The Mainsail Conference of Churches

February 01, 2021

(Pastors and inquirers: keep an eye on the date above. The newest document supersedes any older documents with this same title. When you receive a new document, you must delete the older ones. As such, do not hand these out to just anybody.)

Introduction

The sign of a Christian disciple is continual growth. So, although every Christian is “converted” — that is, they are “born again” by the Spirit of God (John 3:3) and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) — not every Christian lives a perfect life. This is because when we are converted, we are “declared” holy by God (1 Corinthians 1:2). But this only speaks to our category. Conversion makes us holy by position. The problem is that “being” a Christian is no guarantee that we will do the things that Christians ought to do (James 1:22).

This is why we need sanctification that goes beyond the positional; we need practical sanctification — and the good news is that we can have all we want! The bad news is that part’s up to us... us and the Holy Spirit, that is. My question is, why are some Christians “better” at being holy than others? What are they doing differently? Are there any tricks to help us grow more Christ-like?

If you interview “successful” Christians — people who are known to have the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) — you will find that they typically do four things: they pray, read the Bible, attend church and serve God by serving others. Mainsail Ministries can help people get better at doing all four... but the ministry’s focus is helping people serve others by helping them grow in knowledge.

Our goal is to turn believers into well-informed — hardy — disciples of Jesus Christ. We want to develop believers into people who will teach the truth with confidence because they know the truth with confidence (John 8:32) — and that “truth” includes the truths of the world.

So, if you believe that all truth is God’s truth — and if you believe that no falsehood can be God’s falsehood — then you might be ready for what Mainsail Ministries has to offer. But be warned: not everybody is.

What is Mainsail Ministries?

Mainsail Ministries is a Christian communications ministry. Its purpose is to help Christians grow into well-informed disciples through discussions about God, the Bible and the Christian Culture. As to soul-winning, we want to make hardy Christians. As to sanctification, we want to make Christians hardy. We do this online through questions-and-answers, devotional thoughts, articles and links to other reliable ministries. Evan D. Plante of Worcester, Massachusetts, USA is its Director.

Mainsail Ministries maintains an orthodox belief in the core doctrines of the Christian faith. What makes it different is how we handle the non-core issues. We understand that thoughtful Christians cannot help but believe different things on the secondary issues of faith. However, we see no reason why earnest seekers — people who are works-in-progress by definition — cannot belong to the same local body while believing different things about issues like the end times, worship modes or how long it took God to create the earth.

Our vision, therefore, is for churches to embrace diversity within orthodoxy. Our method is to assess all the data — be they biblical, physical, philosophical or spiritual — and then use logic and sound hermeneutics to make the best sense of that data. Our goal is to offer the Christian a defensible worldview — one that considers the data from every field... but one that is decidedly Christian.

Mainsail Ministries is the communications arm of Church of the Spiritual Life, Inc. Our corporate (and mailing) address is 24 Warren Rd., Auburn, MA, USA. Church of the Spiritual Life is a 501(c) (3) (Federally tax-exempt) organization. So, when contributing to Mainsail Ministries, make checks payable to “Church of the Spiritual Life, Inc.” and put “Mainsail” in the memo.

Does the world need another conference of churches?

Perhaps. We see value in following the lead of CS Lewis and William Lane Craig who have boiled the faith down to “mere Christianity.” Like them, we aim to set aside denominationalism, give preeminence to the Bible and reduce the Christian faith to its necessary components. This is why we proclaim the simple gospel message and plead with people to follow Jesus Christ — while pursuing all truth with vigor… no matter what category that truth… and no matter where that pursuit takes us.

Mainsail Conference of Churches Statement of Beliefs

  1. We believe that the one and only God is tri-personal, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being distinct, divine persons.
  2. We believe that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly human, the unique, sure, and sufficient revelation of the very being, character, and purposes of God, beside whom there is no other god, and beside whom there is no other name by which we must be saved.
  3. We believe that the only ground for our acceptance by God is what Jesus Christ did on the cross and what he is now doing through his risen life, whereby he exposed and reversed the course of human sin and violence, died for our sins, rose physically from the grave, redeemed us from the power of evil, reconciled us to God, and empowers us with his life "from above." We therefore bring nothing to our salvation. We receive his redemption solely by grace through faith.
  4. We believe that new life, given supernaturally through spiritual regeneration, is a necessity as well as a gift and that the lifelong conversion that results is the only pathway to a radically changed character and way of life. Thus the only sufficient power for a life of Christian faithfulness and moral integrity in this world is that of Christ's resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit.
  5. We believe that Jesus' own teaching and his attitude toward the total truthfulness and supreme authority of the Bible, God's inspired Word, make the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.
  6. We believe that being disciples of Jesus means serving him as Lord in every sphere of our lives, secular as well as spiritual, public as well as private, in deeds as well as words, and in every moment of our days on earth, always reaching out as he did to those who are lost, as well as to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, the socially despised, and being faithful stewards of creation and our fellow-creatures.
  7. We believe that the blessed hope of the personal return of Jesus provides both strength and substance to what the Church is doing, just as what we are doing becomes a sign of the hope of where we are going; both together leading to a consummation of history and the fulfillment of an undying kingdom that comes only by the power of God.
  8. We believe that all followers of Christ are called to know and love Christ through worship, love Christ's family through fellowship, grow like Christ through discipleship, serve Christ by ministering to the needs of others in his name, and share Christ with those who do not yet know him, inviting people to the ends of the earth and to the end of time to join us as his disciples and followers of his way.

(This Statement of Beliefs is based on the statement of Reasonable Faith Ministries.)

How does the Mainsail Conference of Churches (MCC) operate?

MCC churches should not confound their Constitution and Bylaws with their Statement of
Beliefs

(MCC’s principles are developed by Evan D. Plante of Worcester, MA, USA, and in many places it is specific to developed Western nations. We realize that different countries might have different legal requirements for establishing and running churches. Nevertheless, we are laying out the principles that an MCC church should strive to follow. It’s okay to adapt where necessary. Just make sure adaptations are indeed necessary and not merely preferences.)

Churches should distinguish themselves organizationally through their constitution and bylaws, not through their statements of beliefs. Bylaws regulate “official” (corporate) behavior — that is, the “business” aspects of a church organization. They do not regulate individual beliefs.

That being said, these documents will necessarily be related… but we should take special care not to confound the two projects: we are running a New Testament church, and we are running the business that, in many jurisdictions, will be its physical and organizational interface with the world.

People who join one of our churches should read, understand and agree to obey both its Statement of Beliefs and its Constitution and Bylaws... but they are free to believe what they want about secondary issues… as long as their beliefs do not contradict MCC’s Statement of Beliefs or militate against its churches’ Constitution and Bylaws.

Note how MCC’s Statement of Beliefs is complete in scope yet not complete in detail. This is by design. This allows an Amillennialist to fellowship with a Pre-tribulationist in good conscience. They would both agree with item 7 in our Statement of Beliefs that Christ is coming back, but they would not agree on the time, the order of events and other eschatological details.

At MCC, we take this freedom one step further: not only are such disagreements allowed, they are encouraged. Legitimate disagreements within the core of orthodoxy are a sign of health, not a sign of trouble. If “everyone” agrees with “everyone else” about “everything” “all the time,” they are probably in a cult. Although a local iteration of the Body of Christ — the true Church — cannot be a cult by definition, cults routinely exist within church bodies. The MCC model helps prevent this.

If you are planting a new church and want to associate with us, or if you want your existing church to join the MCC, your churches’ Constitution and Bylaws should uphold and not impede the following operational imperatives.

MCC has two ordinances: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; these are not sacraments.

Baptism

After a person has received Christ and has been born again by the Spirit of God, he or she should be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20). Note 7 things:

  1. Baptism is a public declaration of the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and a pledge of obedience to Christ. It is not a sacrament, and it is not a means of grace.
  2. Baptism is not necessary for salvation. We are saved through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit — by grace alone through faith alone. Baptism is a sign of commitment and obedience, but we are not saved by committing and obeying — and we are not kept from salvation by not being baptized.
  3. Baptism should happen only once — valid baptism, that is.
  4. Baptism should be by full immersion, not by sprinkling
  5. Baptism is not for infants. It is only for persons old enough to make informed decisions about following Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is expensive in terms of life’s capital. As such, no younger person should be baptized unless they convince you that they are committing their lives in an informed manner. It is better to wait than to commit unpreparedly.
  6. Baptism should occur as soon after salvation as practicable. Baptism is a matter of obedience — of identifying with Christ and his people (Matthew 28:20) — so this is entry-level discipleship. No person should consider themselves a disciple if they have not been baptized or are not pursuing baptism.
  7. Baptism is required to join an MCC church. We will accept baptisms from other churches, but they must be biblical... having occurred after the individual has come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance; it is not a sacrament or a means of grace. We partake to commemorate Jesus’ suffering and death (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

In the Lord’s Supper, we use two physical elements to represent Jesus’ broken body and his shed blood: bread and wine.

MMC churches may take the Lord’s supper as often as they would like. Once a month is typical in Western evangelical churches — although some do it quarterly. No MCC church should do it less frequently than quarterly.

Church officers

General

Care should be taken to differentiate between the officers of the church — “the church” being your local iteration of the Body of Christ — and the officers of its “business” aspects — that is, the organization that interfaces with the world and controls the church’s physical and administrative operations.

The early church did not have this problem. The Body of Christ was uncomplicated compared to today; the first generation of Christians (by and large) met in homes. Stand-alone churches were virtually non-existent, so they were not an issue in society. Today, we have special buildings that are purposed as churches. This is not simply more complex; this is a different paradigm.

Since church buildings are not residences, they are businesses. So, the Elm Street Baptist Church, for example, would be a business — but the purpose of that business would be to support the local iteration of the Body of Christ that meets in the Elm Street church building.

But note this well: people are the Church — not the building. We call these buildings “churches,” but this is a figure of speech and not a theological statement. If God has given you a building to house your church, part of your service to God will be taking care of the physical plant and the related administrative burdens.

As to church officers, if you have a building or an official organization, you’ll need two sets of them: one to administer the people of the church and one to administer the business of the church. To administer the people, you will need pastors (elders, bishops), deacons and deaconesses. To administer the business, you will need corporate officers like a President, Treasurer, Secretary and Executive Board Members.

Ideally, no individual will hold an office in both categories. For example, a deacon should not be your Treasurer also. That being said, such overlap cannot be avoided in a small church. So, do what you have to when you start and try for the “ideal” as you grow. Just note that it is better to have overlapping jobs than to force the wrong person into the job.

Pastor

The terms pastor, elder and bishop are biblically equal; they all refer to the office of “Shepherd” — what most people understand to be the pastor. However, it is not uncommon for churches to use these terms extra-biblically. For example, many churches have some variation on a “Board of Elders.” These elders might meet the biblical requirements found in Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Peter 5:1-4, but they are not pastors. For this reason, I do not recommend using that model of governance or using that terminology.

Churches seem to have two philosophies of pastoring — the strong pastor model and the plurality-of-elders model. In the strong pastor model, the pastor rules (comparatively) unilaterally and answers “only to God” … if you will. In the plurality-of-elders model, many individuals hold the pastoral position. They too answer to God — but not only to God: they answer to each other. One of them is the “head” who will be identified as “the pastor,” but he is just “the first among equals.”

MCC prefers a plurality of elders.

The issue of women pastors

No woman can be a pastor in an MCC church. This means that a woman who is associated with us cannot use the title Reverend or be addressed (or referred to) as Pastor, Elder or Bishop when representing our organization.

That being said, women can speak from the pulpit. They may use the pulpit for things like leading music, giving reports, making announcements or teaching general subjects.

They must, however, always avoid the appearance that they are “over” the men authoritatively, spiritually or administratively. They cannot preach to the congregation, and they cannot teach subjects like theology to adult men.

By this rule, we are neither stating nor implying that women are inferior to men. We are affirming that God asks them to subordinate themselves to men as a symbol of how the Church subordinates itself to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Furthermore, women must remain in these subordinate roles until Christ returns. When he does return, all symbolic vehicles — the “types” — will melt away. This is because the tenor — the “antitype” (who is Christ in glory) — will be with us… and we’ll no longer be playing in the shadows (Colossians 2:17).

Deacon and deaconess

Where elders oversee the spiritual life of the people by preaching, teaching and administering according to the wisdom they have gathered over time, the deacons and deaconesses oversee the practical well-being of the people. If a member is in need, the elders need to know, but the deacon or the deaconess needs to act.

A somewhat random collection of things to know when you are running an MCC church.

MCC churches are Baptist in character but not always in name. If you imagine a graph with double predestination Calvinistic churches on the right and hyper-charismatic churches on the left, the evangelical churches are in the middle — and we occupy the middle of the middle.

A Christian is a person who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and in whom the Holy Spirit dwells (Titus 3:4-7). This is critically connected to a person’s belief in the biblically revealed Jesus Christ (John 1:12). You will have members that look and sound like us but who are not truly Christians. So, frequently include the gospel in your messages.

Only God truly knows who among us are truly Christians (Galatians 4:6). However, by examining a person’s fruit (or lack of it), the Bible says that we can know who’s probably saved... but that’s the best we can do (James 2:14). Nevertheless, it’s on us to make sure those in our care are truly saved... and to bring as many from the outside to salvation and discipleship as we can (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Great Commission tells us to make disciples, not converts (Matthew 28:18-20). Making converts is a necessary first step in making disciples, but it’s only half the job. MCC exists to do the full job.

Since we believe that there are many legitimate ways to “do” Christianity, we want our members to self-regulate. But if you choose to self-regulate in an MCC church, you must do so in the spirit of the following affirmations and denials:

  • We see all truth as God’s truth and no falsehood as God’s falsehood.
  • We hold both creation and science in esteem but reject Creation Science.
  • We affirm the free will of humankind under election but reject predetermination.
  • We revere God’s law but reject legalism.
  • We encourage purity but reject puritanism.
  • We uphold the fundamentals of the faith but reject fundamentalism.
  • We subscribe to biblical inerrancy but reject King-James-Onlyism.
  • We acknowledge Jesus as Savior but reject Savior-Onlyism.
  • We acknowledge that Jesus is Lord but reject Lordship salvation.
  • We affirm our eternal security but understand that it is not a license to sin.

God has revealed himself in Scripture — but not just in Scripture. I’ve identified eight ways that God reveals himself. To form a hardy Christian worldview, we must embrace all eight.

  1. We have written revelation in the Scripture (Psalm 119:105Hebrews 4:122 Timothy 3:16).
  2. We have a salvific revelation in the Gospel (Mark 16:15John 3:16Acts 16:31).
  3. We have a living revelation in Jesus Christ (John 1:1John 4:13-141 John 5:11-13).
  4. We have a spiritual revelation in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26Romans 8:14Revelation 2:722:17).
  5. We have a general revelation in the created universe (Genesis 1:1Romans 1:18-20Hebrews 11:3).
  6. We have a philosophical revelation in human intelligence (Isaiah 1:18Romans 1:20James 1:5).
  7. We have a moral revelation in human morality (Jeremiah 31:33Matthew 5:48Romans 2:14-15).
  8. We have an ontological revelation. Eternity is written in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

There is only one mediator between us and God, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). This has ramifications. First, it is at minimum futile — but at maximum insulting — to pray to Mary or any other “saint.” The “communion of saints” is a Roman Catholic doctrine — one that has no biblical warrant. The Bible calls every saved person a saint! (1 Corinthians 1:2). As such, there is no ranking in heaven. Everyone in heaven belongs to the same category: people who are unworthy yet redeemed — and every one of them is called a saint.

There are only three types of beings: God, angels and humans — and these remain in their categories. We humans do not become angels when we die, nor do we ascend and/or assimilate and become the universe, god, gods or God.

The higher animals are “soulish” creatures in that we can bond with them, but they are not moral beings like us. God, who is infinitely moral, made us in his image. We (and the angels) are ontologically moral This doesn’t mean that we always act morally, of course. In fact, we humans sin quite regularly! But the animals do not sin because they are not ontologically moral. They are ontologically instinctual… so they have no moral obligations.

We Christians are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). What this means is that, collectively, our bodies, souls and spirits have replaced the Old Testament tabernacle and temple as God’s house. We are — as a believing body of people (from Acts chapter 2 to Christ’s return) — God’s dwelling place.

The Church — the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12) — includes people from any religion or no religion! No religious organization has a lock on salvation. Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord may be saved (Romans 10:13).

Therefore, it doesn’t matter if they are Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Wiccan — or an unaffiliated pagan — no one is excluded from the Body of Christ because of their religious history; all may be excluded by their religious currency, however. Have you received Christ? This is the yes/no question that tests for salvific currency — and the answer is not an essay!

A Christian should pray, read the Bible, fellowship in a local church and serve the Lord. This is the four-legged stool of the successful Christian life. Failing these, a person has little chance of feeling fulfilled — and that person had better self-examine because there is little evidence of salvation (2 Corinthians 13:5).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)