The church must again become distinct from the world if she is to fulfill her mission. Our vision for the future comes right out of the Bible and right out of the past of Presbyterianism. It is consistent with the best of our historic church life and with our Christ-mandated mission. But a new generation will have to be introduced to and embrace this vision if we are to remain a living witness for Christ and grow in vitality as a body of believers. To that end we are seeking to build a church that will be faithful to the following commitments:
1. Biblical Worship
Psalm 29:1-2 Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
John 4:23-24 "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
1 Corinthians 14:33, 37, 38, 40 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints… 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant…. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Calvin’s expression of the regulative principle teaches us that we find the substance of and our direction for our gathered, corporate worship in the Bible. Much that is amiss in modern worship practice would be corrected if we took for our principle of direction: Sing the Bible, Pray the Bible, Read the Bible, Preach the Bible. We ought to strive to be sure that all that we sing is scriptural, that our prayers are saturated with Scripture, that much of the Word of God is read in each public service, and that the preaching is based on the Bible. We want to be a church that is committed to a high view of public worship.
2. Expository Bible Preaching
Timothy 4:1-2 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
We believe biblical, expositional, applicatory preaching is absolutely vital. We are committed to the preaching philosophy of the Apostle Paul in that our pastor is obligated as a minister of the gospel and a shepherd of the sheep to preach and proclaim the whole counsel of God. That leads us to a conviction in our preaching to teach through passages and books of the Bible. We are committed to expositional preaching in the broad sense (which means that the preacher must explain from the Bible what the Bible is saying) and we also believe in expositional preaching in the narrow sense (that when preaching on a specific passage of Scripture one must preach what that passage says from that passage). Expository Bible Preaching is not a style but a principle. Its controlling concern is to expound what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hear God's Word and recover the centrality of the Word in our worship. The pastor must preach in an applicatory fashion; he must tell the congregation not only what is true from the Bible, but what to do from the Bible. We also believe that the church needs not only a diet of expositional preaching through the Bible passage by passage, but also needs a diet of doctrinal preaching where various truths of Scripture are gathered together, expounded and applied. In other words, the church needs to be exposed not only to preaching through the Genesis, Exodus, and Romans, but also needs to hear preaching on such doctrines as the Trinity, Justification, and Sanctification.
3. Inclusive Psalmody
We need to deliberately re-include the Psalms in our worship. “Exclusive psalmody” is the view that we should only sing scriptural Psalms in our congregational praise. It is a time-honored position held by many in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition. However, we believe there is ample and important biblical reason to also sing biblically sound hymns and songs of human composition (not the least of which is the biblical imperative that the redeemed praise the Redeemer for the redemption). What is being excluded and ignored in our circles is the Psalms – which are at the heart of the worship tradition of every major historical branch of Christianity. Hence, the book of Psalms, as God's divinely inspired hymnbook, should be amply and regularly sung from, along with scripturally sound hymns in our worship services.
4. A Theology of Lord’s Day Experience
Mark 2:27-28 And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. "Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath."
Revelation 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day...
We need to resuscitate a high view of the Lord’s Day in our churches. We understand that there will be differences in our specific practice, but the big picture and the central message need to be displayed and trumpeted again. Reformed theology (indeed even Protestantism) cannot survive without the Lord’s Day, but some of our own brethren are working for its extinction with all good intentions, and our culture is obstructing and tempting our people at every turn. We want to recapture the Spirit of Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “A well-spent Sabbath we feel to be a day of heaven upon earth...we love to rise early on that morning, and to sit up late, that we may have a long day with God.”
5. Morning and Evening Worship
Exodus 20:8-10 " Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
If we believe, with the majority of Christians in all ages and with the Westminster Divines, that the Old Testament Sabbath command has a weekly new covenant fulfillment in the Christian Lord’s Day, then we will believe that the whole of that day (following the explicit one day in seven pattern of the old covenant of grace) is to be spent in worship, deeds of mercy, necessity and witness, and rest. If that is the case, then both prudential factors and the testimony of history indicate that the best way to help the Lord’s people keep the Lord’s Day (as opposed to the Lord’s hour or the Lord’s morning) is to frame the first day of the week with gathered worship: morning and evening.
6. A Biblical, Covenantal Theology (or Westminster Calvinism)
2 Timothy 1:13-14 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
It is hard in our day to get away from labels, but if we are to be labeled, let it be: “Plain Vanilla Westminster Calvinism” – a warm-hearted and whole-hearted embrace of the theology, ethos and practice of our Confession.
Covenant theology is the Gospel set in the context of God’s eternal plan of communion with his people, and its historical outworking in the covenant of works and the covenant of grace (with its various progressive stages).
Covenant Theology speaks to the general unity of the Scriptures and the realities that the Old and New Testaments are simply different administrations of the same eternal covenant. Thus, all believers are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ; the Old Testament saint looking forward to Christ, and the New Testament saint looking back on Christ. Christianity, then, is the full development of what existed in former ages, or a grander exemplification of the truths and principles which were there revealed.
Covenant Theology, then, effects our life and ministry as it integrates the biblical teaching about the continuities and discontinuities in the progress of redemptive history, the relation of the Jewish and Christian Scripture, law and gospel, into a coherent theological system. Covenant Theology is the Bible’s way of explaining and deepening our understanding of: the atoning death of Christ; the basis of our confidence of communion with God and enjoyment of his promises; the sacraments—what they are and how they work; and the continuity of redemptive history. Covenant Theology is also a hermeneutic, an approach to understanding the Scripture—an approach that attempts to biblically explain the unity of biblical revelation. It is therefore the unique ability of the Covenant theologian and preacher, in his commitment to the authority of Scripture, to teach the whole counsel of God while ever pointing to the gracious call of God to embrace Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel.
7. A Vision for Evangelism, Church Planting, and Missions
2 Timothy 4:5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
Acts 1:8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
We want to be a church full of folks who love God’s Word, who embrace sound Reformed theology and who have a zeal for souls. We need churches who have an energy for the work of evangelism and church establishment; who have as a genuine aim in their ministry the drawing in and building up of the Lord’s people in response to Jesus’ commission and promise. The great churchman Horatius Bonar said “We take for granted that the object of the Christian ministry is to convert sinners and edify the body of Christ.” James Durham adds: “This is the great design of all preaching, to bring them within the covenant who are without, and to make those who are within the covenant to walk suitably to it. And as these are never separated on the Lord’s side, so should they never be separated on our side.”
8. A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel and Evangelism
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
The Gospel is the heart of Christianity. Yet, many today are confused about what it is! Some view the Gospel as something that makes people’s lives better (only partially true), some think the Gospel is “God loves you,” (again, only partially true), but the biblical Gospel is that God loves sinners at the cost of his Son. Anything less than this rich, full, biblical presentation of the Gospel will produce spurious conversions. The whole truth is that we are dead in sin and in need of spiritual life, and God graciously grants that life by his Son—the Lord Jesus Christ—that is Good News! We must tell the next generation this wonderful truth and pray that they imbibe it. We must cultivate a Gospel-embracing and Gospel-sharing people.
9. A Biblical Understanding of Conversion and Discipleship
The spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. Conversion should not be equated with or stereotyped as an emotionally heated experience, but it must evidence itself by its fruit if it is to be what the Bible regards as a true conversion. Our people must have experienced such a real conversion and have started down the road of understanding it biblically if we are to be a healthy church.
10. Christian Piety
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height -- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Galatians 4:19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.
1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
Piety is “the life of God in the soul of man” (to borrow Scougal’s phrase). In the Bible, true religion flows from the heart. Evangelicals used to understand that. But one does not have to have the sharpest discernment to detect a marked deficiency of piety in the church in our own time. Indeed, for some, the very word “piety” is held in great suspicion as the vestige of a kind of pietistic revivalism that we are better off without. And yet Calvin himself viewed the Institutes of the Christian Religion as a “sum of piety” rather than a sum of theology. We need to foster personal piety in our churches. We need to recognize our own spiritual poverty and challenge one another to strive for devotion in love to God and experience of the love of Christ.
11. Family Worship
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 " Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. " And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
By “Family Worship” we mean the whole of family religion. We want to encourage family worship (including singing, Scripture reading and prayer), along with family attendance of the corporate worship of the church. The catechisms, too, are almost lost tools that would supply antidotes to many of our current problems. A sense of the strategic role of parents in the Christian nurture of their children needs to be freshly pressed home. If the prime and main focus of our promotion of spiritual life in covenant children is on Sunday School, Youth Programs, retreats and conferences, VBS, and various other special Christian Educational emphases (as wonderful and helpful as these can be), then we will neglect the plan that God himself established for the discipleship of covenant children: godly parents living, talking and teaching the faith in the home.
12. A Biblical Understanding of the Law and Sanctification
Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.
Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
It is essential to healthy discipleship that a Christian understands something of the ongoing role of the law in the Christian life (the third use of the law) and the grace dynamic of the Holy Spirit’s uniting of us to Christ by faith. Neither of these things should be set over against one another or de-emphasized in the balance of our instruction on Christian growth. Sanctification is both active and passive, both by the standard of the law and by the power of the Spirit, both responsive to biblical imperatives and dependent on the grand indicative of union with Christ, both inward and outward, both individual and corporate.
13. A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership and Discipline
Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
Matthew 28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
Acts 2:42-45 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Membership must be the reflection of a living commitment to a local church in attendance, giving, prayer, and service or it is worthless. To be a member is knowingly to be traveling together as aliens and strangers in this world as we head to our heavenly home. But we live in a day of unparalleled lack of commitment, so we must restore a high view of what it means to be a church member. When we are united to Christ by faith, we are united to all who are united to Christ by faith. This mutual accountability is visibly manifested in the way we care for, look after, encourage and challenge one another to the life of godliness in the local church. The whole church has an interest in the spiritual health of every individual member. Especially church officers, and especially elders as shepherds should seek to promote true Christian discipleship and mutual accountability among the flock.
14. A Biblical Understanding of Church Government
Ephesians 4:8, 11-13 Therefore He says: "When He [Christ] ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men." 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Church government is by no means the most important thing, but Luke and Paul both thought church government mattered. Luke, three times in the book of Acts, connects biblical church government and discipline with church growth and health. Paul tells us that Jesus gave officers (and therefore church government) to the church as a gift necessary for our edification. Yet many are indifferent to the matter of church government and order. We need unapologetic Presbyterians shepherding our church, if we are going to see church health and growth the way the New Testament anticipates. But we live in a place and time that doesn’t know or care much about church government. Furthermore, most of our members are totally unfamiliar with historic Presbyterian polity. We ignore commitment in this area at our peril.
15. Commitment to Elder Shepherding
We believe in, and depend on, the parity of the elders. That is to say, Teaching and Ruling Elders belong to one class of office: elder. Ruling Elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as Teaching Elders. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their own aptness to teach the Bible and shepherd the sheep and should improve every opportunity of doing so.
It, then, belongs to the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter in. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the church generally when called to. They should visit the people at their homes and businesses, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples. All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.
16. A Reformed Worldview
Acts 17:28 "for in Him we live and move and have our being...
2 Corinthians 10:5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
We need ministers and members who think Christianly about all of life. Unfortunately, many who talk about worldview today are fuzzy about what its contents might be. The following sorts of elements are essential components to an authentically Reformed worldview: an unequivocal commitment to the authority of Scripture (including affirmation of the biblical concept of revelation, and of inspiration, inerrancy, authority, perspicuity, and sufficiency); the sovereign, Triune God as creator and providential ruler of the World (including affirmation of the creator/creature distinction, implications of the doctrine of the Trinity on all segments of theology); the historical reality of the Fall and the sinfulness of man (including affirmation of the effects of sin, the reality of Satan and the forces of evil, and mankind's need for reconciliation and redemption); the sovereign Grace of God in salvation (including affirmation of the priority and supremacy of Grace in redemption, consequent humility and gratitude of the redeemed, and resultant assurance of salvation); and the nature of the Church (including affirmation of its unity and diversity, and visibility and invisibility).
17. Resistance to pop-fads
Ecclesiastes 1:9 That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
We want to be a church that rises above trendiness. We desire to develop a far-sighted approach and appreciate the contributions of earlier Christians to issues of importance today. It is healthy to have an acquired wariness, in general, to novel ideas and ministry fads. We live in a culture that is always seeking something new. However, in the local church we should expect continuity, certainty, and fidelity. Agreeing with Solomon that “there is nothing new under the sun,” Christians in all ages can instruct those who live later. We in turn, can learn much by standing on the shoulders of those who have preceded us. After all, if the “faith was handed down once for all” (Jude 1:3), one may expect little change in core biblical truths over the centuries.