Free Church Statement III: Holy Spirit and the Church

(Here are points 6&7 (out of 10)  This is the second-to-last segment of an explanation of the 10 points of the EFCA statement of faith.  Although Simple Free is not part of the EFCA, we do accept their statement of faith, which is why we are going through it…) 

Statement: The Holy Spirit

6. We believe that the Holy Spirit, in all that He does, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He convicts the world of its guilt. He regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God. He also indwells, illuminates, guides, equips and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service.

This point focuses on the third and in some ways most mysterious member of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, which means that their purposes are the same.  Once Christ went to heaven the Holy Spirit came not in physical form but upon the Christians at Pentecost, and has been since.  Here we see that the Holy Spirit does: convicts the world of guilt (Jesus said he would send a ‘helper’ to help us to understand things more clearly).  The Holy Spirit also regenerates sinners—so the Holy Spirit helps both in convicting us of sin and then also of helping heal and repair those parts of us that need regeneration.  The Holy Spirit indwells a Christian to illuminate and guide us, help us understand things more clearly, and also to help us to live our lives for Christ and as Christ would want. 

Statement: The Church

7. We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers. The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer.

The Church consists of everyone who has accepted the gracious work of Christ on the cross by faith.  The word catholic means universal.  When Catholic is spelled with a capital C it refers generally to the Roman Catholic Church which has the Pope as its head in Rome.  But there is a more generic sense in which all true believers in Christ from anyplace and any institution are part of the catholic (universal) Church.   In some sense this Church is invisible because it transcends denominational boundaries.  All these believers are united by the Holy Spirit, and their common attribute is their belief in grace by faith in Jesus. 

Many churches have three times as many members as they have people attending on Sunday.  In some churches it is almost assumed that if you are from a particular family you are a member of a church, and so, a Christian.  But Free Churches generally have a lot more attenders than members.  One reason for this is that only believers can be members.  For some churches, membership designates you as being ‘on your spiritual journey’ but Free Churches tend to reserve membership for those who are pretty established in their faith.  That is a significant difference, and possibly rooted in the fact that the Free Church movement started in European countries where there had been no separation of church and state.  So, for example, in Kierkegaard’s Denmark (Kirekegaard was a famous philosopher who died in the mid-1800s) to be Danish was to be Christian because to become a Danish citizen you had to be baptized into the Church by your 7th day after being born.  On such a model, all Danish Citizens are church members.  This, however, led to a certain deadness in the churches, all of which were state-run and organized.  So Christians sometimes found that their own priest wasn’t even really a true believer in the salvation of Christs work on the cross.  These Christians decided to form illegal house churches ‘free’ of state control so that they could worship with other true believers, instead of being in a state church which was more like a museum or state park service office than a real congregation of fellowship.  So to be a church member, you need to be a true Christian.  True believers united together across all times, places and denominations are what the true universal Church is, not one denomination or group. 

Two Ordinances: There are 7 sacraments in the Catholic Church.  I am not Catholic, but my understanding of the sacraments is that they are 7 means of grace to the believer which bring about closer union with God and avenues by which Jesus can more fully enter into their life.  So the sacraments are not just symbols, they are really means of grace.  If you don’t participate in them, you will not receive as much grace.  These sacraments for the Catholic church are Baptism, Eucharist, Confession/Pennance, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick.  The Anglican tradition (Church of England, which is protestant, but still a lot like the Catholic Church) acknowledges all these 7 practices as good, but calls only two of them sacraments—baptism and eucharist.  The Free Church does acknowledge the importance of Baptism and Eurcharist but doesn’t call them sacraments.  These things are good, and they can be very beneficial, but the Free Church doesn’t think that when you do these acts that you receive some special grace over and above someone else.  They see these things to be symbolic—baptism symbolizes my death to self and resurrection to new life in Christ, and communion when you take the bread and wine is a commemoration to help remind us of what Christ did for us.  Since Christ did get baptized and he was the one who started ‘the last supper’ it is said that he ‘ordained’ these practices (he didn’t get married or confirmed, or specifically command any of the other ‘sacraments’).  These ordinances are good and important and useful.  But they don’t convey special grace to the believer which aids in their salvation.

May God have mercy on us all.

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