We believe that the Bible is the true Word of God.
We believe in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: three distinct Persons, but of one and the same divine essence, equal in power, equal in eternity, equal in majesty. (Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4; Col. 2:9; Matt. 28:19).
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the true Messiah. He was born of the virgin Mary, suffered and died on the cross to pay the penalty for all of our sin, that He was buried, resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven. He is now seated at the right hand of God and will one day return to bring all Christians to heaven to experience eternal life in His presence.
We believe that Holy Baptism is a gift from God where, through water and the Word we receive the Holy Spirit, and God declares us to be His children (Acts 2:38-39). This gift is for all people of all nations.
We believe that in the Lord's Supper we receive Christ's true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:26-28).
We believe that Christians are called to share the Gospel in the world and show mercy to others as Jesus did, so that all people might come to know God as a merciful Father who sent His only Son that we might not perish, but have eternal life! (John 3:16)
What we Teach and Confess
This is a summary of the Christian faith as we at Faith Lutheran Church, Capistrano Beach, California, teach and confess. In a world that is increasingly post-modern and as the church continues to adapt its teachings to meet the ever-changing whims of society, we take the time to give a clear, unchanging and substantial presentation of our beliefs.
Formal Principle of our Theology:
This Congregation holds to the formal principle of Sola Scriptura. As the source and norm of the Christian faith, this Congregation acknowledges and accepts all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the inerrant, infallible, verbally inspired, revealed and authoritative Word of God with regards to belief and life.
The Material Principle of our Theology: This Congregation holds to the material principle of Justification by Grace alone, through Faith alone, on account of Christ alone. “One who does not believe the article of justification by faith is not, as Scripture plainly states, a ‘Child of Abraham,’ is not numbered among the believers, and is outside the Christian Church (Galatians 3:6-10). Luther puts it thus: ‘This article [of justification] is the head and cornerstone which alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and protects the Church (St. L. XIV: 168).”
We subscribe to certain "confessions" of faith because they are true and sound expositions of the Word of God. These confessions, written around the time of the Reformation, are also known as the symbolic books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (These documents are also collected together in a book known as the Book of Concord of 1580.) This Congregation acknowledges and accepts these as true and sound expositions of the Word of God.
These symbolic books are:
The Book of Concord of 1580
The Formula of Concord.
The Bible - God's Holy Word
When we refer to “the Scripture(s)”, we refer only to the Old and New Testament texts of the Bible. It alone is the Word of God because it is “God-breathed” or divinely “inspired” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ). Saying we believe the Bible because it claims to be inspired might sound like circular logic, however, we base this belief on the witness of the resurrected Jesus, whose bodily resurrection is as verifiable as any event that happened in ancient history. If Jesus’ bodily resurrection verifies His claim to be God, then we must take very seriously God’s high view of the authority of Scripture.
The Law and the Gospel
If one were to “boil” the Bible down to its basic components, one would find two distinctly different doctrines, The Law and The Gospel. The main function of the Law is to show us our unrighteousness. When the Law shows us our sin, however, it doesn't give us any power, energy or desire to keep it. It serves mainly as a mirror, reflecting back to us who we are and how we have failed to keep God’s revealed will for us in all its parts (Romans 3:19-20). The Law can only declare you guilty. The main function of the Gospel is to show us what God did to save us from our sinful rebellion and our disregard for God’s law. God saves us by calling us to faith in Jesus Christ, whose suffering, death and resurrection atoned (or covered) our sin and who has imputed (or credited) His perfect righteousness to us. The Law can only declare you guilty. Jesus declares the guilty forgiven. (John 5:39 ; 20:30-31; Romans 4:5 ; 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:15ff; and 1 John 1:8-9 ).
We believe the Biblical description of God, which has come to be known as the Trinity. God is one divine essence who is eternal, without a body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. No one and nothing else shares this divine essence. He is the maker and preserver of all things, visible and invisible. (Nehemiah 9:6). The Bible is clear that there is only one God (Exodus 20:3 ; Deuteronomy 6:4 ;Isaiah 45:6). We are strictly monotheistic (believe in one God).
Yet the Bible also clearly teaches that there is a plurality of “Persons” that make up the Godhead (Genesis 1:1 , 26; 11:7; Matthew 28:19 ). In many places the Bible calls the Father, God; the Son, God; and the Holy Spirit, God. (Genesis 1:1 , 26; 11:7; Matthew 3:16-17 ; 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14) And yet there can’t be three gods because Scripture is clear: there is only one God. We have to give equal weight to the texts of Scripture that declare God to be one and also to the texts that reveal the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to be God as well. Since we believe Scripture cannot contradict itself, to resolve (or explain this mystery clearly spoken of in Scripture) we use the word, “Trinity.” Trinity is simply a word the church uses to speak of how God reveals Himself to us in Scripture. Perhaps we could say, there is “one what” and “three who’s”.
That said, we also believe that these three “Persons” are of the same essence or substance and power - in other words each are and can rightly be called “God.” By the word “Person” we simply mean that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not a part or a quality in each other, but that which subsists of itself.
“One substance” is what the three persons are in common, and what no one else is. God is one in substance. In other words, there is no division of God. The Father is not one third God or part of God; the Father is God. The same is true of the Son and the Spirit. All three persons share in the divine substance. They are equally, truly and fully God. In other words, they’re all the same God. There is one God, one divine substance.
We teach that the Word of God which spoke all things into existence (Genesis 1:3), who has always been and always will be, assumed a human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary (John 1:1-5 ,14-18). Therefore, in the second person of the Holy Trinity, there are two natures - the divine nature and the human nature - inseparably joined in one person. There is one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. He did this to reconcile the Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original sin (the words the church uses to teach that ever since the fall of Adam (Romans 5:12) humankind is born without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin) but also for all the sin we commit in this life.
This same Jesus descended into hell (1 Peter 3:18-22 ) not as further punishment for sin but as the One victorious over sin, death and Satan, and physically rose again on the third day. Afterward, He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. There He forever reigns and has dominion over all creatures. This same Christ will openly reappear again to judge the living and the dead.
We teach that Jesus is God because, when we look at the Bible, we see Jesus doing things only God can do: things such as miracles, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, rising back to life after three days in a tomb, and ascending into heaven until He reappears on the Last Day. All these events point to an historical Jesus who did historically verifiable, yet incredible things. (We find historical evidence for His miracles, His death and His resurrection not only in Scripture, but in other documents as well, including documents opposed to Christ and His teachings. Those disagreeing with all this either during or right after Jesus’ death and resurrection could have refuted what was written about Jesus and put an end to “the Christian myth.” But they didn't, in part because what happened was verifiable. This points to one simple fact: Jesus is unique in history. (John 3:16 ; 1 John 4:9-10).
When we say that Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father we use the word “only begotten” to explain the relationship of the Son to the Father. It is not intended to give the idea that there was a time when the second person of the Trinity was not. Think of it as eternally begotten without reference to time.
Hence we Lutherans confess that “Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, delivered me and freed me for all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver and gold but with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death, in order that I may be His and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.” (Luther’s Small Catechism; John 1:1 , 14; Acts 20:28 ; Hebrews 9:22 ; 10:10-17; 1 John 4:9-10 ).
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Godhead (i.e. Third Person of the Trinity). The Holy Spirit’s primary goal in our lives is to point us to Jesus (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit is kind of like a spotlight that directs our attention to the “main actor” of salvation history who is Christ Jesus. (It’s His work that has saved us, after all.) In John 16:4-15 Jesus, if you will, gives us the Holy Spirit’s “job description.”
First, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict (or convince) the world concerning sin - that we have not merely made mistakes in life but that we are, in fact, sinners in rebellion against God who have earned the just penalty of eternal death. (The wages of sin is death . . . Romans 3:28). It takes the work of the Spirit on us to convince us we are, in fact, in this most dreadful state, for apart from the Holy Spirit, we will not see just how fallen our condition truly is. Without the Holy Spirit we will constantly defend our actions; we will constantly try to justify ourselves.
Second, only the Holy Spirit can open eyes to see that righteousness is not to be found in what we do or don’t do. Righteousness is found only in this: that through Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, He goes to the Father on behalf of the whole human race and stands before His Father as the only truly Righteous One, so that everyone who has died in the waters of Baptism and has had their lives buried in Him, are seen by the Father as righteous with a righteousness not their own, but rather a righteousness that belongs to Christ.
The third work of the Holy Spirit is to convict (or convince) us that God’s wrath at our sin cannot harm anyone who has been tucked into Christ by Baptism. (Satan would like to convince you otherwise.) Jesus has weathered the storm of the Father’s wrath for us on the cross. So, when the ruler of this world, Satan, whose very name means the accuser, comes to charge you and me in the courtroom of heaven at the Judgment Seat of God and demand our life-blood as his own, his case against us is thrown out of court - because the penalty for our sin has already been paid by Jesus. And so the ruler of this world is judged - judged as having no claim anymore upon you. He has no case.
Humankind and Sin
Humankind was originally created without sin. Our first parents were made by God to have Original Righteousness and Original Holiness. This is what is meant when we say that we are created in the image of God.
Once humankind fell by believing the devil’s lie that we could become like God (Genesis 3:5), all that Original Righteousness and Holiness was ruined as the First Sin took root. We call this “Original Sin” which simply means we lack Original Righteousness and have the inclination to sin. When Original Sin took root in Adam and Eve it acted like a disease and was passed along just like all the other things we inherit from our parents. The complete harmony we once had with God became a complete disharmony and has been ever since. Because of Original Sin and the sins we've added to it, Scripture calls us blind to the will of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and enemies of God (Romans 5:10). Being “blind,” “dead,” and an “enemy” of God puts us into an impossible position, for people who are “blind,” “dead,” and “enemies” of God do not love God, choose God or want to have anything to do with the Triune God. Original Sin does not mean we are as bad as we can possibly be. It means that each one of us is “tainted” by sin and that there’s not a part of us that isn’t touched and affected by it.
“Born again” Christians are likewise sinful. Believing, confessing, well meaning, God-fearing Christians also lack Original Righteousness and have evil desires and an inclination to sin (Romans 7:13-25 ; 1 John 1:8-9). During the days of the Reformation, the reformers put it this way: we are at the same time “saint” and “sinner.” Therefore the Christian life is a constant struggle against sin. It is important to note that sin is not driven out of us; rather, because of what Christ has done for us, our sin is not reckoned or counted against us. The Righteousness of Christ, given to the Christian, is what the Father in heaven sees and it’s because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, and not because of anything we’d done or any “spiritual improvement” that we've made, that we are counted righteous. In other words, we are counted righteous by a righteousness not our own.
What hinders us from having a right relationship with God is our sin. Our sin brings with it God’s wrath, unbelief, and ignorance of God. “Forgiveness” means that the debt is cancelled. Our sins have been nailed to a cross and buried in the only tomb into which the Father never looks, fully paid for by Christ Jesus’ death on Calvary’s cross.
We believe and teach that salvation is a free gift from God because God refuses that it be given as a reward or because we have somehow earned it. Salvation is a gift which is given to us by God. God does not give us eternal life or salvation because we earned it, cleaned up our lives and are now flying straight, or because we are better today than we were yesterday - in short, we are saved not because of anything in us, but because it is a free gift of God’s divine, unmerited favor (Ephesians 2:8-9), earned for us only by Christ.
Faith and Works
When talking about faith and works, we must remember why we distinguish them. We distinguish them because God is clear that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone on account of Christ alone. In other words we are saved by “faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). We are saved by Christ Alone plus nothing on our part.
That said, faith alone saves, but faith is never alone, it is always accompanied by works so that we can help our neighbors. We do not reject the fact that good works must be done but we do question why they are done. Works are not “good” if they are done in order to make God love us more. That turns “works” into the keeping of the Law by which we try to merit salvation. To try to make God love us more with our works says that we really do not believe Jesus when He said “for by grace you have been saved, through faith apart from works.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So the questions might be raised, “what good works are to be performed and what are the criteria of good deeds?” First we must realize that without the Holy Spirit, God’s will can be done only in an outward sense. In other words, it will look good to humanity, but not to God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we as Christians spontaneously do what the Law demands for the right reason -- a reason emanating from the love of God for us and not for reward or fear of punishment. Just as when someone hits you in the gut and the wind gets knocked out of you, when the Gospel “hits” us in the gut (so to speak), good works get knocked out of us, not because of anything in us, not so that we can earn God’s love or escape punishment, but rather because of what the Gospel (something outside of us) has done to us. Good works are lived out of our vocations.
Christian Vocation and Life
By “vocation” we mean the stations in which we find ourselves in life. Pastor, church member, judge, president, soldier, doctor, police officer, garbage man, mother, father, child, teacher, student -- wherever you are in life, you will find yourself in several vocations.
The vocations God has placed us in are the ways God works through us in order to serve the world. Vocations are lived out in service to society. In anything that involves action, anything that concerns the world or our relationships, there is nothing that falls in a private sphere lying outside our Christian vocation. The vocations God calls us to are intended to serve and help others. It is through our vocations that God’s creative and loving work moves in the world. Through our vocations God fulfills His desire to love us. For example, God chooses to bring the next generation into the world through the passionate love of a husband (male) and a wife (female). In this example God is working in the world through parents. We call the fulfilling of these vocations good works. So, that’s right . . . a husband and wife ‘making love’ to one another are doing God’s work. In short, vocations are rightly understood when we see them as how God serves us through others around us. So our vocations in life are not a way to gain salvation, or be resurrected, or have a right relationship with God, but rather they are the way God works through us to serve this world. Perhaps another way to say it is, we are God’s “masks” in this world.
Righteousness / Justification
Righteousness is a gift from God and not a human accomplishment (Romans 3:22-24 , 28). In Greek “righteousness” and “justification” are the same word. Our righteousness is found in that God declares sinners righteous for Christ’s sake. Our sins have been “imputed” or credited to Christ our Savior and Christ’s righteousness has been “imputed” or “credited” to us (Matthew 18:23-35 ; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ; Romans 4:25). So our righteousness does not come to us through the works of the law but only through faith that Christ’s works are sufficient for our righteousness and salvation (Genesis 15:6 ; Romans 3:28 ; Romans 4:5 ;Galatians 5:4-5). This is called “justification by faith” or “justification by grace” (Acts 4:12 ; 10:43).
The Confession of Faith
Faith is meant to be professed, shouted from the mountain tops (Matthew 5:14). It is a faith which is passed along from one generation to the next (1 Corinthians 11:23 ; 15:1-2). It is delivered and received. We Christians today want to confess the same faith which the early Church confessed. To do that, we must look to the original teachings (i.e. the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and new Testaments) and test all “new” teachings we hear against what has already been delivered and received in Scripture (John 5:39 ; Acts 17:11). Another way to think of the word “confess” is that in our confession of faith we are saying the same things God has already said in His Word.
The Church is the new Creation, the new Israel, the new people of God made by Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22). It is found where the Word is preached as God would have it preached and the sacraments rightly given out (Isaiah 55:10-11). The reason the Church exists is for the sole purpose of offering God’s free gift of forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7). That is why, what many churches call “worship,” we call the “Divine Service”. Divine Service is where God has promised to serve His people with the forgiveness of their sins - to take what was accomplished on Calvary two thousand years ago and declare it to be ours today. We can have confidence that when we hear the Pastor say “your sins are forgiven” that they are truly forgiven. It was Jesus said to His disciples (His first ‘Pastors’), “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16) and this is what Jesus said, “I forgive you your sins.” (That’s why our Pastor tells us our sins have been forgiven. It’s not because he’s more spiritual or has some special powers or higher education. It’s that he’s been called by our congregation and placed under orders (ordained) to tell us what Jesus says to people when they say the same thing about themselves that God says about them in His Word.
Many people see the Church more like a social club or a like-minded political organization. We do our best to keep politics and political action a part of what we don’t do. On the other hand, we do many social things for ourselves and for the community into which God has placed us. But our reason for existence is to declare the forgiveness of sins in Christ. That’s first and foremost in all we do. Instead of thinking of the Church as a social club, it might be better to think of it as a spiritual hospital where God offers His grace and forgiveness as “medicine”. That way, when you go to Church and find sinners there, it will come as no surprise to you. We’re not hypocrites about sin. We call ourselves dreadful sinners right at the beginning of each Divine Service because that’s who we are, and we’re here to receive the only hope there is in all the world - God’s forgiveness of our sins. That, He freely offers to all who ask for it.
“Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water included in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.” “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” This is how Martin Luther’s Small Catechism talks about Holy Baptism.
Just as birth from the womb was a gift from God so also our new birth through baptism is a gift. We did not cause our natural birth, and we do not cause our rebirth. In fact, since we were dead in our trespasses and sin, our consent or cooperation isn’t even possible. Salvation by grace through faith in Christ is pure gift. (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Whether it is a lot of water or very little, when water is accompanied by God’s Word, God delivers on His promises. Peter declared God’s promise when he proclaimed, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39) Forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit are what’s promised to us by God Himself, given in what looks like simple water.
In baptism God delivers to us the forgiveness Christ worked on Calvary’s cross. Therefore, Baptism is a means of God’s grace, a way God delivers His gifts to us. This means that baptism is not an act of man. Although we are the ones being baptized, God is the active One who is doing the work, forgiving our sins and creating saving faith in us. It is a sacred act because God is acting on us through the Word in the water. Therefore, if baptism is a work of God and not of humankind, God can give His gifts to whomever He wishes, regardless of age, adult or infant, “rocket scientist” or developmentally challenged.
Since Baptism gives forgiveness of sins, it also frees us from the eternal consequences of our sins. Clothed in Christ and His righteousness, we share in His life and resurrection (Galatians 3:27). Since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) forgiveness means that the penalty of death has been paid for us. We died when we were baptized into the death of Christ (Romans 6:4 ; Colossians 2:12). We may yet face physical death, but because of Christ, death has now lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-56.) Death, for the Christian, is now the portal to eternal life. Just as our bodies were washed with the water of baptism, so our bodies will share in the resurrection of Christ at the last day (Romans 6:4-8 ) and we will live forever with Him. Of course, you could always say “no.” You could choose to reject Him, but for heaven’s sake and yours as well, why would you?
The Lord's Supper
As with Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper is also a sacrament. This means that it is not about what we do but about what God is doing to and for us. God acts on His promise to save and we receive His salvation.
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
“It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.”
What is it that we are talking about? “It is the true body and the true blood of our Lord Jesus.” The true body, not a false one. The present Lord Jesus, not an absent Lord or “spiritually present in my heart” Jesus, not a body trapped in “heaven” while His spirit is here Jesus (for the divine and human natures of Jesus cannot be separated one from the other.) No, the very body and blood that was born of Mary, was taught, fed, nursed, died on the cross, buried, rose from the dead, and now reigns at God's right hand - that true body. The challenge of this teaching arises not so much when we ask “what did Jesus say?” when He said, “take, eat, this is my body.” What Jesus said is very clear. The trouble comes when we ask, “how can this be true?” When human senses examine the elements of the bread and wine, all we see is just that, bread and wine. If reason or experience are our main theological influence, we may easily give in to saying, “this is nonsense.” If, on the other hand, theology is founded on the clear words of Scripture, we will hear the words of Jesus, listen to His offer to receive His body and blood in and under bread and wine, and trust His words. Lutherans are content to receive the Biblical teaching on its own terms.
“It is the true body and the true blood of our Lord Jesus, under the bread and wine.” Christ’s true body and blood are ‘somehow’ sacramentally present, but so also is real bread and real wine. We don’t believe that the bread and wine are transformed into body and blood. Inspired by God, St. Paul calls the ‘consecrated bread’ bread and the ‘consecrated wine’ he calls wine. So we believe and teach that present in the Lord’s Supper is the true body and the true blood of Jesus in and under true bread and true wine.
“It is the true body and the true blood of our Lord Jesus, under the bread and wine given for us Christians to eat and to drink.” This is a set apart meal for a set apart people; for the baptized. The Lord’s Supper is for those who believe they receive Christ’s body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of their sins.
And it is a sacred meal instituted by Christ Himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
This fancy word is Latin for “matters of indifference.” In German it is “die mitteldinge” (“middle or intermediate things”). In today’s society which radicalizes everything around us, the concept of adiaphora (ah-dee-AH-for-ah) helps to distinguish what is truly important for salvation and what is a matter of indifference. There are much more indifferent matters in life than there are important. The kind of clothes you wear, your hair color, the way you spell, or whether or not you smoke or drink, these are adiaphora in regards to our salvation. Only the Word of God and the doctrine it offers is not a matter of indifference.