What Kind of Church is Bridgeway?April 11, 2022 1 Comment
On April 7, 2022, Trevin Wax posted a fascinating and informative article on the Gospel Coalition website in which he identified and described the many different Christian denominations in the U.S. He briefly described their history, their form of governance, their theology, and other unique features that set them apart from one another.
This got me thinking about my church, Bridgeway, here in Oklahoma City. People often ask me, “What kind of Church is Bridgeway?” I don’t know if this article will help in answering that question, but I’ll try.
Wax begins by describing “The Three Big Branches”, these being Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. I assume you know that we are Protestant, standing in the tradition of the Reformation of the 16th century. Here is Wax’s summation of Protestant distinctives:
History: During the Reformation in the 1500s, Protestants leaders such as Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli opposed corruption in the medieval Catholic Church and sought to correct what they believed to be aberrant, extrabiblical theological positions that did not align with Scripture or with Augustine and other church fathers.
Themes: The Reformation tradition is often summed up by five solas (the Latin word for “alone”):
Scripture Alone: The Bible is the supreme and final authority, not the magisterium or traditions of the Catholic Church.
Christ Alone: Sinners are justified in God’s sight only on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross and through his resurrection.
Faith Alone: God’s pardon to sinners is granted to and received by faith alone, apart from works.
Grace Alone: All of salvation, from beginning to end, is only by the grace of God.
To the Glory of God Alone: God alone receives glory for our salvation.
Within Protestantism, Wax further identifies Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Evangelical Free Church, the Restorationist Movement, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, and non-denominational churches.
As for the distinctives he lists for non-denominational churches, they include:
Non-denominational churches have no connection to any denomination, although they may partner with like-minded churches on various mission projects.
Based on the first distinctive, non-denominational churches will be congregational in their form of government.
Since they are truly independent, non-denominational churches can freely write their doctrinal statements and church practices, though they tend to be broadly evangelical and Baptistic in their main beliefs.
Since Bridgeway is not affiliated with any of the many denominations Wax mentions, one would assume we embrace the distinctives he lists. But that is not entirely the case.
So, where does Bridgeway fall in this categorization of Christian churches? As noted, we are Protestant. But after that, we draw from many of these traditions without identifying entirely with any one of them. Why is that the case? It isn’t because we are renegades or disdainful of other denominations and local churches. It is primarily because of our commitment to the final authority of Scripture. Now, that needs some measure of explanation and qualification.
Please don’t hear me saying that these other denominations don’t believe in the final authority of Scripture. Whereas it is true that both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism recognize tradition as providing an additional source of authoritative revelation, all the Protestant denominations listed by Wax embrace Sola Scriptura, the belief that Scripture “alone” (sola) contains God’s full and final, authoritative revelation of his will for his people.
What I mean in saying that our commitment to the authority of Scripture sets us apart is that we do not feel bound to any confession of faith or creed or extra-biblical delineation of beliefs. I love the creeds! I resonate with many of the historic confessions of faith. But we at Bridgeway do not believe what we believe because it is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterians) or the Baptist Faith and Message (Southern Baptists) or the Augsburg Confession (most Lutherans). We learn from these documents. We recognize their importance in the history and development of the Christian Church. But we feel no unconditional allegiance to them.
To use the language of theologians, they serve a ministerial function in our body of beliefs but not a magisterial one. Tradition, in all its forms, serves to minister to us by instructing us in what the Bible teaches and defining what certain doctrines mean. It awakens us to the ways in which earlier theologians, churches, and movements understood the biblical text. But tradition is not magisterial. By this I mean that it does not possess an inherent authority to dictate to us what we must believe. We must believe only what is explicitly taught in God’s inspired Word.
So, then, what do we believe at Bridgeway and why?
First, although we are non-denominational, we are affiliated with the Acts 29 network. A29 is not a denomination. It exerts no governmental authority over its member churches. It is a network of like-minded churches that relate to each other for the purpose of planting churches that plant churches and to provide avenues for fellowship and encouragement among its many pastors.
Second, unlike Presbyterians and Lutherans and Anglicans, we are baptistic in certain areas of our theology. We baptize only believers in Jesus. We do not practice infant baptism (paedo baptism). We are also committed to the autonomy of the local church, as is true of those in the Southern Baptist Convention. That does not mean we don’t stand in good relation with other churches or that we do not seek to learn from them or that we disregard their wise counsel. It simply means we are governed solely by the Elders of Bridgeway and feel no obligation to submit to the direction or dictates of another church or a denominational hierarchy.
Third, we are unlike most Baptist churches in that we are not entirely congregational in our form of government. We do maintain a clear policy of covenant membership, and our members are empowered to speak into matters of church discipline and are involved in the process of selecting who will serve on the Board of Elders. But the latter body itself is the final governing authority of Bridgeway. We are Elder governed and Staff led.
Fourth, because we are both Reformed in our view of salvation and Charismatic in our view of the work of the Spirit, we do not fit well into any particular denominational category. We are both Reformed and Charismatic because that is what we see taught in Scripture. It matters little to us that we are in the minority in our belief that the Bible calls for a convergence of the two. I often say to people who question my/our theology, “The man who wrote Romans 9 is the same man who said, ‘I thank God I speak in tongues more than you.’” If I may dare to say so, the Apostle Paul was a Charismatic Calvinist!
Fifth, Wax explains “what church is like” for each of these groups on a typical Sunday morning. At Bridgeway we preach through books of the Bible, verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter. We have at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted singing and celebration, that can be both reverent and celebratory. We conclude our services with about 15 minutes of public and private prophetic ministry, and we pray for healing for the sick after every service.
Sixth, Wax also mentions the approach of each group to the sacraments. As Protestants, we recognize only two sacraments/ordinances, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As noted above, we baptize only those who profess faith in Christ. Our view of the “presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is similar to that of Calvin and the Reformed tradition. The elements are more than a memorial (although they are surely that). The promise of God is that through the Spirit there is in and through the elements the extraordinary spiritual presence of Christ to convict, assure, sanctify and bless.
Seventh, much like those whom Wax describes as Baptists, we believe in a regenerate church membership, that only professing believers can become covenant members at Bridgeway.
Eighth, although we are continuationist when it comes to the validity and operation of all spiritual gifts today, we differ from classical Pentecostals when it comes to baptism in the Holy Spirit. We affirm that this is something that Christ Jesus himself does for every believer at the moment of conversion. And yes, it is Jesus who baptizes us in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t baptize anyone into anything.
Ninth, unlike our Pentecostal (and some charismatic) brothers and sisters, we do value reason and tradition, as well as experience, when studying Scripture. At the same time, we are quite clear that reason, tradition, and all experience must bow to the authority of Scripture. We refuse to bind our conscience to anything or anyone other than Scripture itself.
Tenth, and finally, although we aren’t formally or structurally connected to any other church or denomination (aside from the loose affiliation that Acts 29 member churches embrace), we value and cherish and always hope to learn from all our fellow believers, regardless of the denomination or movement of which they are a part.
I hope that gives you some idea of what Bridgeway Church is all about, and why we believe and practice what we do. We would love to have you visit us and join with us in the exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ.