Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Statement of Faith

Statement of Faith:

Based on my current, incomplete understanding of Biblical teaching, I wholeheartedly and without reservation affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Additionally, for elucidation of my views of Scripture, I echo the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.

For the purpose of doctrinal clarity and specificity, I also humbly affirm the following:

1. Scripture

a. God, as the infinite, omnipotent Creator of the universe, has chosen to reveal Himself personally and propositionally to His creation by His Word.

b. God gave His complete Word in objective, written form and does not add to nor take away from it through subjective visions, dreams, or ecstatic experiences. It was written during specific, God-ordained time periods beginning with Moses and ending with the Apostle John.

c. The human authors of Scripture were men borne along by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit retained the writers’ unique personalities even as they were prepared, superintended, and guarded from error by Him. God’s textual inspiration included the use of verbal dictation (e.g., Exodus 20-23), secular sources (e.g., Daniel 6:25-27), and inspired writings reflecting the style and personality of the authors. Each type of writing was authenticated miraculously and preserved from error by the Holy Spirit.

d. The sixty-six books contained in Protestant Bibles are the only Scriptural writings that ever have been or ever will be produced. The canonical Books of the Bible were recognized as Scripture by their authors as they were being written and by their godly contemporaries under the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Biblical Canon did not come about because of any vote or decision of man—church councils merely publicly recognized and endorsed the self-evident God-breathed writings as a polemical strike to fend off heretical imposters.

e. All Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, is God-breathed and therefore is the only complete, sufficient, certain, and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. Scripture is the only sufficient, objective way God has provided of knowing who He is and who man is in light of Him.

f. Scripture is inerrant and infallible. It is completely without error in all it contains and teaches—including, but not limited to, physics, anthropology, history, archeology, literature, philosophy, biology, and psychology.

g. The Bible is truth. It does not simply contain truth. The Bible is true regardless of man’s opinion of it. It does not become truth as man interacts with it. There is no dichotomy between Christ’s truth and the Bible. God is truth, Jesus is truth, and the Bible is truth—they are one and the same truth.

h. Since the Bible is truth with no mixture of error, all data must be judged in light of Scripture and not vice-versa. Where contemporary scientific, historical, social, and literary theories contradict the Bible, the theories are in error and the Bible continues to prevail as truth.

i. The Bible is to be interpreted literally using a grammatical-historical hermeneutic. Literal interpretation is according to the natural use of language and takes into consideration literary genres, devices, and forms, including figures of speech.

j. Although God miraculously preserves His Word, only the original autographs are verbally and plenarily without error. Translations, no matter how meticulous, contain potential textual variances. While some translations are more faithful to the original text than others are, none is on par with the original autographs. This fact does nothing to lessen the Bible’s role as the only sufficient, certain, and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. Where differences occur between various translations, the original languages must be consulted.

k. Other than Hebrew and Greek texts, functional equivalent translations (literal or word-for-word) are the only Biblical texts suitable for study. While dynamic equivalent translations (thought-for-thought) and free translations (paraphrases) are valuable for children and casual reading, their value for study is only in using them as commentaries.

l. Because of this very high and proper view of Scripture, the following beliefs have basis, meaning, and are well founded.

2. God

a. “There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal most just and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty” (Westminster Catechism)

b. God is, in and of Himself, immense and unknowable but has freely chosen to make Himself known to man whom He created in His image. No unfulfilled need, want, or desire prompted Him to create man, much less propositionally and personally reveal Himself to him, save His eternal love.

c. God is personal, displaying all the attributes of personality, self-awareness, self-sufficiency, and self-existence. He is not a mystical, underlying principle behind all existence. God is not an emanation and nothing emanated from Him. He is separate and distinct from all creation, including time, space, and physical principles, yet has chosen to actively step into creation and providentially exercise sovereignty over it.

d. God is consistent to and inseparable from His attributes. Additionally, His attributes cannot be accurately manifested apart from His presence; e.g., all true love is God’s love. Since God’s attributes are manifestations of His nature, they can be used to describe Him, but are insufficient to define Him comprehensibly; e.g., God is love, however love is not God.

e. God rules and reigns over His creation sovereignly. He providentially sustains, cares for, and provides for His creation. He works all things occurring inside or outside time, within or outside of space, together for His glory and according to His purposes. As an integral, inseparable part of His sovereignty, God permits the free-will expression of man to fulfill his responsibility to obey or disobey Him. The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are not incompatible concepts, for they are both taught in the Bible. However, they are part of the eternal counsels of God and are not fully comprehensible to the finite mind of man.

f. God is one, yet exists eternally in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three are one in essence and distinct in person and function. The following are excerpted from the doctrinal statement of Liberty University:

i. “God the Father is the first person of the Trinity, and the source of all that God is and does. From Him the Son is eternally generated, and from Them, the Spirit eternally proceeds. He is the designer of creation, the speaker of revelation, the author of redemption, and the sovereign of history.”

ii. “The Lord Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity. Eternally begotten from the Father, He is God. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary through a miracle of the Holy Spirit. He lives forever as perfect God and perfect man, two distinct natures inseparably united in one person.”

iii. “The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, proceeding from the Father and the Son, and equal in deity. He is the giver of all life, active in the creating and ordering of the universe; He is the agent of inspiration and the new birth; He restrains sin and Satan; and He indwells and sanctifies all believers.”

3. Man (both male and female)

a. God, at a particular time in the past, created the first man, Adam, from the dust of the ground. Adam was created as a single, human male from which the entire human race has descended—not evolved. His wife, Eve, was created as a single human female by God to be Adam’s helpmeet in all things. Adam was incomplete without her. God created both Adam and Eve in His image, that is, as personal beings capable of rational thought and requiring relationship. Each was created uniquely with different roles, but equally culpable and responsible to obey God.

b. God formed Adam’s body from the dust of the earth, breathed into him the breath (spirit) of life, and he became a living soul. Therefore, man is holistic—a living soul, comprised of a union between body and spirit. Eve, being fashioned from Adam’s side, was also holistically created as a living soul containing the same dust of the earth and the same breath of life as Adam.

c. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve made a free choice to rebel against God and disobey His command. As a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God cursed His creation. Adam’s sin has been and will be imputed to all men, making them guilty of sin both by heritage and by action.

d. Though still possessing the image of God, as a result of the curse, it has been severely marred in generations of man subsequent to Adam and Eve.

e. Man, as God’s creature created in His image, is responsible to obey Him. The obedience required by God has manifested itself in different ways throughout history. For example, Adam’s obedience toward God before the Fall required different responsibilities than Israelites after the giving of the Law.

f. God knows that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually and he is incapable of obeying God in the ways in which He has prescribed. In and of himself, man is totally depraved and incapable of righteousness. Apart from God’s grace, he has and will fail every test of obedience. Therefore, he is separated from God by an impassible gulf that can only be bridged by the miraculous work of an omnipotent God.

4. Salvation

a. Because of man’s imputed sin nature and realized sinful behavior, he is incapable of relationship with a holy God. God, because of His unfathomable love for man, graciously provided the only way possible to reconcile man to Himself—the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

b. God, as part of His gracious, eternal, all-wise, omniscient council, has mercifully chosen and designated certain individuals for salvation. His choice is inscrutable and is made separate, distinct, and outside of time and is not based on any temporal, creaturely factors, such as future human merit. This fact does not mean that God creates individuals specifically for damnation and does not implicate Him as the author of sin. It also does not preclude human responsibility. Rather, due to God’s omnipotence, His sovereign plan of election is the only soteriology which accounts for both the efficaciousness of human responsibility and the necessity of free will. God’s election is fundamentally and wholly inconsistent with and antithetical to fatalism. It is not only compatible and consistent with the free agency of man; it is the only way to logically and philosophically account for it.

c. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, he is reborn. He is regenerated as a new creature—old things have passed away, all things are become new. Salvific regeneration is not simply a reformed lifestyle. It is a miraculous work of God’s grace, wrought by the Holy Spirit, resulting in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

d. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, he is clothed in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Adam’s sin is imputed to all men, Christ’s righteousness covers that sin and is imputed to man upon his salvation. Therefore, the saved man can stand righteous before God—not because of his righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ.

e. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, he is legally justified before God, the Righteous Judge. God cannot declare one justified who is not righteous—He cannot ignore sin. It is only the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon the believer that allows God to declare him justified. Since he is clothed in Christ’s righteousness, he is justified by God—that is, declared righteous and no longer culpable for his sin.

f. God hates sin to the extent that death is its non-negotiable penalty. Any deviation from His holiness instigates His omnipotent wrath. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, his old nature is mystically identified with Christ’s crucifixion, thereby eternally satisfying God’s wrath for his sin.

g. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, the blood of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary covers his sin, thus providing forgiveness. Since, despite salvation, man cannot escape his fallen sin nature, he will continue to periodically engage in, and subsequently be convicted of, sin. Sin in the life of believers results in lost joy and blessing, but not lost salvation due to the eternal, atoning covering of Christ’s blood.

h. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, he is immediately, positionally set aside as specially belonging to God. Subsequently, throughout the life of the believer, the Holy Spirit will progressively fashion his posture into the image of Christ. Since even saved men possess a fallen sin nature, this progressive posture is not necessarily linear and will suffer periodic setbacks—spiritual peaks and valleys. Finally, upon death or rapture, believers’ posture will fully match their sanctified, holy position—finally attaining to the image of Christ.

i. Culminating salvation, in the last days, the spirits of dead or raptured believers will be united with new glorified bodies. These glorified bodies will be fit for eternal existence in the presence and service of God.

j. All true believers will endure until the end. Once a saving work of grace has been wrought in a person’s life, it is impossible for anyone or anything to remove him from God’s gracious salvation. Since it is God’s grace that saves apart from works, God’s grace also preserves, perfects, and completes salvation apart from works. There is, however, a sin unto death, reserved for those believers who blaspheme God by actively, perpetually, and continually pursuing sin. If the rebellious believer insists upon rejecting the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and God in His omniscience determines him to be incorrigible, He reserves the option of terminating his physical life. He will reach Heaven, though as by fire.

5. The Church

a. The Church universal is known as the Body of Christ and is comprised of all true Christians throughout history. It began at Pentecost, is empowered by the Holy Spirit, has the Lord Jesus Christ as its head, and is being prepared as the bride of Christ to be presented to Him soon after the rapture. Its mission is to spread the gospel of Christ to the world. Incidental to, and consequential of its primary mission, the Church will exert a positive impact upon culture and be the vehicle by which the Holy Spirit restrains evil in the world.

b. The Church is separate and distinct from God’s chosen people, Israel. God has a definite and unique plan for the Church in addition to and apart from His eternal plan for Israel. God graciously planned the existence of the Church as a means to woo the nation of Israel back to Him. God paused His sovereign program with the nation of Israel upon their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. He will resume His program for Israel immediately upon the rapture of the Church.

c. Due to the fallen nature of individuals within the Church, denominations are inevitable. The only One capable of unifying the Church is Jesus Christ, which will happen after the rapture at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Prior to that time, denominations serve a purifying purpose to the Church by fostering discussion, honing doctrine, and displaying the importance of submitting to the primacy of Scripture. All ecumenical attempts to unify the Church by ignoring or compromising between doctrinal differences are humanistic and elevate human harmony over dogmatic scriptural truth.

d. The Church universal manifests itself throughout history as individual communities of believers, sharing like faith and doctrinal understanding. Each individual local church is an autonomous flock, individually responsible for submitting to the headship of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. The pastor, a man who is God’s ordained undershepherd, is uniquely and singularly responsible to God for leading His local church and equipping its members for His ministry.

e. While specific types of church polity are not explicitly taught in Scripture, most types have advantages and disadvantages. The autonomous local church is obligated to establish its own polity consistent with biblical precepts and considerate of fallen human nature. Church polity should neither be a dictatorship nor a tyranny of the majority. In most instances, democratically considered decisions are appropriate. In all cases however, churches should prayerfully submit to the leadership of the pastor, who, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, shepherds and leads the people in doing God’s will.

f. Church offices:

i. Pastors are neither priests nor kings and should be sensitive to the Spirit-led desires of the people in all practical matters of the church. The primary mission of the pastor is to equip the saints for the working of ministry. He does this by devoting himself totally to prayer and the exposition of Scripture. While all other ministry functions are very important, they are secondary and are better performed by well-equipped church members.

ii. While individual deacons may hold leadership positions within the church, the God-ordained office of deacon is a position of servanthood rather than leadership. The biblical role of deacons is to do the work of ministry so the pastor can be free to give himself over totally to prayer and the exposition of Scripture.

iii. Should an autonomous local church choose to appoint a group of men into a position of leadership under the pastor, their role would be consistent with the scriptural title of elder rather than deacon. Likewise, associate pastors fill an eldership role in the local church.

g. Church ordinances:

i. Baptism is the first step of obedience expressed by a newly born-again believer in Jesus Christ. The New Testament method of baptism is by immersion, however, rare exceptions can be made in the case of handicap, illness, or infirmity. Baptism is a public symbol identifying a believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and has no mystical, sacramental power to add to or take away from the essence of salvation. As an ordination prescribed by Scripture to the local church, baptism by immersion is prerequisite to church membership. Baptism publicly identifies a believer with Jesus Christ and enters him into full fellowship with the local church, represented by church membership.

ii. Believers are to remember the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ until He returns by ceremonially partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The elements are merely representative of Christ’s body and blood and are reverentially to be partaken in remembrance of Him. Although all believers may participate, partaking of the Lord’s Supper is to be within the context and fellowship of the local church. The Lord’s Supper is to be taken as an act of obedience and has no mystical, sacramental power to add to or take away from the essence of salvation.

h. Cooperation should be a given among Southern Baptist churches. After all, a key distinctive of being Southern Baptist is financially participating in the Cooperative Program. The stewardship principles drawn from the Old Testament tithe apply just as much to churches as to individuals. Since the Great Commission was obviously not given by our Lord Jesus Christ to one particular denomination, cooperation must go beyond just Southern Baptist churches. While individual churches should not deny, ignore, or moderate doctrinal differences to create false unity and ecumenicalism, they should find common ground with which to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to cooperate interdenominationally, churches must at least agree on the essentials of the faith—man is a lost sinner without hope and in need of a savior; Jesus Christ is God with us, who died a perfect atoning sacrifice in man’s stead and was raised on the third day that man might have eternal life with Him; God’s gift of salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. Those won to Christ through cooperative evangelism must be nurtured and cared for with proper discipleship in the context of a local church.

6. Last Things

a. God created man as an everlasting being. Death, being an unnatural result of the curse, rends man’s spirit from his body. The spirit does not sleep, but rather is immediately in the presence of the Lord or in torment. It will remain there until a future time when it will once again be joined to a resurrected body fit for either eternal glory or damnation, once again becoming a holistic living soul. Man’s eternal destination is fixed upon death.

b. The Lord Jesus Christ will personally return to earth. His return will be visibly, tangibly physical and unmistaken. While His first advent was marked with humility and frailty, His second coming is imminent and will be triumphant, majestic, and authoritative.

c. The order of events surrounding His return is the subject of much speculation and debate. A particular eschatological framework is not a test of orthodoxy, nor should it be a test of fellowship between believers. Neither is it a subject to be avoided. With that in mind, grammatical-historical hermeneutics consistently yields a pretribualtional, premillennial interpretation of end-times prophesy.

d. The current Church Age will terminate at a particular time in the future when Jesus Christ will rapture the church home to be with Him for eternity. At that time, He will meet the entire Church universal in the air, thereby removing the physical, restraining presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit from the earth. This event is the rapture, not the second coming. This rapture begins a seven-year time of terrible tribulation set aside for God’s renewed dealings with the nation of Israel. The tribulation will end with a great war, the binding of Satan, and the onset of the Millennial Kingdom where believers will rule and reign on the earth with Christ for 1000 years. At the end of the Millennium, the final judgment will occur and the final state of the lost in Hell and the saved in Heaven will commence.

e. The fact remains that currently, we look through a glass dimly and future prophesy cannot be understood as plainly as we would like. Eschatological studies are to be exhortative and encouraging. They are not to be divisive, nor are they to be all-consuming. They are a part of the whole council of God, not the sole council of God. Eschatological prophesy is to be understood in light of the clear teachings of Scripture, not in accordance with today’s headlines or current events.

A statement of faith is exactly that—a statement. It is not a covenant, nor is it an assurance of future beliefs. As a finite, fallible man, thanks to the continual blessing and illumination of the Holy Spirit, my understanding of Scripture will grow. As a result, my dogma likely may shift. By God’s grace, any dogmatic modification will be fueled by increased scriptural illumination rather than personal circumstance.

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