The Treasuring Christ Together Network Affirmation of Faith
This affirmation is also titled the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith (PDF; includes footnotes).
1. Scripture, the Word of God Written
1.1 We believe that the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God,1 and without error2 in the original manuscripts.
1.2 We believe that God‘s intentions, revealed in the Bible, are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.
1.3 We believe God‘s intentions are revealed through the intentions of inspired human authors, even when the authors‘ intention was to express divine meaning of which they were not fully aware, as, for example, in the case of some Old Testament prophecies.3 Thus the meaning of Biblical texts is a fixed historical reality, rooted in the historical, unchangeable intentions of its divine and human authors. However, while meaning does not change, the application of that meaning may change in various situations. Nevertheless it is not legitimate to infer a meaning from a Biblical text that is not demonstrably carried by the words which God inspired.4
1.4 Therefore, the process of discovering the intention of God in the Bible (which is its fullest meaning) is a humble and careful effort to find in the language of Scripture what the human authors intended to communicate. Limited abilities, traditional biases, personal sin, and cultural assumptions often obscure Biblical texts. Therefore the work of the Holy Spirit is essential for right understanding of the Bible,5 and prayer for His assistance belongs to a proper effort to understand and apply God‘s Word.6
2. The Trinity, One God as Three Persons
2.1 We believe in one7 living,8 sovereign,9 and all-glorious10 God, eternally existing in three11 infinitely excellent and admirable Persons: God the Father,12 fountain of all being;13 God the Son,14 eternally begotten,15 not made, without beginning,16 being of one essence17 with the Father; and God the Holy Spirit, proceeding in the full, divine essence,18 as a Person,19eternally from the Father and the Son. Thus each Person in the Godhead is fully and completely God.
2.2 We believe that God is supremely joyful20 in the fellowship of the Trinity, each Person beholding and expressing His eternal and unsurpassed delight in the all-satisfying perfections of the triune God.
3. God’s Eternal Purpose and Election
3.1 We believe that God, from all eternity,21 in order to display the full extent of His glory22 for the eternal and ever-increasing enjoyment23 of all who love Him,24 did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His will,25 freely and unchangeably26 ordain27 and foreknow28 whatever comes to pass.
3.2 We believe that God upholds and governs all things – from galaxies29 to subatomic particles,30 from the forces of nature31 to the movements of nations,32 and from the public plans of politicians33 to the secret acts of solitary persons34 – all in accord with His eternal, all-wise35 purposes to glorify Himself, yet in such a way that He never sins,36 nor ever condemns a person unjustly;37 but that His ordaining and governing all things is compatible with the moral accountability38 of all persons created in His image.
3.3 We believe that God‘s election is an unconditional39 act of free grace40which was given through His Son Christ Jesus before the world began.41 By this act God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin42 and brought to repentance43 and saving faith44 in His Son Christ Jesus.
4. God’s Creation of the Universe and Man
4.1 We believe that God created the universe,45 and everything in it,46 out of nothing,47 by the Word of His power. Having no deficiency in Himself, nor moved by any incompleteness in His joyful self-sufficiency,48 God was pleased in creation to display His glory49 for the everlasting joy50 of the redeemed, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.51
4.2 We believe that God directly created Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from his side. We believe that Adam and Eve were the historical parents of the entire human race; 52 that they were created male and female equally in the image of God,53 without sin;54 that they were created to glorify55 their Maker, Ruler, Provider, and Friend by trusting His all-sufficient goodness, admiring His infinite beauty, enjoying His personal fellowship, and obeying His all-wise counsel; and that, in God‘s love and wisdom, they were appointed differing and complementary roles in marriage as a type of Christ and the church.56
5. Man’s Sin and Fall from Fellowship with God
5.1 We believe that, although God created man morally upright, he was led astray from God‘s Word and wisdom by the subtlety of Satan‘s deceit,57 and chose to take what was forbidden,58 and thus declare his independence from, distrust for, and disobedience toward his all-good and gracious Creator. Thus, our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original innocence and communion with God.59
5.2 We believe that, as the head of the human race, Adam‘s fall became the fall of all his posterity, in such a way that corruption, guilt, death, and condemnation belong properly to every person.60 All persons are thus corrupt by nature,61 enslaved to sin,62 and morally unable63 to delight in God and overcome their own proud preference for the fleeting pleasures of self-rule.
5.3 We believe God has subjected the creation to futility,64 and the entire human family is made justly liable to untold miseries of sickness,65 decay,66calamity,67 and loss.68 Thus all the adversity and suffering in the world is an echo and a witness of the exceedingly great evil of moral depravity in the heart of mankind; and every new day of life is a God-given, merciful reprieve from imminent judgment, pointing to repentance.69
6. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God
6.1 We believe that in the fullness of time70 God sent forth His eternal Son as Jesus the Messiah,71 conceived by the Holy Spirit,72 born of the virgin Mary.73 We believe that, when the eternal Son became flesh,74 He took on a fully human nature,75 so that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one Person, without confusion or mixture. Thus the Person, Jesus Christ, was and is truly God76 and truly man,77 yet one Christ and the only Mediator between God and man.78
6.2 We believe that Jesus Christ lived without sin, though He endured the common infirmities and temptations of human life.79 He preached and taught with truth and authority unparalleled in human history.80 He worked miracles, demonstrating His divine right and power over all creation: dispatching demons,81 healing the sick,82 raising the dead,83 stilling the storm,84 walking on water,85 multiplying loaves,86 and foreknowing what would befall Him and His disciples,87 including the betrayal of Judas88 and the denial, restoration, and eventual martyrdom of Peter.89
6.3 We believe that His life was governed by His Father‘s providence with a view to fulfilling all Old Testament prophecies concerning the One who was to come,90 such as the Seed of the woman,91 the Prophet like Moses,92 the Priest after the order of Melchizedek,93 the Son of David,94 and the Suffering Servant95
6.4 We believe that Jesus Christ suffered voluntarily96 in fulfillment of God‘s redemptive plan,97 that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate,98 that He died,99 was buried100 and on the third day rose from the dead101 to vindicate the saving work of His life and death102 and to take His place as the invincible, everlasting Lord of glory.103 During forty days after His resurrection, He gave many compelling evidences of His bodily resurrection104 and then ascended bodily into heaven,105 where He is seated at the right hand of the Father,106 interceding for His people107 on the basis of His all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, and reigning until He puts all His enemies under His feet.108
7. The Saving Work of Christ
7.1 We believe that by His perfect obedience to God109 and by His suffering and death110 as the immaculate Lamb of God,111 Jesus Christ obtained forgiveness of sins112 and the gift of perfect righteousness113 for all who trusted in God prior to the cross114 and all who would trust in Christ thereafter.115 Through living a perfect life and dying in our place, the just for the unjust, Christ absorbed our punishment,116 appeased the wrath of God against us,117 vindicated the righteousness of God in our justification,118 and removed the condemnation of the law against us.119
7.2 We believe that the atonement of Christ for sin warrants and impels a universal offering of the gospel to all persons, so that to every person it may be truly said, ―God gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.120 Whosoever will may come121for cleansing at this fountain, and whoever does come, Jesus will not cast out.122
7.3 We believe, moreover, that the death of Christ did obtain more than the bona fide offer of the gospel for all; it also obtained the omnipotent New Covenant123 mercy of repentance124 and faith125 for God‘s elect. Christ died for all, but not for all in the same way. In His death, Christ expressed a special covenant love to His friends,126 His sheep,127 His bride.128 For them He obtained the infallible and effectual working of the Spirit to triumph over their resistance and bring them to saving faith.129
8. The Saving Work of the Holy Spirit
8.1 We believe that the Holy Spirit has always been at work in the world, sharing in the work of creation,130 awakening faith in the remnant of God‘s people,131 performing signs and wonders,132 giving triumphs in battle,133empowering the preaching of prophets134 and inspiring the writing of Scripture.135 Yet, when Christ had made atonement for sin, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, He inaugurated a new era of the Spirit by pouring out the promise of the Father on His Church.136
8.2 We believe that the newness of this era is marked by the unprecedented mission of the Spirit to glorify the crucified and risen Christ.137 This He does by giving the disciples of Jesus greater power to preach the gospel of the glory of Christ,138 by opening the hearts of hearers that they might see Christ and believe,139 by revealing the beauty of Christ in His Word and transforming His people from glory to glory,140 by manifesting Himself in spiritual gifts (being sovereignly free to dispense, as he wills, all the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10) for the upbuilding of the body of Christ141 and the confirmation of His Word,142 by calling all the nations into the sway of the gospel of Christ,143 and, in all this, thus fulfilling the New Covenant promise to create and preserve a purified people144 for the everlasting habitation of God.145
8.3 We believe that, apart from the effectual work of the Spirit, no one would come to faith,146 because all are dead in trespasses and sins;147 that they are hostile to God, and morally unable to submit to God or please Him,148because the pleasures of sin appear greater than the pleasures of God.149Thus, for God‘s elect, the Spirit triumphs over all resistance,150 wakens the dead,151 removes blindness,152 and manifests Christ in such a compellingly beautiful way through the Gospel that He becomes irresistibly attractive to the regenerate heart.
8.4 We believe the Holy Spirit does this saving work in connection with the presentation of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.153 Thus neither the work of the Father in election, nor the work of the Son in atonement, nor the work of the Spirit in regeneration is a hindrance or discouragement to the proclamation of the gospel to all peoples and persons everywhere. On the contrary, this divine saving work of the Trinity is the warrant and the ground of our hope that our evangelization is not in vain in the Lord. The Spirit binds His saving work to the gospel of Christ, because His aim is to glorify the Christ of the Gospel.154 Therefore we do not believe that there is salvation through any other means than through receiving the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit,155 except that infants and people with severe intellectual disabilities with minds physically incapable of comprehending the gospel may be saved.156
9. The Justifying Act of God
9.1 We believe that in a free act of righteous grace God justifies the ungodly by faith alone apart from works,157 pardoning their sins,158 and reckoning them as righteous and acceptable in His presence.159 Faith is thus the sole instrument160 by which we, as sinners, are united to Christ, whose perfect righteousness and satisfaction for sins is alone the ground of our acceptance with God.161 This acceptance happens fully and permanently at the first instant of justification.162 Thus the righteousness by which we come into right standing with God is not anything worked in us by God, neither imparted to us at baptism nor over time, but rather is accomplished for us, outside ourselves, and is imputed to us.
9.2 We believe, nevertheless, that the faith, which alone receives the gift of justification, does not remain alone in the person so justified, but produces, by the Holy Spirit,163 the fruit of love164 and leads necessarily to sanctification.165 This necessary relation between justifying faith and the fruit of good works gives rise to some Biblical expressions which seem to make works the ground or means of justification,166 but in fact simply express the crucial truth that faith that does not yield the fruit of good works is dead, being no true faith.167
10. God’s Work in Faith and Sanctification
10.1 We believe that justification and sanctification are both brought about by God through faith,168 but not in the same way. Justification is an act of God‘s imputing and reckoning;169 sanctification is an act of God‘s imparting and transforming.170 Thus the function of faith in regard to each is different. In regard to justification, faith is not the channel through which power or transformation flows to the soul of the believer, but rather faith is the occasion of God‘s forgiving, acquitting, and reckoning as righteous.171But in regard to sanctification, faith is indeed the channel through which divine power and transformation flow to the soul;172 and the sanctifying work of God through faith does indeed touch the soul and change it into the likeness of Christ.
10.2 We believe that the reason justifying faith necessarily sanctifies in this way is fourfold:
First, justifying faith is a persevering, that is, continuing, kind of faith.173 Even though we are justified at the first instant of saving faith,174 yet this faith justifies only because it is the kind of faith that will surely persevere. The extension of this faith into the future is, as it were, contained in the first seed of faith, as the oak in the acorn. Thus the moral effects175 of persevering faith may be rightly described as the effects of justifying faith.
Second, we believe that justifying faith trusts in Christ not only for the gift of imputed righteousness and the forgiveness of sins,176 but also for the fulfillment of all His promises to us based on that reconciliation. 177 Justifying faith magnifies the finished work of Christ’s atonement, by resting securely in all the promises of God obtained and guaranteed by that all-sufficient work.178
Third, we believe that justifying faith embraces Christ in all His roles:179 Creator,180 Sustainer,181 Savior,182 Teacher,183 Guide,184Comforter,185 Helper,186 Friend,187 Advocate,188 Protector,189 and Lord.190 Justifying faith does not divide Christ, accepting part of Him and rejecting the rest. All of Christ is embraced by justifying faith, even before we are fully aware of, or fully understand, all that He will be for us. As more of Christ is truly revealed to us in His Word, genuine faith recognizes Christ and embraces Him more fully.191
Fourth, we believe that this embracing of all of Christ is not a mere intellectual assent, or a mere decision of the will, but is also a heartfelt, Spirit-given (yet imperfect) satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus.192 Therefore, the change of mind and heart that turns from the moral ugliness and danger of sin, and is sometimes called “repentance,”193 is included in the very nature of saving faith.
10.3 We believe that this persevering, future-oriented, Christ-embracing, heart-satisfying faith is life-transforming,
194 and therefore renders intelligible the teaching of the Scripture that final salvation in the age to come depends on the transformation of life,195 and yet does not contradict justification by faith alone. The faith which alone justifies, cannot remain alone, but works through love.196
10.4 We believe that this simple, powerful reality of justifying faith is God‘s gift197 which He gives unconditionally in accord with God‘s electing love,198 so that no one can boast in himself,199 but only give all glory to God for every part of salvation.200 We believe that the Holy Spirit is the decisive agent in this life-transformation, but that He is supplied to us and works holiness in us though our daily faith in the Son of God201 whose trustworthiness He loves to glorify.202
10.5 We believe that the sanctification, which comes by the Spirit through faith,203 is imperfect and incomplete in this life.204 Although slavery to sin is broken,205 and sinful desires are progressively206 weakened by the power of a superior satisfaction in the glory of Christ, yet there remain remnants of corruption in every heart that give rise to irreconcilable war,207 and call for vigilance in the lifelong fight of faith.208
10.6 We believe that all who are justified will win this fight. They will persevere in faith and never surrender to the enemy of their souls.209 This perseverance is the promise of the New Covenant,210 obtained by the blood of Christ,211 and worked in us by God Himself,212 yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance;213 so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight,214 but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me.215
11. Living God’s Word by Meditation and Prayer
11.1 We believe that faith is awakened and sustained by God‘s Spirit216through His Word217 and prayer.218 The good fight of faith is fought mainly by meditating on the Scriptures219 and praying220 that God would apply them to our souls.
11.2 We believe that the promises of God recorded in the Scriptures are suited to save us from the deception of sin by displaying for us, and holding out to us, superior pleasures in the protection, provision, and presence of God.221 Therefore, reading,222 understanding,223 pondering,224memorizing,225 and savoring226 the promises of all that God will be for us in Jesus are primary means of the Holy Spirit to break the power of sin‘s deceitful promises in our lives. Therefore it is needful that we give ourselves to such meditation day and night.227
11.3 We believe that God has ordained to bless228 and use229 His people for His glory through the means of prayer, offered in Jesus’230 name by faith.231All prayer should seek ultimately that God‘s name be hallowed, and that His kingdom come, and that His will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.232God‘s sovereignty over all things is not a hindrance to prayer, but a reason for hope that our prayers will succeed.233
11.4 We believe that prayer is the indispensable handmaid of meditation, as we cry out to God for the inclination to turn from the world to the Word, 234and for the spiritual ability to see the glory of God in His testimonies,235 and for a soul-satisfying sight of the love of God,236 and for strength in the inner man to do the will of God.237 By prayer God sanctifies His people,238 sends gospel laborers into the world,239 and causes the Word of God to spread and triumph over Satan and unbelief.240
12. Christ’s Church and Her Ordinances
12.1 We believe in the one universal Church, composed of all those, in every time and place, who are chosen in Christ and united to Him through faith by the Spirit in one Body, with Christ Himself as the all-supplying, all-sustaining, all-supreme, and all-authoritative Head.241 We believe that the ultimate purpose of the Church is to glorify God242 in the everlasting and ever-increasing gladness of worship.243
12.2 We believe it is God‘s will that the universal Church find expression in local churches244 in which believers agree together to hear the Word of God proclaimed,245 to engage in corporate worship,246 to practice the ordinances of baptism247 and the Lord‘s Supper,248 to build each other‘s faith through the manifold ministries of love,249 to hold each other accountable in the obedience of faith through Biblical discipline,250 and to engage in local and world evangelization.251 The Church is a body in which each member should find a suitable ministry for His gifts;252 it is the household of God in which the Spirit dwells;253 it is the pillar and bulwark of God‘s truth in a truth-denying world;254 and it is a city set on a hill so that men may see the light of its good deeds—especially to the poor255—and give glory to the Father in heaven.256
12.3 We believe that baptism is an ordinance of the Lord by which those who have repented and come to faith257 express their union with Christ258in His death and resurrection,259 by being immersed in water260 in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.261 It is a sign of belonging to the new people of God, the true Israel,262 and an emblem of burial263 and cleansing,264 signifying death to the old life of unbelief, and purification from the pollution of sin.
12.4 We believe that the Lord‘s Supper is an ordinance of the Lord265 in which gathered believers266 eat bread, signifying Christ‘s body given for His people, and drink the cup of the Lord, signifying the New Covenant in Christ‘s blood.267 We do this in remembrance of the Lord, and thus proclaim His death until He comes. Those who eat and drink in a worthy manner partake of Christ‘s body and blood, not physically, but spiritually, in that, by faith, they are nourished with the benefits He obtained through His death, and thus grow in grace.268
12.5 We believe that each local church should recognize and affirm the divine calling of spiritually qualified men to give leadership to the church through the role of pastor-elder in the ministry of the Word and prayer. Women are not to fill the role of pastor-elder in the local church, but are encouraged to use their gifts in appropriate roles that edify the body of Christ and spread the gospel. 269
13. Christ’s Commission to Make Disciples of All Nations
We believe that the commission given by the Lord Jesus to make disciples of all nations is binding on His Church to the end of the age.270 This task is to proclaim the Gospel to every tribe and tongue and people and nation,271baptizing them, teaching them the words and ways of the Lord,272 and gathering them into churches273 able to fulfill their Christian calling among their own people. The ultimate aim of world missions is that God would create, by His Word, worshippers who glorify His name through glad-hearted faith and obedience.274 Missions exists because worship doesn‘t. When the time of ingathering is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and the goal of missions.
14. Death, Resurrection, and the Coming of the Lord
14.1 We believe that when Christians die they are made perfect in holiness,275 are received into paradise,276 and are taken consciously into the presence of Christ, which is more glorious and more satisfying than any experience on earth.277
14.2 We believe in the blessed hope278 that at the end of the age Jesus Christ will return to this earth personally,279 visibly,280 physically,281 and suddenly282 in power and great glory;283 and that He will gather His elect,284 raise the dead,285 judge the nations, and establish His kingdom.286We believe that the righteous will enter into the everlasting joy of their Master,287 and those who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness288 will be consigned to everlasting conscious misery.289
14.3 We believe that the end of all things in this age will be the beginning of a never-ending, ever-increasing happiness in the hearts of the redeemed, as God displays more and more of His infinite and inexhaustible greatness and glory for the enjoyment of His people.290
15. The Spirit of This Affirmation and the Unity of the Church
15.1 We do not believe that all things in this affirmation of faith are of equal weight, some being more essential, some less. We do not believe that every part of this affirmation must be believed in order for one to be saved.
15.2 Our aim is not to discover how little can be believed, but rather to embrace and teach ―the whole counsel of God291 Our aim is to encourage a hearty adherence to the Bible, the fullness of its truth,292 and the glory of its Author. We believe Biblical doctrine stabilizes saints in the winds of confusion293 and strengthens the church in her mission to meet the great systems of false religion and secularism. We believe that the supreme virtue of love is nourished by the strong meat of God-centered doctrine.294 And we believe that a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ is sustained in an atmosphere of deep and joyful knowledge of God and His wonderful works.295
15.3 We believe that the cause of unity in the church296 is best served, not by finding the lowest common denominator of doctrine, around which all can gather, but by elevating the value of truth, stating the doctrinal parameters of church or school or mission or ministry, seeking the unity that comes from the truth, and then demonstrating to the world how Christians can love each other297 across boundaries rather than by removing boundaries. In this way, the importance of truth is served by the existence of doctrinal borders, and unity is served by the way we love others across those borders.
15.4 We do not claim infallibility for this affirmation and are open to refinement and correction from Scripture.298 Yet we do hold firmly to these truths as we see them and call on others to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.299 As conversation and debate take place, it may be that we will learn from each other, and the boundaries will be adjusted, even possibly folding formerly disagreeing groups into closer fellowship.