We Believe the Bible: Trinity Pres is a biblical church. The scriptures are our only infallible rule for our faith and practice. We are also a confessional church. We use a written summary of the bible’s teaching as a standard. Ministers and elders have to affirm they are in agreement with the confession and members make a vow that they believe it is a faithful summary of scripture’s teaching. At Trinity Presbyterian Church, we believe the Westminster Confession of Faith and its larger and shorter catechisms are the best summaries of what the bible teaches. When we have difficult questions and challenges, then we should ask, “I wonder if the confession has anything to say about that?” The confession has thirty-three chapters and the paragraphs are numbered so we can easily follow its flow. Every phrase is footnoted with scriptures that justify the statements. If you have difficulty understanding what the bible teaches, the answer might be to read the confession alongside the bible.
Why Confessional? Being a confessional church makes us rare in Oklahoma. In our country, many modern churches have abandoned the more robust, historic, and orthodox confessions of faith. The most popular denomination is actually “non-denominational” which means every church can theoretically believe different things about theology and that churches can radically shift doctrinally and missionally as leaders come and go. When a church commits to a historic confession it has a snapshot of an understanding of biblical theology with which to guide and direct it so that it does not drift away from God’s truth. Without confessions, many Christians can be at the mercy of following the good or bad whims of the pastor or the tide of culture. We will study and know certain things but not think very deeply about other very important components of God’s revelation. I believe we are rolling our dice as Christians in a non-confessional church. Living in a non-confessional church would be like cobbling together our understanding of reality through our twitter feed: contemporary, emotional, and jumbled, versus a confessional church which is directed by a reference library with contributions curated to express clearly what the bible teaches on a subject.
One of the things that I have observed in almost twenty years of ministry experience is that many good-hearted Christians have little clarity on the church’s identity and mission and are unaware of the importance and mission that God reveals about the church in the scriptures. Thankfully, the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 25 teaches on the church.
Identity: What is the church? The Greek word, ekklesia, stands behind the word church in the New Testament. It means, “an assembly of those called out and convened for a particular purpose.” If you are a church member, God has called you specially by his gospel from all the people of the world to do his will. You are called into the faith and fellowship of Jesus Christ.
Purpose: What is the church called to do? Westminster Chapter 25, paragraph 3 says, it is to “gather and perfect the saints.” How?
“The ministry and ordinances of the gospel, which Christ has given to the visible Church, are designed for the gathering of sinners into the Church invisible, and for the perfecting of the saints; and by the concurring influence of his Spirit, they are made effectual to these ends….the promise of Christ, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:20).’ Also secures the success of the gospel.”–Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, 312.
God does his work (gathering and perfecting the saints) through people gathering in the presence of Christ with the visible church and doing the ministry and ordinances of the gospel. Period. The second paragraph of chapter 25 ‘Of the Church’ gives a beautiful description of the visible church:
The visible church, which is 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.Westminster Confession of Faith 25:2
Not the Only Chance: The Roman Catholic church teaches that it is the only church and that there is no salvation outside of it. That is quite arrogant, isn’t it? It is also untenable according to the facts of history. I have read and heard many testimonies of Jesus appearing to men and women in visions or dreams in nations that have no local church and are oppressed under Islam and Jesus introduces them to His Heavenly Father through an extraordinary dream.
A Church for Norman: The confession states that people have “the ordinary possibility of salvation” in a church. Trinity Pres is called to minister in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma already has churches, therefore, we have the ordinary, regular chance to know and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. While not ruling out the possibility that someone may come to know Christ outside of the church’s ministry, our best shot to know and grow with God is in the church. To use a particularly Norman analogy: why would Lincoln Riley develop a game plan for OU football that rested upon throwing a hail mary pass to try to win the game (extraordinary), rather than a game plan that if executed could lead to a secure chance of winning (ordinary)? The confession teaches that the best game plan for a Christian is in the ministry of the visible church and the ordinary game plan. Unlike the Roman Catholic view, thankfully, the Westminster Confession states the importance of the church without going beyond scripture. There is one way to the Father, and that way is through faith in Jesus Christ the Son, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). The church is not the way, Jesus is. The church, however, is our best game plan to get to Jesus. The church was represented by the apostles when Jesus gave his great commission and promised his presence with them (Matthews 28:18-20). I cannot promise that you will not find God apart from the church, but I would counsel you that it is not wise to forsake the fellowship of Christ, church attendance, and membership.
What Do I do? I am convinced there is “No Ordinary Possibility outside the visible church?” I offer five potential next steps.
1st One take away is to plan to not miss multiple church meetings due to vacation and travel schedules if you can avoid it. People notice when others miss multiple meetings and repeated absences may communicate that we really don’t believe that God actually works through his called out saints to gather and perfect the saints. At stake is also the belief in the power of the gospel. If we are always absent, we say that hearing the gospel is optional.
2nd For some reading this, you need to evaluate why you haven’t joined a church yet. List out reasons why and compare them to what the scripture teaches about the church. Your presence at the church matters as God has a purpose for you being there.
3rd For others, you are already members but you may need to take your church membership and participation more seriously. Perhaps, you should make sure to get more rest so you can be fully present on the Lord’s Day meetings of the church.
4th For some members, we may read this and feel compelled to invite others to participate with us in our church. We can invite them and instruct them to text us when they arrive. We can meet them outside, walk in with them, and introduce them to others and show them around.
5th Perhaps, most pressing, if we find ourselves having no desire to be with the church in Lord’s Day worship then we should ask, “What is going on in my heart?” Rather than justifying our non-participation by making a list of the church’s problems, we should recognize God’s wisdom about the church revealed to us and follow it. One of my mentors once said the quote below and it stuck with me and I offer it to you for reflection:
Jesus loved the church enough to die for her. We can love her enough to be patient with her.Bebo Elkin
Those are just a few applications. How does this statement by the confession encourage or challenge you? Comment below.
If you have questions about the confession, ask Justin. We have copies available on Sundays for you to take and read.