Lesson 7 – What does the church believe?
As you take your place in your chosen congregation and in the body of Christ, you will become familiar with the beliefs and practices of both. Many expressions of worship—the type of music played, the length and formality of the service, the level of participation by the members—will vary. But the most basic principles are universal; they serve as the foundation of our Christian faith and are not subject to change. They are our common ground. They are what the church believes. And, as a Christian, you share these beliefs wholeheartedly.
√ The church believes in the existence of God.
Throughout its history, the church has encountered God and witnessed his powerful acts. His strength is indisputable; as creator and ruler, he has total authority over our lives. He is holy and governs the universe with wisdom. We are in awe of who he is and what he does. We respond to him with total respect, love and obedience.
√ The church believes that Christ is the Son of God.
Both human and divine, Jesus Christ became man for our salvation. We speak of this great event—the coming of the Son of God to our world—as the “incarnation.” This term means “becoming in flesh” and is in harmony with John 1:14, which states, “the word [Jesus] became flesh.” Paul speaks of this as God “sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (here the word “likeness” means man’s appearance, but not that his nature was tainted with sin.—Romans 8:3). By dying on the cross, Christ atoned for our sins.
√ The church believes all people can be saved.
We are assured of this truth in Romans 8:1–11. “There is, therefore, no condemnation.” Why? Forgiveness has been granted by God and the guilt of sin has been removed. Paul’s great word in the Book of Romans is “justification.” It means not only forgiveness and pardon for sins, but also that God at the same time receives us into fellowship with himself and treats us as if we were never sinners. Obstacles are removed, and we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
√ The church believes in and practices the ordinances.
In support of its beliefs, the church observes three important symbolic events that were sanctioned by Jesus, reenacted by early Christians and handed down to us to carry on collectively in his name. These events are baptism, which we’ll explore in the next chapter; the Lord’s Supper, first celebrated on the night before Christ’s crucifixion; and foot washing, a poignant reminder of the servant character of the church.
Let’s look at the Lord’s Supper and foot washing, saving baptism for chapter 8.
√ The Lord’s Supper. While commemorating the Passover with his followers, Jesus offered them bread and then wine, saying, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood” (Mark 14:22–24). The passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23–29, written by the Apostle Paul, shows that this supper was observed regularly in the New Testament church. The church, all through the centuries that followed, has continued the sharing of sacraments. The significance of the Lord’s Supper is in the symbols of the bread and the wine, which represent the body and blood of Christ, whose death on the cross was in atonement for man’s sin.
√ Foot washing. To fully understand the importance of this act, you have to know that the foot symbolizes subjugation in the Bible. In John 13:4–17, Jesus—the model of servanthood throughout his ministry—teaches his disciples an important lesson when he pours water into a basin and washes his disciples’ feet and dries them with the towel wrapped around his waist. By repeating this act for members of our own worship group, we acknowledge that we are servants of each other. At the same time, we recall the words of Jesus: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (v 14, rsv).
√ The church believes that Jesus Christ is coming again.
Throughout the Bible we find many clues that, when pieced together, give us a vivid picture of Christ’s second coming. We know his appearance will be very visible and unexpected. Matthew 24:30–31 describes the dramatic moment: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (niv). When will all this occur? No date is predicted; only God knows the moment.
We’re also told of the dramatic reaction to Christ’s second coming. There will be a general resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:15); all nations will be gathered before him (Matthew 25:31– 32); and a final judgment will follow (Acts 17:31). The earth, as we know it, will end, but an eternal order will begin. “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:12–13, niv). A detailed picture of the “new heaven and new earth” is contained in Revelation 21.