Our Faith

Our Faith

For specifics about our ministry and program offerings, go to the tabs “Ministries” or “Ministry” or “Staff.” This page reviews the things we hold to at Elgin Covenant. Subheadings further down the page include our view of creeds and confessions, and of baptism and communion.

At the Evangelical Covenant Church in Elgin we believe that Jesus Christ invites everyone in the world to follow him on the path to eternal life. In the New Testament, John 3:3, Jesus says to the seeker of eternal life, “You must be born again.”  This journey begins when we pray asking Jesus into our hearts; that is when he sends his Holy Spirit into our lives and we become “born again,” not in the flesh but in the Spirit. Living for eternal life with Christ in you, you become a changed person and a changing person.

The Evangelical Covenant holds in common faith  in Jesus Christ with millions of churches in hundreds of denominations around the world. This is The Church with a capital C, and this is what The Church believes:

1) That One God is revealed in three persons: The Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), the Holy Spirit.

2) That the Son became incarnate in fully human form and nature in Jesus of Nazareth, the expected Messiah in the faith of Israel. The Son is the only one begotten of the Father from all eternity, and Jesus Christ is the only God incarnate, the Son of God conceived in the virgin Mary, wrapped in human flesh, and born, with his first cradle being the feeding trough (manger) for livestock.

3) That God was uniquely revealed to the People of Israel through covenant, law, and prophetic revelation, and that Jesus of Nazareth walked in Israel as a Jew among Jews to accomplish and fulfill all that Israel was promised and even much more than what Israel expected (Isaiah 49:5-7).

4) That sin is a universal plague on all humankind for which our flesh is cursed with death as each person’s punishment (Romans 6:23. The reality of sin is self-evident to anyone who follows the news.) Sin and the curse of death grips every person. Only a sinless, innocent person can escape the curse, and this always has been impossible for everyone, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The remedy for sin and the curse of death, therefore, required the specific offering of God Himself, incarnate in flesh and born to a virgin, to sacrifice himself in his sinless, innocent life and to die in our place. This incarnation and sinless, innocent life and sacrificial death was achieved by Jesus Christ the Son of God, and no one else. When Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross, he died completely, and descended to the place of death. But God the Father is just, and cannot allow the innocent to suffer the punishment of the guilty. Therefore God has raised Jesus from the dead! Now with his Holy Spirit offered to you for your spiritual rebirth, you can repent of your sins, receive the Spirit of Christ in faith, and on the other side of death, join Jesus Christ in eternal life (John 3:1-21).

5) That his followers, who became the apostles, deposited the revealed faith in written form in the New Testament. The New Testament together with the Hebrew scriptures (called the “Old Testament” in The Church) form the authoritative word of God (2 Timothy 3:14-17). In the Evangelical Covenant we believe that “the scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, are the word of God and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct.”

When our Evangelical Covenant denomination formed in Chicago in 1885, we had a special priority which is summed up in the words of Psalm 119:63, “I am a companion to all who fear you.” Here in Elgin and in our sister churches around the United States and Canada, our communion is open to everyone in The Church! If you believe that Jesus Christ came from God in human flesh to save you from your sins, you can take communion (The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist) in any Evangelical Covenant church. See below our word on creeds and confessions.

A Word Regarding Creeds and Confessional Statements

When the Evangelical Covenant Church formed in 1885 the delegates that gathered had been part of Lutheran synods. They made the decision that requiring adherence to the Augsburg Confession did not fit their convictions that Christ seeks unity among believers. Since many faithful exegetes of scripture had come to diverse conclusions regarding baptism, the manner of Christ’s presence in communion, church structure, the decrees of God and the freedom of the individual, the nature and sequence of the millennial promises etc.,  it was best not to divide over those issues. This has meant that the Evangelical Covenant makes a priority out of the essentials that Christians everywhere believe: One God in three persons, Jesus Christ our only savior and judge, the necessity of  all people to repent and come to faith. The exclusive claim on humankind for salvation is God in Christ’s — He is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to know and relate to God the Father (John 14:6). No Church can claim, in addition, that their confession or dogmatic formula are the pavement on the path to the knowledge of God in Christ.

At the same time we do not reject these creeds, confessions, and formulas. It is more accurate to say that we honor the various creeds and confessions that have sincerely exegeted the Old and New Testaments in accord with the essentials of the apostolic witness. Two historic creeds that we value in the Evangelical Covenant and use in our orders for communion are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. David Nyvall, one of the early leaders of the Evangelical Covenant, wrote in his book The Swedish Covenanters that these creeds are faithful witnesses to what the scriptures teach, but the scriptures are superior in stating these doctrines better and more succinctly.

Regarding the historic Protestant confessions it is also more accurate to say that they are neither binding nor rejected, rather, they are honored. I (Pastor Jonathan) have found myself blessed by new insights in reading the Anglican Communion’s 39 Articles, the Westminster Confession, and the Book of Concord, along with other confessions pertaining to the Anabaptist groups and so forth. These insights have not only fed my intellect, they have inspired and deepened my faith. Many in the Evangelical Covenant adhere more closely to the dogmas of Fundamentalism. Our testimony as the Evangelical Covenant is that the person with a Lutheran view of communion and baptism can celebrate these sacraments in common order and worship with a person whose view is more Fundamentalist, or Methodist, etc.  The person who believes that baptism is most appropriate for a confessing believer of conscious age nevertheless is witness to and celebrates the baptism of the child when it takes place in our church at a Sunday morning worship service, and the celebrations go the other direction as well, in mutual confidence that God is at work through these various journeys and convictions.

Some of these convictions are mutually exclusive, and this has led to mutual exclusions and anathemas and condemnations. In the Evangelical Covenant we recognize that two or three opinions on a subject, such as the mystery of Christ’s presence in communion, cannot all be correct. One might be correct, or all might be deficient. It is therefore hubris to exclude fellowship from true believers whose convictions are faithful, when clearly God has reserved clarity of discernment and permitted diversity. It is also absolutely essential to understand that our fellowship is with all believers walking in the common faith, those matters shared by all as revealed in the New Testament and articulated in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and only with these believers. We do not share a common faith with those who reject that God is three persons, who reject that Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate in flesh, who reject his sacrifice for our sins, who reject the total sinfulness of all humankind, who reject the need to repent and come to God in faith through Christ alone, pleading Christ on our behalf.

The diversity of belief, conviction and practice all happens within the unity of faith that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life, our only source for salvation and our only promise for eternal life in the presence of God. As Nyvall noted, the Apostles’ Creed cannot replace scripture nor is it as helpful as scripture. Nevertheless Martin Luther and other reformers understood the value of the Apostles’ Creed as an aid to memory and faith. If you are uncertain what Christians of every faithful denomination believe, here is the Apostles’ Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered, under Pontius Pilate was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into Hades. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the HolyChristian Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting. Amen.

Baptism and Communion

There is diversity in conviction and custom when it comes to the two sacraments held in common by the whole Church: Baptism, and Communion. We honor this diversity, as stated above, as a matter of humility rather than hubris on our journey. We believe that we can still be a Church in common with one another in the congregation and with all faithful, Christ-worshiping, Trinitarian churches even in the midst of diversity on these sacraments.

Baptism

The foundational view of baptism in the Evangelical Covenant is that it is a rite of initiation into the care of the discipleship community, that is, the Church. It is not our view that baptism saves from sin through the act of baptism. It is not our practice or custom that unbelieving parents without connection to a congregation should present their children for baptism, anymore than unbelieving adults should present themselves. Rather baptism elicits a promise between responsible parties, the Church on the one hand and the candidate or those responsible for the child’s upbringing on the other. The discipleship community, the Church, is a fellowship of mutual support, and it is a teaching community, for we are not on our own on the journey of faith. God has given us the Church to the place at which we grow and are sustained in the faith. Baptism, commanded by God, declares the candidates entrance into that community. If the candidate is an infant or child, that entrance is with and by the sponsorship of the parents or primary guardians.

It is appropriate for various reasons for a family to have their child baptized (or dedicated if that is the family’s conviction) at another congregation than their home church, for the sake of family celebrations etc., for in the Covenant we believe the Church is present in the local congregation and also present in the community of congregations and denominations all over the world. To be received in one is (so we teach) to be received into them all.  So a baptism or dedication that takes place “away from home” is still “at home” in the Church, and those in the other congregation speak the promises on behalf of the whole Church.

For these reasons we do not require rebaptisms, unless the baptism was in a non-Trinitarian community. We honor Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, etc. etc.  baptisms. At Elgin Covenant we have opened our sanctuary to the use of other congregations from other faith traditions to perform baptism.

Communion

The manner of Christ’s presence in the bread and cup of communion has been a theological disagreement that has been the pretext for wars, persecutions and martyrdoms. (Regarding martyrdom: Every tradition has its martyrs. No one can point to a conviction held by their tradition’s martyrs as though the martyrdoms were in themselves the proof of their tradition’s correctness.) Suffice to say it is not the Evangelical Covenant’s point of view to persecute or make martyrs out of anyone for their views of what takes place in communion.

As a Believers’ Church we ask only that those who join us have a living relationship and knowledge of God through repentant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in whom our sins are forgiven. Nothing magic takes place in Communion. Rather, as the Apostle Paul warns in First Corinthians 10 and Martin Luther reminds us, the elements are received in two manners: Worthily, that is, by faith; or unworthily, that is, without faith. So the person is called to examine themselves. If they are sorrowful for sin, are repentant, and desire to live anew for God, they receive the bread and cup of Christ’s presence in a worthy manner. The person who is present because they need to be seen by others and enhance their own reputation, and who do not really believe in Christ but only go through the motions rather than embarrass themselves, receive the bread and cup of Christ’s presence in an unworthy manner.

Fear of God and sorrow for sins should not keep you from Communion. Rather, you should run to it (as Luther writes). Pride in yourself, rejection of mystery and willful faithlessness does not entitle you to communion, you should refuse it out of common decency.

We serve Communion typically once per month. The congregation remains seated in the pews and trays are passed. We use non-alcoholic grape juice in order to afford no one any offense or temptation, for it is not the fermentation of the grape that makes the sacrament, rather it is the Word of God.

Those who are curious about Pastor Jonathan’s convictions regarding the presence of Christ at the table are invited into dialogue. You must realize that what I then share is by no means an indication of the convictions of Elgin Covenant or its majority opinions, or that of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin; in the Covenant my conviction on the matter cannot be construed as a hurdle to your  faith or to fellowship with us.

 

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