(Note: this description of our congregations’ beliefs was written by Rev. Dr. Martin Rolfs Massaglia about 2 years ago. While Martin is no longer with us, and congregations may change over time, his description of First Baptist Church is still a good one.)
Historically, Baptists have been reluctant to craft and ask people to adhere to doctrinal statements. One of the tenants of Baptist belief is that the New Testament is the authoritative guide for faith and practice. Another belief is that individuals are free, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret scripture on their own. Though you can find many Baptist Churches these days that organize around a doctrinal statement, at First Baptist we have none. In addition to those historical reasons it would be difficult for us to agree on a doctrinal statement because our congregation represents a broad diversity of theological positions.
In the absence of such a statement, in order to respond to the desire of seekers and visitors to have some idea of what we as a community believe, I want to offer two things.
- First I will make some observations, as senior pastor, about how I see our beliefs as a congregation being acted out as we seek to be faithful to our calling as a Christian Community.
- Secondly, we are part of the American Baptist Churches, USA, and our denomination has issued a statement called We Are American Baptists which get at some of our commonly held beliefs. I hope that the combination will give you a feel for who we are as a congregation of believers.
A Pastor’s Observations:
The list that follows outlines some beliefs I see being lived out in our congregation. It is by no means exhaustive, but mainly a response to the questions I am most often asked about our church. The congregation has taken no action on these beliefs; but I consider them to be a fair representation based on how we function; the ongoing conversation and discussion that takes place; and the theological issues.
- God: We believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all there is. God loves us unconditionally with a parent’s love and desires to live in relationship with human creation.
- Jesus: We believe that God has been most clearly revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus; that in Jesus, God came not to condemn but to save the entire world; came to lead us away from the self-destructive path of sin and shame, to have a transformed, rich, abundant and everlasting life. We believe the way to that transformed life is in relationship with Jesus, who is alive through the Holy Spirit; and in patterning our lives as nearly after the Way of Jesus as possible.
- Holy Spirit: God/Jesus is present and available to us through the Holy Spirit; for guidance, direction, empowerment, wisdom, comfort, edification and strength. Through the Spirit, God gives each one gifts and abilities to be used to bring God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
- The Bible: We believe the Bible to be the divinely inspired word of God; our authority for faith and practice; but that doesn’t mean that we subscribe to a so-called “literal interpretation” of it. The Bible did not drop out of the sky. It was written by people; inspired people who told stories and passed on oral traditions and sat down and wrote things with a pen and paper. The Bible originated from real people in real places at real times. To take statements made in a writing of someone living in a real place at a moment in history and apply that writing to today without first understanding the original context sucks the life right out of them. The Bible has to be interpreted. Decisions have to be made about what it means now, today.
The ultimate display of our respect for the sacred words of God is that we are willing to wade in and wrestle with the text – the good parts, the hard-to-understand parts, the parts we wish weren’t there. In the preaching ministry, in discipleship classes, in small group discussions we at First Baptist are wrestling with the text to understand how to apply ancient truths to day to day faith in our time.
The Bible is not a look-it-up encyclopedia of timeless moral truths, but the unfolding narrative of God at work in a violent, sinful world, calling people into a new way of life.
Our Calling: In living out our calling as a congregation we focus on what Jesus claimed to be the two most important commandments; to Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This finds our congregation heavily involved in ministries of outreach; locally, nationally and globally.
All are Gifted for Ministry: We believe that God endows each of us with gifts to be used in ministry in the world. These gifts are given indiscriminately of gender, race, culture, or class. Women and men are equal partners in all aspects of ministry at First Baptist Church. Our congregation reflects the racial and cultural diversity of the community in which we serve; we strive to insure that this diversity is represented at all levels of church life and leadership.
All are Welcome: We strive to be an inviting community where all are welcome. We invite people into our midst who are at all stages of faith; those who doubt even the existence of God as well of those who have spent a lifetime deepening their faith. We invite people to come with their doubts and their questions. We see First Baptist as a place of healing and refuge where all of us are strugglers.
Our invitation might reflect words from a book by Brian McLaren: “We are a community bound together and energized by faith, love, and commitment to Jesus Christ. Even though you don’t yet share that faith, love and commitment, you are most welcome to be with us, to belong here, to experience what we’re about. Then, if you are attracted and persuaded by what you see, you’ll want to set down roots here long-term. And even if you don’t, you’ll always be a friend.”
WE ARE AMERICAN BAPTISTS
American Baptists worship the triune God of the Bible, who is eternally one God in three persons. This one true God is most clearly revealed to us in the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
American Baptists proclaim the Good News of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, knowing that salvation (forgiveness of sins, release from guilt and condemnation, reconciliation with God) and eternal life are granted in grace to all who trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This Gospel is the central message of the Bible.
Although Baptists have produced numerous confessions to express our common understandings of Christian faith, we hold the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, as our final authority. We accept no humanly devised confession or creed as binding.
American Baptists are summoned to this mission in common with all Christians. With the whole body of Christ, we also believe that God has been revealed in Jesus Christ as in no other, and that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (II Corinthians 5:18). We anticipate the day when every creature and all creation, on earth and beyond, will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).
God has given this particular community of believers call Baptists a distinctive history and experience. As we share in common with Christians everywhere, so Baptists everywhere celebrate a common heritage.
With Baptist brothers and sisters around the world, we believe:
- The Bible is the final authority and trustworthy for faith and practice. It is to be interpreted responsibly under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit within the community of faith;
- The Church is a gathered fellowship of regenerated believers, a sign of the coming universal reign of God;
- Freedom to respond to the Lordship of Christ in all circumstances is fundamental to the Christian gospel and to human dignity; and
- That witness to Christ is the ongoing task of every Christian and of every church.
Within the larger Baptist family, American Baptists emphasize convictions which direct our special task and ministry.
We affirm that God through Jesus Christ calls us to be:
A Redeemed People
- Who claim a personal relationship to God through Jesus Christ
- Who follow the Lord in believer’s baptism
- Who gather as a believer’s church
- Who share in the meal of the kingdom known as the Lord’s Supper
- Who honor the priesthood of all believers
- Who live their faith as visible saints
A Biblical People
- Who gather regularly to praise God
- Who receive nourishment by communion with the Risen Christ
- Who share an open and public confession of faith
- Who believe that personal devotion brings vitality to corporate celebration
A Mission People
- Who strive to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples
- Who invite persons to receive salvation and follow Christ
- Who engage in educational, social and health ministries
An Interdependent People
- Who affirm the Church’s unity as given in Jesus Christ;
- Who gladly embody in our practice the ministry of the whole people of God;
- Who recognize God’s gift for ministry and honor all offices of pastoral ministry;
- Who live and work together “in association”, and
- Who bring the free church tradition to cooperative and ecumenical Christianity.
A Caring People
- Who care for the needy, the weak and oppressed;
- Who care for the earth and for all its creatures
An Inclusive People
- Who, gifted by a variety of backgrounds, find unity in diversity and diversity in unity;
- Who embrace a pluralism of race ethnicity and gender; and
- Who acknowledge that there are individual differences of conviction and theology.
A Contemporary People
- Who have a remembrance for the past and a vision for the future;
- Who are committed to religious liberty and to the separation of church and state;
- Who call our present world to make Jesus Christ Lord of all life; and
- Who trust the Holy Spirit for insight and power to live in the present age.
We further believe …
- That God has called us forth to such an hour as this;
- That we live with a realizable hope;
- That all things are held together in Christ