State of the Church 2007

Sharing Options


Our God has blessed us in innumerable ways over the last few years. One of those blessings has been growth, and it has been the kind of growth that has been hard to channel through the normal kind of “new members’ classes.” And so, this year the state of the church message is going to be one consolidated new members’ class.

The Text:

“Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Philippians 3: 15-16).


In this passage, the apostle Paul is exhorting the Philippians in the basics of the Christian life. He shows them the folly of resting in fleshly attainments and achievements, and exhorts them to continue in the grace of the Lord Jesus (vv. 4-14). He calls those who would introduce carnal principles into the gospel dogs and mutilators of the flesh (vv. 1-2). The true circumcision are those who put no confidence in the mere externals. When we get to the verses of our text, the apostle exhorts this church as though they are in the midst of a race, which they in fact are. The Christian life is not static. He says that anyone who sees what he has just described should hold on to it. If they do not yet see this, God will bring them along (v. 15). He then says that we are to live up to what we have already attained (v. 16). The moment you stop swimming up the river, you begin immediately to float down the river.

What Have We Attained?

In some minds, what follows might be considered a list of “distinctives.” But the point is not to excite a party or factional spirit—rather the point is to exhort the old timers to hold on to certain things and not let them slip away. For those who have arrived in our midst more recently, this is designed to help “get you up to speed.” But note, our view of church membership is not closed and restrictive. Anyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord in a biblical way is welcome here. So the “distinctives” do not describe what you are mandated to believe, but rather to describe what you are likely to hear preached and taught here. And, as the apostle put it, if on any point, you don’t see it, that is fine—at some time God will correct either you or us, and more likely both.


As we address these issues, a certain amount of shorthand is necessary, at least on the outline. There is no desire to promote our buzzwords to a place of preeminence, but there is a desire to bring everyone along. On the outline I have marked certain words and phrases that would be good to learn, at least for anyone who wants to understand what is happening here.

First, we believe that public worship is central to our lives. This means that we want each worship service every Sunday to be a covenant renewal service. This means that it is liturgical and, every week, it drives to a particular gracious conclusion. Note the categories on your bulletin: call, confession, consecration, communion, and commission. As we do this, the entire body is involved, children included.

Second, we believe that our triune God is gracious to us because He is graciousness itself. This grace is not just something for us to affirm in a proposition, but must also be sought out as an environment to live in. This is what lies behind our emphasis on sabbath living, on the biblical home, on psalm singing, and on parish living. On an individual level, this obviously includes personal holiness, which in its turn has to be understood as the overflow of grace.

Third, we believe in doctrine that is not separated from life in some dualistic fashion, so what God says in His Word is very important to us. Remember, the life lived out is more important than the nicknames. But in the first place, we believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is not an abstract doctrine, but rather the central affirmation we make (Trinitarianism). And second, note our cheerful conviction that God intends to save the whole world (postmillennialism). We believe that He is in complete control of every last thing, including the salvation of men (Calvinism). We believe in the absolute necessity of the new birth (evangelical), and that God’s grace extends to groups and generations as well (covenantal). We hold that the Holy Spirit has guided and protected His Church throughout her history (catholic and historic). And we believe that the entire Bible, God’s law included, is profitable for life and godliness (sola et tota Scriptura). If you comes to grasp the basics of these doctrines, you will have a good undestanding of the teaching ministry here.

Character Development:

The phrase character development can be understood in two ways, and I am using it in both senses here. The first would be the idea of sanctification, growing in holiness. Something might be good for us, we would say, because it “builds character.” But the second way to use it is the way we would speak when reviewing a novel, movie, or short s tory. We would speak there about character development in the sense of growing up into someone from being another kind of person, in the context of a story.

This means that all the things mentioned above ought not to be arranged in a schematic diagram, as though they were a complex electrical system in the sky. Rather, we should look at them all in terms of chapters, themes, motifs, cadences, phrases, and character development. You will be a full person, a round character, on the day of resurrection. What you are doing here contributes to that—the race we are running now is relevant to what happens then. And this is why we want to live up to what we have already attained.

Return to Grace:

The Scriptures teach that grace liberates. It does not excuse sin, but rather devastates it. Grace deals with sin in a way that raw requirement does not. Laying down the law might feel good for a moment, but it is of no value in restraining the flesh. The Bible teaches that law, misapplied in this way, only inflames the flesh. Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, in the context of grace. Grace is where we begin, and when we have run around the stadium circuit of our lives, we should see that the finish line is also grace. This is all undeserved, unmerited favor from a God who cannot be restrained from giving. The hardest thing for conservative believers to get through their heads is the fact that God intends everlasting good for us, starting now. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore.

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