This is number seven of eight confessions that I had to write for my three Systematic Theology courses with Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. They were extremely challenging assignments for me, but I got much out of completing them. I am trusting that others may find them to be helpful as well.
Biblical images/Who are its members: I believe the church is the family of God, a community of subjects in His Kingdom, who are His chosen covenant people that He bought with Jesus’ blood. The church is the body of Christ with Jesus as its Head. It is His holy temple. The church is God’s people. The church is His sheep, with Jesus as their Good Shepherd. It is God’s building; its members are living stones and Jesus is the foundation upon which He will build His church. It is His pure and spotless bride, the remnant of Israel, citizens of heaven, the City of God, the pillar of truth, and the wheat in God’s field. The church is made of born-again believers in Jesus Christ as well as Old Testament saints, Jew and Gentile, male and female, gathered from every nation. The church invisible is that group of true believers; the church visible consists of both true believers and false ones. On Judgment Day, Jesus will say to the false ones, “Depart from me – I never knew you.” (Matt. 16:15-18; John 10:14-16; 1 Cor. 12:12-13, 27; Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18; 1 Pet. 2:4-6.)
Attributes/Marks of a true church: I believe that the church invisible is one unified group of Christ-followers represented by many Christian denominations. It is pure and holy and continues the work of Jesus’ apostles. A local church functions as the true church when it preaches and follows the Bible as its primary authority, baptizes believers in Christ, and regularly celebrates the Lord’s Supper as a body of baptized believers. (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, 381.)
Relation to the Kingdom/Activities of the church: I believe the church is the center of the Kingdom of God on earth. It has been called to make disciples of all nations. The church must meet together regularly in local assemblies for the purpose of hearing God’s Word as it is preached by gifted preachers and study God’s Word as it is taught by gifted teachers. Members must fellowship with, serve one another, evangelize the lost, and minister in good works of mercy and justice to those outside of the church so that the Kingdom of God is proclaimed, experienced, and expanded for the glory of God. (Mt. 28:19-20; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:42; 1 Pet. 2:9.)
Baptism: I believe that Jesus commanded His disciples to continue this ordinance so believers would have a clear picture of the believer’s identification with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. It is a public testimony of the conversion that has already taken place. The preferred mode is immersion, and is done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This has continuity with the Old Testament rite of circumcision, and as such is a New Testament ceremony of covenant renewal. It is more than a mere symbol. When baptism is accompanied by the preaching of the Word, God works in the hearts of those who participate to build them up in their faith. It is to be done only one time, soon after a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. It is to be administered by church leaders in a proper way. (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:38, 22:16; Rom. 6:3-7; Col. 2:11-12; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21-22.)
Lord’s Supper: I believe that Jesus at His Last Supper established this ordinance to provide a regular opportunity for the church to call to mind the sacrifice Jesus made as He gave His body and blood for the remission of our sins. It is a corporate testimony of faith. The elements are wine or grape juice and bread. This has continuity with the Old Testament Passover meal, and as such is a New Testament celebration of redemption. It is more than a mere symbol. When the Lord’s Supper is accompanied by preaching of the Word, God works in the hearts of those who participate to build them up in their faith. It is to be administered on a regular basis by church leaders. (Matt. 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:23-29.)
Form of Government/ Leadership/Church offices: I believe that the local church should be led by a group of male elders. They must meet all of the required qualifications (a married man of integrity who is mature in his faith and able to teach). Some of them could be full-time pastors while others could be laymen. They should lead, manage the church business, exercise spiritual oversight, make decisions, solve disputes among members, and serve the body. Deacons should also meet the biblical qualifications and serve the members of the body and the community of faith as needed. Jesus declared the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. (Acts 15:19, 20; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 2:11-14, 3:1-12; Tit. 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4.)
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.