What We Believe and Why

Two Letters by Lynn F. Martin

In April 2006, Shippensburg Christian Fellowship suffered the tragic loss of Lynn F. Martin, who died unexpectedly of an aneurysm. Brother Lynn had served as bishop of the congregation since its founding in November 1986.

The brethren who founded our congregation came out of a setting, where “hatred among brethren and open carnality had long gone undisciplined.” Troubled by this situation, they met together to study the Bible. The following truths emerged from their study:

  1. Jesus saves only those who surrender absolutely to his Lordship.
  2. Faith means following Christ, no matter what.
  3. The Church is the physical body of Christ—called to do explicitly what Christ would do if he was walking on this earth.
  4. The Church should not include any member whose life tangibly denies Christ’s Lordship.
  5. The Church should function as a living body, with each member actively contributing according to his gifts.
  6. The responsibility of church leaders is to coordinate the church’s discernment of the will of Christ.
  7. Jesus taught the renunciation of accumulated wealth and a sacrificial sharing of resources, resulting in an actual equality in the brotherhood.

When circumstances compelled these brothers to leave their former setting, these principles guided their thinking and actions as they founded a new fellowship.

Less than a year after the congregation began, a brother from another community contacted Lynn, inquiring as to what Shippensburg Christian Fellowship’s vision was. Lynn’s response is the first of the two letters below. In 1995, another man contacted Lynn with the question, “What do you believe?” The second letter is Lynn’s answer. It touches on several practical out-workings of our corporate life and expression. Lynn noted in this letter that he had explained briefly what we believe but not why. It is this more foundational question that he addressed in the earlier letter.

Letter I.

Sept. 28, 1987

Dear Brother ——,

I consider it a challenge and a privilege to share with you the vision of our congregation.

For years I believed that the conservative Mennonite churches were promoters of the truth and would champion anyone who purposed to live it. More recently I realized that their emphasis was more on a true theology, rather than a lifestyle that supported that theology. Now I have changed my mind again and concluded that really their theology is not correct, hence an improper lifestyle. I am not talking about insignificant opinions, but some basic truths that make all the difference. These statements apply generally to conservative churches, though of course only the ones I have known and associated with.

Lest I am misunderstood, I love our Mennonite heritage and the practices she adhered to. By God’s grace I intend to continue in them as unto the Lord. To most Christians, faith in Jesus Christ is believing in his work at Calvary. It is sort of mystical, so they try to work out their own salvation by keeping certain laws that will assure righteousness.

We believe that to know Christ is everything. While we believe he was the Messiah and is the Son of God, we cannot know him until he is Lord of our lives. It is only when he is Lord that he has the complete control of our living. We then do what he wants us to do. When we are obedient to Christ, we have the assurance that we know him (I John 2:3).

It is only on the basis of knowing Christ that we can assure our hearts that his atoning blood and intercession for us before the father are valid (I John 2:1-2). I might add that the second chapter of I John can be only understood and believed by understanding the first chapter. This chapter states that God the Father is Light and has no darkness at all. This means that if we are to come before the Father, we must be sinlessly perfect like He is. Christ is our only hope. We must abide in Christ for this perfection.

John stresses that for this continual perfection, we need to continually confess sin. It is on this acknowledgment of sins that we have cleansing from all unrighteousness. Never, never do we attribute our inability to walk as Christ walked to the weakness of our flesh. We call it sin and confess it as such. Then we abide in Christ (I John 2:6).

As knowing Christ is everything to the Christian, seeing Christ is everything for the evangelism of the world. The world must see Christ before they are going to believe in him. The world will not know they are seeing Christ. They will be seeing supernatural happenings among men that will stimulate inquiry. When they ask, “What meanth this?,” the gospel is preached. Christ’s name is glorified.

We believe that the only way this power can be manifest is in a brotherhood context. Christ said there will be one sign that proves to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:34, 35). Love in the brotherhood has the greatest appeal to the world for Christ. It is repeated again in I John 2:8-10 and in the context of walking as Christ walked. It gets even more practical in I John 3:10-21, and emphasized again in I John 4. Christ stated in Matthew 18:20, that it takes two or more to share together in love.

I confess that this was almost a new concept to me when I realized that love between brethren is an absolute necessity. Not only is it necessary for our testimony to the world, but it is also necessary for our personal salvation (I John 2:10).

We believe that the greatest power on earth is in the gathered body of Christ, his church. The church is a Christ to the world and will perform in similar ways as he did and would if he were here presently. This is impossible to experience individually.

Ephesians 4:7 says that individually we have a measure of grace according to the gift of Christ. Romans 12:3 says we all receive a measure of faith. But to Christ, God gave the Spirit without measure. God gave him all things (John 3:34, 35). Ephesians 4 also says that the gifts were given to men. It is the unifying of these gifts that will bring perfection to the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body, to the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son, unto one perfect man, and finally to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The fullness Christ again is the Spirit without measure. Ephesians 4:16 emphasizes that every joint supplies, and everyone works in the measure of his gift to the increase of the body. This concept excludes everyone from the body who does not make a contribution.

Romans 12 brings out the same thought. We are a living sacrifice, we have a renewed mind, we are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but we are to consider ourselves one member among many to make up one body. It is on the basis of this truth that we can claim the promise in I Corinthians 14:25.

Believing in this profound truth gives a completely new and beautiful dimension to the communion ordinance. The bread is a symbol of the broken body of Christ. While it refers to Christ’s suffering, it also is a symbol of the brokenness of each member of the church body in order to come together in one (I Corinthians 10: 16, 17).

We believe that the communion ordinance should not be observed with those who have not sacrificially committed themselves to Christ and the brotherhood.

We believe that there needs to be an equality among the brethren. The greatest service we can do for our Lord is the service we render our brother. We cannot (since we are members of one another) withhold anything from our brother. This is part of that love the world notices.

Fellowship or koinonia is a complete sharing together of our lives—spiritually, socially, and materially. God has so designed fellowship that it is impossible to have it without love and complete trust of each other. The number one thing our church desires to guard against is never to allow one seed of distrust to be sown anywhere. All problems, questions, and doubts must be brought into the open and resolved.

I pray that God would give us wisdom, and a love for each other, that we could never harbor evil thoughts about our brother. God has given us instructions on how to deal with these problems when they arise.

I did not realize it until now, that we were in such a maze of distrust (before we left the conference) that God could never have brought us together without resolving this. But the seeds were sown years ago—seeds of bitterness, envy, strife; seeds of sexual sins and materialism. So deep were the roots, so painful would be the digging that nobody wanted to open up the ugly abyss.

It is my priority as a caretaker of God’s property that a seed with this potential should never be sown. It will take a commitment of ourselves to each other and great spiritual searching.

The vision I have for our congregation is: To bring God’s kingdom back to his righteous rule in every area that the devil has stolen for himself. I want our congregation to be a Christ to our society. I want her to accomplish the same work that Christ would if he were here.

Some of the principles I have shared with you are the ones that I believe will guarantee these results. If it does not happen I want to acknowledge that we did not live up to the standard and quality of life that Christ lived and promoted. We have only scratches the surface as afar as the great plan God has for us and his church. May we all be inspired to give our God all we possess.

We are still learning and desire more perfectly to understand God’s will for us. We do not have all the answers. But by God’s Spirit and grace, we want to serve Christ by following him. Our faith in him will only be seen in our obedience to him. Any challenge from the scriptures will be greatly appreciated. . . . .

Your brother in Christ,
Lynn Martin

Letter II.

June 19, 1995

Dear Friend,

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus, who is the great and final revelation of God our Father.

I am happy for your inquiry and consider it a privilege to answer your questions. We do not have church bulletins, so I will endeavor to describe a little who we are and what we believe.

You may have more questions when I am through, simply because I will not be able to give you every scriptural reason in this one letter. Many of the things we believe and do can be researched and discussed in length. I would be glad to answer specific questions as you desire.

Many of our families are from a Mennonite background. We not longer affiliate with a Mennonite Conference, but simply call ourselves a Christian Fellowship. Some of the practices that the Mennonite church taught through the years that are scriptural, we also teach and practice.

Our focus is not denominational, but the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that He saved us and called us to live our lives as He would. The Bible, beside being a history of God’s people, is the inspired revelation of Christ and everything must be interpreted through what he taught and exemplified in his life. This concept eliminates a lot of controversy and theological arguments.

We also believe that the local church is Christ’s body—Christ being the head, and no one person having the preeminence. We are all members of another with differing gifts and functions, but all for the cause of Christ and His kingdom. The church is the highest expression of Christ we will ever experience on earth.

We do have a recognized church membership made up of those who testify to the Lordship of Christ and are in basic agreement with our beliefs and practices.

We believe in the two kingdoms concept—the kingdom of this world, where Satan reigns (of course God is over all), and the kingdom of heaven, which includes all the saints. These are two separate kingdoms, hence we do not get involved in politics or social causes where there would be a mixing of both kingdoms.

We certainly are concerned about the issues of the day and try to make a difference. Praying for our government leaders and neighbors, teaching the truth, showing compassion where we can, trying to relieve the suffering, and emphasizing godly family values are all ways to help the ills of society.

We do not support the military for several reasons. All killing of human life is sin, without exception. God’s higher law transcends any law of the land. Christ’s life and teaching did not support it, and further Christ called us to suffer for His name’s sake, not to defend.

We believe that competitive sports are not Christlike and develops a wrong spirit in one’s heart. Television only inspires more worldliness as it appeals to the flesh. It glorifies sin, robs the family of time, appeals to the covetous nature through much advertising, and hardens its viewers to the pain and suffering of others through sex and violence. None of our families have a television, nor do we watch videos.

Most of our families home-school. We would not ever consider sending a child to public school. Parents have the ultimate responsibility for the teaching and training of their children.

We believe that the Bible teaches against divorce and remarriage. A second marriage without the death of a spouse constitutes adultery. We see the break up of homes as a number one cause of our nation’s troubles. Mothers working outside the home is unscriptural and has led to failure in many homes.

Eternal security (as most people teach it) is a damning heresy. To be once saved by grace and not live in a consistent, holy, Christlike life is a contradiction of terms. This is the whole point of salvation—a means to an end—to be like Christ. We are eternally secure as we remain attached to the vine, Jesus Christ, and bear the fruit of His life.

Concerning property, we believe in private ownership, but insist on a community perspective. While communal living may be an answer to some scriptural teachings, we believe communal living can be more of a legalistic approach and many times becomes the center of our focus over Christ. We believe in a common sharing together on every level, spiritually, socially, and economically, but it needs to come form a voluntary response of the heart. The Bible talks of an equality (II Corinthians 8:14) and this is how we try to live. We want to live with a sensitivity to our brother’s need.

Once a year we plan a simple meal to be shared with communion. About four times a year, we break bread together and share grape juice in observance of our Lord’s suffering and death. 1 We also believe each one us needs to examine our lives previous to this experience. Testimonies are shared by every member before hand. Communion also represents our brokenness before each other and therefore this experience is closed those who have not made a commitment to the local body. We practice the command to wash one another’s feet in an expression of servitude to our brother.

In our worship, we sing hymns, have a devotional by a brother, and followed with a an open discussion on a Bible lesson. We do book studies. . . . There are two class for children four years through twelve. After this we have an open sharing time and then a prayer time. Following this is a message given by me or another brother who has the gift of teaching or exhortation. Every brother has an opportunity to minister the word. Our sisters do not teach or lead out in prayer where brothers are present, unless it is in a family setting, where a sister will pray and share a thought.

This covers a lot of area in a brief time with little scriptural references. My hope is that your first question is answered—“What do we believe?” Why we believe what we believe has yet to be discussed. Again you are welcomed to write back or call. … I work full time as an auto mechanic, but would be glad to talk with you. You are cordially invited to visit our community and experience first hand who we are. I am sorry I could not get back to you immediately and hope it was not an inconvenience to you. God bless you.

Yours in Christ,
Lynn Martin

1 Since Lynn wrote this the congregation has changed its practice to sharing the Lord’s supper once a month and meeting twice a year for a love feast in which the members share their testimonies, eat a meal together, and partake of the Lord’s Supper and wash each other’s feet.