Friday, September 30, 2016

Church and the College Years

Church and the College Years
by Jon Nielson

Do any of these comments sound familiar?
  • “I love Jesus, but I really can't stand Christians.”
  • “I want to follow Jesus, but I don't want to be a part of anything 'institutional' like a church.”
Or how about:
  • “I'm a part of the universal church; I don't need to be part of a local church.”
If you haven't yet heard comments like these . . . you will. You'll hear them during your college years, and you'll hear them from people who profess to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. So how will you deal with church during your college years? Let me offer a few words of encouragement and exhortation as this school year begins.
A Church Is . . . 
First, let's remember, biblically, what the church is.
1. A People, Not a Place
Listen to these words from 1 Peter 2: As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The church is not a place; the church is the people of God. Many churches have beautiful buildings and sanctuaries. But without the people of God gathering together, it would not be a church.
2. Something Jesus Loves
In the midst of Paul's teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5 we find remarkable insight on the relationship between Jesus and the church: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Jesus loves the church. Jesus died for the church. Jesus wants to one day present the church as forever holy and perfect. The church is something Jesus Christ—our Savior and Lord—loves dearly.
3. The Body of Christ
Ephesians 1 describes the church this way: “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Over and over again the Bible calls the church the body of Christ and identifies Jesus as the head. When you hear someone say, “I want to follow Jesus, but I don't want to be a part of a church,” take the “body” imagery seriously and literally. When we attempt to follow Jesus apart from the church, we essentially tear apart the body of Jesus. We decapitate him. What may have seemed at first to be an almost righteous-sounding statement becomes fiercely sinful and disrespectful, and it flies in the face of everything the Bible tells us about the relationship between Jesus and his church.
4. God's Main Weapon in this World
We're too often distracted by the spots and wrinkles to see the great purpose and calling God has given to the church. Paul had a grand vision for the church when he wrote these inspired words in Ephesians 3: To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Did you catch that final clause? God delivers his “manifold wisdom” through the church! He entrusts the greatest message in the world—the mystery of the gospel—to the church. There is no greater weapon God could have committed to his peoples' hands.
5. The Only Eternal Institution in the World
Of the world's many formidable institutions—governments, corporations, law firms, and so on—only one will last forever. Listen to the apostle John's vision of the church—God's people—at the end of time:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
The church is eternal, because God has eternally committed himself to its welfare.
Let's Be Clear
We've been talking thus far about “the church”—meaning the “universal” church, comprising every believer in Jesus Christ who has ever lived.
The “local” church has a more specific definition, but it does not belong to a completely different category than the universal church. The local church is a localized and organized manifestation of the universal church. This means that everything we've been saying about the “church” can also, in general, be applied to the local church. We can't obey the Bible's instructions about life in the universal church unless we live them out in the context of a local church body.
As the universal church grew in the first century through conversions to Christ, local churches sprouted throughout the Roman world. This is why the New Testament usually calls a local church “the church at xcity.” It is THE church—localized in a particular way.
These local churches soon took on leadership and organization. Paul told Titus to “appoint elders in every town” as a way to establish godly leadership at the various local churches, and then gave him the spiritual qualifications for identifying these men. Local churches were characterized by two essential activities: the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. Under these two core activities come other aspects of corporate worship: prayer, public Scripture reading, offering, singing, and fellowship.
Observing this pattern, we understand the local church as a localized manifestation of the universal church that meets regularly for the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments, under the leadership, direction, and discipline of elders.
For This School Year
Love for the “universal” church necessitates love for and commitment to the “local” church. So our local churches seek to manifest the universal church as a part of the body of Christ we can love, see, touch, struggle with, give to, and serve.
So as you begin this school year as a Christ-following college student, please hear this appeal from a Christian brother.
1. Go to Church
Find a church that preaches God's Word and holds true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and go there during your college years. Get up on Sunday mornings. Get dressed. Leave your dorm. Grab a friend. And get to church on time.
2. Join a Church
Don't just go to church. Join a church during your college years. Membership is, as College Church senior pastor Josh Moody often puts it, a “visible sign of an invisible reality.” Membership does not save you, but it does visibly represent your salvation. Belonging to a local body of Christ may signify that you belong—by faith—to Christ himself.
Practically, too, there are huge benefits to church membership during your college years and beyond. As a member, you place yourself under the spiritual guidance and authority of godly elders and pastors. You make a covenant with God and the people of the church to support them, give to them, care for them, and participate in their fellowship.
3. Serve a Church
Don't just go to church. Don't just join a church. Begin serving actively in a local church during your college years. Far too many young adults church “hop” during their college years. They become church consumers. Gathering nuggets of wisdom from various sermons and preachers. Getting a spiritual fix from vibrant singing, prayer, and fellowship here and there. Never giving and participating substantially in the life and ministry of a local body of believers.
Friends, the local church needs you during your college years. They will benefit from having you there, plugged in, and committed. It will be good for your heart and soul as well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Racial Reconciliation at the 44th General Assembly

Letter from the Senior Minister 

The "Greenville 8" after their arrest for using the City Public Library
Last week I had the privilege of serving as a commissioner to the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), together with ruling elders Ken Safford and Mel Duncan. I also represented Calvary Presbytery as a member of the Overtures Committee, which has the important work of considering and presenting the various overtures sent to the general assembly by the 89 presbyteries of our denomination. Thank you all for your prayers for me, our elders, and the other commissioners who gathered in Mobile, Alabama.

The most notable issue heading into the assembly was the widespread desire for the PCA publicly to apologize and repent for sins of racism that had been committed primarily during the years of the Civil Rights Movement (1960’s) but also afterwards. During the last year, the subject has been often discussed. I wrote a number of articles about the matter and had been asked to address one presbytery (Central Georgia) to help them think through the matter. Our own Session drafted an overture on this subject, and it appeared at the assembly having been approved by Northern Florida Presbytery. Altogether, over forty overtures were sent by presbyteries calling on the general assembly to speak to racial reconciliation. 

By an overwhelming vote on Wednesday, June 21, the assembly approved Overture 43, submitted by Potomac Presbytery and amended by the Overtures Committee. Its key statement reads as follows: 
Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10). 
The statement goes on to commit our churches to “strive towards racial reconciliation for the advancement of the gospel, the love of Christ, and the glory of God.” 
(For the full text, see: http:// 

Let me address a number of questions that may be raised about this statement: 

Q: Is it true that the PCA has committed sins of racism? 
A: The most significant racial sins referenced by this overture were committed by many of the churches that were instrumental in founding the PCA. The historical record sadly records that the very sins listed above were committed by some of our founding churches: African-Americans were barred from membership, black youths were restricted from church camps, unbiblical statements were made in support of continued segregation, etc. 

Q: Why should we confess sins that we ourselves have not committed and which took place before our denomination was even founded (1973)? 
A: Historical records show that the movement of conservative Southern churches that resulted in the founding of our denomination included leading churches with racist policies. It is fruitless to argue that these churches have nothing to do with our denomination or its history. Moreover, the Bible provides many examples (esp. Daniel 9 and Ezra 9-10) of corporate confession and repentance for past sins committed by the church body. African American Christians, including many currently in or considering joining our denomination, are hurt and grieved by the record of these sins. Christian grace and truth requires us to apologize, owning these corporate, historical sins, condemning them, and calling for repentance. 

Q: Does Second Presbyterian Church have a record of racism in its past? 
A: The record of our Session minutes provides no evidence of racist statements, actions, or policies. In preparing for the General Assembly, I asked our church administrator to examine the Session minutes from the late 50’s through the 60’s. Only two records have any bearing on this subject during all that time.
1. A Session meeting took place on the evening of September 9, 1960. That coming Lord’s Day a protest was scheduled by African Americans, who had declared their intention to “crash” prominent white churches in Greenville. The elders of Second deliberated the need for our deacons to be prepared in the case of a public disturbance. They also approved a motion insisting that African Americans were welcome and would not be kept in any way from joining the worship of this church. (I note the date of this meeting, since another event took place that night – I was born 436 miles away in Virginia!).  
2. Some years later, a request was made by a group of members to distribute literature which the elders deemed to be racist in content. The elders voted to bar this literature from being distributed and forbade any public meeting by the group. 
Q: Does this mean that our church has no racial sins to confess and repent? 
A. It is hard to imagine that members of our church in the 1950’s and 60’s would have been immune from racist attitudes and actions, as they were widely spread throughout Southern culture at that time. The very fact that at least some members had sought to distribute material of a racially sinful nature indicates that we were not free from this problem. At the same time, many noble acts and courageous stands against racism have been taken by the leaders and members of our church. On the whole, we should all be grieved to know how these kinds of sins have hurt our brothers and sisters, should whole-heartedly condemn this racist past, and eagerly pray for God to advance the gospel and promote unity and love among all believers. 

Q: What can we do to respond to our denomination’s call to promote racial reconciliation in the future? 
A: Our church exists in a culture that involves a high degree of racial social separation. This context will greatly shape the demographics of those who attend our church, which is why we are not highly integrated racially. In my view, we should not seek directly to shape our racial composition. Rather, we should preach God’s Word and love the Lord and his people. Of course, we will seize every opportunity to make a positive contribution to racial unity. Along these lines, our warm relationship with Mountain View Baptist Church is both a statement and an asset. I pray especially that the Lord will strengthen our ties with that congregation, so that we might mutually benefit one another and display true unity in the Spirit of Christ. May the Lord bless you all this week. 

In Christ’s Love, 
Pastor Rick Phillips

The West End Herald 
Vol. CXXIV, Edition 26 

The Second Presbyterian Church 
Corner of River and Rhett Streets 
Greenville, South Carolina 
June 27, 2016

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Reminder To Pray for Our Elders

As we celebrate the installation of two new elders at Second Church, we are reminded of an elder's callings and how it is necessary that we continue to pray for them. But what does that look like? Pastor Richard Phillips first shared much of this two years ago, but we thought it would be helpful to share it again. -CS

On Sunday, April 24, at the evening worship service the Elders renewed their vows. On Sunday, May 22, the congregation elected two new Elders, Kirby Kee and Kevin Mobley. I urge our entire church to be praying for them especially as God sets them apart for this high and holy calling. To this end, I would like to remind you of the duties they undertake and offer some advice for how you should pray for them. 

According to our Book of Church Order, an elder is called an overseer of the flock and household of God. This means that the elders are required to govern and rule over all the affairs of the church. “It 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 therein” (BCO 8-3). According to Paul, the elders are required to ensure the order of the church (Tit. 1:5) and to guard the treasures of Christ (Tit. 1:7). As a pastor, I have observed that most church members do not realize how important this overseeing function is. While the Session is not a board of directors in a business sense, the elders do meet as a board to direct the church’s affairs. This overseeing work involves chairing and participating in important committees and meeting frequently to deal with matters that require a great deal of biblical discernment and wisdom. 

Second, an elder is called to be a minister of the people of Christ. This calling requires our elders to minister comfort, counsel, and sometimes rebuke to individual members of the church. They are called to visit their fold members in the hospital when they are sick. “They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care… They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock” (BCO 8-3). Peter emphasized this calling to minister, saying “shepherd the flock… not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you to do… not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). 

Third, an elder is a steward of the gospel and a teacher of the Word of God. Not all elders are specially gifted as theologians and preachers, which is why teaching elders are set apart for full-time labor in the Word of God. Yet ruling elders must be sound theologians who can guard the trust of sound doctrine. Elders must be able to exhort and instruct the people in biblical truth. Equally important, we need ruling elders to oppose error in the church—both the congregation and denomination—and to serve as pillars of truth. Experience shows that most heresies and theological problems arise from errant teaching elders—ordained ministers—so that our ruling elders must band together with sound teaching elders to oppose false teaching in and out of our denomination. 

These three callings organize the main work of elders, and as you can see they are far more than any mere man can fulfill in his own strength. These items also help us to know how to pray for our serving elders. Let me encourage you specifically to pray for the following: 

  •  A strong and growing personal relationship with Christ that will supply the zeal and stamina needed to fulfill so demanding a calling. It should be obvious that serving as an elder is physically exhausting. It is also spiritually consuming in such a way that it demands a close walk with the Lord. Pray that God would communicate this priority to our elders in a special way as they are consecrated for this office. 

  • A combination of careful biblical discernment and supernatural wisdom. Elders must be men of the Word of God, training themselves to think and act biblically. Bear in mind that our ruling elders usually have not gone to seminary and have secular vocations that demand greatly from them. So pray for God to give them the ability and the motivation to continue to develop their biblical competency. Then pray for God to grant them wisdom. As a full-time pastor with some years of experience, I still find myself facing situations that require careful biblical consideration and a higher level of wisdom than I normally possess. For both biblical discernment and wisdom, the elders are in great need of prayer. 

  • A Christ-like love for the flock of God and a joy in the service of so great a king as Jesus Christ. A man can only succeed as an elder if he develops a love for the people of God that comes from the greater love of Jesus. The Christian flock consists of sheep that bite. And kick. And refuse to yield to instruction and rebuke. So a Christ-like shepherd must love them and must communicate that love in all things. This love flows from prayer for the flock, but also from a joy in the service of so great a Master as the Savior Jesus Christ, who has loved us by dying for our sins. Pray for this love and joy to work together in the hearts of our elders. 

  • Pastors and elders are prime targets for spiritual attack, so pray for God to protect these men from Satan and his devices. Pray that they would guard themselves from temptation and the renewal of their vows would grant them a new zeal for personal holiness. Pray that they would realize how dire is their daily need of God’s Word and of private prayer. 

May God be praised for providing our church with our faithful elders. Let me also express my dear love for all of our elders and my humble appreciation for the outstanding service they render to Christ and Second Presbyterian Church. Few people beyond the pastors and the elders’ families realize how great are the sacrifices our elders make for the well-being of this church. None but the elders themselves realize how dire is their need for your prayers, along with your loving support. 

May God bless you all this week. 

In Christ’s Love, 
Pastor Rick Phillips 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Reminder About Elder Elections

Second Church will be electing two new elders this weekend. With each election, it is important to make sure that each candidate you vote for meets the Biblical criteria to become an elder. Here, Pastor Richard Phillips reminds us of what that means. -CS

This coming Sunday, May 22, 2016 at 10:00 a.m., we will hold a congregational meeting to elect two new elders to be ordained as members of our Session. The Session is the ruling body of a Presbyterian church, consisting of the elders of the church and exercising authority and oversight over the church. Second Presbyterian Church ordains its elders for life, which is the best expression of the Bible’s teaching, which makes our election especially serious. I trust that upon receiving the slate of candidates the congregation will be praying for God’s wisdom in your selection. 

Let me recap the process that leads to the congregational vote on May 22. First, the Session voted to recommend to the congregation that two elders be selected. We therefore held a congregational meeting on December 13, 2015 when this recommendation was approved by the congregation. Next, the Session solicited nominations from the congregation from the list of men who met the basic eligibility requirements. These men were invited to attend an elders’ training class that I have been conducting on Wednesday nights. We have had up to ten men attending this class, although not all have desired to be placed on the slate for election. This class has concluded with a written examination and a detailed personal examination before the Session, to ensure that all candidates meet the biblical requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. We have scheduled May 22, 2016 for the ordination of the new elders during our Lord’s Day evening worship. 

As we prepare for this significant occasion in our church life, I would like to remind you of the guidance in our denomination’s Book of Church Order, which summarizes the Bible’s teaching on the qualifications of elders. These are matters you should consider – not popularity or worldly attainments – when you vote to elect our new elders. 

Competent in Human Learning, sound in faith, and apt to teach. A man who is called to serve as elder should have competent intellectual ability, so as to be able to judiciously assess arguments and arrive at sound decisions. He must especially be sound in his embrace of the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. Our church holds the Westminster Standards as the true summary of biblical doctrine, so an elder must sincerely uphold this confessional standard. During elder training, I will have gone entirely through the Westminster Confession and all candidates will have passed a writ-ten test in doctrine prepared and graded by me. Moreover, an elder should be able to teach the Bible and sound doctrine. This does not necessarily mean that he possesses impressive public speaking gifts – although this is certainly a plus for an elder – but that he can competently present the Bible’s doctrine and effectively refute errors. 

Blameless in life, exhibiting a sobriety and holiness of life that becomes the Gospel. This calls for both a negative and a positive evaluation. An elder should manage himself with self-control, having repented of serious sins and avoiding any behaviors that would scandalize the gospel and Christ’s church. This would include conduct, speech, and the way he treats people. A man who is harsh, worldly, divisive, or argumentative should not be called as an elder. Positively, an elder should exhibit a godliness that is worthy of emulation from others. Hebrews 13:7 exhorts us: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). These words should be able to be said of any men we call to the office of elder. This does not mean that they have to be perfect, but it does mean that their conduct, speech, and treatment of other people should cause praise to redound to God for the power of His gospel and should be a worthy example for other Christians to follow. The Session asked pointed questions about the nominees’ private life during their interview. But you should vote for a man you person-ally respect both for his blamelessness and his godliness. 

Rule of his own house. The Bible says that one way we should evaluate elder candidates is by considering the way they rule their own households. The logic is that “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5). This does not call for the harassment of an elder candidates’ wife or children! Rather, it urges us to consider if these are families who are faithful Christians, active in the ministry of the church, promoting peace and godliness, and growing in the grace of the Lord. If an elder’s wife is not respectful of her husband, this does not argue well for his fitness. Likewise, an elder is to “keep his children submissive” (1 Tim. 3:4). This does not mean that elders’ or pastors’ kids should never do anything wrong – we bear little sinners, not little angels! – and it does not warrant their harassment or excessive scrutiny being placed on them. Nor does it require for an elder candidates’ children to all be converted, since this is outside his control. But it does mean that the children of an elder candidate should be active and well-behaved within the church, and that they bear the marks of faithful, godly parenting in the candidate’s home. 

Of good repute outside the church. An elder should be respected in the world for integrity, faithfulness, and godliness. To be sure, many godly men will be hated by the world. But the way that elders conduct their public affairs should win general admiration. Likewise, a man who is engaged in public scandal in which he is at fault, whether moral or not, should not be made an elder in the church. Paul says, “He must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7). 

I am quite sure that we have more than two men who meet these qualifications, which speaks to God’s blessing on our church. It is the Lord who provides leaders for His church, so we should pray for Him to provide according to His all-wise and omniscient counsel and for the Holy Spirit to indeed lead our congregation in this selection. Let me conclude with my personal thanks to all the men who were nominated and attended the elder training class. May each of them be blessed by knowing the esteem and affection of the people of God. 

In Christ’s Love, 
Pastor Rick Phillips 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Discipling Our Children

The way we parent can make a big impact on what our kids grow to believe about life and how the world works. That's why Pastor Richard Phillips says a big part of parenting for Christians should include discipling. Here, he shares four ways parents can make discipleship a part of everyday life. - CS

One of the most important things we will do at Second Presbyterian Church is disciple our children to a living, personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We live in a society that assumes that when children grow up they will jettison the family's beliefs and values. But the Bible sees things differently. The book of Proverbs says that the childhood years have a formative influence that lasts throughout life: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). 

There are a number of mistakes that I have observed Christian parents making over my years in ministry. One mistake is to think that our duty as Christian parents consists solely of disciplining our children. To be sure, the Bible clearly states that Christian should be disciplined (see Heb. 12:6; Prov. 13:24). But discipline—the process of bringing the will into submission—is not enough. Another mistake I have seen consists of the belief that we need only provide a good Christian environment for our children. We bring them to Sunday School and church, we homeschool them or educate them in Christian schools, we ensure that their friends are from believing families, we send them to Christian camps, etc. I am certainly not against any of these things. But providing a Christian environment and structure is simply not enough for the Christian nurture of our children. Our generation is seeing a shockingly high percentage of young people raised in a Christian environment who do not continue in the faith outside of the home. Surely, the primary reason is the poor quality of Christian faith in so many churches and homes. But I am persuaded that another reason is that many parents do not recognize their role in discipling their children in the faith. 

What do I mean by discipling our children? Ted Tripp put it this way in his excellent book, Shepherding a Child's Heart: Discipling is "the process of your children embracing the things of God as their own living faith . . . to see your children develop identities as persons under God" (p. 198). Discipling arises out of the bonded relationship parents are to have with their children. We see this throughout the book of Proverbs, which was written in the form of counsel from a father to a son. Proverbs 23 is especially filled with this kind of language. Solomon writes, "My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad" (Prov. 23:15). He adds, "Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old" (Prov. 23:22). My favorite—and this verse presents the heart behind the wisdom of Proverbs—reads: "My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways" (Prov. 23:26). How important that statement is: children will follow our ways only if they have given us their hearts. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Praise For Christian Mothers

If you were to ask many women about life as a mother, they would probably say it is full of daily sacrifices that—at times—seem thankless and go unnoticed. But let us remember that God sees all that mothers do, and like our Puritan forefathers, considers it a role that is worthy of honor and praise. We first posted this pastoral letter two years ago, but the words still speak to the important role mothers play in our lives, so we wanted to share them once again as we prepare to celebrate Mother's Day, this Sunday. -CS

“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Prov. 31:28).
Wherever the Bible is honored, feminine virtue is admired and praised. This was certainly true of our Puritan forefathers, with their very high view of the importance of Christian women. Here is an example from John Angell James, in his book Female Piety. James was a Puritan preacher in England during the early 19th century. His words of praise and appreciation for mothers speak for us all as America honors its mothers this Lord’s Day:
“What associations with all that is lovely are connected with that blissful word, a mother! To that sound the tenderest emotions of the human heart, whether in the bosom of the savage or the sage, wake up. The beauty of that term is seen, and its power felt, alike by the prince and the peasant, the rustic and the philosopher. It is one of the words which infant lips are first taught to lisp, and the charm of which the infant heart is first to feel…
"It is universally admitted that scarcely any great man has appeared in our world who did not owe much, if not most, in the formation of his character, to his mother’s influence. In a very useful little volume, by Dr. Jabez Burns, entitled The Mothers of the Wise and Good, there is a series of biographical memorials of eminent sons of pious and judicious mothers, amounting to about fifty, among whom are included Alfred the Great, Lord Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Sir William Jones, and General Washington, among the illustrious of the world; with St. Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, Dr. Doddridge, Dr. Dwight, Mr. Newton, Mr. Cecil, Leigh Richmond, and many others among the good; all of them blessed with pious or eminently judicious mothers, to whom they owed their eminence in the church or in the world…
"At a pastoral conference, held not long since, at which about one hundred and twenty American clergymen united in the bonds of a common faith, were assembled, each was invited to state the human instrumentality to which, under the Divine blessing, he attributed a change of heart. How many of these, think you, gave the honour of it to their mother? Of one hundred and twenty, above one hundred! Here then are facts, which are only selected from myriads of others, to prove a mother’s power, and to demonstrate at the same time her responsibility. But how shall we account for his? What gives her this influence? What is the secret of her power? Several things.
"First, there is no doubt the ordinance of God. He that created us, and formed the ties of social life, and who gave all the sweet influences and tender susceptibilities of our various relationships, appointed that a mother’s power over the soul of her children should be thus mighty… God has made the child to be peculiarly susceptible of this power over his nature.
"Then comes a mother’s love, which is stronger, at any rate more tender, than a father’s. She has had more to do with the physical being of her child, having borne him in her womb, and fed him from her breast, and watched him in his cradle: all this naturally and necessarily generates a feeling which nothing else can produce. Now love is the great motive power in, and for, human conduct… Human nature is made to be moved and governed by love: to be drawn with the cords of affection, rather than to be dragged with the chains of severity. And woman’s heart is made to love; and love is exerted more gently, sweetly, and constrainingly upon her child, by her than by the other sex. It makes her more patient, and more ingenious, and therefore, more influential…
"The earliest exercises of thought, emotion, will, and conscience, are all carried on under her eye. She has to do not only with the body in its infancy, but with the soul in its childhood. Both mind and heart are in her hands at that period, when they take their first start for good or for evil. The children learn to lisp their first words, and to form their first ideas, under her teaching. They are almost always in her company, and in-sensibly to themselves and imperceptibly to her, receiving a right or wrong bias from her. She is the first model of character they witness; the first exhibitions of right and wrong in practice are what they see in her...
"Mothers, such is your dignity, such your exalted honour. Feel and value your rich distinction in being called to educate the sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty, and to prepare the holy family who are to dwell in those many mansions of his Father’s house which the Lord Jesus is gone to prepare. Give yourselves up to this glorious work. But be judicious in all you do… Let your warmest affection, your greatest cheerfulness, your most engaging smiles, be put on when you teach religion to your children. Bear your religion in all its beauty, loveliness, sanctity, and ineffable sweetness… Let them see in you, that piety, if in one respect it is a strait and narrow path, is in another, a way of pleasantness and a path of peace."
What a blessing are all the godly women of Second Presbyterian Church, and especially its mothers! We praise God for you, and pray for God’s blessing to give you the desires of your heart in the salvation and godliness of your children.
In Christ’s Love,
Pastor Rick Phillips

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Reformed Worship

There are a lot of churches and denominations within the Christian faith. And many of them worship in different ways. Here, Pastor Phillips discusses worship within Reformed churches like Second Presbyterian and explains how three things work to form its foundation. -CS
In the April 10th Membership Class I explained the convictions and practices that produce Reformed worship as we experience it at Second Presbyterian Church. I thought it would be good to share these thoughts with the congregation as well.

The most important conviction that undergirds our approach to worship is this: our worship is directed to God Himself. That is, our primary concern is not what people think – visitors, unchurched, or even the members – but what God thinks. As I like to say it, we are committed to consumer-driven worship, and we believe the consumer of our worship is the thrice holy Triune God. It is commonly believed today that God is sure to be pleased with any worship that is sincerely offered. To be sure, the sincerity of our hearts in worship is of great concern to God (see Isa. 29:13). But the Bible also says we are to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). This says that our worship must have the heart quality of sincere reverence and awe, and also that the worship we offer to God must be acceptable to Him. 

This raises a question: Does God tell us how He wants to be worshiped? The answer is: Yes, and He tells us this in the Bible. This expresses what is known in our theological jargon as The Regulative Principle of Worship. In other words, we believe that God’s Word regulates worship. The Westminster Confession details this principle in classic language:
The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1).
How does the Bible regulate worship? Scripture shows us how to worship God through its commands and examples. Most essentially, this pertains to the elements of worship (the things we do as parts of the worship service). There should be a Scriptural command for everything we do and how we do it. Thus it is for our worship service, in which we are called to worship by God’s Word, invoke God’s blessing in prayer, sing praise to God, confess the faith, confess our sins and receive God’s word of pardon, offer tithes and offerings, pray corporately, read God’s Word and preach God’s Word, administer the sacraments, and depart with God’s benediction, all of which have biblical commands or precedents. Examples of elements that are popular today but are not authorized by Scripture (and conflict with biblical teaching) include comedy routines, sacred dance, video clips, and skits.

Our worship should be biblical not only in its rationale, but also in its content. The worship service should be pouring forth Bible. God loves to hear His own Word, and it is God’s Word that brings life to His people. Therefore, we read the Scriptures, preach the Scriptures, sing the Scriptures, pray the Scriptures, and visualize the Scriptures through the authorized portrait of the sacraments.

Secondly, Reformed worship aims to be God-centered. The focus of our attention is on the One to whom we have come to worship. Therefore, we want to sing about God, read about God, give to God, preach about God, and meet with God in worship. To be sure, God has gifted and appointed human servants to lead in worship. But the job of the minister, or anyone else who plays a public role in worship, is to direct God’s people to Himself. This, by the way, is why our ministers wear robes: we want to highlight not the person and the personality, but the office and its function of leading the people in worship of God.

A third principle of Reformed worship is that it is redemptive in its orientation. This means that we come as sinners into the presence of the holy God through the blood of His Son. This is why the confession of sin and receipt of pardon is so important: we are coming into God’s presence as redeemed sinners through the blood of the Lamb. Moreover, we come not to get a spiritual high arising from our own worship, but we come to meet with God as His people, to receive grace through His own authorized means of the Word, prayer, and the sacraments.

A fourth principle is that Reformed worship is historically rooted. We love old things and we admit it. We see ourselves as members of a covenant people going back to Bible times, and we want to celebrate the ancientness of the Christian church, the culture of the Christian church, and the unity of the Christian church that spans time and space. In this way, we hope to transcend the divisions that often result when worship is shaped by a particular cultural style of music. Instead, we seek to unite people of varying cultural preferences by sharing together the musical culture of the Reformed church tradition. Our hymnal spans centuries, nationalities, historical movements, and spiritual experiences. Thus, when I travel to Africa and worship with Christians there, I can always join in because they sing the old hymns (not the latest form of consumer music from America). When we begin our worship as a church, we want to know that we are stepping out of the world’s culture and entering the society of the people of God.

I hope these brief comments help you to understand our approach to worship and, more importantly, help you to worship. I praise God for the heritage of sacred worship at Second Church. By these means, we desire to worship God in spirit and in truth, through the blood of His precious Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ’s Love,
Pastor Rick Phillips