A Handbook of Basic Beliefs
More than two centuries ago in Germany, a
new fellowship of Christian believers was formed. The established churches had
become rich, powerful, and corrupt. They no longer proclaimed the simple message of the
New Testament. Alexander Mack and other Pietists set out to form a church as nearly
like the First Century Church as possible, and they took the New Testament as their rule
of faith and practice. The Church of the Brethren is the present name given to that
new fellowship. Most of the Brethren migrated to America in the 1720s. In basic
orientation and background, the Brethren are Anabaptist (reject infant baptism) and
Pietist (emphasize holy living). Brethren have historically accepted the basic
Christian doctrines along with practices sometimes neglected by major groups of
Christians. These include a commitment to peace and reconciliation, an emphasis on simple
living, an opposition to taking oaths, the maintenance of a strong and wholesome family
life, service to neighbors, and the practice of outward symbols taught in the New
Testament (such as feetwashing and the sisters' veiling).
The Brethren have sometimes become careless in applying biblical mandates, and because of this, a loosely knit network of people have formed the Brethren Revival Fellowship, which is a renewal movement in the Church of the Brethren. Brethren Revival Fellowship distributes this Handbook of Basic Beliefs within the Church of the Brethren, recognizing that at different periods in history, similar statements were made, not to become creeds, but to give guidance, and to point to the great truths of the Christian faith.
The only authoritative statement of what Christians should believe is to be found in the Scriptures themselves. Creeds and doctrinal statements can be dangerous when they alone are accepted as standards of belief. The doctrines outlined in the Handbook of Basic Beliefs are not a complete list of truths taught in the Bible, but it is hoped that this brief statement will encourage the reader to search the Scriptures more diligently.
--Harold S. Martin, For Brethren Revival Fellowship
1. THE SCRIPTURES
The Bible is the Word of God (Deut. 4:1-2). It was written by men who were divinely inspired (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21), and it is God's revelation of himself to man. The New Testament is the last will and covenant of our Lord (Heb. 9:15), and is our final authority for faith and conduct. If one is to have a true understanding of the will of God, he must always accept the New Testament interpretation of the Old Testament. What was seen only vaguely (in the O.T.) in the dim starlight of promise and type, is now seen clearly (in the N.T.) in the bright sunlight of God's complete and perfect revelation in Christ (Heb. 1:1-2; Matt. 5:43-44). The New Testament builds upon the Old, fulfills the Old, and reinterprets the Old.
The Bible is inerrant in the original writings, and is the supreme standard by which all human conduct and religious opinions should be tried (Acts 17:11; Ps. 19:7-11; Ps. 119:105).
There is one and only one living and true God (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 11:6; Ex. 20:3). He is an intelligent, personal, spirit Being (John 4:24). He is one God, eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God as Father reigns with providential care over his universe (Acts 7:48-50), and the stream of human history moves according to the purpose of his grace. He is Father to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26), and he is fatherly in his attitude toward all men (Matthew 5:45).
God the Son was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:18). He is true God and true man (Romans 1:3,4). In his death on the Cross, he made provision for the redemption of men from sin by becoming a substitutionary sacrifice (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 2:24). He was raised from the dead with a glorified body, ascended into heaven, and is now exalted at the right hand of God (1 Cor. 15:1-25; John 16:27-28). He will return in power and glory to receive his disciples, and then to judge the world (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).
God the Holy Spirit is a divine Person distinct from the Father and the Son, and yet united to both the Father and the Son in the mysterious oneness of the holy trinity (Matthew 28:19,20). He enables persons to understand truth (John 16:7-13), he imparts new life to those who meet the conditions of salvation (Titus 1:5), and he imparts gifts for service to every member of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
Man was created by the special act of God, in his own image, and is the crowning work of God's creation (Gen. 1:26-30). In the beginning man was innocent of sin, and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice, through the temptation of Satan, man sinned against God, and thereby incurred not only physical death, but also that spiritual death which is separation from God (Gen. 2:16).
All human beings are born with a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5), and in the case of those who reach moral responsibility, become sinners in thought, word, and deed (Isaiah 6:5; Romans 5:12, 19; Rom. 1:18-32). When David spoke of being conceived "in sin" (Psalm 51:5), he spoke not of the act of conception, but of the inherited bias to sin that is transmitted at conception.
The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in his own image, and in that Christ died for human beings, and therefore every individual is worthy of respect and Christian love (1 Pet. 2:17).
Salvation is the entire work by which God rescues people from their sinful state. It is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 3:3-21; Rev. 3:20). Regeneration is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:8,9; 2 Cor. 5:17-19).
Justification is the gracious and full acquittal which is wrought by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:23-25), and is symbolized by trine immersion baptism (Rom. 6:4-5). In the early church, those who believed were baptized immediately (Acts 16:33). Jesus spoke of the necessity of water baptism, when he said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16).
Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual perfection through the presence of the Holy Spirit who dwells in him (1 Cor. 6:19,20; 2 Pet. 3:18). Holiness is God's standard of living for his people (Luke 1:74-75; 1 Pet. 1:15).
Glorification is the culmination of salvation, and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed (Rom. 8:16-18; 1 Pet. 1:3-4). Jesus spoke of the final glory of the saved, when in figurative language he said the reapers will "gather the wheat into my barn'' (Matt. 13:30).
5. THE CHURCH
A New Testament church is a local body (1 Cor. 1:2) of baptized believers, composed of bishops (elders), deacons, and the saints (Phil. 1:1), who operate through democratic processes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Each member of the congregation is equally responsible for its ongoing work, although there are those who are called to special responsibilities (Eph. 4:11-12). The Church is also the Body of Christ, which includes all of the redeemed of all ages (Matt. 16:15-19; Eph. 1:22-23).
Evangelism: It is the duty and privilege of every believer, and of every congregation, to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). Each child of God should seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by personal effort (Acts 1:8).
Ordinances: Ordinances are commandments that require more than one Christian to perform, and are essential factors in the development of the Christian life. The Scriptures teach the three-part love feast—feetwashing, supper, communion—(John 13:1-20; Lu. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:17-34), the anointing with oil for healing (James 5:14-18), the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17; 1 Tim. 4:14), the assembling together for worship (Heb. 10:25), and the Christian salutation of the holy kiss (Rom. 16:16; 1 Pet. 5:14).
Ideals: God is the author of peace, and peace with God brings peace within ourselves, peace with members of the family within the home, and as far as is possible on our part, peace with all men (Matt. 18:15-20; Rom. 12:18-21). The ideals of temperance (1 Cor. 9:25), purity (1 Cor. 6:9-11), and simple living (Matt. 6:28-33), are to be taught and observed. Christians are stewards of their possessions, and should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of Christ's cause on earth (I Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:7; 2 Cor. 9:7).
Principles: It is unscriptural for Christian people to participate in war (Matt. 5:44-45; Matt. 26:52), to go to law against brethren (1 Cor. 6:1-9), to divorce and remarry (Mark 10: 11-12), to swear oaths (James 5:12), to follow worldly fashions and wear immodest clothes (1 Tim. 2:8-10), and for the Christian man to appear with long hair and the Christian woman with short and unveiled hair (1 Cor. 11:3-16). These prohibitions are given for our benefit, and need to be respected in the Church.
Those who are born again, have the goal of obedience to God, walk in newness of life, cultivate self-denial and humility, and constitute the true Church of which Jesus Christ is the Head (Col. 3:5-15).
6. THE SOCIAL ORDER
Methods used for the improvement of society can only be truly helpful when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual (Mark 7:21-23), by the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 26:18). People who are converted to Jesus Christ will then have the capacity to live up to the Christian command to "love thy neighbor" (Matt. 22:39).
The Christian should oppose, in the spirit of Christ, every form of greed and selfishness and vice (Matt. 5:13-16). He should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the aged, the helpless, and the sick (Matt. 25:35; Luke 10:27-37; Acts 6:1-7). Christians should be ready to work with persons of good will in worthy causes, always being careful to avoid compromise of loyalty to Christ (Gal. 6:10; 1 Cor. 5:9-10).
Civil government is ordained of God (Rom. 13:1-7), and it is the duty of Christians to render obedience to the government in all things not contrary to the clearly revealed wilt of God (Luke 20:25; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). The Church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. Jesus vigorously rejected every attempt to make him a political Messiah. The rebuke to Satan (Matt. 4:8-10), and to Peter (Matt. 16:21-23), and the statement to Pilate (John 18:36), all indicate his persistent refusal to place political change in society ahead of personal change in individuals.
7. LAST THINGS
God will bring the world to its appropriate end in his own time and in his own way (Matt. 24: 42- 51; Rev. 1:18). According to the Scriptures, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth (Acts 1:10-11); the time of his coming is unrevealed, but always imminent (Mark 13:33-37). The dead will be raised (John 5:29) and Christ will judge all persons in righteousness (Acts 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). The resurrection "unto life" will occur at the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 15:23), and the resurrection "unto damnation" will occur after the millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20:4-6). The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46; Luke 16:19-26). The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies (Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2) will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord (Matt. 25:46; John 14:1-3).
Jesus Christ will finally deliver up the Messianic Kingdom to God the Father, in order that He, as the Eternal Son, may reign with the Father in the new heaven and the new earth eternally (1 Cor. 15:24-28; Rev. 21:1).
The message of Christianity centers around a Person - Jesus Christ. 1 John 5:11-12 says, "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Have you turned from your sin and received God's Son as your Savior? Do you know the forgiveness of sin? Do you know God as your Father by becoming his son? John 1:12 says, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."
Many have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, and they often sing, "Oh happy day that fixed my choice on Thee, my Savior and my God." They remember the day they committed their lives to Jesus. They believed that the atoning work of Christ on Calvary could save them; they repented of their life of sin; they accepted Christian baptism as an outward sign of their inward change. They remember the joy that Fame into their hearts, and the peace that filled their souls. That was a happy day—and what God has done for others, he can do for you.
The statements in this Handbook do not in any way exhaust the whole message of the Bible, nor are they intended to set a limit beyond which faith (within the boundaries of the Word of God) cannot go—but we believe that insofar as these statements extend, they are a true presentation of the sound doctrine taught in the Scriptures, and are therefore binding upon us as Christian.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved