Fervent Convictions

While we fully affirm the unity of the true Christian church, we also affirm God’s use and blessing of the many different kinds of Christian bodies, commonly called denominations. We believe that one of the ways that God uses denominations is through each group’s distinctive articulation of the Christian faith. We believe that the Christian message is best proclaimed when each denomination humbly but confidently articulates its perspective concerning the issues upon which Christians have a diversity of views. Traditionally Friends called these “testimonies,” but they are not personal experiences shared in church or depositions given in court. Testimonies are fervent convictions of the heart. What follows are our convictions, derived from biblical reflection and experience with the living Christ, regarding seven important issues.
    1. The Nature of and Gifts for Ministry We affirm that every believer in Jesus has the capacity and responsibility to know and experience God directly. No mediation by any other than Jesus Christ is ever required to find God’s direction or to experience His presence. Christian ministry is the privilege and responsibility of every believer, graciously given as a gift by God through His Holy Spirit. This ministry cannot be restricted to a special class within the church, nor can the authority for ministry be passed on by any other than the Holy Spirit.We believe the Holy Spirit’s calling and gifting of a person are never limited by mere human factors such as sex, ethnicity or social status, that God wants His Church to recognize, affirm, and train all whom He has called, and that we are disobedient to the Holy Spirit if we do otherwise. We want to be especially clear regarding the role of women in leadership. From our very beginnings, we have found no scriptural basis for limiting certain leadership and ministry roles to men. Today, we continue to affirm, not as a concession to modernity but in obedience to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, that the Lord is calling both women and men to serve as leaders and pastors in His church. (Acts 2:17-18;Eph 1:17; 1 Tim 2:4; 1 Cor 7:7; Eph 4:8; Gal 3:28; Rom 16:3,7)
    2. The Indwelling and Gifts of the Spirit We affirm that every believer receives the Holy Spirit at the point of their conversion, and not as the result of any rite, such as water baptism or the laying on of hands. We believe that the only essential biblical sign that one has been baptized with the Spirit is a transformed life. As the Spirit of Christ dwells within us, He is fully present to lead us and directly teach His will to us.One benefit of the Spirit’s indwelling is that all believers are given spiritual gifts for the benefit of the church and the world. We affirm that these gifts are given for service and the glorification of God, and that no gift is ever meant to serve as a necessary sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer. We affirm with the Scriptures that not every gift has usefulness in every situation, and that some gifts, such as tongues and prophecy, have biblical guidelines on their use in public worship. We do not, however, find any biblical assertion that these gifts have ceased, and we want to be careful not to place any non-biblical boundaries on their use (2 Cor 1:22; Gal 5:22; 1 Cor 12:7; 1 Cor 12:30; 1 Cor 14:1ff; 1 Cor 14:39).
    3. Baptism and Communion We affirm that there is only one baptism, in the Holy Spirit, for all believers, and that all believers share a continuing communion or collective experience of Christ’s presence. Jesus is always and ever present among His people because of His promise to do so, and no rite or ritual can make Him more so. We believe the Bible regards our entire lives as the intended settings for God’s working and presence, so that no particular practice should be regarded as uniquely “sacramental.” The sign or distinguishing mark of a Christian can never be contained in any rite or ritual alone, but rather is always a life conformed to Christ. At the same time, we observe that water baptism and the Lord’s supper with the elements of bread and wine can sometimes be helpful to believers to experience the already established presence of Christ. (See Elements Statement adopted in 1994, pages 37-38).Our perspective comes solely from our desire to conform our practices and beliefs to the Scriptures. We recognize that many Christians view their particular practice as the simple continuation of New Testament observances. We humbly assert that another look at the Bible would suggest otherwise. In the first three gospels Jesus clearly intended for His Jewish disciples to celebrate the Passover from that point onward in memory of His death rather than Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. But it is not at all clear that Jesus intended to create a new ritual for all believers. Instead, he appears to be christianizing an already existing practice which is exactly what we assert that Paul is doing with his regulations for the love feast in Corinth.We recognize as well that water baptisms occur in the Bible, but we also note that no particular mode is specified. More importantly, water baptism is never established as a required ritual in the New Testament. This leads us to believe that the broader biblical statements about baptism refer to our common baptism in and by the Holy Spirit, and not to the practice of water baptism.Our study of the Bible leads us to conclude that the practice of the rituals of water baptism and communion with the elements were never meant to be regarded as necessary for the salvation or sanctification of the believer. Again, while we recognize that some may find these practices helpful, we do not believe that the Bible ever considers them necessary acts of obedience or essential aspects of Christian discipleship (Eph 4:5; John 15:4; Matt 28:20; John 14:16; Luke 22:7; 1 Cor 11:17).
    4. Leadership, Decision-making, and the Church We believe that all who truly follow and trust Jesus are the members of one body, and that each local church is a manifestation of that body. We recognize that God calls and equips particular men and women to be leaders in his church, and it is the role of every member to affirm and cooperate with that calling, while maintaining their own responsibilities for service and leadership as well.We fully affirm that Jesus is the Head of the church, not as a metaphor, but as a matter of practical reality. This makes the church different from all other institutions. While all members are equally part of a local church, the church is not a democracy. Jesus Christ Himself is the leader of each church. This means that decision-making in a local church is primarily a task of spiritual discernment. While it is our task to weigh options and discuss various proposals and ideas, we believe that by humbly and prayerfully submitting our opinions and perspectives to the Holy Spirit’s direction, the Lord will guide us to unity regarding His direction for a particular decision. This unity cannot be discerned by voting, nor is it merely human consensus, which is arrived at by compromise and mediating conflicting opinions. Rather, unity in decision-making is a gift our Lord Jesus gives His church when they collectively seek His will as its Head. (Eph 3:6; 1 Cor 12:28; Heb 13:17; Col 1:18; Acts 15, emphasis on v. 28)
    5. Love, Peace, and Violence We believe God desires reconciliation with all peoples and between all peoples, having made peace with sinful humanity through His cross. As our gracious salvation has taken away any enmity between God and believers, so also we believe God calls His people to exemplify love in our relationships with each other and the world.As Jesus did in His own life, we believe that we are called to bear witness to God’s love for us and his love for our enemies by suffering for them, if necessary, even unto death. We believe God calls His people to practice peacemaking as a basic element of Christian obedience and discipleship. Violence, in its essence, is evil and inhumane, and contrary to the gospel of love and peace. Consequently, our new life in Christ calls us to rid ourselves of violence in its many and different forms, refusing to use it as a tool for good. With regard to military service we encourage prayerful and conscientious study and obedience to our Lord’s call to peacemaking. While each person must live out his or her understanding of Scripture, the time-tested Friends’ counsel is to decline to serve, or where the state allows, to give alternative service. In keeping with the teachings and example of Jesus, we are each called to oppose war and violence, to alleviate suffering, work for reconciliation, and promote justice in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of His love (Matt. 26:51-54; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:14-21; 1 Cor. 6:7; 1Tim. 2:1-8; 1 Peter 2:19-24; Is. 2:4).
    6. Salvation, Transformation, and Sanctification We believe that it is God’s purpose and desire to save us from our sins and to transform us into His likeness. We believe this salvation is offered to everyone, and is available to any who will receive it. We believe that God is greatly grieved when people refuse His gift of salvation, but that His power and rule are in no way diminished when they do so.We believe that when a person receives Jesus Christ in faith, a genuine transformation takes place in both the person’s status before God and in his or her very nature. We believe this happens because God makes the repentant believer righteous. Our righteousness before God is not the result of any meritorious actions on our part, but neither are we righteous merely because God considers us to be so. We believe God radically transforms us in salvation, actually making us righteous before Him and at the very core of our selves. We receive a new life, one that is now entirely capable of faith, obedience, and love. This new life transforms and restores our relationship with our Lord, enabling us to know and experience Jesus in our daily lives.We believe this transformation is not completed when we receive Jesus. From the moment of our conversion until our glorification, God is continually at work in us, conforming us to the image of His Son. This grace-filled work of the Holy Spirit that makes us Christ-like in character and conduct is often called sanctification it is God making us holy as He is holy.We believe that sanctification is a process through which, by grace, the believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit in his or her own transformation. The Spirit of God empowers, convicts, and encourages each believer to pursue holiness. Our freedom from sin is increasingly manifested in our actions and our very natures. More importantly, our very selves and our behavior become increasingly Christ-like. We believe this transformation is genuine and radical, and that no part of the human life and spirit is unchangeable or unreachable by God’s sanctifying grace. As a result of this transformation, we believe that in every situation we can do what is right and effectively carry it out by the grace of God.

      We believe our role in sanctification is to love God, live in Christ, and respond to the Holy Spirit. God calls us to fully commit, or consecrate, ourselves to Him. We do this by confessing and turning from sin purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates our bodies and spirits. Moreover, our Lord calls us to live out His truth, to set our minds on what is excellent and praiseworthy, and to obey His commands turning toward our new lives in Christ.

      We believe our task is to work out this transformation through our submission to God’s Word in our daily lives and especially in response to fresh experiences of God and the Holy Spirit’s leading. We do this by faith and by the power of the Spirit who resides within us. It is quite possible that the apostle Paul said it best “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil. 2:12-13).”

    7. (Deut 9:6; Luke 10:27; John 3:36, 17:17-19; Rom 5:17, 19, chapters 6-8, 12:1-2; 1 Cor 6:18-20; 2 Cor 3:16, 18, 5:21, 7:1; Gal 2:20, 5:16; Eph 2:10; Phil 2:12-13, 4:8; Col 1:21-23, 3:1-4; 1 Thess 4:3-8, 5:23-24; Titus 2:11-12, 3:5; Heb 5:9, 12:1; 1 Pet 1:15-16; 1 John 1:5-2:2, 3:4-10)

    8. Truthful and Gracious Speech We believe our ability to communicate with one another was given to us by God. As our Maker, He is the creator of speech and language. This gift, like every other gift from God, is to be guarded and used wisely. Friends have a testimony about how we are to speak. Following Jesus’ command Friends decline to use oaths of any kind, even in legal settings, preferring to use a simple affirmation (Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12). In earlier times, Friends refused to use the second person plural, “you,” to address an individual of higher rank or social status, using the singular form, “thee” or “thou” address all individuals.Friends have had an earlier testimony about how we are to speak. Following Jesus’ command, they refused to take oaths, and recognizing the essential equality of all people, they refused to use the formal form of address. They addressed all with the informal thee and thou.

      At the heart of this testimony was a belief that language was given to us to communicate truth. Taking an oath implied that somehow one’s other words were not always as true; an abasement of language and an implied dishonesty. Formal address required bowing to a social convention based on a passing human reality, and not on the eternal values of the Kingdom of God.

      We believe the Lord is calling us to redeem our speech. Words were given to us to tell the truth. We should be very aware of the constant temptation to exchange clarity for what presents best and simplicity of speech for calculated expressions. When we disagree, we can and should express ourselves clearly and honestly, but we must be careful not to dishonor those with whom we disagree. Most of all, we must embrace the positive use of words. The Scriptures command us to bless, encourage, and honor each other. More than avoiding the misuse of words, the Lord is calling us to put speech to work for the gracious and beneficial purposes for which He created it.

Long Beach Friends Church