We hold to the historic teachings of Christian orthodoxy handed down in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. We are also aligned with more recent formulations of core Christian doctrine spelled out in the Lausanne Covenant and the statement of faith of the Langham Partnership.
In addition to these statements of faith, we hold the following core convictions based on our understanding of the belief and practice of the early Church as observed in the book of Acts.
1. The Church is the body of Christ.
We are chosen by God to live the life of Jesus in our body (collective) by the power of the Holy Spirit. This was a fundamental conviction of the early Church, according to Acts 1:1: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…” It is clear that Luke (and the early Church) saw this story, the book of Acts, as the continuation of the Gospel of Luke, of the story of Jesus, who, though no longer physically present, was nevertheless “bodily” present through His followers, incarnate through the Church. This understanding of the nature and mission of the Church comes from Jesus Himself who, in Acts 1:8, commissioned the Church to be His witnesses, calling and empowering them to bear witness to His life, death, and resurrection in both word and action. This is still the mission of the Church: to carry on the ministry of Jesus, to do what Jesus did, to be the body of Christ at work in the world. If we take the words of Jesus in John 14 seriously, we should long to see and expect to see God at work in our ministries just as He was at work in the ministry of Jesus. The book of Acts is still unfinished. We are still living the Acts 1:1 reality. Jesus still continues to do and teach through His Church, through us.
2. The Holy Spirit empowers the Church to be the body of Christ.
The above is impossible without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Church cannot incarnate Jesus—that is, be who He was and do what He did—unless it is filled with and goes on being filled with His Spirit. This is why Jesus instructed the disciples first to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5) and then to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). The latter is not possible without the former. Throughout the rest of the book of Acts, we see what the power of the Holy Spirit looks like in the lives of individuals and the life of the Church (unity, courage, miracles, charismatic gifts, transformation of character, and more), and we believe that He still does all of this (and more) today. We are people of the Spirit, filled with and ever longing for more of Him. We are a community called to a mission that is far greater than any of us, and so our greatest virtue will be humility, dependence on the Spirit of God for everything. We wholeheartedly confess the truth of Jesus’ words: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
3. The Bible is the story of God completed in the person of Jesus.
When Peter stood up to deliver the first Church “sermon,” his source material was the Bible. He did not begin with his own immediate experience, valuable and relevant though it was; he instead began by putting his experience in context (this happened almost every time a sermon was preached in the book of Acts). He started with the Old Testament, grounding his/their story firmly in the story of God. That is what the Bible is: the story of God walking with, talking to, working with, and working through people, first to create and steward and then to recreate and redeem the world He loves so much. As such, it is essential that we read and know it. We cannot know God, ourselves, each other, or our world without it. Further, because the primary aim of reading and knowing the Bible is to know God, we cannot rightly understand the Bible without knowing Jesus, who is God incarnate, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). He is the fulfillment of Law, Prophets, and Writings; therefore, our journey through the Bible must always return to Him (as it always does in the book of Acts). Our definition of “biblical,” then, is this: it is biblical if it is consistent with the whole story of God embodied in the person of Jesus.
4. Jesus is Lord.
This revelation is the culmination of Peter’s Pentecost sermon and the cornerstone of the Church: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). It is crucial that we reclaim this truth as our cornerstone. We come from a Christian tradition and live in a Christian climate that makes much of Jesus as Savior—specifically personal savior—and, to be clear, this too is an important truth and one of the great contributions of the evangelical movement but not when divorced from His lordship. He is Jesus (“God Saves”) the Christ (“the anointed One”), both Savior and Lord. In fact, His salvation cannot rightly be understood apart from His sovereignty. It is not simply a salvation from but also a salvation to, not only from sin but also to Himself. He has freed us from the dominion of sin and has subjected us to Himself and His Kingdom. This understanding of Jesus, then, shapes our own self-definition: if Jesus is Lord, we are His. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, subjects of our Lord Jesus. This is our primary identity and must become the lens through which we see ourselves and the world. In order to do this, in order to access and live out of this identity, repentance and baptism (initial and ongoing) are essential (Acts 2:38). We must daily turn from our habituated identities and immerse ourselves in the reality of the King and Kingdom into which we have been saved.
5. Christian community is essential.
The famous snapshot of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 shows a church “devoted to” community, gathering regularly, eating together, supporting one another, living a shared life. There are likely a number of reasons for this, but three rise to the surface. First, identity is shaped by and reinforced in community. Remember, this church was made up of people who had sworn allegiance to King Jesus and, consequently, were suddenly “foreigners and exiles” in their homelands. They were being led by the Holy Spirit to form a new identity in an old place, and this cannot be done without community. The habits and pressures of the old will inevitably interfere with the new unless we are part of a community in which the new is communally pursued, encouraged, and cultivated. Second, the Gospel that Jesus brought cannot be worked out in isolation; it can only fully be expressed in community. This is a Gospel of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation, all of which having been received, we are now called to give. We cannot work out our salvation or learn our identities unless we are a part of a community where we are able to give and receive grace. Third, and related closely to the second, they gathered in community because Jesus told them to, because He told them that their love of one another was to be the primary expression of their relationship with him and their most powerful testimony to the character of Jesus and the nature of the Kingdom.
6. Shared rhythms and practices form the backbone of this community.
Again Acts 2:42-47 is invaluable. Here, we see that community forms around shared rhythm and practice. The early Church both continued old and established new spiritual patterns that helped to shape their communal and individual identities. They prayed together, learned (from the apostles’ teachings) together, gathered in the temple courts, met in homes, broke bread (Eucharist), ate together (agape), and established systems of generosity to care for the needs that arose in the community and beyond. As we continue on through the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, we see other rhythms expressed as well: Sabbath, fasting, celebration, etc. All of this was in keeping with their self-understanding as Jewish followers of Jesus. Judaism is built upon intentional patterns of life—daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly—a shared calendar that serves to define and distinguish Jewish identity. Without these practices the Jews could not have survived as a distinct people, and the early Church saw the same to be true about themselves. Without shared practices that distinguish, cultivate, and reinforce Christian identity, there can be no Christian identity. Traditionally, the evangelical church has largely rejected these rhythms and practices, calling them “religion” and “legalism,” emphasizing instead the grace of God that forms our identity. This is an overreaction. It is true that our identity in Christ is a gift of grace, and it is also true that these practices can become legalistic activities that, at best, have no real merit or, at worst, replace the grace of God in our lives and are, therefore, detrimental to our Christian identities, However, observed properly, these practices do not replace but instead undergird grace in our lives. They are not means of earning God’s grace but are rather means of participating with His grace as He closes the gap between the new identity that is ours in Christ and the old identity that is passing away.
7. The Gospel of the Kingdom is Good News for the real world.
In Acts 2, we see a private gathering of Jesus’ followers become a very public spectacle as the Holy Spirit moved them from a closed room to the streets. This ongoing movement from private to public is essential to understanding the Christian faith. It is a prophetic faith involving, as Miroslav Wolf puts it, both an ascent and a return. In other words, we ascend to hear from God, and then we return to speak (live) what we have heard. We give what we have received. If we fail to return from our ascent, if our faith is simply private, it is less than Christian faith. A church that never leaves its own walls is not the Church that Jesus came to build. It is an easy trap to fall into—preaching a test tube Gospel, one that is true and biblically orthodox but that is never put into practice in the real world—but it is one that we must intentionally and diligently reject. This Gospel is Good News for the real world. Of course, there is another danger, not a failure of return but of ascent. It is entirely possible for us to stop seeking God, to stop being shaped by His words, and to instead be shaped by the words around us, the dominant voices in culture. Again, this is not the Way. We are commissioned to engage the world, not as the world but rather as distinctly Christian. A failure of ascent or a failure of return: either falls short of the Kingdom of God.
8. Prayer is the life blood of Kingdom living.
The Church described in the book of Acts only existed by prayer. It began in constant prayer (Acts 1:14), continued in devoted prayer (Acts 2:42), overcame through persistent prayer (Acts 4:24-30), organized through discerning prayer (Acts 6:6), saw the power of God through intercessory prayer (Acts 9:40-42), and grew through missional prayer (Acts 13:1-3). This Church, as we have already seen, understood that they had been commissioned to be the incarnate body of Christ, carrying on the mission of Jesus in world, and they knew that, apart from the power of God, they had no capacity to do any of it. So, they prayed, knowing that fruitfulness comes only as we are connected to the Vine.
9. Caring for the poor is central to the mission of the Church.
There are few themes more prevalent in the Bible than God’s heart for the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable, and the early Church took this very seriously. In both of the snapshots (Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37), Luke spends a significant amount of time highlighting the Church’s commitment to the poor, going so far as to say that they found a (temporary) solution to the problem of poverty within their community. While we shouldn’t view that solution as prescriptive (considering that it didn’t even work for them long-term), we should view their radical love for the poor as prescriptive. God cares for the poor. If we are His people, citizens of His Kingdom, we must as well. It is not, the Bible shows us, a charity issue; it is a justice issue, not retributive but restorative. It is a matter of participating with God in the healing of the world, in seeing, honoring, and so doing, restoring the image of God in another. It is not that the image of God has been lost but rather that it has been covered up, damaged by the demoralizing and immoral systems that create poverty. The community of the King, the Bible tells us time and again, must be a bastion of justice in an all-too-often unjust world, restoring to right what sin has made wrong. And, let’s be clear: this is not a strategy so that we can evangelize; this is evangelism. This is incarnating the Gospel, incarnating Jesus. This is what it means to bear witness to the resurrection. We must reject the Greek division between body and spirit and instead embrace the Hebrew concept of nefesh, the whole self, the complete person and must, therefore, understand that the Gospel is Good News for the whole self.
10. Breathtaking generosity is the norm.
Again, Luke’s succinct but compelling pictures of the Church in Acts 2 and Acts 4 provide a key insight into their character and action. Because they took seriously their commission to be the body of Christ in the world, to embody the Gospel, to bear witness to the resurrection, to care for the poor, and to spread the Good News of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth, they invested their lives in the mission. They did not simply fulfill the law by tithing their financial resources; instead, they gave whatever they had—money, ancestral land, vocation, even their lives—to fulfill the task set before them, to be who the Church that Jesus made them to be. Extraordinary openhandedness, breathtaking generosity, is to be a marker of God’s people. We no longer view our resources or our lives as things to be protected or horded but rather as tools to be used in the work of the Kingdom. There is, according to Jesus (Matthew 6:20), no smarter investment.
11. Pastoral care empowers Gospel witness.
The Apostles saw it as incumbent upon the leadership of the church to make provisions for the care of the community. They saw it as their duty to pray for (and heal) the sick, both within their community and beyond (Acts 5:12-16) and to create systems to care for those in need (Acts 6:1-7). These systems, they discerned, were not to interfere with the teaching of the Word of God, but they also discovered that, when done properly, pastoral care undergirds and empowers the work of teaching, bringing the Word of God to life in and through the community (Acts 6:7).
12. The Church is a Kingdom of priests.
One of the most famous lines in the book of Acts is found in chapter 4: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). In this case, those words refer to Peter and John, but the same could be said of anyone in the book of Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament. Every extraordinary act—power, generosity, sacrifice, resolve, etc.—was done by ordinary men and women empowered by the Holy Spirit to incarnate Jesus. This is normative in the early Church: every believer filled by the Spirit of God is both priest and temple, a place where the Kingdom of God intersects the kingdoms of this world. The work of the Church, therefore, belongs in the hands of the Church, not the organization but the people. Church leadership is essential (it matters to God that there are people who are vocationally called and equipped to lead God’s people in worship); however, it does not exist to do the ministry on behalf of the church but rather to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Vision comes from the Church. It is to be called out, stewarded, supported, championed, exhorted, refined, and more by leadership, but it comes from and is carried out by the people who themselves are the Church.
13. The Gospel is Good News for all nations.
Jesus’ commissions in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Acts 1 must have been troubling to His disciples given the emphasis on “all nations,” “all the world,” and “the ends of the earth.” These were Jewish followers of Jesus who grew up with an eschatology that guaranteed salvation for the Jews and hospitality for any Gentiles (nations) that came to Israel and Yahweh for help. In other words, their hope was nationalistic and their missional model centripetal. Yet, in His commissions, Jesus describes a Gospel that is hope for the whole world and outlines a missional strategy that is centrifugal. We know that this global focus was troubling for the disciples from two pieces of evidence: first, they didn’t even try to undertake the global mission until persecution and the Holy Spirit forced them to (Acts 8:1, 8:26, 10:1-48). And second, when it started happening, when Gentiles started coming into the community (by the will and work of the Holy Spirit), they weren’t sure what to make of it (Acts 10:45-46, 11:1-18). Eventually most of them came to understand and embrace their global mandate, and so it became their ambition, as Paul put it, “to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15:20). In a world where over 1500 nations (ethnolinguistic people groups), made up of more than 3 billion people still have no Gospel witness, no missional Christian church, announcing the Good News of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth should still be our ambition.
14. Jesus redefines family.
Because the Gospel is not theoretical but is to be lived out in and through community, diversity of all sorts (ethnic, cultural, age, gender, socioeconomic, etc.) should be pursued intentionally and diligently. In the book of Ephesians, Paul says that Jesus has destroyed “the dividing wall of hostility” and created “one new humanity out of the two” (Jew and Gentile), so a church that has embraced the full Gospel should also embrace radical diversity. Doing so both teaches the Gospel to those within—as we are forced to confront our own preferences and prejudices and draw close to ourselves those whom Jesus has drawn close to Himself—and announces the Gospel of reconciliation and unity to those outside the Church. The Church in the book of Acts wrestled with this as their ekklesia changed, at the initiative of the Holy Spirit, from a Jewish sect to a global Church. It was uncomfortable for them; diversity always is. But they eventually came to understand that the waters of baptism redefined family and that the Table was open to all who confessed Jesus as Lord. The result was an eclectic community made up of people from all classes, races, genders, and cultures that, embodied the radical inclusivity of the Kingdom and showed all people that they belonged to Jesus by the way they loved each other. In a time when our world is increasingly polarized, when tribalism is considered a virtue, it is all the more necessary for the Church (for local churches) to intentionally pursue diversity so that we can experience, embody, and announce this Kingdom that is open to all people.
15. Women are leaders.
Luke, in both the Gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts, goes to great lengths to show the centrality of women to the Jesus movement. In the Gospel of Luke (as well as the other Gospels), it is women who are present for some of the most significant events in the life of Jesus, women who are quickest to grasp His identity and character, women who are most often lauded for their great faith, women with whom Jesus shares some of the most stunning revelations, and women who financially supported His ministry. This theme continues in the book of Acts as Luke points out that women were present in the Upper Room, that they too received the Holy Spirit and prophesied on the day of Pentecost, that they led churches and underwrote ministry, and that they corrected false doctrine and practice (among men). We cannot overstate the importance and centrality of women in the early church nor the radical statement that their importance and centrality made (makes). In a cultural and religious setting that was markedly chauvinistic, where women were viewed as secondary and subordinate, the Holy Spirit empowered and the Church embraced women as equals, as co-laborers, and as leaders. The misogyny introduced by the Fall has no place in a community that is being redeemed. The Church does not need to empower women to be leaders; the Holy Spirit has already done that. The Church simply needs to recognize them for the leaders that they are and follow them as they follow Jesus.
16. Life is messy. Humility is necessary. Unity is non-negotiable.
Throughout the entirety of the book of Acts, the Church was essentially figuring things out as they went. They were not scholars nor theologians. They did not have access to the full Bible that we have today. They did not have 2,000 years of Christian theological discourse from which to draw. They were experiencing unprecedented events, blazing a trail through untouched terrain, and consequently, their theological systems were often formed after their experience. This is not to say that they relied exclusively on their experience but rather that their theology was developed as they applied their understanding of Scripture, embodied and completed in their Rabbi Jesus, to their experiences of God at work in their lives and in the world. And, of course, when disagreement arose (as it inevitably did; life is messy), they, again in the words of Paul, made “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The result was a theology that was both strong and humble. All too often, we start with a theological conviction that we defend vehemently and into which we attempt to force both our experience and Scripture, and the result is division in the Church. This must not be our way. We must believe things and believe them strongly, but we must also believe them with humility knowing that God and His Church are both bigger than our theological systems.