This section explains the distinctive theological convictions that we hold at Grace Church Gateshead. We call them ‘distinctives’ because we recognise that there are other churches and Christians who may have different convictions on these issues, whilst still being committed, Gospel-centred Christians. Therefore, we will not exclude from membership those who do not agree with our position on these issues, though we do expect that they have a theologically defensible reason for what they believe and that they will not allow these issues to cause division in the church. For a good resource on why, when, and how Christians should disagree over doctrines, please see Finding the Right Hills to Die On, by Gavin Ortlund. We have written what follows in a spirit of sincere humility towards those whom differ from us, and would ask that in reading this section you bear in mind Augustine’s famous words about ‘how to do theology’:

This way is first humility, second humility, third humility, and however often you should ask me I would say the same, not because there are not other precepts to be explained, but if humility does not precede and accompany and follow every good work we do, and if it is not set before us to look upon, and beside us to lean upon, and behind us to fence us it, pride will wrest from our hand any good deed we do while we are in the very act of taking pleasure in it.

Augustine, letter 118, letter to Dioscorus

1. Baptism And The Lord’s Supper

Key Points

  • Baptism is the sign of initiation into God’s family.
  • The Lord’s Supper (Communion) is the sign of covenant renewal for followers of Jesus Christ.
  • While both are commanded in Scripture, neither Baptism nor the Lord’s Supper, are necessary for salvation.
  • At GCG we practice “believer’s baptism” by full submersion.

Statement

We believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordained by the Lord Jesus himself. Baptism is connected with entrance into the new covenant community; the Lord’s supper with ongoing covenant renewal. Both of them act as God’s pledge to us; they are divinely ordained means of grace, they are our public vows of submission to the risen Christ, and they are anticipations of his return and of the consummation of all things.

At GCG we practice “believer’s baptism,” believing that baptism is appropriately administered only to those who give a thoughtful profession of personal faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, we believe that baptism should come after faith in Jesus, rather than before. For this reason, we will not baptise infants or small children that are unable to make a thoughtful profession of faith. We understand that some within our church family may have different convictions about the value of infant baptism.

Scripture

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18–20

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Romans 6:3–5

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:26–28

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23–26

For further reading, we recommend Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants by Stephen Wellum, in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright.


2. Pastor/Elder Led Church Government

Key Points

  • In the New Testament, elders, pastors, and bishops are synonymous; they are not different offices. A ‘pastor’ is by definition also an ‘elder’ and a ‘bishop’.
  • GCG is led and governed by a plurality of qualified male elders.
  • GCG is not a congregational-led church where members vote.

Statement

The consistent pattern throughout the New Testament is that each local body of believers is shepherded by a plurality of qualified, male pastors/elders. Simply stated, this is the only pattern for church leadership given in the New Testament. Pastors/elders are called to number of specific duties, including: prayer and scripture study, caring for the people in the church, equipping the church to do ministry, giving an account to God for the church, living exemplary lives, preaching and teaching, praying for the sick, teaching sound doctrine and refuting error. The word groups ‘pastor’, ‘overseer (bishop)’, and ‘elder’ are synonymous, in that they refer to the same people (not different ‘offices’) in the New Testament. For instance, 1 Peter 5.1 is written to the ‘elders’, who in the very next verse are called to ‘shepherd’ (the word for ‘pastor’) the flock of God, exercising ‘oversight’ (the word for ‘bishop’).

Scripture

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, soberminded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

1 Timothy 3:1–7

if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 1:6–9

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Acts 20:28

shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

1 Peter 5:2–4

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:17

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

1 Timothy 5:17

For further reading, we recommend Biblical Eldership, by Alexander Strauch, and The Imperfect Pastor, by Zack Eswine.


3. Church discipline

Key Points

  • The Bible does not allow the church to tolerate willful, unrepentant sin.
  • God gives church leadership authority to carry out public discipline if necessary.
  • The purpose of church discipline is to correct, not to punish.

Statement

Church discipline is the process of confronting sin to achieve repentance and restoration. It is also intended to prevent unrestrained sin from spreading to others and protect the honour of Jesus Christ. The informal process of church discipline happens any time a believer confronts another believer about his or her sin and encourages repentance. The formal process of church discipline typically begins when the individual in sin is unwilling to repent over an extended period of time. Therefore, most formal church discipline is not as much about the sin as it is about the hard-hearted unwillingness to repent for sin. The process of church discipline concludes when the believer either repents or is formally removed by the elders from participating in the church. Additionally, those who intentionally stir up divisions in the church should be disciplined with greater swiftness. The goal of church discipline is always to correct and restore, rather than to punish.

Scripture

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Galatians 6:1

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:19–20

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15–17

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

1 Corinthians 5:1–7

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

Romans 16:17

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,

Titus 3:10

For further reading, we recommend Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus by Jonathan Leeman, and God Redeeming His Bride by Robert Cheong.


4. Divorce And Remarriage

Key Points

  • Divorce and remarriage are never encouraged in the Scriptures, and will never be encouraged at GCG. Rather, reconciliation will always be encouraged.
  • The redemption given in the Gospel means that there are no ‘second class’ Christians, only forgiven ones: divorced or remarried Christians are no exception.
  • We offer and strongly encourage pre-marital counseling at GCG.

Statement

It is important to note that God never commands us to divorce. He never communicates that divorce is best. Moreover, scholarly examination of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 conclude that he only sanctions divorce in cases of ‘unlawful’ marriage (such as in cases of incest, or unfaithfulness during the betrothal period). What about those who have already been divorced? Does the Bible allow for remarriage following a divorce? Paul answers this question in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, saying that in cases of divorce the individual should either remain unmarried or pursue reconciliation.

Every person is different and every situation is unique. This reality does not in any way negate the prohibitions and principles given in the Bible, but it does require wisdom and discernment to appropriately apply the principles to a given situation. Therefore, we would recommend that those who are concerned about their situation meet with GCG’s pastors to receive personal care and biblical direction.

Scripture

Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “covers his garment with violence,” says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

Malachi 2:15-16

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32

Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

Matthew 19:8-9

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:10-16

For further reading, we recommend God, Marriage and Family, by Andreas Köstenberger, or Questions about Divorce and Remarriage, by Andrew Cornes.


5. Complementarian

Key Points

  • Men and women are equal as image-bearers of God and in the access they have to God through Christ
  • Men and women are created to complement one another by assuming distinctive roles in the family and church.
  • God has called men to function as servant leaders, accountable to God, in the home and church.

Statement

We are ‘complementarian’ in our understanding of the distinction between men and women in the home and the church. We believe that men and women are equal in value, worth, and dignity, as demonstrated by the fact that they are both created in God’s image. We also believe that they are given complementary roles in marriage, the family, and the church. We believe that church and family works better, people experience greater joy, and God gets more glory when we embrace these complementary roles. We believe men are called to spiritually lead their homes as husbands and fathers and the church as pastor-elders. This means they are to reject passivity, accept responsibility, and lead courageously and sacrificially for the sake of others.

Respectfully, our goal is not to define what women cannot do in the church, but what men are called to do. Our emphasis is on a call, not a prohibition. We define masculinity by courageous, intentional, sacrificial servant-leadership. Men should receive God’s call to lead with humility, acknowledging the significant responsibility that has been placed upon them and their accountability to God. While we do not reject all elements of culture that are often associated with masculinity, we do not embrace machismo behaviour or equate manhood with any of these markers. We believe that the building up of men who honour God in their home, workplace, and community, is critical for the health of the church in Gateshead.

Scripture

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

1 Timothy 2:8–15

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

1 Corinthians 11:3

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:22–33

For further reading, we recommend Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, or see this helpful video on the Gospel Coalition: http://bit.ly/RYcVA5


6. Issues Grace Church Gateshead Does Not Hold A Formal Position On

There are a variety of other doctrinal and philosophical issues that GCG intentionally does not take a formal position on. These are issues that we would consider “open-handed,” meaning that while individuals within our church may hold different convictions about them, they are ‘third-order’ or ‘fourth-order’ issues and freedom should be given within our church to believe differently as long as the beliefs remain within the spectrum of biblical Christianity. Some open-handed issues are listed below as well as a clarifying statement to ensure that we are clear about what we would not consider to be within the spectrum of biblical Christianity.

The Bible itself defines for us which doctrines are of ‘first importance’ – see 1 Corinthians 15.1-3 and following. For further study of the distinctions between ‘first, second, third, and fourth-order’ doctrines, please see Finding the Right Hills to Die On, by Gavin Ortlund. In summary, ‘first order’ (or, ‘primary’) doctrines are those which are essential to the gospel. They either represent a material aspect of the gospel, or a key cultural fault-line to defending the historic gospel. An example would be the virgin birth or physical resurrection of Jesus. Over primary doctrines we must divide, and this will require courage and conviction.

A ‘second-order’ (or ‘secondary’) doctrine is not essential to the gospel, but urgent to the health and practice of the church. We should divide over these, and this will require wisdom and balance. An example would be a careful, balanced doctrine of biblical complementarianism.

A ‘third-order’ (or tertiary) doctrine is not urgent to the health of the church, but important to theology. We should not divide over these issues, but discuss, study, and learn with circumspection and restraint. An example would be the Bible’s teaching on the ‘millennium’.

‘Fourth-order’ doctrines are those which are largely speculative, and we must avoid division over them.

A related danger which healthy church members must be aware of is the imbalanced, wrong emphasis in Christian doctrines. At worst, Christians can become fanatics and even false teachers, because they emphasise a good doctrine as if it is a primary doctrine. For instance, what the Bible teaches about creation, end times, spiritual gifts, and many other doctrines can wrongly replace the gospel itself as the ‘first-order’ doctrine.

Please note that we do not avoid ‘difficult’ or ‘divisive’ topics in the course of preaching through Bible books. We believe there are great dangers in the avoidance of teaching on ‘difficult’ (or culturally unpopular) things. For example, much eschatology has been taught in the life of the church thus far (e.g., in our Daniel series, or various Dig Deeper series), yet the position taken by the preacher when speaking on those passages is not a requirement for membership at GCG. Similarly, while we have preached through Genesis, you do not need to agree with the positions taken in order to be a healthy church member at GCG.

Spiritual Gifts

While we recognise that Christians differ on the theology and practice of spiritual gifts, we do not believe that the gift of tongues (or any other individual spiritual gift) is required as an evidence of salvation1.

End Times

While we recognise that Christians differ in their understanding of the Bible’s teaching regarding the ‘end times’, we do not believe that Jesus has already returned. We anticipate his future bodily coming2.

Creation

While we recognise that Christians differ in their interpretation of the book of Genesis, we do not believe in atheistic or naturalistic evolution3.

For further reading, we recommend the following books:

  • Finding the Right Hills to Die On, by Gavin Ortlund
  • Conscience: What it is, how to train it, and loving those who differ, by Andrew Naselli and J.D. Crowley.
  • When Doctrine Divides the People of God, by Rhyne Putman
  • The Basis of Christian Unity, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

  • 1) There are a growing number of sermons relevant to this on our website, including those on Acts 2.1-41 and 1 Thessalonians 5.12-28.
  • 2) There are a growing number of sermons relevant to this on our website, including those on Mark 13 and Daniel 7-12.
  • 3) There are a growing number of sermons relevant to this on our website, including those on Genesis 1-2 and Genesis 6-9.