Who We Are, What We Believe
In the simplest sense of the term, Christians are followers of Jesus. Jesus announced the dawning of the everlasting Reign of God. He taught and lived a life-style of radical simplicity, utter truthfulness, invincible forgiveness and extravagant self-giving for the citizens of that new world order. He rebuked the selfishness, violence and duplicity of the existing world order with deeds of power, and gathered a community of disciples to live toward God’s Reign.
But Jesus is not simply a prophet or teacher. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The earliest Christian witnesses and the classical exponents of Christian faith across the centuries agree that the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all reality has entered into our common human history through Jesus Christ, and has taken upon himself our brokenness, guilt and shame. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but are justified by his free grace as a gift” (Romans 3:23-24). In Christ, God’s utter holiness and God’s illimitable love meet, and we are the beneficiaries.
Christ becomes our Savior as we lay our guilt and shame at the foot of his cross and invite him to dwell in our hearts. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Christ is our Lord as we conform our goals and values to his, put everything that we have and everything that we are at his service, and live as his ambassadors in this broken world. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
The term “Baptist” brings forth different, sometimes contradictory, images in different people. The modern Baptist movement arose 400 years ago in England when men such as John Smyth and Thomas Helwys proclaimed a simple evangelical faith grounded in scripture alone, and denied – in dramatic opposition to the tenets of both the Protestants and the Catholics of their day — that rulers and governments could dictate to the conscience of believers or enforce an official religious practice.
In colonial New England, Roger Williams founded Providence Colony (modern Rhode Island) and the First Baptist Church of Providence (continuously active since 1638) on principles of absolute freedom of conscience and religious practice.
Today’s Baptists are found in many nations and exhibit many cultural, political and theological tendencies. Indeed, in our one congregation we are conservative and liberal, blue collar and professional, speakers of some twenty different languages, and situated through the life cycle at points from infancy to the century mark. But from the days of Smyth, Helwys and Williams down to today, Baptists have shared certain distinctives:
- The personal faith relationship of each individual believer with Christ (Romans 10:8).
- Believers Baptism, according to the New Testament model (Acts 2:37-39, 8:26-40; Romans 6:1-11)
- The Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) as a memorial celebration of Christ crucified on our behalf (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
- A “Believer’s Church”, that is, the church as the gathered body of those who have chosen to follow Jesus (Acts 2:43-47)
- A “Gifted Church”, that is, we are not simply a religious club, but we are the supernatural unity of those who have been called together by the risen Christ, indwelt by his Spirit, and equipped with the capacities that we need, together, to represent Christ in the world (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)
- The autonomy of the local congregation. Baptists do not have hierarchies or mandatory connections, but we do form voluntary relationships for ministry and mission beyond the local setting. Among these relationships for this local congregation are our connections to the American Baptist Churches, USA, and the American Baptist Churches of Oregon.
- The unique and sufficient authority of Holy Scripture in all matters of faith and Practice
Finally, at First Baptist Church of Portland, we stand for a “Whole Gospel”, that is, we actively invite individuals to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 3:16, Matthew 28:16-20); at the same time we reflect Jesus’ own proclamation of the advent of God’s Kingdom of mercy and justice (Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:14-19), and we strive to anticipate that Kingdom in works of loving kindness (Matthew 25:31-40). By God’s grace we attempt to live what Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Dr. David L. Wheeler