Chat with Chuck – August 2016

           Some folks have noticed, and perhaps you, as well, that when referring to this church I say “Church of the Hills Presbyterian (USA),” or write “COTHP,” instead of simply “Church of the Hills” or “COTH.” One of the disciples in the congregation asked me about that the other day, and after explaining it to her she suggested that it would perhaps be helpful to others to hear my thinking about why I believe inclusion of the word “Presbyterian” is important in identifying this congregation.
          As I have mentioned before, I was not raised in a church home. My father is a disavowed Roman Catholic, my mother was a disavowed Southern Baptist, and what little religious instruction my three brothers and I received was either in the Unitarian tradition, or in my grandparents’ Baptist Church in Trinity, TX, population 2612. On the bookshelf at our house was the Bible, and right next to it was Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian. Needless to say, I grew up with a rather ambiguous religious understanding.

            I came to a faith understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the Presbyterian Church. I was ordained a Ruling Elder in the New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Mandeville, LA, a joint new church development of presbyteries of the former United Presbyterian Church in the USA and the former Presbyterian Church in the US. My theological education was at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the cost of which was mostly underwritten by the PCUSA, i.e., the entire Church, and my home congregation. I was supported as an organizing pastor by all councils of the PCUSA (Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly) in the creation of two Presbyterian new church developments. I have served as a Ruling Elder, Candidate for Ministry, Seminarian, Pastor, and as a Presbytery Executive in nine different Presbyteries throughout the denomination over the past 34-plus years. I am a “child” of the Presbyterian Church, theologically and ecclesiastically.

            I am Presbyterian in the PCUSA because this denomination understands itself to be in a “historical continuity with the whole Church of Jesus Christ,” is committed to reducing the obscurity between denominations and seeks to deepen communion with all churches within the one holy catholic (universal) and apostolic Church. (F-1.03a –The Book of Order
, Part 2 of the Constitution of the PCUSA). In the PCUSA we understand ourselves to not be the “only” faithful witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but a unique and importance witness to Jesus Christ.
 
            Ever since its founding in 1953 the Church of the Hills Presbyterian (USA) has lived out this unique witness by following Jesus and living out (F-1.03b, c –The Book of Order):
  • The Holiness of the Church, which comes from Christ who sets it apart to bear witness to his love, and not from the purity of its doctrine or the righteousness of its actions;
  • The Catholicity of the Church, which in Christ strives everwhere to testify to Christ’ embrace of men, women, and children of all times, places, nations, ages, conditions, and stations in life…as it bears witness to God’s grace;
  • The Apostolicity of the Church, as Christ sends the Church into the world to share the gospel of God’s redemption of all things and people. The Church receives the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ through the testimony of those whom Christ sent…The Church has been and is even now sent into the world by Jesus Christ t bear that testimony to others;

            By virtue of its identification with the Presbyterian Church (USA) the Church of the Hills Presbyterian (USA) (COTHP) has strived to be faithful to the good news it has received and accountable to the standards of the confessions in the Book of Confessions (Part 1 of the Constitution of the PCUSA) by:

  • Being sent to be Christ’s faithful evangelist, making disciples,
  • Sharing with others a deep life of worship, prayer, fellowship, and service;
  • Participating in God’s mission to care for the needs of the sick, poor, and lonely;
  • Adhering to the marks of the true Church through the Word of God being truly preached and heard, the Sacraments being rightly administered, and ecclesiastical discipline being uprightly administered.

COTHP has also lived out the Presbyterian ethos by affirming the historic principles of church order (F-.0101-F.3.0205):

  • That “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship;”
  • That we consider the “rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and inalienable: We do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power;”
  • That the Church “is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion, and the qualifications of its ministers and members;”
  • “That our blessed Savior, for the edification of the visible Church, which is his Body, hath appointed officers, not only to preach the gospel and administer the Sacraments, but also to exercise discipline, for the preservation of both truth and duty;”
  • “That truth is in order to goodness…And that no opinion can be more pernicious or absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level…That, while under the conviction of the above principle we…also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other;”
  • “That though the character, qualifications, and authority of Church officers are laid down in Holy Scripture…the election of the persons to the exercise of this authority, in any particular society, is in that society;”
  • “That all Church power, whether exercised by the body in general or in the way of representation by delegated authority, is only ministerial and declarative;”
  • That “Presbyters (Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Ruling Elders) are not simply to reflect the will of the people, but rather to seek together to find and represent the will of Christ;”
  • That “decisions shall be reached in councils by vote, following opportunity for discussion and discernment, and a majority shall govern.”

            This is only a small piece of the total argument for the importance of the witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the role of COTHP as a part of that witness. If you would like to learn more I encourage you to go to www.oga.pcusa.org where you can download for free the most current version of The Book of Confessions and The Book of Order.

            You say, “Okay, Pastor Chuck, this is all well and good, but why is it important that we do more than just claim this understanding of what it means to be a Presbyterian congregation? Why do we need to tell the whole community?”

            I believe that in this day and age, when there are churches of every stripe and conviction on just about every street corner, that we must claim our identity and be prepared to share that identity with the community. When we say that we are Presbyterian, people may wonder, and even ask (as I have had happen at Muddy Buck), what difference does it make that we identify ourselves as Presbyterian? In other words, we are being asked to state in whom it is we believe, why it is we believe, what we are going to do about what we believe, and what difference it will make.

            I frequently have conversations with people who say they are “Christian,” or are affiliated with a particular church community. I ask them, “What does your church believe, and what are you doing to live out what it is you believe?” The response often is, “Well, you know, we believe Christian stuff,” and “We do stuff in the community.” I then ask, “Tell me how your involvement in your church has changed your life and how the ministries the church engages in changes the lives of others?” That question is often left unanswered.

            I believe that when we claim an identity as Christians, and in our case as Presbyterian Christians, we are called to bear witness to that faith, and be accountable to that faith, and more importantly, be accountable to Jesus Christ, who is the Lord and the Head of his Church. When I am teaching Confirmation classes, or am working with prospective Church members, I challenge the disciples to reflect on how they intend to live out their discipleship in service of Jesus Christ by obedience to the Great Ends of the Church (F-1.0304):

  • The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
  • The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
  • The maintenance of divine worship;
  • The preservation of the truth;
  • The promotion of social righteousness; and
  • The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

To be a Christian is a holy calling, one based on having received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, but also a calling that demands that we hold ourselves accountable for our faith, what we do in response to that faith, and honestly evaluate what difference what we do in living out our faith makes in the lives of others. The Presbyterian Church (USA) takes this witness seriously. I believe that we, as disciples serving God through the Church of the Hills Presbyterian (USA) should take this witness seriously, as well.