The most important thing to know about a church is its beliefs, its core commitments. They drive everything else. At Living Hope, the gospel lies at the center. That gospel is revealed to us in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. And that gospel functions in a context. The covenant and its community is that context. So, in short, the Bible is our authority. The gospel is our hope. And the covenant is the context for our life, growth and mutual support. For a fuller picture of what we believe about each (Bible, gospel and covenant), keep reading.
Who says …? And how are we to decide what’s true, or what’s right? Here’s where we stand.
- We believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the divinely inspired word of God and are therefore inerrant, infallible and absolutely and solely authoritative in all matters of faith and life.
- We believe that the Bible is complete and sufficient, and that all other forms of direct revelation have ceased.
- We believe that the scriptures are sufficiently clear, so that all that is necessary for salvation, faith and life can be understood by untrained people.
- Therefore, we believe that there is no need for additional sources of authority to interpret the Bible for the church. The church does not have authority over the scriptures. Rather, the self-authenticating scriptures have authority over the church.
- We believe that the Bible alone can be used to bind the consciences of men, and that the teachings of scripture must not be added to, nor subtracted from.
What’s the good news? After all, that’s what “gospel” means. What’s the Bible all about? The gospel can be stated as simply as “Call on the name of Jesus Christ and you will be saved” or, “Christ died for sinners.” And a full account of it would fill many volumes. But here’s something in between. These truths guide the ministry of Living Hope. We are “gospel-centered” in all that we do.
- We believe that God is eternal, perfect and sovereign, and that he exists as one God in three co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- We believe that God is holy, just and pure.
- We believe that God created man in his own image to reflect his glory and to enjoy him forever.
- Through Adam, however, man rebelled against his creator, and with his sin incurred the just penalty of eternal death, not only for himself, but for his posterity.
- We believe that the marvelous majesty and wonder of God is exhibited in his ability to maintain his holy justice and yet to save sinners, and that this is the core of the good news we share.
- The eternal Son of God humbled himself to take on human flesh, sharing all our infirmities, struggles and temptations. Jesus is our high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, and one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
- We believe that, as a second representative (like Adam), he lived a perfect and sinless life, and then laid down his life and took the penalty that our sins deserve.
- We believe that, through faith in Christ Jesus’ finished work, we not only have the benefits of his death applied to our account, so that we are no longer liable to punishment for our (or Adam’s) sin, we also believe that we have the benefits of his life applied to our account, so that we do not stand before the Lord as innocent, but as righteous.
- We believe that our salvation is all God’s doing, from beginning to end.
- We believe that God not only chose a covenant people, but he also elected some individuals to salvation.
- We believe that Jesus lived and died with a view to saving the elect particularly.
- We believe that the Holy Spirit will lead all those whom Jesus redeemed to hear and believe on Jesus alone for salvation.
- We believe that faith in the gospel is not a one-time event, but is a way of life. And we believe that this life-long faith is not only a requirement, but that it is a gift of God. And so, we believe that God is due all the glory for our redemption, and is greatly to be praised.’
- We believe that through faith in Christ alone believers are declared righteous before God, adopted as heirs of the kingdom, set apart for lives of holiness, becoming, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the righteous men and women that God has declared us to be, and that our life-long transformation will only be completed when Christ returns visibly and bodily to judge the living and the dead and to consummate the eternal kingdom of God.
- We believe that at death, the Christian soul passes immediately into the presence of God and the unbeliever’s soul is eternally separated from God unto condemnation.
- We believe that baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant, and is properly administered to children of believers in their infancy, as well as to those who come to trust in Jesus Christ as adults.
- We believe that all aspects of our lives are to be lived to the glory of God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
- We believe that the Christian life is ordinarily only lived out in the context of local churches.
The church is the covenant people of God. God has always interacted with men through covenants. And God has always associated signs and seals with his covenants.
Water baptism is a visual preaching of the gospel message, a picture and pledge of God’s covenant with his covenant people. This visual message of water baptism (i.e., the gospel) is true whether we believe it or not. As such, baptism is not primarily a human statement but a divine statement. That is, what water baptism communicates is not the faith of the recipient but the faithfulness of God to His covenant promises pictured in the baptism. The message of water baptism is that God will give spiritual life and cleansing to all who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. And yet, God’s covenant promises do belong to the recipients of baptism in a special way, a way in which they do not belong to the rest of the world. To use the language of Ephesians 2, the baptized is “no longer a stranger from the covenants of promise … [but] have been brought near by the blood of Christ”. However, just because a person is validly baptized and outwardly a member of the visible church doesn’t guarantee that person is saved. Only those who meet the terms of the message of baptism are saved. The obligations of the covenant, the terms of the gospel, are repentance and faith. While this is a gift of God, it is nevertheless a requirement on the part of men. When Christ returns in judgment, the true members of Christ’s church will be separated from the pretenders.
Whenever God establishes a covenant with men, he gives them signs and seals of his grace. Signs point the eye of faith toward God’s redemptive work. Seals guarantee the promise of the gospel. The promises is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” And that promise has God’s imprimatur in the seal he gives to His covenant community.
In the Old Testament, the sign and seal of inclusion into God’s covenant people was circumcision (Gen. 17:9-13; Rom 4:11). When Christ’s redemptive work was completed, the sign and seal changed. No longer did blood need to be shed, since that had been accomplished once for all. So the sign and seal of covenant membership was changed from circumcision to baptism (Col. 2:11-12). Circumcision had illustrated salvation coming specifically by a male descendant of Abraham –then Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David … an illustration ultimately fulfilled by Jesus. Whereas baptism illustrates that general outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon New Covenant believers, Jn.7:39; Act.1:5 & 2:17. So there is a shift in the recipients of the sign (girls now being marked as covenant members). Of course, there is no explicit reference to infant baptism, in the scriptures, but that is to be expected. It was the norm that infants were included in the congregation (Joel 2:15-16). And that continues to be the case under the New Covenant (as a comparison of Eph. 1:1 with Eph 6:1 shows … “children” are among the “saints” at Ephesus).
Paul gives us a clue to the significance of all this in 1Cor. 7.14. Children of believers are called “holy”, i.e., “set apart”. Set apart in the sense that they were members not of the pagan world but of God’s covenant community. They have been set apart in that the promises of the covenant belong to them as a birthright and are theirs to claim by faith.
Under the old covenant, God’s people were called a flock, a house and a nation. Lambs are members of the flock from birth, children are members of a household from birth, and children are members of a nation from birth. Interestingly, all three of these metaphors are still used to describe the people of God under the new covenant (John 10:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; Eph. 2:19; 3:15; Heb. 3:6; 1 Pet. 2:9). It seems these metaphors would have been abandoned and new ones found if the covenant children were no longer members of the covenant community.
Baptism is God’s picture and pledge of His covenant of grace. Baptism makes a person a part of God’s covenant community, and the covenant of grace belongs to God’s covenant community in a special way. But with the covenant comes an obligation to respond with repentance, faith and obedience. Only those who bear this fruit are members of the covenant in a true inner and spiritual sense.
What about the baptized covenant children who grow up and never meet the obligations of the covenant? The fact that some who are baptized will not be saved does not make the promise worthless. To paraphrase Paul, “What advantage has the Christian, or what is the profit of infant baptism? Much in every way!” (cf. Romans 3:1,2). Ultimately such covenant breakers are no different from the baptized adult professors who never meet the obligations of the covenant. Just because a person has a profession of faith that at some point in his life appears believable to us doesn’t mean that he is truly a believer in his heart of hearts. Again, to paraphrase the language of Paul, “For what if some do not believe? Does their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar” (cf. Romans 3:4).
Yet we have every reason to rejoice that God has made our children a part of His covenant community and that the benefits of the covenant belong to them in a special way. God has been sincerely and genuinely gracious to our children in a way not experienced by children raised outside the household of faith. We have every reason to expect them to come to faith, but we also have obligations to lead them to faith through instruction and by example.
While baptism is the sacrament of entry into the people of God, and is therefore not repeated, God gives us a regular sign, by which our faith is encouraged and strengthened, by which we are reminded again and again of our union with Christ. That repeated sign is the Lord’s Supper.
Like baptism, the message of the Supper is the gospel. It, too, is a visual depiction of the good news of our salvation. As in baptism, the benefits of the the Supper are only had through faith. And like baptism, the Supper is a community statement.
We celebrate the Supper in remembrance of Christ’s once-for-all, completely sufficient sacrifice. And, in the supper, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes. On the one hand, that is a repeated public profession of that sacrifice, and of our union with Christ. By that union, we have peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins and righteous standing before Him. And since we proclaim that together, we testify that we are united, all of equal standing with one another before the throne of grace. There is, therefore, no room for favoritism or pride.
We proclaim Christ’s death until he comes. In the Supper, we are reminded that Christ is coming back. The Supper is something of a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet we will enjoy with Christ forever in the age to come. We truly dine with Jesus in the Supper. He is with us by His Spirit as we eat and drink. And that presence is enjoyed by faith.
Baptism brings a person into the community of faith, and in the Lord’s Supper we remind one another of our identity and union in Christ. This union that we share is lived out as we interact with one another in community. Nobody is meant to walk the Christian life alone. We need one another. Nobody has the gift of self-sufficiency. There is no such gift. We are all members of one body with differing gifts, which we are to use for mutual edification. And so, by God’s grace, we ought to encourage one another, teach one another, correct one another, protect one another, provide for the needy among us, rejoice and weep with one another. In short, the Christian community expressed in the visible church is a community of love, of putting others before ourselves.