The Underlying Assumption
THE UNDERLYING ASSUMPTIONS
by W H Smith
Have you ever had the experience of talking with someone and realizing that they have some operating assumptions that are very clear (though perhaps not articulated and acknowledged) to that person though not so clear to you.? It often happens in the life of a marriage even after many years together. At such times it may be helpful to say, “Let’s pause a minute. I think there may be some assumptions you are operating with but I am unaware of. Could you maybe help me to understand what those are?”
I’ve been asking myself that about my ministry and preaching and I though it might be profitable for me to share a little of what I have been able to discern. I put in terms of a sentence to be completed. I believe in…
The gospel is good news that in Christ God has done everything necessary for the salvation of sinners and that the saving work of Christ becomes ours, apart from merit or works, by faith in (entrusting oneself into) Christ. Our “rightness” with God is found in Christ alone and completely and not at all in ourselves, and this is the basis of our standing with God no matter how long we have been Christians nor how much progress we have made in Christian holiness or service. The gospel is at the same time good news of a new quality of life that begins now and is empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit who connects us to the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, guided by the Law (our guide to gratitude), and focused on gradual, but in the end total, conformity to the character, conduct, and triumph of the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ.
The Reformed Faith.
What I mean by that is not just the Five Points of Calvinism, nor anything exotic or bizarre – not theonomic or post-modern missional, or paedo-communion-ist – but just the hearty, healthy Biblical faith expressed so fully, clearly, and accurately in the Westminster Standards. Nor do I think of it as a truncated faith as when the covenant is denied, nor a lopsided faith as when one doctrine is elevated over all others destroying the Biblical balance. I recently heard this described as “just plain old Westminster Calvinism.” This strikes me as a very helpful way of describing what I mean here – not theonomic, or paedo-communion-ist, or post-modernist, or any of the other variations – just the faith set out in the Confession and Catechisms. And, I think that, while this faith has its sharp edges, it should always be presented without a chip on one’s shoulder and normally with the “smiley face” of those who believe in a good, gracious, and sovereign God.
I believe the church should be led by elders of two types- ruling and teaching – who meet the Biblically qualified, pastorally inclined, theologically sound, and ministry oriented. Teaching elders have additional gifts for the ministry of Word and sacrament, but in the gifts for leading and caring for Christ’s flock they are equal. Deacons are an additional office at the local level who have special responsibilities for congregational mercy, money, and property. Elders and Deacons together set the tone and pace of congregational life. But I also believe that the church at the local level is not complete or sufficient unto itself. The connection of mutual ministry and accountability with churches of like faith and order is both divinely ordained and practically needed.
The church is an organism and an organization – a unique, living institution that exists and can be recognized in this world. The Church is a visible organization with a spiritual ministry and is ruled by Christ by His Word and Spirit through men He appoints, equips, and calls. The Church represents Christ in this world and exercises His authority as it fulfills it mission and exercises its ministries. It is Christ’s will that every believe should be a member of His Church and, under normal circumstances, no one has a right to consider him/her self a Christian and to come to the Lord’s Table except those who have been received into Christ’s Church.
Corporate, public worship is the first priority of the church and the heart of worship is the ministry of Word (read and preached) and sacrament (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Worship is the most important activity in which Christians participate in this life and whether the worship is Biblical, reverent, and joyful and the preaching faithful and lively ought to be the critical criteria by which believers choose and evaluate a church. In worship we adore the Triune God of creation and redemption and He gives Himself in the fullness of grace to His people.
There is “church growth movement” in the US which is short on theology and principle and long on pragmatism. By church growth I do not mean that movement, though things can be learned from it so long as we remember its strength is description and its weakness prescription. And by growth I do mean growth in grace and service. But I also mean growth in numbers through finding and bringing into the fold sheep (evangelism) and by something I have heard called sheep rescuing (delivering and enfolding) those who may be Christ’s but are in folds where the shepherds are unfaithful and fold spoiled. One cannot read the early chapters of Acts and its repeated notes of growth and recording of numbers and think that the Lord is not interested in the growth and expansion of His church.
Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the Christian sabbath on which we rest from our labors and in Christ and refresh ourselves in worship. On the Lord’s Day, worship takes precedence over everything else, including not just our jobs, but also other legitimate activities including recreation. The sabbath is a day for lovers – God and redeemed souls. And it is a great help to our keeping of the whole day as the Lord’s and getting its blessings to have it bracketed by worship, morning and evening. It is a reasonable expectation of all who are not providentially hindered that they should begin and end the day in worship.
I believe that a key to any congregation’s health is it commitment to the preaching of the Biblical gospel and the planting of Biblical churches everywhere. That the Apostolic Church was a missions minded church is plain both from the commission given by the ascending Christ and the history recorded in the Acts. Moreover, it is a part of the heritage of Presbyterianism, particularly in the South, to have a great zeal for the evangelization of the world. Praying, giving, sending, going are characteristics of the vital church.
While I believe in freedom of parental choice and do not believe that choice should be made a qualification for church office, much less membership and fellowship, I do have any hesitation or embarrassment to say I believe in Christian schools or what I like to call covenantal, community education. The community as a whole commits itself to the education of its children. We share its joys and sorrows, its blessings and deficiencies, its privileges and responsibilities because we are all in this together. I want to see a day come when no Christian family which wants a Christian community education for their children will find it prohibitive financially, for the whole community will undertake to make it available to all.
These are some things I believe, my operating assumptions. Sometimes, as here I underscore the. But always, as I preach and minister, they are there.
W H Smith
Westminster PCA Huntsville Alabama
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