Article XII – Ecclesiology – The Study of the Church
Section 1 The Universal Church
We believe that all who have been regenerated by faith in Christ are part of the Universal Church, which is also called in Scripture “the bride of Christ.” The church began at Pentecost and is completely distinct from Israel. Its members are constituted as such regardless of membership or non-membership in the organized churches of earth. We believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit, all believers, regardless of their spiritual gift, are baptized into the Body of Christ, thereby identifying them with Christ. We believe that the church is called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and that members are under the solemn charge by our Lord Himself to love one of another (Matthew 16:16-18; Acts 2:42-47; Romans 12:5; 1st Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:20-23; 4:3-10; Colossians 3:14-15).
Section 2 The Local Church
The universal Church is visibly functional through fellowship groups, called local churches, meeting in identifiable locations. We believe that the local church is an assembly of believers meeting together for the purposes of worship, the proclamation of the gospel, the celebration and remembrance of our Lord’s death in the Lord’s Supper (1st Corinthians 11:23-26), prayer and the teaching and study of the Bible (Acts 6:1-4), fellowship (Psalm 133:1, Acts 2:42; Galatians 2:9; 1st John 1:3), grace giving (1st Corinthians 16:1-3), edification and the development of spiritual gifts (2nd Timothy 1:6; Ephesians 4:11-12), mutual care and edification in love (1st Corinthians 12:25; Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 10:24), evangelizing (Acts 2:1-41) and discipline (Matthew 18:15-19).
We recognize that solid grace-oriented believers are often unable to identify a local church body with which they feel doctrinally comfortable. We believe that, in such cases of conscience, it reasonable for a man or woman to establish or retain church membership with a local church where the gospel is taught clearly, and Christ is honored, even though that church venue may be too geographically remote to permit worship there on a regular basis. In such circumstances, geographically distant “parent” churches have a duty to assist, nurture and encourage geographically displaced members to form home Bible studies or small worship groups with a view toward becoming a self sustaining church with the resources to call, as pastor, someone meeting the biblical qualifications of an elder or pastor.
In view of this growing problem, we believe it is imperative that free-grace pastors and churches identify themselves in visible, association that crosses denominational lines, and that is searchable on the web, thereby making it easier for free-grace believers throughout the world to more easily find a suitable church home.
Section 3 The Sacraments
We believe that the concept of a “sacrament” evolved along side the concept of “gratia infusa,” or infused grace as an ethereal vitalizing substance. Because we expressly deny the doctrine of gratia infusa, we expressly deny the fundamental concept of a “sacrament” as a means for dispensing this imaginary substance. In light of this, we believe that disputes as to whether foot-washing or marriage are valid “sacraments” are silly and meaningless arguments over a man-made and man-defined term that is subject to different definitions by different persons. Because Christians are under the administration of grace, being led by the Holy Spirit and not the law, we believe that Christians may engage in any ritual, theatrical, or dramatic practice, from foot washing to annual “nativity plays,” to celebrate and call to remembrance the truths of the Christian faith, and that whatever name Christians give to these practices is not of critical importance.
Section 3.1 Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
We believe that Christ has clearly commanded Christians to remember Him through the practice of baptism, and of the Lord’s Supper. We believe baptism is reserved for believers who can articulate a clear testimony of faith in Christ and the sufficiency of His death for their sins, and that baptism calls to mind the truth that our sins have been washed away the atoning death and victorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that the practice of the Lord’s Supper is reserved for believers, that the bread and wine which call to remembrance the violent and bloody death of our Lord Jesus Christ as He paid for our sins, and that the individual taking and eating and drinking of these elements reminding us of the necessity of every individual to personally receive Jesus Christ as their Savior (Matthew 28:19; Luke 22:19-20; Acts 10:47-48; 16:32-33; 18:7-8). We believe that the gospel should always be proclaimed at celebrations of baptism and of the Lord’s Supper, and that without the proclamation of the gospel, these practices are reduced to meaningless rituals (1st Corinthians 1:11-17; 11:23-26).
Section 4 Church Leaders
We believe that God calls qualified men, known as pastors, elders, and bishops, to lead and teach the assembled congregation. We believe elders must be mature in doctrine and apt to teach (1st Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7) and marked by lives that are sober and godly (1st Timothy 3:1-7). We believe that a woman is not to teach men, or exercise authority over men in the church, and accordingly, may not hold the office of Bishop (1st Timothy 2:12-15). We believe that deacons are servants of the church who are to exhibit godly lives (1st Timothy 3:8-13). We believe that women may serve as deacons (Romans 16:1-2), evangelists and missionaries (Philippians 4:3), and in all other areas of church life and ministry. We believe that older women are especially called of God to a discipleship ministry with younger women (Titus 2:3-5), and the younger woman to disciple their children (1st Timothy 2:15).
Section 5 Itinerant, the Displaced, and the Marginalized
We believe that in every age, God has raised up Prophets, Missionaries, Evangelists, and Reformers, many of whom were, as a consequence to their commitment to truth, displaced, marginalized and even persecuted. We are not, herein, visiting the question of whether the New Testament gift of prophecy was exclusively revelatory in nature, or if the gift of prophecy also included men with gifts of teaching and preaching, who were simply, as the Reformers, impassioned to stand against the errors of the institutional church in their day. However, regardless of the title of such men, we believe that the need for such men of integrity was transparently evident in the times of the prophets, and of the reformers, and that it would be hypocritical to affirm the validity of these ministries in both Israel and the Church, and yet deny the validity of displaced or marginalized preachers for today. Accordingly, we believe counter-culture preachers and teachers who call God’s people back to the foundations of their faith, in the spirit of the prophets and reformers, have been a valid part of God’s program in every age, and remain a vital and valid part of the church to this day. Although such men have often been marginalized by religious leaders and institutions – whether in Israel or in the church age – we believe that God has always kept a remnant to Himself (Romans 11:1-6). Accordingly, we believe that to the extent that men of principle find themselves marginalized within the institutional church or a local body, they nevertheless have the duty to identify other men of sound doctrine and godliness to whom and with whom they should place themselves in mutual subjection (1st Corinthians 14:32).
Section 6 The “para-Church”
We believe that specialized ministries are the natural extension of the spiritual gifts God has given the church (1st Corinthians 12:4-12; Romans 12:3-8). Accordingly, we believe that evangelistic and discipleship ministries, missions organizations, Bible institutes and seminaries, counseling centers for the suicidal, or for pregnant woman, orphanages, homeless missions, and other specialized ministries have a valid and vital place in the church today.
Section 7 Sacred Music in Worship
We recognize that it is difficult to separate biblical standards from cultural norms which have become integrated with biblical standards. We nevertheless believe that certain standards must be met in Christian music.
a) The focus of Christian music
(i) We believe that music that mindlessly repeats meaningless phrases or utterances is unfit for Christian worship.
(ii) We acknowledge that there is a place for Christian music that focuses on the singers response to God, e.g., “I love you,” “I worship you,” “I commit my life to you,” etc.
(iii) We nevertheless believe that the focus of Christian music should be, in greatest proportion, hymns or songs of praise about God, not about ourselves. We include, by way of example, songs reflecting on God’s creation, God’s dominion over the universe, God’s sending of his Son to participate our humanity, to suffer, and to die in our place, the resurrection of Christ, the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the freeness of God’s gift of eternal life, the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ, the future reign of Christ, the blessings and promises of God to His children, and the mercy, patience, love, fellowship, comfort, guidance and illumination that God has bestowed, and does bestow on us. The focus of worship should be God, not man.
b) The musicality of sacred music.
We believe that music can be divided into two general categories: 1) Participatory music, such as hymns that the average congregant can learn to sing; and 2) Performance music, such as Handle’s Messiah, for which the average congregant does not participate in song. Although we believe there is a genuine place for performance music in a worship service, we believe that most worship services should be comprised primarily of participatory music. We believe that participatory music must, by its very nature, have a meter, cadence, and musicality that is regular and fit for singing. We note that much “Christian music” of today leaves congregants staring mindlessly at a rock band in front of the assembly hall, occasionally mumbling a lyric. Whether this failure of worship is due to the volume of music, the arrangement and combination of instruments, or an irregular meter, cadence or syncopation of the music, we believe that music that cannot be sung enthusiastically and with musicality by congregants is unfit for participatory worship music.
c) Leadership in Christian Music
We believe that having a love of music, or a gift for music, does not qualify one to select, write, or arrange music for a worship service. We believe that pastors and Christian leaders have a duty to disciple Christian musicians, teaching them to evaluate the theology of music, its capacity to reinforce important truths or lessons from Scripture, and to perform music that speaks to truths of God, or truths of human experience in the framework of our relationship to God, and our responsibilities before Him. We further believe that Christian leaders should train musicians to evaluate the musicality of the songs they seek to perform, to distinguish performance music from participatory music, and to insure that participatory music is both theologically meaningful and genuinely singable. We believe that, by abdicating such responsibilities to baby Christians, pastors and Christian leaders have fostered within the church a musical culture in which shallow, meaningless, and/or un-singable music has become the staple of worship at far too many churches.
d) Deconstructionism, Post Modernism, and Sacred Music
We recognize that some modern musicians have produced music of sound theology and genuine musicality. Having affirmed this, we nevertheless note that much of the Sacred music which developed in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries stood on the foundation of the Reformation. With the belief that one must love the Lord with their mind as well as their spirit, we note that Gregorian chants were gradually abandoned for hymns having melodious but complex four-part contrapuntal harmony and theologically sound lyrics, thereby cultivating worship that was intellectually complex aesthetically rich, and theologically sound. We further note that the hymns of this tradition stood on the shoulders of men of profound musical gifts and discipline, such as
- Jesus, Joy of Man’s desiring
- My Heart Ever Faithful
- The Magnificat
George Fredric Handel
- The Messiah (Oratorio)
- I know that my Redeemer Liveth
Franz Joaeph Haydn
- The Creation (Oratorio)
- Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken (Lyrics by John Newton).
- St. Paul (Oratorio)
- Elijah (Oratorio)
- The Reformation Symphony
- Hark, the Harold Angles Sing (Hymn)
Ludwig Van Beethoven
- Ode to Joy From Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
While not limiting Christian music to the four part contrapuntal harmony that developed out of these traditions, we believe that it is foolish for any generation to completely turn their back on musical traditions that developed over centuries, and were laid on a foundation of musical giants, and, in most cases, theological excellence.
 This Haydn melody was the German National Anthem “Deutchland Uber Alles” prior to the rise of Adolph Hitler, but has been sullied by its oft remembered association with the Third Reich. Fortunately, the world’s Jewish community has never begrudged the church for retaining this melody as a cherished hymn, nor have any significant accusations of anti-Semitism ever raised against the church for retaining “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken” in western Christian hymnals.
 “A mighty Fortress Is Our God” forms the underlying theme of Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony.
It is doubtful that the inspiration of Beethoven’s Ninth was of Christian origin given that the original choral portion include “Joy beautiful spark of the gods, Daughter of Elysium.” Although Fredrich von Schiller is known to have written some of the lyrics of this symphony, Beethoven obviously had to approve them. Notwithstanding what appears to be less than Christian in its inspiration of the Ninth Symphony, the “Ode to Joy” is has long been sung as a triumphant Christian hymn, joining other great musical pieces as a center piece of Christian worship.