We try to be what the Church Father Augustine called a “total Christ church.” That is, a church that sees itself as the very presence of Christ in our world. Augustine said such a church is characterized by these marks:
In a Gospel Church we see:
People experiencing assurance of God’s favor because of God’s grace in Christ alone.
People whose identity is rooted in their adoption as sons/daughters instead of identity rooted in performance as slaves/workers.
Transparency in willingness to confess REAL sins.
People who see suffering as God’s training instead of God’s punishment.
A new motivation for service that is internal and gratitude based instead of external and duty based.
People more and more set free from self-promotion, self-defending, self-justifying, blame-shifting approach to life.
People loving God’s Law as the basis for personal and communal flourishing now that we are no longer relying on the law as the basis of being accepted by God.
People enjoying the sabbath in trustful contentment upon God’s gracious provisions in Christ.
Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.Jack Miller
As vital as being a gospel-centered church is, in our western individualism we have often understood the gospel in a way that focuses on the individual believer’s relationship with Christ to the exclusion of Christ’s Body, the Church. We want to focus on the fact that the good news of Christ’s coming (literally, “gospel”) includes being joined to Him and one another as His Body! This is what we mean when we talk about the church as Christ’s Missional Presence.
More than just a source of mission, the Church is the central place of mission, the very life-giving presence of Christ in the world. Christ’s ascended human body is distinct, but never separate, from the Body of Christ, the Church on earth, engrafted into Christ by the Holy Spirit. This changes everything about the way we think of “church!” We believe that local, Christ-centered churches are the very epicenter of Christ’s saving presence on earth “against which even the gates of hell cannot prevail!” Just the church being the church with the whole world present is God’s missionary strategy to the world (Mt. 16:18, John 1:14, 20:21 with Eph 1:22-23, 2:18ff)!
In a church that sees itself as the Missional Presence of Christ we see:
- An emphasis on evangelism as “participation with” rather than just “arguing to” those outside the Church.
- Non-Christians participating in the life and worship of the church.
- Worship that is a participation in the mystery of Christ’s “transcendent otherness” but that is accessed through the incarnate presence of Christ in ways that are locally appropriate.
- A willingness to suffer all things for the sake of the “elect” – both unchurched and churched (e.g.: setting aside personal preferences to minister the truth of the gospel in the language of the culture).
- A confidence in the outward means of grace as a missionary strategy to our world (Word, prayer, sacraments, community).
- A church that assumes a missionary mentality both locally and globally.
- A church that knows itself to be God’s strategic presence in its city or town.
Speaking prophetically, the local church is Scripture Driven: it preaches the Word, is conformed to the Word by the Spirit, and lives out its existence in accordance with the Word. We want to hear God’s voice in a robust appreciation and experience of Biblical theology and expositional preaching. Whereas the Scripture is our only rule of faith and practice, we want to read and interpret the Scripture with the consensus of the church that is passed down from every age and place through the use of Confessions of Faith. Our consensus is reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith; we strive to apply our beliefs to all of life (Luke 24:13ff, Acts 20:27, 2 Tim. 3:16, Titus 2:1,7).
In a church that is Scripture Driven we see:
- A high regard for the Christian Scriptures as the only rule of faith and practice where the church, acting corporately, is careful to declare nothing but the whole counsel of God’s Word (not more, not less) as discerned by good and necessary inference.
- A high regard for the Scriptures in preaching that is expositional and Christ-centered, careful to discern the original intent by preaching right doctrines/practices from right texts.
- A culture of humble submission to Scripture revealed in a willingness to fully engage in biblically regulated worship and practice.
- A humble regard for the church vs. the individual as “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” so that we study the Bible in community rather than just individualistically (including the use of historic creeds and confessions) in order to be conformed together into Christ’s image.
- A church that is careful to consistently teach and apply biblical theology as the catalyst of Christian renewal and sanctification.
- A church with a theology that has the goal of making confessions of faith.
- A church that bears the burden of proving our faith from Scripture (“reasoning together”), rather than merely quoting Scripture (“proof-texting”).
Being the Priestly presence of Christ means sacramentally connecting to Him (through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which we celebrate weekly), while also “priesting” for our community: praying, serving, and seeking to live as the presence of Christ and embodiment of His Love in our context.
Christ as the King over His people creates a community that realizes the ideal we were made for as humans made in the image of the Triune God. Because God is Trinity, He is community in his essence. Community, then, is part of bearing His image: loving each other, serving each other, living and playing together. Helping each other move, watching each other’s kids, sitting with each other in loss, caring for each other in crisis, or just sitting around a bonfire and talking together. A big part of how we experience the presence of Christ in our lives is through the love and friendship of His people.