A personal note.
- The task of putting into words what a congregation believes, teaches and confesses is daunting and not a little bit scary. On the one hand, it presents the pastor with an awesome opportunity to bear witness to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to curious eyes and hearts that he otherwise would not be able to reach. On the other hand, there’s the fear of being misunderstood, saying too much or too little, or coming across as either condescending, naïve, uneducated, or judgmental.
- It is an honor to be trusted by the members of Zion Lutheran Church to publicly give witness to our faith in this forum. I hope that, as you read what follows, you will come to believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news that anyone could hear and that God’s grace exceeds all human expectations. SDG.
The short version of what we believe are the three historic creeds of the Christian Church: the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. We confess all the doctrines contained in these creeds to be true.
The importance of sound doctrine.
- The “Prophets” comprise the largest section of the Old Testament. They had a lot to say to God’s people. Chief among their messages was to warn God’s people against idolatry, or worshiping false gods. They also taught God’s people about the importance of forgiveness, holiness, grace and integrity. They spoke out against the abuses of those in power and the spiritual lethargy of the average Israelite. In other words, the Old Testament Prophets were almost obsessive in teaching sound doctrine.
- Fast forward to the New Testament and you can’t escape the teachings of Jesus. He warned his disciples against the “leaven” of the religious elites, that is, false doctrine and living. Romans is a book of doctrine. 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James, Jude, the Letters of John and Revelation are all written to combat false beliefs with sound doctrine.
- Historically, we know more about heresies that plagued the early church by what was written against them by the church than we do from those who advocated for them. The Nicene Creed was written, in part, as a reaction to false doctrine. The Protestant Reformation happened because of doctrinal disputes. The reason why there are so many denominations today is because of doctrine, what a church confesses.
- Scripture admonishes Christians to carefully weigh what they hear, cling to what is true and reject what is false.
- Those of us who believe salvation comes by grace through faith cannot underestimate the importance of getting the substance of that faith correct.
The centrality of Christ.
- The quote attributed to Luther: “cut the Scriptures anywhere and they will bleed Jesus” accurately summarizes what we believe about the centrality of Christ.
- The Old Testament promises Christ. The Gospels reveal what Jesus did. The book of Acts shows us the impact of Christ. The Epistles teach who Christ is and the significance of what he did. Revelation gives us a vision of what Christ has yet to do.
- While there are many, many passages of Scripture that proclaim Christ, I’ll use two of them here that have had an impact on me personally and powerfully proclaim the person and work of our Lord.
- Colossians 1:15-20; “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
- Hebrews 1:1-3; “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
The inerrancy of Scripture.
- We believe that God reveals himself through creation, reason and Scripture. Through creation and human reason, people can come to the conclusion that God exists (because either nothing created everything from nothing or something/someone created everything from nothing), that he is holy and powerful, eternal and sovereign. (Romans 1 speaks to this “Natural Revelation of God.”)
- But creation and human reason cannot arrive at the conclusion that God is merciful and loves us. This knowledge comes to us in Scripture. Scripture (the books of the Old and New Testament) reveals Christ to us, who is God in human form.
- It’s been my experience that you cannot prove (to a skeptic’s satisfaction) that the Bible contains no mistakes and is authoritative on all it addresses. However, when you enter the world of the Bible and trust that what is says is true (with an open mind), I think you’ll come to see that everything fits together with integrity. When you see the world through the lens of Scripture, no other way of looking at things makes sense.
- Those who question the historical accuracy of the Bible or the reliability of the ancient manuscripts we use to translate the Bible into English, should be careful to examine the agendas and presuppositions of the sources they are listening to.
Law and Gospel.
- One way of looking at Scripture is to divide it into two categories, Law and Gospel. If what you are reading is telling you to do something, it is Law; if it is telling you something God did, is doing, or will do for you, it is Gospel.
- The Law. The Law has three purposes:
- Curb—the Law keeps people in line, governs society, and prevents disorder in the civil realm.
- Mirror—the Law also has a spiritual purpose: it shows us our sin. The Law tells us that, if we are to be acceptable to God on our own, we need to be perfect. In Luther’s words: “the Law always accuses.”
- Guide—after the Law has shown us our sins and we repent and believe the Gospel, the Law serves to guide us in our walk with Christ.
- The Gospel.
- The Gospel is the best news that anyone could ever hear. The Gospel gives life, sets free, forgives and empowers. The Gospel is simply this: that God sent Jesus to bear our sin and be our savior, that forgiveness of sins and eternal life are free gifts of God—not things to be earned through a process of good works or intellectual decision—and that we have been accepted by God on account of Christ and have eternal life.
- When it comes to salvation (which will be defined shortly), there are two schools of thought: either salvation is a reward for performing any number of good works, or salvation is an undeserved gift.
- We believe that salvation is an underserved gift, earned by Jesus Christ, and meant for all people. We believe that by fully keeping God’s perfect Law, dying sacrificially for us on the cross, conquering death in his resurrection, and reigning over all creation until the end of the age, Jesus has earned the right to give salvation to all he chooses. And the good news is that he chooses everyone!
- So what is salvation? We believe that, in Christ, we have life now and will have it in the age to come. We believe that our sins have not only been forgiven, but that we have been set free from the control of the devil, the world and our sinful nature on account of Christ. Salvation isn’t just a “spiritual” thing; it is physical, mental and spiritual. We believe that when God looks at us, he does not see our sins, but rather sees only the perfection of his Son Jesus Christ.
- We believe that a “Sacrament” is when God attaches the promise of forgiveness of sins to a physical element. We believe that, according to Scripture, God has done this two times. Those two times are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
- Baptism. It’s hard to find another practice in the Christian church that has created more division than Baptism. It seems like every denomination, or even every Christian congregation, has a different understanding of Baptism. So here’s ours.
- We believe Christ commanded baptism to be done in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
- We believe Scripture never limits who may receive baptism, only that it is done with a view to teach “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
- We believe that God gives the gift of forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit in baptism, as Acts 2:38-40 says: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself’.”
- We believe that God connects us to Christ with the result that we will be raised from the dead like Christ was. In other words, we believe that baptism promises resurrection, as Romans 6:3-5 says: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
- We believe that, in baptism, we are clothed with Christ, so that when God looks at us, he does not see our sins but only the perfection of Christ, as Galatians 3:27 says: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
- Lastly, we believe that baptism saves us because it connects us to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and, therefore, to eternal life. 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
- The Lord’s Supper.
- We believe that, in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ gives us his body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, to strengthen our faith, and to give us an opportunity to proclaim his death until he comes.
- We believe that the Lord’s Supper is not necessary for salvation.
- We believe that only those Christians who can examine themselves and discern the Lord’s body in the Lord’s Supper should commune; we practice “close communion.” What this means is that we also believe the Lord’s Supper is a statement of Christian unity between those who commune together. Therefore, those who do not agree with (or do not know) what our church believes, teaches, and confesses, should wait to commune with us until after they have spoken to the pastor.
- We believe in the “real presence,” that is to say, that Christ himself is truly present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. We do not believe in “transubstantiation” or a “spiritual presence” only; we believe in the real presence of Christ.
- We believe that there is both a visible and invisible church.
- The Visible Church are those people gathered around God’s “means of grace,” that is, the Word of God and the Sacraments (such as during a Sunday morning worship service). In this visible church there are those who believe in Christ and those who do not. Membership in the visible church is not salvation.
- The Invisible Church are those people who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and lord. Members of this church can be found across the spectrum of Christian denominations. This church is not a building or an organization, it is spiritual and it is eternal.
- We believe that there is a church “militant” and a church “triumphant.”
- The Church Militant are those Christians who are living on earth. We call this church “militant” because it is engaged in spiritual warfare against the devil, sin and death.
- The Church Militant are those Christians who have died in the faith and are safe in heaven. We believe they are in the presence of Christ in a way that is different and better than how we enjoy his presence here on earth. Together with them, we look forward to the return of Christ at the end of the age. Which brings us to our next topic…
- Also called the “end of the age,” Judgment Day and the Apocalypse, the Parousia is the Christian’s answer to the questions: “what happens next?” and “how does it all end?”
- We maintain the traditional “A-Millennial” beliefs that Christ will return at a time known only by the Father to raise the dead and give eternal life to all who are his.
- We do not believe in the millennial (literal 1,000 year) political reign of Christ on earth. We do not believe in the rapture. Rather, we believe the end will come, as Christ and the apostles say, like a thief—without warning and at any time.
- We believe that when Christ comes, those who have died in him and those who believe in him on earth will live together with him in something Scripture calls the “new heavens and the new earth.” We believe that in the “new heavens and the new earth,” sin and the potential for sin will not exist; everything will be as it was designed to be: no death, no sadness, nor crying, no pain; eternal fellowship with God and each other.
- The return of Christ is our hope. As the last prayer found in the Bible says: “Amen, come Lord Jesus!”
- There’s a lot more to the Christian faith than what’s written here. We didn’t talk about things like hell, the role of clergy, the structure of ministry at Zion, our stance on different social and political issues, the role of women in the church, and our take on the beliefs and practices of other denominations or world religions (just to name a few). What’s written here are the basics of the faith we confess, a faith that has its beginning and end in Jesus Christ and that trusts in him, and him alone, for forgiveness, life and salvation.