As those particularly called to teach and defend the faith, these are to be held to by elders and changed only with the consent of all elders, but never if there is only one. If a new elder is being appointed these distinctives may therefore be changed to suit him if the elders in place agree and the changes explained to the congregation before they vote on the appointment. Although these are not essentials of salvation, agreement on these things amongst the elders is important if their ongoing pastoral care is to be consistent and God’s people not confused. Others who teach in a formal way within the church are not required to believe these truths (although we would urge them to), but must be careful not to contradict them.
These paragraphs touch on some areas in which Christians differ, including members of Grace Church. So, if you would like to think on or discuss them further, please do not hesitate to contact Jon. The three statements of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) on gospel unity, women in ministry, and same-sex marriage are also held to by the elders, and are to some extent incorporated in these paragraphs. But they can be read in full here.
Grace Church is governed according to the following convictions:
1.THE BIBLE : God has revealed himself in the Bible, which consists of the Old and New Testaments alone. As originally given it is in its entirety the Word of God, and therefore without error and fully reliable, speaking with final authority on all matters of belief and practice to every generation.
2. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD : God’s chief end in all things is his own glory, and to this end he ordains whatever comes to pass, yet in such a way that he cannot be charged with sin nor can we be absolved of responsibility. For the sake of his glory he has chosen his elect irrespective of any faith or merit foreseen in them, sent his Son to die for them, and by his Holy Spirit ensures that they believe and are kept to eternal life.
3. CHILDREN & BAPTISM : God entered into a covenant of grace with humanity, administered in various ways through salvation history. In it he promises to be God not just to adults with faith, but to their children, treating them as set apart and intending them to be raised as inheritors of his promises and so as godly and faithful to Christ. We therefore stress the importance of parents passing the faith onto their children, but hold a dual policy on baptism, in which the differing convictions on whether infants or only those with conscious faith should be baptised are respected. For this reason, we welcome those of either view as members, deacons and elders, seeking to ensure both views are taught and considered, and baptism carried out according to the conscience of the parties involved. To this end, where possible we seek to ensure that we have at least one elder of each position, but are careful not to appoint an elder for this reason if not fully qualified to be an elder.
4. CHILDREN & MEMBERSHIP : From the days of Jesus the transition of children into spiritual responsibility has been marked around the age of twelve. Younger children of church members are nevertheless considered true members of the church on account of their parent’s faith. However, we do not normally consider them of sufficient maturity to own that faith independently or partake of the Lord’s Supper worthily. It is on reaching secondary school age that those considered of sufficient maturity can therefore be accepted into communicant membership as adults are. This is termed ‘confirmation’ for those previously baptized, and should be accompanied by baptism for those who haven’t been. These children are then expected to attend and take full part in church services and in the decision-making processes of the church. If child members have not been accepted as communicant members by the time they turn sixteen, an elder will talk with them to clarify their beliefs and urge them towards saving faith.
5. REQUIREMENTS FOR MEMBERSHIP : Reserving membership only to those who seem believers is critical if the unity, godliness and witness of the church is to be maintained and decisions made by the members that accord with God’s word and priorities. Nevertheless, heeding Jesus caution over pulling up the wheat with the chaff and following the example of the New Testament we require no more for full membership than that an individual is committed to our life together, has been baptised and confesses that in their hearts they continue to believe and hold to the essentials of Christian belief and behaviour summed up in the Apostles Creed and their baptismal commitments, and in a manner that does not contradict our doctrinal basis. When someone seeks to become a member of the church, these things are clarified in a conversation with one of the elders. If there is no good reason to doubt the genuineness of their faith, he then commends them to the church and welcomes them publicly in a service.
6. THE LORD’S SUPPER : Patterned on the Passover meal, the Lord’s Supper, or communion, is a joyous time in which Christians remember their redemption through Christ’s death and partake of it again as they are moved to look to Christ in heaven with faith. For this reason, only true believers should receive the bread and the wine, and those in known sin and unbelief urged to abstain for their own spiritual good. All are therefore welcome to join us for the Lord’s Supper who are baptized, of appropriate age, sincerely believe the Apostles’ Creed, and who call on Christ as Saviour and submit to him as Lord. Except in exceptional circumstances, regular attendees should also be members if they share with us in the Lord’s Supper.
7. CHURCH DISCIPLINE : We seek to be faithful to God’s command to ensure that no bitter root grows up in our midst to cause trouble or defile many (Hebrews 12:15). Where someone therefore consistently rejects one of our essentials of belief or behaviour and, having been given sufficient time for repentance, will not listen to the concerns of the church, church discipline is to be lovingly exercised as outlined in our statement on discipline. This stems not from judgementalism, but out of a care for the individual’s soul, the witness of the church to the world, and the impact such compromise can have on the wider congregation. In a relativistic age when truth and virtue are trivialized this is all the more important.
8. CHURCH GOVERNMENT : The organization of God’s church above the individual congregation is unclear and may be decided upon according to wisdom and effectiveness. Likewise, the degree to which members are involved in decision-making beyond matters of discipline and the appointment of elders is undefined. However, these things should not compromise the autonomy and self-governance of the local congregation for which the consistent pattern of scripture commends, a plurality of elders or pastors to oversee its work and increase and shepherd its members through the word, with deacons appointed to manage and carry the official burden of others ministries.
9. THE ROLES OF ELDERS, DEACONS AND TEACHERS : The New Testament affirms elders and deacons as the only two formal offices within the church. The interchangeable use of elder, overseer (i.e. Bishop) and pastor suggests that they are the same role, with the terms emphasising their status, role and ministry respectfully. The elder is to fulfil the qualifications of Titus 1, be respected, and to oversee the welfare of the church and its members, particularly as the spiritual shepherd of people’s souls. This entails leading, setting a godly example to and praying for the flock, but primarily feeding them through the teaching of the word, and with that same word driving off wolves, strengthening the weak, caring for the sick, recovering those that stray and gathering new sheep to the flock through the work of evangelism. The title ‘deacon’ means servant. All members are to serve in some way, however deacons are those with more formal roles by which they carry the burden of other ministries in order to free the elders up for their task. Elders, deacons and any acknowledged as evangelists or teachers are to hold firmly to the faith and so must believe our doctrinal basis wholeheartedly. Those involved in teaching must also teach in a manner that does not contradict our position paragraphs, whereas elders must also agree with them.
10. THE ROLES OF MEN AND WOMEN : God created man according to only two unchangeable genders - as male or female, both equal in dignity and worth. In order to picture his own relationship with his people, he gave them differing roles in which men are to provide loving Christ-like servant leadership and authority as heads of their families, and women are to willingly respect and submit by honouring and affirming the leadership of their husbands, whilst embracing the unique role the Lord gives them if he calls them to be mothers. God exclusively calls spiritual, gifted men as elders to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership and authoritative teaching in the family of the church. He also calls the rest of the church, both men and women, to submit by honouring and affirming the leadership and teaching of the elders and to embrace the various other ministries available to both men and women in the service of Christ.
11. THE MIRACULOUS GIFTS : There was a distinctiveness to the offices of apostle and prophet in the first century. Their foundational work of revealing doctrinal or ethical truth has ceased, and so we cannot assume the same prevalence of the miraculous gifts that testified to it. Nevertheless, we should not limit the degree to which God may manifest similar gifts according to his sovereign will, nor his freedom to grant more circumstantial prophetic insights or leadings to his people on occasion. We therefore believe that the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are valid for today and should be "earnestly desired" (1 Corinthians 14:1) for the edification of the church and the spread of the gospel. However, we are concerned at the treating of mere feelings, impressions and imaginings as clear words from God rather than just his possible and uncertain leading. According to good order, all claims to have received guidance from God for others or the church should therefore be submitted to the weighing of the elders and their subsequent decision as to their validity and use.
12. THE DAY OF THE LORD : Although we are no longer under law, its principles are now written on our hearts and so remain a guide for life when understood in the light of Christ. They are to be followed not so much out of duty as delight. We therefore seek to uphold Sunday as the day of the Lord, joyfully relegating other commitments in order to meet together each week for teaching and worship, and where possible, to rest from work in order to meditate upon the Lord with our families and enjoy the things of his creation. Where Sunday cannot be taken for such rest, we desire to take another day on the pattern commended to us by creation. This is God’s good provision for us and our families.
13. HISTORY AND WORSHIP : We acknowledge God’s oversight of his church throughout history and seek to express our continuity with it by respecting, learning from and sometimes utilising the practices, forms and thought of the historic church so far as they are consistent with scripture and edifying to the congregation. However, we are careful not to so in a manner that suggests anything is necessary to true worship unless scripture says that it is.
14. SCRIPTURE IN WORSHIP : We are convinced that God speaks to us today through his word in scripture, and that a particular work of the Spirit is to raise up preachers, keep us attentive to what they teach, grant us understanding and move us to respond in heartfelt faith and obedience. For our normal teaching in services we are therefore committed to expository preaching through books as God has given them and with reliance on the Spirit, whilst teaching topically as need arises to impart a more systematic understanding. Moreover, we seek to foster a high use of scripture in the leading of services, in the songs chosen, in readings, the use of any media, in the saying of responses and in set or spontaneous prayers as is deemed appropriate.
15. CHURCH UNITY : Believers are spiritually united with all genuine believers and this is to be expressed to the world. However, this does not require organizational or operational unity. Rather it is displayed in loving and supportive relationships between individuals and local churches. Recognizing that the New Testament makes a charitable assumption that those in churches with even a confused grasp of the gospel are Christians, we are committed to treating as brothers or sisters in Christ all who affirm the Apostles’ Creed and give no good reason to doubt the sincerity of their repentance and faith. Moreover, we will join with them in worship where it is felt fitting. However, as God’s word is his means of saving and sanctifying his people, we are unable to commend or support churches or outreach whose local leadership cannot affirm one of the well-known evangelical statements of faith.
16. OTHER BELIEFS AND RELIGIONS : All people suppress the truth of God that is evident within creation, and so are without excuse for failing to worship him rightly. People cannot therefore be saved by adhering to the teachings or practices of non-Christian sects, religions, spiritualities or philosophies, as they reflect this same suppression and so distort and obscure the truth. Indeed, although we cannot assert that in his sovereign mercy God may never save those with a lesser grasp of the gospel, salvation is received with certainty only through conscious repentant faith in Christ that clearly accepts and trusts in his death, resurrection and Lordship. It is for this reason that we are called and joyfully desire to take the gospel to all.
17. ENGAGEMENT WITH THE WORLD : It is also the joyful obligation of every Christian to seek to apply the scriptures to every sphere of their lives, and their privilege and duty to pursue a vocation in this world that employs their gifts to the glory of God, and for the good of their family, congregation, community and world. Moreover, as God brings opportunity, they are to use those gifts particularly for those who are in need and to speak up for the oppressed. In all this they are to continue to engage in evangelism, being ready to confess that Christ is Lord and give an answer for the hope that they have. In short, every Christian is called both to display godliness in the world and declare the gospel to the world.
18. MARRIAGE, DIVORCE AND COHABITATION : Marriage is to be between one man and one woman, a solemn, public and lifelong covenant of exclusive faithfulness to one-another, that is dissolved at death and can only be otherwise dissolved where one partner has committed adultery, or where one deserts the other by leaving, or by forcing separation through putting their spouse or children in danger. Only in such circumstances are divorce and remarriage permissible, although reconciliation should be sort if at all possible and remaining single considered. Sex outside of marriage not only disobeys God’s will but is foolish because it ignores the protection God provides. However, those in committed cohabiting relationships may conform more closely to the biblical ideal of marriage than some who are legally married. In such circumstances, there may be a case for treating (although not affirming) the relationship as a marriage. Nevertheless, for the sake of faithfulness to God, example to the world and security for one-another and any children, the couple should still be urged to formalize their commitments with a wedding at the earliest opportunity.
As one of supreme love and truth, Jesus’ example displays the need to speak honestly and frankly of hell. It is the place where all who do not truly repent and believe in him will exist beyond death, experiencing God’s perfectly just and everlasting punishment for their sin. Described in terms of destruction and ruin, it will be to suffer the torment of God’s burning anger and of exclusion from the blessings of his kingdom, but all in proportion to the individual’s actual sin, in thought and word and deed. We reject the view that those without faith in Christ cease to exist at death or can escape hell beyond it. But we rejoice that in this present age, “anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2v21).