What We Believe
The true Christian church has always stated clearly what it believed the Bible to teach. It did so through creeds and confessions. Ecumenical Creeds such as The Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed and The Athanasian Creed date back to the first centuries after Christ's Ascension and are especially devoted to stating the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. God is one God, subsisting in three Persons: God the Father our Creator, God the Son our Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit our Renewer. We along with other Christian churches receive these as our official church standards.
In addition, we hold to three more detailed confessions dating back to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. They are the Belgic Confession (BC; 1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (HC; 1563), and the Canons of Dort (CD; 1618-19). We regard them as faithful summaries of the teaching of the Bible. We require our church leaders to teach and defend them, and to promise to teach nothing that conflicts with them. We will gladly make them available to you as a complete statement of our faith.
However, as an introduction to our beliefs, let us now identify some major themes which these confessions emphasize, and then give a more concise explanation of some specific teachings on which they elaborate.
As indicated above, we have historical roots in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The Reformation of the church that then took place involved a recovery of biblical teaching that had been denied or obscured by the man-made traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. The following themes express such teachings which were again seen to be of such critical importance that they formed mottoes or slogans capturing the foundational and essential faith commitments of the 'Reformed' church. These themes which we whole-heartedly believe are:
- The Bible Alone "Sola Scriptura"
- Grace Alone "Sola Gratia"
- Faith Alone "Sola Fide"
- Christ Alone "Soli Christo"
- To God be the Glory Alone "Soli Deo Gloria"
The Bible Alone - Sola Scriptura
The Bible is God's Word, giving us a unified, perfect and complete revelation of God and all that pertains to our salvation. It is without any error and is the final authority for what we are to believe and how we are to live. Therefore we must reject the teachings of tradition, psychology, science, church pronouncements and anything else whenever such teachings conflict with this infallible Word. Furthermore, since God's revelation in the Bible is complete, we deny that any claims of receiving dreams or visions, hearing voices, speaking in tongues or prophesying involve continuing revelation by God. (See Luke 16:17, II Timothy 3:15-17, Isaiah 8:20.)
Grace Alone - Sola Gratia
The grace of God is His unmerited or undeserved favor towards the sinful and miserable. Our natural condition as sinners who have fallen from the perfection in which we were created in Adam is so depraved and desperate that the only way anyone is ever saved is by God's grace alone. No one is either willing or able to do anything to truly contribute to their salvation and so escape eternal destruction and misery in hell unless God intervenes. All people are spiritually dead unless the Holy Spirit imparts new life and gives 'new birth.' For this reason Christians take no credit for their faith or good works but confess that it is God's grace alone that makes them different from those who are unbelieving and ungodly. This biblical teaching is explained fully in our Canons of Dort. (See Romans 9:15-16, John 3:5-7, I Corinthians 2:14; 4:7.)
Faith Alone - Sola Fide
When God gives His saving grace to sinners, they come to trust in the wonderful person and saving work of Jesus Christ as the only basis for the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God. Although God's grace includes the renewing work of the Holy Spirit compelling them to turn from sin and begin to do good works, such repentance and good works contribute nothing toward a right standing with God. It is this trust, or faith, and faith alone which joins them to the merits of Jesus Christ. Good works are the result of their acceptance with God, and not the basis for that acceptance. (See Ephesians 2:8, Galatians 3:10-11, Romans 3:28.)
Christ Alone - Soli Christo
Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, is true God and at the same time, true and perfectly righteous man. He lived a sinless life. He then died as a sacrifice for sin. He conquered death by His resurrection. He now rules from heaven, where He also intercedes for His church until He comes again as Judge of the world. He is a perfect and complete Savior and Mediator. Therefore there is no need to seek assistance and grace through any supposed mediation of angels, saints, priests or through Mary, the mother of Jesus. To do so is to follow man-made superstitions and to deny Jesus Christ. Furthermore, since salvation is through Christ alone, there is no salvation for those of other religions or forms of spirituality until they turn to the only Savior and become Christians. (See Matthew 1:21, John 14:6, Acts 4:10-12.)
To God be the Glory Alone - Soli Deo Gloria
The Triune God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. He is the sovereign Creator, Ruler, Lawgiver, Redeemer and Judge. All things were made by Him and for Him. He works all things according to His purpose. None of His purposes fail and they all serve to bring honor and glory to His Name alone. Exclusive devotion to this infinitely glorious God is our supreme calling and ultimate happiness. The desire of the Christian is expressed in the words: "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory." (Psalm 115:1). (See also Isaiah 45:22-23, Romans 11:36, I Corinthians 1:26-31).
For a complete study of our doctrine, we refer you to the official standards mentioned above. There you will also find abundant references to passages of Scripture upon which our teaching is based. Yet for the sake of an introduction we will highlight some of our more prominent teachings, and explain some matters in which we differ from other churches. (Notice the abbreviated references to the three standards mentioned above.)
In accord with our theme "To God alone be glory," worship is the most important part of a believing response to God. Likewise, if God is to be truly honored by our worship, that worship must conform to the rule of His Word. We do not consider ourselves free to invent forms of worship which may simply appeal to us. Rather, we seek to worship only in the way which we know is acceptable to God. We therefore cling to the simplicity of Biblical worship. Essentially this means that the preaching of God's Word is given a central place, and we respond to God with our prayers, songs and gifts.
Although believers must worship God privately as well as in their families, God promises His special presence among His people, the church, when they gather for worship in the Name of Christ. God has set aside one day of the week, Sunday, or The Lord's Day, as a day of rest from daily work, to be devoted in a special way to His worship. (See HC, Lord's Day (LD) 25 & 38; BC, Article 7).
In addition to the preaching of the Word, God has given the church two sacraments, instituted by Christ. These are baptism and the Lord's supper. They are signs and seals of God's grace for the strengthening of faith. Baptism assures believers of the forgiveness of sins and their union with Christ. It belongs to all believers and their children. Since children of believers are included in the covenant relationship which God makes with His people, and are also members of the church, they too receive baptism as infants. We believe that sprinkling with ordinary clean water in the Name of the Triune God is the biblical mode of baptism.
The Lord's supper is the partaking of bread and wine in remembrance of the death of Christ on the cross. By means of this holy supper, Christ, by His real, spiritual presence, nourishes believers with His true body and blood through the mysterious and powerful working of His Holy Spirit. It is not a re-sacrifice of Christ, nor does it automatically benefit those who partake. The Lord's supper is only for true believers who are members of the church and who have reached such maturity that they are able to examine themselves and properly understand the meaning of this holy supper.
Therefore, unlike baptism, infants and children are not admitted to this sacrament. The elders of the church have a responsibility given to them by Christ to actively oversee who is admitted to partake of the Lord's supper. The Lord's supper is typically observed every two months among us during our Sunday morning worship service. (See HC, LDs 25-30; BC Articles 33-35.)
Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church, which He rules by His Word and Spirit. There is therefore no earthly representative, such as a pope, to take His place as a supreme leader over the church. However, the church of Christ is not a democracy, but Christ exercises His rule in particular congregations through elders. These are men, chosen from and by the congregation to teach and to lead them in agreement with the Bible. They are to be chosen on the basis of mature Christian character and wisdom, their knowledge of the Bible and our Confessions, and their ability to teach (I Timothy 3). Submitting to the biblical leadership of elders in the church is the way believers submit to the rule of Christ over the church (Hebrews 13:17).
One of the ways in which the elders exercise the care of Christ over His church is by visiting all the families of the congregation each year to instruct, encourage and guide the members in their Christian lives. Along with elders, Christ also instituted the office of deacon to exercise and supervise works of Christian mercy in the congregation and elsewhere. They, like the elders, are chosen from the congregation on the basis of biblical qualification. Except for the minister, who is an elder with the additional task and calling of preaching the gospel, our elders and deacons are chosen to serve for specifically defined terms, usually three years at a time. (See BC, Articles 30-31.)
There is a difference between attending a church and being a member. Membership involves commitment and belonging to the body of Christ. According to the Bible, such membership is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. Membership is necessary for participating in the privileges of the body of Christ such as partaking of the sacraments and being under the leadership and care of Christ exercised through pastors, elders and deacons. Membership means agreement with the teaching of the church with a commitment to strive to live according to that teaching.
To become a member of the Orthodox Reformed Church therefore requires a sincere and informed profession of the faith taught in this church. It means voluntarily giving of one's spiritual gifts, time, energy and material resources toward the well-being of this church and the promotion of its witness. It means promising submission to the spiritual leadership of the church as unto Christ. It means doing all this, not out of constraint or fear, but out of love, in glad response to the grace of God. (See HC, LD 21; BC Articles 28-29).
Among the privileges of membership in the church is that of being under the discipline of Christ. Since believers are yet prone to sin and error, they are all in need of encouragement, warning and help so that they may be true to their profession of faith. Therefore, church discipline is not a negative thing, but a precious privilege of belonging to Christ.
All believers are under the discipline of the Word of God. This is exercised first of all through preaching. It is also exercised through the mutual care that members of Christ's body have for one another. Sometimes this requires that we counsel and warn each other in love. If any member of the church, after repeated instruction and warning, should persist in denying their profession by false doctrine or unchristian living, Christ requires that they be excluded or "excommunicated" from the church and no longer be considered Christian. He has given elders the responsibility to implement this discipline for the honor of His Name, the recovery of those who turn from their profession, and the purity of the church. (See HC, LDs 30-31; BC, Article 32).
The Church's Missionary Calling
Christ has given to the church the commission to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), and to "go...make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:18-20). Christianity is therefore not a private matter. At its very center there is a message which the Sovereign King sends out to be proclaimed to all people. The church obeys the King by sending and supporting missionaries, by making the message heard in the local community, and by the godly conduct and witness which each member is called to present before others in their daily lives. (See HC, LD 21 & 32, CD, 3rd & 4th Head, Articles 6-11, 17.)