A Firm Foundation
The Articles of Faith and Rules of Practice
Sovereign Grace Baptist Church
It is deemed desirable to state what we as a Christian Fellowship believe in our present age. However, we believe that the Church of Christ must ever submit her faith and practice to the light of Scripture and ensure that her statements concerning the unchanging Gospel are relevant to the generation in which God has placed her.
Nonetheless, let it be plainly stated that this is not a revision of truth nor a criticism of what our fathers have declared, but a concern to set forth in our day that which shall be, by God's grace, used of the Holy Spirit to explain the truths of divine revelation, to edify the people of God, to instruct those seeking the truth and to guide those who are astray, as well as to defend the doctrines of historic Christianity.
We feel it right to require everyone joining the Fellowship to assent to these articles recognizing that they will be under the influence, ministry and discipline of them, and that all elders and deacons should be openly committed to them and under obligation to reveal to their fellow-officers any departure from them. Further, that regular opportunity should be taken of reminding ourselves of them.
(For fuller statements of these doctrines and their out-working, reference should be made to the Particular Baptist Confession of 1689, and "We Believe" - the Strict Baptist Affirmation of Faith 1966 and the subsequent Guide for Church Fellowship.)
As it is impossible to know God apart from the divine revelation given to us, we believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (excluding the Apocrypha) as originally given, are the inspired and infallible Word of God. They are His provision for fallen man as a complete unfolding of His character and will, and centering in His Son -- the Lord Jesus Christ -- the written Word revealing Him, the living word of God. We confess these Scriptures to be without error and to be our supreme standard and guide in all matters, our only rule of faith and conduct. What follows is but an expression of truth contained therein.
1. Of the Being of God
We believe that the living God of whom the Scriptures speak is alone worthy of our worship, praise and service; He is glorious and infinite, yet gracious and merciful, and in the Lord Jesus Christ biblical revelation consummates.
We acknowledge God to be the Creator. He alone is immortal and eternal, possessing life in Himself, while all else that exists derives its being from Him. The entire universe and the smallest elements of the earth display the glory of God's creative work, while the supreme act of creation was the forming of man and woman, made in the image of God and intended to worship and enjoy their Creator forever.
We acknowledge God to be the Sustainer. The world has not been abandoned to the powers of chance nor to the will of ungodly men. We rejoice in the absolute sovereignty of God over all beings and events great and small, though God is not the Author of sin or sinful deeds. We believe that He is ceaselessly active in upholding and controlling the universe and in guiding history towards its predestined end.
We declare God to be our Redeemer. In its inception, provision and application, the salvation of sinners is entirely the work of God. Moreover, in the unfolding of the redemptive purposes of God, the Triune nature of the divine character is clearly revealed. We confess, therefore, with the Church of all ages, that our God, though One in Being, exists eternally in three distinct Persons; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, inseparably united in the essence of the Divine Being.
2. Of the Fall of Man
We believe that man was created holy and truly happy. He possessed an inward knowledge of the will of God and enjoyed intimate and unbroken communion with the Lord. However, encouraged by Satan, Adam rebelled against God, thus forfeiting this original blessedness and leading the entire human race into spiritual ruin. The Genesis account of the fall of man we accept as historically accurate and as the only adequate explanation of the beginnings of human history.
The sinful nature of Adam has been passed on to all subsequent generations of the human race, resulting in the corruption of every part of man. In this fallen and spiritually dead condition men are unwilling and unable to seek God as their highest good. The Scriptures repeatedly trace evil behaviour not solely to the environment or lack of education but to the wicked nature of man; and the seriousness of man's condition is seen, not only in the unhappiness it brings on earth, but in the fact that sinners are under the wrath of a holy God. Yet man is given hope in the coming of Christ as a Saviour of sinners.
3. Of the Grace of God
We believe that the salvation of men is not because of their character, good works, law-keeping or ceremonies, but is entirely the result of divine grace. In eternity God determined to save a great multitude of sinners and in wonderful grace the three Persons of the Trinity were all involved in planning and executing the redemption of His people. This divine initiative was not conditioned by any anticipated merit or faith in its objects but was motivated only by God's sovereign love.
In the covenant of grace the Father is revealed in Scripture as the source of the blessings of salvation, setting His love upon the redeemed, and ordaining Christ to be their Redeemer. Thus, in obedience to the Father's will, the eternal Son of God became flesh. Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, He united His divine nature with a truly human nature and, free from all taint of original sin, lived a perfect life, yielding full obedience to the holy law of God. By His suffering and sacrificial death on Calvary, Jesus became a substitute for His people, bearing the full penalty of their sins by the shedding of His blood and thus reconciling God and man. He was buried but rose again on the third day, breaking the power of death and bringing everlasting life to all believers. He ascended into heaven where He lives and reigns, interceding for His Church and governing the affairs of men until the end of time, when He will come again in glory for His Church. The Holy Spirit as the Executor of the counsels and purposes of the Godhead fulfills His supreme work in revealing the things of Christ, guiding into all truth and glorifying Christ in regeneration.
4. Of the Outworking of Salvation
The salvation which has been secured by the work of Jesus Christ is applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit. By His powerful and mysterious work, dead souls are quickened into spiritual life and given the desire and ability to repent of sin and believe in Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Awakened by the Spirit, sinners are justified through faith alone and are united to the Lord Jesus in all aspects of His redeeming work. Thus renewed, the believer is adopted into God's family and becomes a partaker of the divine nature.
It is possible for a true believer to be so overcome by temptation as seriously to backslide, but the saving grace of God cannot ultimately be frustrated and all who are truly converted will certainly persevere and enter into the joys of heaven.
5. Of the Christian Life
We believe that the true Christian will rejoice in the blessings of the new covenant, particularly the forgiveness of sins, the creation of an inward desire to glorify God by a life which conforms to His laws, and the power enabling him so to live. Good works and practical holiness are indispensable evidences of a real experience of divine grace. We believe that the Christian has a vital role to play in society and must not withdraw into a life of seclusion. Christian behaviour, however, is not to governed by the spirit of the world but rather by the unchanging laws of God, declared in the ten commandments, expounded in the sermon on the mount and the epistles, and exemplified in the life of the Lord Jesus, but worked out in dependence on and through the enabling of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer to the glory of Christ.
6. Of the Church
We believe that the true Church consists of the whole number of God's elect. This glorious Body of Christ comprises all in every generation and from every land who have been quickened by the Spirit and brought to trust in the Saviour.
The New Testament also uses the term Church in a restricted and local sense. Christians in a particular locality are encouraged to covenant together in a visible bond of fellowship, and such groups are designated in Scripture as local Christian churches. True local churches are characterized by the faithful preaching of the Gospel, steadfast adherence to apostolic doctrine and practice, the maintenance of true godliness among the membership, and fellowship with like-minded churches, so that the unbelieving shall both hear and see the saving grace of Christ set forth.
We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ exercises His government of the local church through men gifted and called to occupy the offices of elder and deacon; that there are two ordinances to be observed by the local church, on the authority of Christ her Head: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Baptism we believe to be an expression of repentance and faith on the part of the candidates in obedience to Christ, administered by total immersion and a necessary requirement of those who would be members of the Fellowship. In it the candidates express their separation from the world, their identity with Christ in His death and resurrection and their devotion to Him.
7. Of Things to Come
We believe in the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This great climatic event will be visible and personal and will herald the general resurrection and final judgment. The bodies of the just and unjust alike will be raised from the dead, when the ungodly will hear the dreadful sentence of the righteous Judge and will be banished for ever from the presence of God, while the Church will be presented faultless through the merits of Christ and will then begin to enjoy the everlasting blessedness of the new creation purged of sin and filled with divine glory. To this personal return of Christ we look forward with eager anticipation.
"Even so, come Lord Jesus" Amen.
RULES OF PRACTICE
Membership of this local Church shall comprise those who, having professed repentance and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, having been baptized, and show evidence of regenerating grace in the living of a godly life. Application for membership must be made to the elders initially, who if satisfied, will make recommendations to the gathered Church before whom the applicant shall be expected to give testimony of their saving faith in Christ. Such shall also be required to assent to the Articles of Faith and submit to them.
Termination of church membership shall only be possible by transfer to another like-minded church, by death, by excommunication or other form of discipline. It is recognized that any disciplinary measure is a most serious matter but in order that the purity of the Church may be maintained, any member guilty of a serious offence and remaining unrepentant despite repeated admonitions by the elders shall be withdrawn from. Further, anyone who absents him/herself from the regular meetings for worship, ministry and prayer for six months without satisfactory reasons, must be removed from the membership of the Church. Yet our zeal for the glory of God must ever be tempered by a loving and prayerful concern for the full restoration of the person concerned.
Members of this Church who move away from the locality will be encouraged to seek fellowship in their new area in a Church where the Gospel is faithfully preached and the doctrines of grace are upheld and loved. In exceptional cases where a transfer proves impossible, membership with us may be retained as long as there is agreement to maintain real links of fellowship with the Church by all possible means, including regular correspondence with our elders.
2. Privileges and Responsibilities
Each member shall willingly seek to contribute toward the development of true spiritual fellowship by the pursuit of practical holiness, love of all the brethren, faithful attendance at all regular meetings for worship, ministry and prayer, and regular practical support of the work of the Gospel. Guidelines for such fellowship are laid down in the Scriptures in such places as Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 12:1-16; Philippians 4:1-4.
Members should be prayerfully involved directly or indirectly in every decision of the Church including setting apart of elders and deacons, the sending out of missionaries and the practice of discipline.
Any member consistently neglecting this responsibility or guilty of action by which the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be dishonoured, shall be subject to the admonition of the elders even to the point of including suspension of membership and/or its privileges.
We understand evangelism to be the activity of the people of God -- and therefore our activity -- in bringing the message of the Gospel to those who have not heard it, or do not believe it. It includes all the work of making known the Gospel, whether at home or abroad, and our responsibility in this matter should constantly engage our prayerful concern and consideration, always recognizing our dependence entirely on the Holy Spirit.
The local Church recognizes the sole Headship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He is Prophet, Priest and King to His people, the great Shepherd of His sheep. This authority is never delegated, but is communicated by the Holy Spirit in accordance with His Word. That Word reveals that the church is to be administered by elders and deacons.
Elders are responsible for the spiritual administration of the church, and include the one appointed as pastor (Ephesians 4:11), a man set apart for prayer and the ministry of the Word as the under-shepherd of the flock. He shall be adequately maintained (so far as is possible) in material necessities. All such responsibility requires spiritual grace and divine calling, and demands the qualifications laid down in Scripture, especially in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Where elders already exist, it is their responsibility to bring others whom the Lord has gifted for spiritual oversight before the church for their whole-hearted approval and appointment. Where no elders exist, the Fellowship should watch for God's guidance to make suitable appointments as His gifts to particular men become apparent, and, as necessary, help of other like-minded churches should be sought in the calling of a full-time pastor.
Deacons are responsible for the business and material affairs of the church which includes a ministry of compassion to those in need, and should be appointed by submitting names for the elders to bring before the church, of those suitable for this office. A high proportion of those present at the church meeting should be in favour for such men to be elected.
If an elder or deacon prove not to be fitted for his office, it is the responsibility of the officers and church to recognize this. In such a case, he should be asked by the church to resign or else be relieved of his office. If the elder concerned be fully maintained by the church, 6 month's notice shall be given or equivalent remuneration be substituted.
We do not believe that there is any rightful place for committees, except as a temporary measure to deal with specific problems, but the gathered church shall be prayerfully concerned with every aspect of her life.
Since all members gathered at a church meeting are to share in the responsibility of church matters, all ought to have a right to speak at those meetings, not forgetting that authority should be duly recognized. Such meetings should be called by the Elders as often as necessary and at least once a year; special meetings may also be called if specifically requested by 50% of the membership. Due notice shall be given for all such meetings (normally 2 Sundays) and the Elders shall be responsible for the Agendas: 50% of the membership (excluding those who have relocated and are therefore unable to attend) shall be deemed a necessary quorum for business to proceed. To foster the fullest possible participation of the Church in deciding questions of import, the membership may be polled by paper ballot or written correspondence on issues as determined by the elders. The result of this method of decision-making shall be recorded as the decision of the Church. It should be remembered that confidence must be placed in those in authority, and that the Elders are responsible for ensuring that all meetings are conducted in an atmosphere of prayer, love and mutual trust.
Services of believers' baptism are to be held as often as necessary, and the Lord's Supper is normally to be observed at least once a month. This latter service is primarily designed for members of the local church. However, visiting believers in fellowship with a true gospel church will be welcome at the Lord's table in order to give visible expression to the unity of the true Church of Christ. Such admission of visitors shall be at the discretion of the elders.
Since the church as an Incorporated Body is legally required to have directors, they shall normally be those elected as elders and deacons, and such others as they, with the consent of the membership, shall co-opt. The duties of directors are laid down in the Letters Patent.
In view of the importance and biblical order of the local church, it is desirable that members should undertake specific Christian service only in full fellowship with the church, and that any teaching gifts should be recognized first by the local church and exercised only in fellowship with it.
These rules shall only be amended by full consent of the elders and deacons, and agreed at a properly constituted church meeting of which due notice has been given. Any amendment in the Articles of Faith shall need in addition the approval of 80% of the total membership.