be resisted as less than truly biblical.

We do not believe in sinless perfection in this life nor do we believe that the sin nature was eradicated at the moment of salvation. We believe that the “old nature” was crucified at the moment of salvation (Romans 6:6). Sin has now been dethroned as the ruling power in the believer’s life. But crucifixion does not mean eradication or extinction; it means separation from the domination of sin. Christians must contend with sin as long as they live, which is why Ephesians 4:22-24 commands us to continually “put off” the old life and “put on” our new life in Christ (see also Colossians 3:5). As believers choose by the power of the Spirit to be servants of righteousness rather than servants of sin they can be free from the dominion of sin (Romans 6:16-19; 8:12-13).

The “old nature” has been put to death in the sense that our sin nature has been dethroned as the ruling power in our lives. Righteousness now reigns in us through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:15-21). Yet sin still lurks within us like a deposed monarch, never able to retake the throne completely but always pulling us toward evil (Galatians 5:17-21). Before coming to Christ, you sinned in everything you did—word, thought and deed (Psalm 51:5; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Ephesians 2:2). Now through Christ believers are A) called to choose righteousness, B) given the power to choose righteousness, and C) given a new desire to make that choice on a moment-by-moment basis (Romans 6:11-14; 8:1-9).

God has made a three-fold provision against the Christian’s sin: A) The Word of God (Psalm 119:11; John 15:7). There is no hope for victory over sin apart from a daily growing knowledge of the truths contained in God’s Word; B) The Intercession of Christ (Luke 22:32; John 17; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:23-25). This intercession not only guarantees our eternal security, it also provides the strength we need to live as the children of God in this evil world; C) The indwelling Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6; John 14:16-17; Romans 8:12-16). As we rely on the Spirit’s power, he enables us to say no to sin and yes to holiness.

B. Temptation

James 1:13-15 clearly teaches that temptation arises from within the believer. Although we understand that we may also be tempted by the world and the devil, these sources of temptation cannot make us sin unless we choose to do so. As believers, we are fully responsible when we sin no matter where the temptation comes from. There is no pressing need to distinguish between our own sinful urges and those induced by Satan. Whatever the source of the urge, we bear responsibility for the deed.

Scripture emphasizes the importance of watching over the heart because it is the source of everything we say, think and do (Proverbs 4:23; Deuteronomy 4:9; Psalm 139:23-24; Mark 7:21-23). This means we should be less concerned with what Satan is doing and more concerned with the state of our own heart. Satan may indeed tempt us to sin, but he uses as weapons the evil already resident inside the human heart. The most meaningful way to deal with Satan is not to catch him planting seeds, but to give him no fertile ground in which to do the planting. Our best day-by-day defense against temptation is to grow in grace through the power of the Holy Spirit, who produces in us the fruit of the Spirit and causes us to become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:3-9, 3:18).

When faced with temptation, we must take the “way of escape” God provides for us (1 Corinthians 10:13) which includes fleeing sinful situations (2 Timothy 2:22), confessing Christ openly (Matthew 10:32, Hebrews 10:32, Revelation 12:11), putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13), yielding our bodies to God (Romans 6:13), relying on the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16), and choosing the path of costly obedience (Luke 9:52).

C. New Life in Christ

“We believe the Scriptures teach that regeneration, or the new birth, is that act of God by which the Holy Spirit imparts a new nature and a new spiritual life, not before possessed, and the person becomes a new creation in Christ Jesus. The mind is given a holy disposition and a new desire to serve God, the dominion of sin broken, and the heart transformed from a love of sin and self to a love of holiness and God.” (From Article G—"The Way of Salvation” Calvary Memorial Church Articles of Faith)

We do believe it is helpful and necessary to learn the great truths about what God has done for us by virtue of our union with Jesus Christ. We applaud those teachings that encourage us to understand our new identity as children of God and new creations in Christ.

But how do these things become a reality on a daily basis? The next paragraph of the same Article makes it clear: “As the believer walks in the power of the Holy Spirit, these new realities become evident in a life characterized by holiness, compassion and zeal.”

D. Sanctification

“We believe the Scriptures teach that sanctification is the means by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of His holiness and that, as we practice our faith and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in our lives."(From Article K—"Sanctification” of the Calvary Memorial Church Articles of Faith)

This statement means that we believe sanctification is both positional and progressive. It is positional in the sense that the Bible teaches that we truly have become new people by virtue of our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is progressive in the sense that sanctification is not instantaneous but occurs only as we “practice our faith and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.” We will only become holy on a daily basis as we actively purpose to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5) and “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:13). This means that growing as a Christian requires more than merely yielding or surrendering our lives to God (even though that is required—Romans 12:1). The New Testament pictures the Christian life as a struggle (Ephesians 6:10-12), a war (2 Timothy 2:3-4), an athletic contest (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), and a continuing conflict (Galatians 5:16-17; II Timothy 4:7). Winning that battle requires energy, commitment, zeal, effort, and hard work (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 12:14). No one becomes godly merely by “resting” in the Lord (though resting is important, Psalm 62:1). Although God is “at work within us,” we must also “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13).

E. Confession of Sin

We believe daily confession of sin and personal repentance are essential for maintaining close fellowship with God and with other believers (I John 1:5-10). “The whole Christian life is a life of repentance” (Martin Luther). Personal sin must be taken seriously and must be admitted honestly. Unless we confess our sins, we will not prosper (see Proverbs 28:13), our prayers will be hindered (Psalm 66:18), and we will suffer in every area of our lives—personally, physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually (see 2 Samuel 12:7-14; Psalm 32:3-4, Psalm 51:1-12; Matthew 6:12-13; Matthew 18:21-35; I John 1:9).

We also believe that God disciplines erring believers who persist in sinful behavior (see Hebrews 12:4-11). God’s discipline may include physical sickness, personal difficulty, unanswered prayer, spiritual dryness, negative emotions, broken relationships, and times of suffering (see I Corinthians 5:1-5, 11:27-32; James 4:1-2; 1 John 5:16-17). We do not believe that these things are always the result of sin, but they may be and in such cases, relief will not come until the sin is confessed and dealt with in a biblical manner.

God sometimes sends times of testing in our lives to make us stronger and more mature in Christ. Such testing is not necessarily the result of sin. However, our God-ordained trials may actually become an occasion for sin if we respond wrongly through anger, bitterness, worry, or despair. God desires that we should trust him in difficult moments, counting even our worst trials to be an occasion for joy and a new opportunity to trust our Heavenly Father (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9).

James 5:13-16 clearly teaches a close connection between physical sickness and personal sin. It includes the clear instruction to “confess your sins to one another that you may be healed.” Such confession is truly good for the soul because it allows the person to take personal accountability for his own sin and to be assured by other believers that he has by forgiven by God and by them. The ministry of helping erring believers is commanded to all believers by Scripture and is especially given to the elders of the church (Galatians 6:1-2, James 5:13-16, 19-20).

F. Romans 1-8

Romans 1-8 offers a clear and balanced view of the Christian life. All Christians are “simultaneously justified and sinful,” righteous before God because of his imputed righteousness, but sinful in themselves. Sin is dethroned by Christ in the beginning of the Christian life, but never eradicated in this life. No believer is completely victorious over sin, known or unknown, in this life and the process of sanctification is incomplete until we arrive in God’s presence glorified. The truth about every Christian is found in Romans 1- 3 (dead in sin, condemned by the Law, and helpless to find God), 4-5 (justified by an alien righteousness), 6 (made alive in Christ so that sin is not the ruling principle), 7 (and yet continually at war with ongoing sinfulness), and 8 (living in the victory of Christ’s cross and the assurance of final redemption from sin in the future, with no place for confidence in one’s own victory).

We do not believe that that the struggle of Romans 7 describes a pre-Christian state or a sub-standard Christian life (the so-called “carnal” Christian life). It describes the normal Christian life as believers daily struggle in their desire to serve God.

G. The Believer’s Authority

We believe that all authority in heaven and on earth is given to the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18). The believer has no authority in the spiritual realm except that which is specifically given to him by Christ. That authority includes the right to enter God’s presence through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-21), the privilege of praying in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23), the command to preach the gospel in every nation (Matthew 28:18-20), the authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23), and the authority to discipline a sinning believer (Matthew 18:18).

With regard to the supernatural realm, we do not believe the Christian has the guaranteed spiritual authority to perform miracles, heal the sick or to rebuke Satan or the demons. We gladly affirm that God may and sometimes does grant these things, but only in accordance with his perfect will—not because believers claim some special “authority” that is actually reserved for God alone.

We further believe it is misleading and dangerous to teach that the believer has the same authority Christ has in the spiritual realm. Such a teaching has no foundation in the Bible and may lead to pride, arrogance and to usurping the honor that God has reserved only for his Son.

III. Issues Relating to Satan and Demons

A. A General Statement

We believe exactly what the Scripture says about demons, no more and no less. We believe they are fallen angels, spirit beings in perpetual rebellion against God, whose only purpose is to further Satan’s evil purposes in the world (Matthew 12:24; 1 Timothy 4:1-2, Ephesians 6:12). We believe they are active in the world today and that their activity will increase as we near the end of the age (Revelation 12:9-12).

In particular, we take literally the accounts of demon possession that occur in the gospels and the book of Acts (cf. Matthew 9:33, 17:15; Mark 5:1-20). We do not believe these are merely ancient accounts of epileptic seizures and the like.

We also understand that demons may harass, oppress, distract, and attack Christians in various ways. However, we do not believe that true Christians can be “demon-possessed” or “demonized” in the literal sense those terms are used in the New Testament.

B. A Word of Caution

Since we believe that demons exist today, we believe that demon possession can occur today. However, we believe it is important not to go beyond the Scripture at any point with respect to the demonic. As evangelicals, we believe that the Bible tells us everything we need to know about the spirit world, and that everything the Bible says is actually true, and that there is no other authoritative source for information regarding demons and angels.

To say that is to say nothing more than that we take II Timothy 3:16 seriously when it says that Bible is God-breathed and is given to make us thoroughly equipped for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. Through the written Word of God we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). Our only authority in the spiritual realm is the Bible itself, not human experience.

C. A Statement Regarding Our Practice

It is our position that all members of the pastoral staff and all Sunday School teachers and small group leaders should teach only what the Bible specifically teaches regarding the demonic. They should refrain from speculative teaching or counseling that is not solidly based on biblical truth. This includes a prohibition on distributing any material in any form that is based (in whole or in part) on speculation regarding the demonic and not on clear biblical teaching. Furthermore, we specifically require that no ministry decisions should be made on the basis of non-biblical information regarding the demonic.

D. Demons and the Christian

Further, we find no convincing evidence that true Christians can be demon-possessed or “demonized” in the literal sense referred to in the New Testament. In fact, we believe the whole teaching of the Scripture regarding the miracle of the New Birth, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the implanting of a new life, the believer’s position in Christ, the work of the Trinity in procuring our salvation, the power of the cross, the effect of the blood of Christ, the promise of God to sanctify all his children, and the transforming message of the gospel make such an event impossible (Ephesians 1:13-14; 1 John 4:4, 5:18).

It is clear, however, that Christians can be harassed or troubled by demons in various ways. The Bible indicates that demons have an interest in promoting false doctrine, immorality, idolatry and witchcraft (1 Samuel 28:3-25, 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 1 John 4:1-6). Christians should be warned against participating in any of these things. However, we believe the proper response to these activities is not deliverance. exorcism, or a “power encounter” but rather repentance, confession, resistance, and appropriating the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17; James 4:7-11; 1 Peter 5:8-9).

We do not believe that it is helpful to focus on demonology as a major factor in the Christian life since the believer is often attacked through the world and the flesh as well as through direct attacks from Satan. Focusing on demons may actually lead to negative results, such as giving Satan more credit than he is due, elevating Satan to a level virtually equal with God, and moving away from personal responsibility for our own sinful acts. It may also lead to an unhealthy fixation on evil.

E. Dealing With the Demonic

We see little value in confronting demons directly. We believe it is far more valuable to teach individuals correct Bible doctrine, to challenge them to deep personal repentance, confession of sin, and to lead them along the path of faith, prayer, Scripture memory, the development of Godly habits, putting on the whole armor of God, personal accountability and daily obedience to God (see James 4:7-10).

In rare cases where confronting demons may be necessary, no staff member should ever work alone, but only in consultation with the Senior Pastor and the Elders who must concur in the judgment that such confrontation is actually necessary. Any confrontation with demons must always take place in a group setting for the good of all involved (Proverbs 24:5-6) and must include the written consent of the individual seeking help.

 

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