WHAT WE BELIEVE – THE CHURCH
Our commitment to God is directly related to our commitment to a church – not the church in general, but a church – a specific group of believers in Jesus Christ who consistently come together on purpose to worship him, equip one another to follow him, serve and minister to one another, and be a witness to the world of who he is through word and deed.
While you and I are one with all believers in Christ throughout history and around the world, God doesn’t call us to community in general, he calls us to commit ourselves to a real, live, group of believers who in turn commit themselves to us. He calls us to worship together, to serve together, to grow together, to witness and be on mission together, to give together, to hold each other accountable, to take the Lord’s Supper and observe baptisms together, all out of our love for God in Christ that leads us to love others. We live our lives as part of the universal church in an actual, embodied, local, covenantal church, as members of members of Jesus Christ and of one another.
Our church’s statement of faith says this about what we believe concerning the church: “We believe that the church is comprised of all born again believers, primarily represented through a local body of baptized believers with the Lord Jesus Christ as the Head. The local body is an autonomous congregation covenanted together in the faith and fellowship of the gospel, observing the ordinances, exercising their spiritual gifts for the mutual benefit of one another, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.”
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states this concerning our understanding of the church, filling our faith statement a little more fully: “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.”
This understanding of the church is based on how the Bible describes the church as an “assembly,” the literal meaning of the word used for the people of God in both the Old and the New Testaments. The church is not a building or a denomination, it is a group of people united in Christ by the Spirit to the Father.
The church is the people of God (1 Pet 2:9-10), the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:1-31), and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17). It is characterized by its unity in Christ, its pursuit of holiness, its confession of the “faith handed down to all the saints” (Jude 4), its apostolic mission of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, and its worship centered in preaching God’s Word and practicing Jesus’ ordinances until he comes.
As Baptists, we believe that the church should be as closely patterned on the New Testament church as possible. We believe that church membership is only for those who have confessed Jesus Christ as their Savior and subsequently identified with him in believer’s baptism. As Baptists we also believe that each person in the church, led by the Spirit, is part of the “priesthood of believers” (1 Peter 2:9) who are called to minister to one another. We believe that each Spirit-filled believer is called to participate in governing the church, which means church government is “congregational.” Each congregation is autonomous, or directly responsible for submitting to Jesus Christ and his leadership of the church, as he is the head of the church (Col 2:9-10).
As Jesus’ church, we engage in five activities (see Acts 2:43-47): worship, discipleship, fellowship, missions, and ministry. As we worship God, we share life together so that we may equip one another as Jesus’ disciples to live our entire lives in worship. We serve and minister to one another when our brothers and sisters are in need. Finally, we help others outside of our church to experience the love of Jesus Christ and confess faith in him, so that they may join with us as we anticipate the kingdom of God together.
Praise God for his church! May we as his church, First Baptist Tallahassee, continue together “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).