[9 Minute Read]
In these Doctrine Illuminated articles, the core beliefs of Addison Street Community Church are fleshed out in more detail. Begin by examining the section of the Doctrinal Confession, found at the top, and then discover an explanation of each of its lines below.
Section 12. The Church
“We believe that there is one holy, universal, and apostolic Church. The Church is united spiritually now and will one day be gathered together for the praise and glory of God and Jesus Christ. The local church is a gathered congregation of baptized believers, united by their faith in the gospel, led by elders and deacons, and observing the ordinances of Christ—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the immersion of a believer in water, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a sign of the new covenant and a public display of our faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a communal remembrance and proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes again”
I have found it quite common for my Chicagoan friends or neighbors to speak of spirituality with ease, perhaps even giving brief positive acknowledgment of Jesus. But, as soon as one mentions “church”, faces darken and accusations against “organized religion” are hurled. How then are we to think of the Church? Is it an archaic remnant of a previous time? At Addison Street Community Church we believe that the Church is something which believers should not be ashamed of, for no matter the shortcomings, She remains Christ’s Bride. This article will discuss the nature (that is, “what is it?”) and the duties (that is, “what does it do?”) of Christ’s Church.
“We believe that there is one holy, universal, and apostolic Church.”
These four adjectives were introduced in the 4th century Nicene Creed, and have come to be known as the “Four Marks of the Church”. First, we believe that there is “one… Church”. That seems impossible in a day where there are thousands of different denominations, all with their own quirks and beliefs. However, what the Creed proclaims (and what we echo here at Addison Street Community Church) is that the true Church—those who are Christ’s followers regardless of location or time—are unified in the essentials of the Gospel, though they may differ elsewhere (Ephesians 4:5-6; John 17:20-23).
Additionally, the Church is “holy”. This does not mean that the members of the Church cannot sin, or are devoid of sin, but that they, along with the Church as a whole, have been “set apart” (the literal meaning of ‘holy’). God sees the Church as holy and blameless because of Christ’s work on their behalf. Therefore, all Christians are called “saints”, which means “holy ones” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
As hinted at under “one”, the Church is also “universal”. This means that true believers in Christ are a part of the Church regardless of their location or time. The Church as the Body of Christ is not limited to an era, place, race, or culture (Matthew 28:18-20).
The final mark which the Creed mentions is that the Church is “Apostolic”. This means we believe the Church to be founded on the doctrine and preaching of the Apostles (those who physically saw the risen Lord Jesus and were specifically sent by him). We believe this is evident in Scripture (see, for e.g., Ephesians 2:20; Acts 2:42; Jude 3), and therefore normative for the Church throughout the ages.
“The Church is united spiritually now and will one day be gathered together for the praise and glory of God and Jesus Christ.”
This is the truth we recognized under the statement “we believe there is one… Church.” Currently, that unity is only known spiritually, but we long for the day when the many millions of the redeemed will join together before the Throne of God and proclaim, “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-12).
“The local church is a gathered congregation of baptized believers, united by their faith in the gospel.”
It is at this point in the doctrinal statement that we move from discussing the universal Church (that which all true believers are a part of), to address the local expressions of the Church. The members of these “lower-case c” churches are to be baptized, as a public profession of their commitment to Christ (Acts 2:38-41). These believers gather together because of their faith in the Gospel, and for the sake of encouraging that faith in one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).
“[The local church is] led by elders and deacons.”
The clear scriptural instruction for local expressions of the Body of Christ is that they have qualified leaders for their spiritual and physical safeguarding and growth. The elders have the responsibility to minister the Word, to teach and preach biblically (Acts 6; Titus 2:1), while the deacons are to serve the physical needs of the church (also Acts 6). Both offices are to be men of godly conduct, leading not only by teaching and serving but also by being models of Christian character (1 Timothy 3:1-13). The role of both elders and deacons is not to exclude other members of the church from responsibilities, but rather to train them for ministry and toward greater godliness (Ephesians 4-11-16).
“[The church observes] the ordinances of Christ—baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”
An “ordinance” is a practice, instituted by Jesus and commanded for his Church to repeatedly observe, which is associated with visible, physical elements (water, bread, wine) to signify an invisible and spiritual reality (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 22:14-20). These will both be explained in the following paragraphs.
“Baptism is the immersion of a believer in water, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a sign of the new covenant and a public display of our faith in Jesus Christ.”
As Jesus states in Matthew 28:18-20, those who are to be baptized are to be disciples, that is, believers who have committed to following and submitting to Christ. In their baptism, they are in essence “going public” with their faith, identifying themselves with the Triune God before the witness of the gathered Church. This is to be done by immersion for it signifies joining Jesus in his death and burial, and, when the baptized individual emerges from the waters, His resurrection as well (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27).
“The Lord’s Supper is a communal remembrance and proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes again.”
Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples at their last meal, taking the bread to symbolize his body, and the cup of wine to symbolize his poured-out blood (Matthew 26:26-30). In eating and drinking of these elements, a believer does not eat of the physical body or blood of Christ; rather, it is an opportunity to obey Christ’s command, as well as to recall his sacrifice for us, his present care which surrounds us, and the certainty of his return to gather the Church (1 Corinthians 11:24-28).