“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” Part IV: “Reformed”

IMG_0347 (1)

In the last several blog posts I have been discussing what our sign says about Reformed Presbyterian Church. To begin with I wrote about our identity: we are a “Church,” the called out people of God living our lives in a fallen world by the grace of God. Secondly, I mentioned our ecclesiology: we are “Presbyterian,” a Biblically conservative, confessional branch of the Presbyterian realm. Today I would like to give a short synopsis of our theology: we are “Reformed” in our doctrinal beliefs. R. C. Sproul has written an entire book entitled, “What is Reformed Theology?” so let me say from the very beginning that I will not in a short blog post cover all that is included in this brand of Christian belief.

When one looks at the word “Reformed” he will see a close kinship with the word, “Reformation.” The modern manifestation of this movement began (at least it came to prominence) in the 16th century with the rediscovery of the Biblical Truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. One must remember, however, that one of the slogans of the early Reformers was “ad fontes,” (to the sources) which showed a heavy reliance upon the early church fathers, and even more so, the Biblical record in its original languages. So it was actually a movement that desired to return the church to its original Biblical, God-centered state of being. This theology is presented in detail in both the Westminster Confession of Faith and The Belgic Confession.

To put it very simply, those who hold to Reformed Theology (which would include RPC) ascribe to the Five Solas of the Reformation:

  1. Sola Scriptura–Scripture alone
  2. Sola Christus–Christ alone
  3. Sola Gratia–Grace alone
  4. Sola Fide–Faith alone
  5. Soli Deo Gloria–the Glory of God alone

Included within the Five Solas would be the Soteriological Statements (How we are justified before a righteous God) often called the Doctrines of Grace:

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

How would I say all of this in Southeast Texan? I would simply describe RPC in the language that I used when I would send letters to those who visited our church: “RPC is a church that desires to be God-centered in our theology, God-centered and reverent in our worship, and God-centered in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.” Or, maybe I would just hang a sign out in front of our worship center which simply said, “Reformed Presbyterian Church.”

 

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” Part III: “Presbyterian”

IMG_0347 (1)

The late 1980s and early 1990s were the great heyday of the Church Growth Movement. Everybody had some kind of quick and easy formula to “grow your church“. When someone figured out that 41% of the people who are on a Sunday School roll eventually are baptized, a new plan for church growth appeared. The idea was to enroll people in Sunday School, anywhere, anytime, anyplace, etc., with the idea that eventually 41% of those people will visit the baptismal waters. High attendances days in Sunday School (If you are a Baptist you will remember, “Great Day in the Morning”), big events, and other special emphases all promised to bring the people in. One of the new church growth ideas was not to put the name of your denomination on your church sign because it would automatically turn some people off. But, if you notice, right there in the middle of the sign it says that we are “Presbyterian.” Why would we do something as goofy as that? Because that is who we are.

Granted, we do have to spend some time ever so often explaining, “No, we are not THOSE PRESBYTERIANS (Presbyterian Church in USA)!” We are the Presbyterian Church in America. In the preface of our Book of Church Order it spells out what makes up our constitution:

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word Of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order, comprising the Form of Government, the Rules of Discipline and the Directory for Worship; all as adopted by the Church.”

The final authority in our churches is the Bible, and if you want to know what we believe the Bible says, look at our Confession of Faith, the Shorter Catechism, or the Larger Catechism. If you want to know how we do things peruse the Book of Church Order. There are no secrets. One does not have to sign off on all that the standards say to become a member of a PCA church; all that is required is a “credible profession of faith.” But if you want to know what is going to be preached from the pulpit, or taught in a Sunday School class, you need only to look at our Standards. Why? Because we’re Presbyterians.

(Of course, there is more to know about being Presbyterian: our form of government, our connectionalism, etc., but the heart of Presbyterianism is to be found in its doctrine.)

Next: Part IV, Reformed.

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” Part II: “Church”

IMG_0347 (1)
As I mentioned in my last post, our church sign, while not saying everything, says much about who we are at Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC). And since the adjectives, “Reformed” and “Presbyterian,” both define the noun, “Church,” I will start with “Church.” What is a church? As a child growing up in a Baptist church in the south during the 1960s, I learned in Royal Ambassadors (a boys mission group) that a church was a “group of baptized believers.” That isn’t a bad start, but a church is a little more complicated than that.

I do not have the time or the space to delve into what the church universal, the church triumphant, and the church militant are, but the Westminster Confession of Faith gives us a pretty good picture of what the visible church is:

The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (WCF 25:3)

RPC is a particular congregation within that worldwide church. What is the primary responsibility that Christ has given to His Body on earth? It was not formed to be a political action committee. It was not formed to be a social work group (although benevolence work does go on there). It was not formed to be a center of entertainment. It was not formed to be a mover and shaker of culture.

Again the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of the mission of the church:

Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.” (WCF 25:4)

The church is here to gather and perfect the saints through Word, prayer, and sacraments in the power of His Spirit. The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians that the church was on earth “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12) And, that the focus of the church is to be found in “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) May we never lose our focus on the primary objective to chase after the superficial baubles and trinkets of our modern culture.

Next: Part III, Presbyterian.

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” Part I

IMG_0347 (1)

I remember the day even though it was two decades ago. I was a pastor in a small East Texas town and a very pleasant family that had been visiting our church invited my wife and me to their home for snacks. My first thought was, “That’s nice.” Then, someone mentioned to me that this particular couple sold Amway. The warning meter went off inside my little brain (Been there, done that, got the t-shirt). So I very carefully called and mentioned that if the invite was about Amway they would be wasting their time, because I could not sell their product. I tried to explain that I didn’t want people to wonder when I showed up at their door if I had come with the Gospel or some SA-8. Thankfully, they understood, and, yes, they had invited us over with the plan of giving us the “Amway spiel.” (Good end of story: the husband was eventually converted and I had the joy of baptizing him.)

Bait and switch” is an often used tactic by some companies to sell their products. They promise one thing: “a nice visit with snacks,” and provide another: “a sales pitch about their products.” It can be the same way in the religious realm. I still remember the very slick brochure advertising a “prophecy conference” that I received in the mail when I was living in Shreveport. The Seventh Day Adventists were very careful to make sure that their name appeared nowhere on that brochure. One wouldn’t discover who was sponsoring the event until one’s arrival.

I am thankful that the sign outside our church building doesn’t lure people in under false pretenses. It is straight-forward about saying exactly who we are: Reformed Presbyterian Church. I would like to take my next three blog posts to go into to some detail about what our “sign” says about who we are. Each word speaks volumes about what one can expect to find at 4220 Crow Road, in Beaumont, Texas.

(Next: Part II, Church)

“As was His [Jesus] custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath.”

Sunday

Oh, that with yonder sacred throng
We at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all!

Immediately before the Benediction during this morning’s worship we sang Edward Perronet’s 1779 hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” The last verse in the Red Trinity Hymnal was written nine years later by John Rippon and added to Perronet’s version, and it is printed above. As we sang that verse I was almost moved to tears. There was nothing “miraculous” about it. It was just God’s Hand of Providence at work.

We had sung praise to God. We had confessed our sin. We had heard God’s Word read. We had given God’s Tithe and our Offerings. We had heard a message from God’s Written Word, and now as we were about to leave, we were singing of the joys of eternity that will be ours all because of the manifold grace of our Jesus Christ.

I suppose the emotion came because the preceding week had been trying. We had faced challenges and struggles; many of which were those continuing kind of struggles that may not disappear until the new heavens and the new earth. Yet, in gathering with God’s people and focusing on and worshiping the One who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I found a hope that was at best feeble before I arrived at 4220 Crow Road this morning.

It reminded me of a verse from a hymn by Christopher Wordsworth that speaks of this weekly opportunity to grow in God’s grace:

New graces ever gaining
from this our day of rest,
we reach the rest remaining
to spirits of the blest.
We sing to You our praises,
O Father, Spirit, Son;
the church its voice upraises
to You, blest Three in One
.”

What about the Poor?

what about the poor
It was over a decade ago. After being a Southern Baptist pastor for approximately twenty-five years, I was becoming a Presbyterian; not a mainline, liberal Presbyterian, but a conservative, Bible-believing, Westminster Standards confessing Presbyterian. For my ordination to be accepted I had to pass written tests over the English Bible, Church history, the Sacraments, Theology, and the Book of Church Order. I then went before the Candidates and Credential Committee to be examined and was eventually questioned before the entire Presbytery.

There were several things that to me were interesting through that process. The first surprise came when I said that I had no exceptions to the Westminster Standards; the chairmen looked at me with some surprise and said, “None?” I responded by saying, “None.” He, with a funny look on his face said, “Oh.” The second surprise came when I answered the question, “What view did the Westminster Assembly take on the time of the Creation?” I responded by saying, “six, twenty-four hour days.” The chairman smiled and patiently explained that there were several views of Creation that were acceptable in the Presbyterian Church in America, and I smiled back and said, “But the question was, ‘What view did the Westminster Assembly take on the time of Creation?’” And, yes, I happened to agree with them.

There was a question that caught me off guard when I stood before the entire Presbytery, also. Someone called out, “What about the poor?” I said, “Pardon?” “What about the poor?” I think I responded with a rather long comment about how we should always be ready to care for the physical needs of the poor, etc. While I believe that there was some truth in what I said; looking back, I believe I would have answered differently.

What do the poor need from the church? They need the same thing that the rich, the middle class, and every other strata of society needs from the church: The Gospel. The church’s primary responsibility is, as Paul said, to proclaim that “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) We are to call upon people to turn from trusting in themselves, and to put their trust in what Jesus Christ has done on their behalf; no matter the size of their bank account. Jesus told the messengers that John the Baptist had sent to him that one of the evidences that He was the Messiah was that the “poor have the good news preached to them.” (Matt. 11:5)

So, while it is important to remember Paul’s admonition to the Galatians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” (Gal. 6:10) the most important thing we can do, as Christ’s Church, is to point men to Christ through Word, prayer, and sacraments, that they might discover the abundant grace that God has poured out upon all who believe the Gospel.

What about the poor? The poor need the Gospel.

 

Ordinary Actions

new-and-improved

We live in a world where “new and improved” is the rage. We need excitement! We need thrills! We need bells! We need whistles! As one church advertised: “No more boring church!” However, all of that reminds me of something that R. C. Sproul once said, “There is one thing that I never find in the Bible when a person comes into the presence of the living God: ‘He is never bored.’” We don’t need a “new and improved” way to come into the presence of God, we have the “tried and true” way.

Way back in 1640s the men at the Westminster Assembly restated the Biblical proviso of how to draw near to God as His people that we might grow in grace:

Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

We recoil at the word, “ordinary,” yet Christ has ordained the simple actions of “reading and preaching the Word; administering water, bread, and wine; and calling out to God in praise and supplication” as the means to discover Him anew, when we as His people gather in His name week in and week out. It is sufficient whether you are in a cathedral in London, a storefront in New York, or a grass hut in the jungle of deepest Africa. Word. Sacraments. Prayer. It is sufficient, and never boring (at least it isn’t if you are one of His children).

 

“Make It So!”

During our worship service this morning we had the formal installation of Nick Napier as our pastor at Reformed Presbyterian Church. He has been a vital part of our church life since our congregation extended a call to him back in February. Since that time he has been examined and approved by the Houston Metro Presbytery, moved his family halfway across the country, and has been on the field since April 23rd. Today made him, as he said on a Facebook post last night, “officially official.”

In our denomination (The Presbyterian Church in America), when a pastor is installed, promises are made both by the pastor and the congregation that, if kept, will make that pastor/congregation relationship a positive one. The questions asked of Pastor Nick (which were all answered in the affirmative, by the way) speak of his desire to have the right motives (“a desire to promote the glory of God and the good of the Church”), and the right actions (“discharge all the duties of a pastor to this congregation” and “maintain a deportment in all respects becoming a minister of the Gospel of Christ”). The full wording in our Book of Church Order is as follows:

  1. Are you now willing to take charge of this congregation as their pastor, agreeable to your declaration in accepting its call? 
  2. Do you conscientiously believe and declare, as far as you know your own heart, that, in taking upon you this charge, you are influenced by a sincere desire to promote the glory of God and the good of the Church?
  3. Do you solemnly promise that, by the assistance of the grace of God, you will endeavor faithfully to discharge all the duties of a pastor to this congregation, and will be careful to maintain a deportment in all respects becoming a minister of the Gospel of Christ, agreeable to your ordination engagements?

As I mentioned there were also questions asked of the congregation and promises made:

  1. Do you, the people of this congregation, continue to profess your readiness to receive Nick Napier, whom you have called to be your pastor?
  2. Do you promise to receive the word of truth from his mouth with meekness and love, and to submit to him in the due exercise of discipline?
  3. Do you promise to encourage him in his labors, and to assist his endeavors for your instruction and spiritual edification?
  4. Do you engage to continue to him while he is your pastor that competent worldly maintenance which you have promised, and to furnish him with whatever you may see needful for the honor of religion and for his comfort among you?

I had the privilege today of encouraging the congregation to follow the directions that Paul gave to the Philippian Church so many years ago:

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

By God’s grace let us “Make It So.”

 

 

 

 

The “Hot-Tempered Man”

angry

I have been reading Sonia Purnell’s biography of Clementine Churchill entitled, “Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill.” It has been a fascinating look at the marriage of one of the most important leaders of the 20th century. She was one of the few people who could stand up to the overpowering personality, opinions, and bluster of Great Britain’s foremost statesman. One sentence in particular caught my eye: “Often it was only Clementine who would point to Winston’s faults; his lack of real empathy with others and tendency to bully meant that he often mistook silent acquiescence for positive support.”  One can get away with bullying in the political realm, and sometimes it can even prove beneficial at some level in the business realm, but one place that it doesn’t belong is in Christ’s Church.

My daily Bible reading today included the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Proverbs which contains the following truth, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger pacifies contention.” In my thirty plus years of ministry I have seen the “hot-tempered man” leave countless broken people in his wake as he careens through the life of the church. Sometimes he is a pastor; sometimes he is an elder; sometimes he is a deacon; sometimes he is “Joe Church Member;” and sometimes he is not a man at all (the hot-tempered woman creates havoc, also); but whoever he (or she) is, destruction follows him the way the flying dust follows Pigpen in the Charlie Brown comic strip. And, often like Winston Churchill he mistakes “silent acquiescence for positive support.” Many church bullies aren’t even aware of the emotional bruises that they leave on those in which they come in contact.

So my plea, first of all, to church officers: Don’t ever let anger be the driving force in your life. I once knew a pastor who said that he was able to get more work done when he was angry, but I also knew that many of those around him were constantly walking on eggshells, being careful to not trigger one of his infamous outbursts. Secondly, I would ask church members to be prayerfully careful about whom they vote for when church officer elections are held. An angry church member can cause great harm, but an angry church leader can devastate the life of a local church.

And, last of all, as we live out our lives in this fallen world; always remember the guidance that the Apostle Paul gave to the church at Rome:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

 

 

 

 

 

“The Morn of Song”

RPC

After several challenging years, the last twelve months being especially challenging because we did not have a pastor, our church (and I use that “our” to denote belonging, not ownership) unanimously has voted to call a pastor. I am truly excited about the future as this man is a Confessional Presbyterian who understands the importance of the ordinary means of grace in the life of the church. Pending approval by our Presbytery, he should be on the field within the next couple of months. I believe he will fit in well with something that I used to write in a letter to those who visited Reformed Presbyterian Church during my almost decade as an Associate Pastor:

RPC is a church that desires to be God-centered in our theology, God-centered and reverent in our worship, and God-centered in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.”

As I think back over the last year I am especially grateful to those who kept things going at RPC. I appreciate our Interim Pastor, John Wagner, who has stepped in and preached God’s Word faithfully and showed pastoral care to a hurting flock. I, also, appreciate those who filled the pulpit on Sundays before Pastor John arrived.

I appreciate the work of our ruling elders who had a difficult situation thrust upon them and worked diligently to hold things together, reading and answering numerous emails, phone calls, and questions. These are men who have families and real jobs in the real world, who sacrificially give of themselves to minister to the people of God. They are not perfect men, but they did the best job that they could do as they attempted to lead us through uncharted territory.

I also appreciate the Pastor Search Committee who worked so diligently in finding the right man to lead this congregation to be a Gospel light in a very, very dark world. I pray that the Lord will bless them for the time that they spent away from their families during this past year, meeting, praying, sorting through MDFs, listening to sermons, etc.

And, maybe most of all, I appreciate those faithful members who continued to worship, pray, give, and work uncomplainingly that RPC might continue on during this challenging time. I am sorry that I could not do more during this time because of my demanding family responsibilities, but I can say that even through this difficult season, there is no other place that I would rather be than with my brothers and sisters in Christ at RPC. Over the past year my thoughts have returned again and again to a hymn by Samuel Stone that gave me hope during that troubled time:

Though with a scornful wonder the world see her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

« Older entries