How our faith is lived out in real life. Doctrine is most beautiful when it is actually lived out in our real lives. Here are some of the practical ways Epic Church desires to live out what we believe.
We believe we live in the presence of God all day long
It is interesting that we often pray, “God, please be with us” when God’s presence is always with us (He is “omnipresent” as we read in Psalm 139; Jeremiah 23:24; Genesis 28:15). When we quote Matthew 18:20 (which basically says “when two or three are gathered” then Jesus is present) as a way of explaining when God “shows up,” this is actually a misunderstanding of the context. That particular passage was talking about settling disputes in the church and having more than one witness or perspective. What Jesus actually said regarding His presence was the assurance that “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Worshiping God and praying can happen all day long, not just when we are at a church meeting or with other Christians. This means that we can “practice His presence” throughout the day: as we drive, as we eat, as we talk to others, as we work, and as we play.
We believe that we are utterly dependent on God’s Spirit to make personal change
Human effort alone does not produce real change — it is the Spirit of God who convicts us, changes us, and ultimately empowers us to be transformed into followers of Jesus. Repentance (which means “to change one’s mind” or “to turn”) is part of change, because as we repent, we recognize where we have gone astray from God’s will. Out of understanding where we have strayed, we can then ask God for the strength to continue changing into the person He has us to be (John 14:26; Acts 9:31; Romans 8:27; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 1 John 2:20,27: Acts 1:8).
We believe in the “priesthood” of all believers
The “priesthood” of all believers is the Scriptural teaching that every Christian is in full-time ministry, serving God in all they do. This means that vocations other than paid ministry are still ministry. God has scattered His people throughout varying times and places so that they could honor Him in all parts of life, regardless of what type of vocation they are in. Practically, this means that everyone from a Christian elementary school student to her stay-at-home mom to her electrician father can be a holy servant of God, honoring Him in his or her respective vocations. The concept of the “priesthood” of all believers comes out of the truth that because of Jesus, we no longer need a human mediator or “priest” to communicate with and experience God. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), there were “priests” who would go and intercede on the behalf of the people. But because Jesus is our High Priest and mediator, we are now all priests in God’s kingdom (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14; 1 Peter 2:4, 9).
We believe that you can’t “go to church” because you “are the church”
Nowhere in the New Testament do you read that the followers of Jesus “went to church.” What you do read is that the church (the people) gathered together. There is a big difference between the two. The church is the people, not a place or a meeting you attend. We believe that in the modern world, the “church” has become known as a place that people go to versus people on a mission for God. We cannot underestimate the power of how words shape our understanding of what a “church” is and how it is supposed to function. Epic Church will have weekly worship gatherings, and will have various other classes and meetings that happen at a “place” — but foremost, we will be defined and function as a community of “people” who are living as the church all week long (1 Corinthians 12).
We believe that healthy followers of Jesus will be those who learn to “feed themselves” from the inspired Scriptures throughout the week
We desire to set a culture where people strive to be “theologians” and learn to “feed themselves” from the Scriptures to mature and grow. This is a critical philosophical strategy for a church, because it means that we want to see people learning how to study the Scriptures outside of Sundays as part of the rhythm of their lives, not viewing the sermons on Sundays as the primary way they are being “fed” as a believer. The Scriptures are an absolutely critical aspect of growing and maturing as a follower of Jesus. Studying and knowing and living out the Scriptures must happen on a regular basis in the life of a believer (Hebrews 5:11-13, Acts 17:10-12).
We believe that our daily lives should be missional
Unfortunately, the word “mission” has a very negative connotation as it relates to Christianity. Being “missional” simply means being outward and others-focused, with the goal of expressing and sharing the love of Jesus. The church was not created for itself: it was created to worship God and to spread His love to others. We each were created for a missional purpose. Therefore, we won’t have a “missions department” because the whole church itself is a mission. Jesus clearly told the church to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20). For us today, this command is not exclusive to overseas missions alone (which we will support wholeheartedly since global missions is extremely important) but is foremost to be lived out in our own communities, families, and day to day lives. Our prayers should be focused on other people and part of our lives should be built around developing and keeping friendships with people outside of the church, as opposed to only befriending and hanging out with those who are already Christians. In keeping a missional mindset for our lives, we will want to reflect Jesus all the more as we interact with people who don’t yet know Jesus. Every day becomes a missional adventure as we truly embrace what it means to be an “ambassador” for Jesus wherever we are (2 Corinthians 14:21; Colossians 4:5-6).
We believe the paid staff of the church serves to lead, train, and equip the people of the church, as we all serve on the mission together
The church is comprised of people gifted by the Holy Spirit in many unique and beautiful ways to serve God, each other and the mission of Jesus. The majority of the church staff will focus their efforts on helping people identify their gifts and passions so that they can serve in the church body and in the world as God has designed them (Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Corinthians 12). We believe that we can see the Spirit of God changing us as we manifest love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our lives. Jesus most harshly criticized those who were the religious leaders of His day—these leaders knew doctrine and knew the Bible very well—but their hearts were hardened. As the Spirit of God transforms us, we believe that every person who has committed their life to Jesus should be showing the fruits of the Spirit more and more as they grow and mature. We strive to be a community of believers where the fruit of the Spirit is evident in our lives (Galatians 5: 22-23).
We believe we are to love our neighbors as ourselves and pray for our enemies
It seems so counter-intuitive to many of us, but Jesus called us to pray for our enemies. He also taught us that the second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourselves. All through Scripture, we see that a follower of Jesus is described as someone who desires to express love to other people. We believe that Christianity is not a self-oriented faith, but one that is about other people (Matthew 22:39; Matthew 5:43-44).
We believe we are called to care about the oppressed, the poor and those experiencing injustice
Throughout the Bible, God’s heart for the needy, the oppressed and those whom experience injustice is extremely evident. We strive to be a community where this heart is evident in both belief and action (Psalm 140:12; Isaiah 58:66; Proverbs 29:7; Micah 6:8; Amos 5).
We believe each person has religious liberty
We believe that every human being has direct relations with God, and is responsible to God alone in all matters of faith; that each church is independent and must be free from interference by any ecclesiastical or political authority; that therefore Church and State must be kept separate as having different functions, each fulfilling its duties free from dictation or patronage of the other (Matthew 18:18-20; Matthew 22:15-22; John 16: 7-15; John 17:16; John 18:36; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 3:6-10).
We believe in church cooperation
We believe that the local church can best promote the cause of Jesus Christ by cooperating with one another. We believe denominational organizations may help in this endeavor. Such organizations, whether national, regional or local, exist and function by the will of the churches. Cooperation in these organizations is voluntary and may be terminated at any time. Churches may likewise cooperate with inter-denominational fellowships on a voluntary basis (1 Cor. 12:4-30; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
We believe the covenant of marriage is a holy and sacred thing
We view marriage as God’s design of a sacred covenant (a supernatural bonding) between a man and woman (Genesis 2:23-24; Exodus 20:14; Hebrews 13:4; Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:1-12; Malachi 2:14-16). In a fallen and broken world, relationships are often fragile, yet we believe with the power and strength of God and the guidance of Scripture, there is hope for healthy marriages and healing from past relationships. As a church we will strive to support and encourage healthy marriages.
We believe that parent(s) are the primary way the faith is taught and modeled to future generations and that we must see families holistically integrated in the church
As a church, we hope to provide the best possible teaching and training for children that we can. We view parents as the primary spiritual teachers of their children, and so our children, youth and family ministries should be designed to support parents in this. We also desire to see children and youth holistically integrated into the life of the church, as opposed to always being compartmentalized (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9).
We Believe in the Sexual Ethics of Jesus and His People
No issue is more contentious in our culture than sexual ethics. From the outside, followers of Jesus are accused of being bigots. And from the inside, many preachers, writers, and theologians are questioning whether or not Scripture is really as clear on sexual ethics as we’ve always asserted. Co-habitation, same-sex relationships, transgenderism, and more; ours has become a tricky culture to navigate with kindness and without compromise.
Everyone Has a Sexual Ethic
Every person with whom I have discussed this issue believes some sexual behaviors are good and pure, while other behaviors are shameful and even deviant. For instance, most people in this culture would hold to a sexual ethic that condemns behaviors like pedophilia, rape, and probably incest.
Regardless of a rapist’s desires, or the length of time he has struggled with those desires, we simply do not condone rape as acceptable sexual behavior. We rightfully condemn rape as immoral, regardless of any other considerations. Similarly, most people in this culture would also condemn a sexual relationship between a 45-year-old man and an 11-year-old girl. Regardless of the man’s desires or the girl’s consent, we would all judge that relationship to be unhealthy, inappropriate, and wrong.
So, here is the question I think everyone needs to ask, “What is the standard or basis for my sexual ethic?” In other words, “By what standard do I judge one sexual relationship to be right and another sexual relationship to be wrong?” Standards by which we judge might include:
- personal opinion
- state or federal law
- or something else
Everyone makes judgments about sexual behavior. No one is ambivalent on the issue. But our judgments differ because we are using different standards. So, what is your standard?
Jesus’ Sexual Ethic
Jesus had a sexual ethic. He believed some sexual behaviors were moral and others were immoral. In order for us to understand Jesus’ sexual ethic, we need to consider what he meant when he talked about “sexual immorality” (e.g. Mark 7:21). As a first-century Jewish rabbi, speaking to a Jewish audience, there is absolutely no doubt Jesus defined sexual immorality according to the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 18-20). The Law of Moses was the standard by which Jesus judged sexual behavior. Everything the Law condemned as sexually immoral, Jesus also condemned as sexually immoral (same-sex relationships, rape, bestiality, incest, etc.).
But Jesus’ sexual ethic went far deeper than a surface reading of the Law. Jesus discerned from the Law principles like these:
- a married man is sinning by even fantasizing about women other than his wife (Matthew 5:28)
- the story of Adam and Eve serves as a precedent for the definition and permanence of marriage (Matthew 19:4-5)
- in spite of the Law’s limited allowance for divorce, leaving your spouse to marry someone else is still adulterous (Matthew 19:3-9)
Jesus did not create or void any laws about sex, marriage, or divorce. He upheld the Law of Moses, but he also dove deeper into Scripture to reveal the will of God that was always present in the heart of the Law.
The Sexual Ethic of Jesus’ People
After Jesus’ ascension, all of the followers of Jesus were Jewish. Like the Lord, they held to the sexual ethic of the Law of Moses. When Gentiles started following Jesus, the church told them they were not obligated to keep the entire Law of Moses, but there were some requirements from the Law that remained binding. In Acts 15:28-29, we read:
It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.
Like Jesus, the apostles defined sexual immorality according to the Law of Moses, but they also had a unique view of sexuality in light of the Gospel.
The Spirit-filled apostles extrapolated from the Gospel story itself a sexual ethic based on Jesus’ faithfulness and self-giving love (e.g. Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Corinthians 5-7). They taught that committing oneself to a spouse of the opposite sex was a way to model the faithfulness and self-giving love of Jesus and the church. They also taught that because Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, engaging in any sexual behavior outside of marriage was an act of defiling God’s holy temple.
Policing the World
With all of that said, the apostle Paul took the position that it is not up to the church to police the sexual ethics of those outside the church (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). It is our job to hold other disciples accountable, but it is not our job to hold people in the world accountable for their sex life.
If you have accepted Jesus’ offer to be his disciple, then adopting his sexual ethic is part of that relationship. Being a disciple of Jesus means, in part, allowing Jesus to dictate our sexual behavior. Our emotions and desires cannot dictate the way we behave sexually. Just because we have a desire does not mean it is right to fulfill that desire. Like the early church, we must allow the Gospel story to shape our view of sexuality and dictate our sexual behavior.
However, if someone is not a follower of Jesus, all we can do is invite them to follow Jesus, explaining to them why trusting Jesus about everything (including sexuality) is the best choice anyone can make. Criticizing their sexual behavior, shaming them because they do not hold to a biblical sexual ethic, will not help bring them to Jesus. It’s not our job to hold them accountable for their sex life, it’s our job to share Jesus with them!
The more we try to hold the world accountable to the sexual ethic of Jesus, without them actually being disciples, the more we ensure they move further and further away from Jesus (and his sexual ethic). When we rail against sexual immorality saying, “That’s wrong because the Bible says so!” The world simply replies, “But we don’t believe the Bible.” That’s why it’s so important to apply Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, it isn’t our place to judge the world’s sexual immorality, that’s up to God. Our job is to hold the church accountable and preach Jesus to the world.