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Trunk or Treat – Oct. 29

Trunk or Treat – Oct. 29

We are excited to be able to host Trunk or Treat again this year on Friday, October 29. If you live in our community, we invite you to join us! In addition to lots of trunks with free candy, there will be free hot dogs and magic shows at 6:30, 7:00, and 7:30 p.m.

Heritage family, in the past, we have had big crowds, so let’s be eager in opening our hearts and arms to people from all over our community. Every member of is encouraged to participate in several ways.

  1. Pray. Ask our Father and God to open doors for the Gospel. Ask Him to give us eternally significant conversations with people who are searching for joy and purpose and meaning—people who need a Savior.
  2. Plan a “Trunk.” Start thinking about some creative design ideas, and sign up in the North Lobby this Sunday. Our goal is to have 50 decorated trunks in our parking lot this year.
  3. Donate candy. Whether or not you are able to participate in Trunk or Treat on October 29, you can contribute to our church’s community outreach by donating candy. Buy wrapped fall candy and bring it to church; we need lots and lots! Drop it off at the display in the North Lobby.

In past years we’ve seen more people come onto our property and interact with us through Trunk or Treat than through any other event. This is a creative way that we can reach out into our community and communicate our love and care for people. We don’t know how our God may work, but may Christ use our efforts to bring us into contact with seekers who need the Savior!

How Does the Gospel Shape Our Gathering?, Part 1: A Theological Framework

How Does the Gospel Shape Our Gathering?, Part 1: A Theological Framework

This is the first in a three-part series, How Does The Gospel Shape Our Gathering? Read Part 2: “Our Liturgical Form.”

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You might have seen a church whose architecture was the shape of a cross. It’s called cruciform architecture. The first church buildings were modeled after the Roman basilica, a long rectangular structure. In time, two wings were added to make the shape of a cross. I recall my first impression after touring one of these historic structures. I was impressed with the care and the planning that went into these spaces.

This is the first in a series of three posts outlining how the gospel shapes our gathering at Heritage. Not in terms of our building architecture, but rather the architecture of our meeting itself. That is, what we do when we come together on the Lord’s Day. These three posts will move from the more fixed and foundational things to the more practical and flexible—from theological foundations (Part 1), to our liturgical rhythms (Part 2), to the design and preparation of a specific Sunday gathering (Part 3).

On the one hand, this little series is not necessary. You don’t need to apprehend the physics involved in the structure behind the wall to take shelter in your home. You don’t even need to think about the structure for it to do its work. Or, to shift metaphors for a moment, you don’t need think about the kitchen when you’re out for a nice dinner. The food is the nourishment. So it is with the gospel and our gatherings.

But there’s something to say for knowing what goes on behind the walls or in the kitchen. Consider this: for all the weekly, monthly, and annual patterns prescribed under the old covenant, the Lord’s Day gathering is our one new covenant family routine. Our church will be better for a little work on this topic over the next few weeks. Allow me to give you the tour.

Our Cornerstone

Where do we begin? Three words: he is risen! We begin with the new beginning that God has brought through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Since the early days of the church, local churches have gathered on a specific day, “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). That’s the day Jesus rose from the dead (Lk. 24:1). The Apostle John called it, “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). Here’s what this means: the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus is not just the reason we come together, but the very occasion on which we gather. Jesus ascended to heaven then to assemble a people. The church is this people, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20, 21). Everything flows from the central fact of Jesus’ resurrection, from the ordinances to what we say and sing and hear when we meet.

Having established the reason we meet on the Lord’s Day, what else can we say from the Bible about our purposes for coming together? Our elders put some work into that question about a year ago and we’re eager to bring you in on it.

Our Biblical and Theological Purposes

If you’ve ever helped design a home or been a part of a building project, you’ll know that there are many factors that go into the shape and flow of a building. What is it for? Who will be in it? What resource do we have to work with?

These reflections on the resurrection above are where our elders began in shaping a document of theological foundations for our corporate gatherings. Before we shaped a job description for a Director of Worship we wanted to do our best as elders to articulate what it is we believe we’re after when we meet on Sundays. That process, which concluded in 2020, led to a nine-page theological framework we’ve titled, “How the Gospel Shapes Our Gatherings: Twelve Aims.” Here they are with abbreviated explanations:

1. We want our Lord’s Day gathering to fulfill God’s vertical and horizontal purposes for bringing us together.

God’s highest purpose is to magnify his own glory—that is, that he may be worshiped, valued, and treasured above all things (Ps. 34:3). Yet, God’s glory is manifest among us when we gather to serve one another with our gifts, to instruct one another with the Word, to stir one another up to love and good works, and to encourage one another until Christ comes (Col. 3:16; 1Cor. 12:4–6; 14:26; Heb. 10:24–25).

2. We want our gatherings to be formed and filled by the Word of God.

Word-formed worship trusts God’s means for God’s work. We trust God’s Word by devoting ourselves to the ordinary elements of praying, singing, reading, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the Word preached (1Tim. 2:1, 8; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1Tim. 4:13; 1Cor. 11:23–26; 2Tim. 4:2). Word-filled worship means we fill our service with a certain content—the Scriptures, and the Word of the gospel in particular.

3. We want our gatherings to unfold with movements of revelation and response.

In the Scriptures, God reveals himself in all of his Triune and transcendent glory (2Cor. 13:14; Isa. 6:1–3; Rev. 4:8). When God speaks, his people respond to him—when we’re at our best—in a way that reflects back to him his own greatness: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (Ps. 48:1).

4. We want our gatherings to be individually meaningful and intentionally congregational.

Jesus had each of us on his mind as he suffered so that each of us can say, he died for me (1Tim. 1:14, 15). But it is also true that Jesus purchased for himself a people, his one bride (Tit. 2:14; Rev. 2:9). For that reason, we want our gatherings to be meaningful for every individual, and for every individual to find their meaning within the context of the family of God. This is why every element of our gathering is planned with the congregation’s participation in view.

5. We want our gatherings to renew our minds and raise our affections.

Our gatherings do not aim for only intellectual understanding or for emotional experience. We intend to engage our heads and our hearts. We value light and heat, head and heart. In fact, we want to raise our affections for Jesus as high as they can be raised, given that they are being stirred up with the truth and person of Jesus.

6. We want our gatherings to be pastorally planned and spiritually free.

Our gatherings require a certain kind of planning. Our meeting is a ministry of the Word, its design a theological task, and the church’s essential diet of truth. For this reason, our approach to the design and leadership of our services is not personality or production or performance, but pastoring. Pastorally laid plans serve the Spirit’s free work. For a larger church like ours, this also means encouraging and fostering all kinds of meaningful Spirit-filled interactions leading to and flowing from the gathering itself.

7. We want our gatherings to foster a community that is historically rooted and hungry for God’s ongoing work.

Our services should feel both old and new, rooted and relevant. Our services are historic in that they are built with and around the ancient Scriptures, but also in our periodic use of creeds and confessions. But our God is not done working in the world, and so we gather to pursue and celebrate the work of God that continues today. We want this to be apparent in our preaching, in the prayers we pray, and in our songs. Our old songs remind us that God worked in the generations before us, and our new songs remind us that he’s at work today among us (Ps. 40:3).

8. We want our gatherings to adorn the Word of God with undistracting excellence.

We believe that music is God’s gift. By highlighting truth, music impresses that truth on our hearts (Col 3:16). By it we also express that truth, making melody in our hearts to God (Eph. 5:19). Adorning the Word requires excellence that avoids distraction. We will avoid shoddy or showy leadership. Wisdom is needed to know how this looks, but we know what it sounds like: our people talking not so much about our great skill (or our great blunders!), but about God’s great grace.

9. We want our gatherings to be culturally anchored and expansive.

Around Jesus’ throne will be men and women from every tribe and language and nation, and their cultures will color our heavenly experience (Rev. 5:9–14; 21:24–26). Our meetings are centered on a Person whose redeeming love is expansive and far reaching. His love defines us, not our style of music or dress, or the like. For this reason, while we are happy for our gatherings to be culturally anchored, to be familiar, to feel like us and our home—we want that for foreign peoples too—we also want our gatherings to stretch us.

10. We want our gatherings to draw outsiders to Christ and our attention to the outermost parts of the earth.

Our gatherings involve the worship of God; they also advance it. We are a city on a hill, with our gatherings the hot spot of Jesus’ light and life in us (Matt. 5:16). From the website to parking, from signage to seating, from how we talk about Christ to how we talk about our church—in all this we want to be accessible, inviting, and clarifying in all the appropriate ways. God’s worship is advanced in yet another way: through our ever-expanding global vision of God’s work for his name.

11. We want our gatherings to embolden us and humble us.

How can believers live without fear of God’s judgment, of death, and the Devil’s tyranny? How can believers live without fear of the world’s condemnation, even threats to our very lives? The answer is one: by gathering each Lord’s Day. We are bold in God’s presence, knowing he welcomes us. We are also bold in an often-unwelcoming world. We are bold, but no less humble. We draw near “with confidence” to God because we know that he gives what we desperately need: “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

12. We want our gatherings to stir us to rest in Christ and not rest until he returns.

Sometimes Sunday is called the Sabbath, or a day of rest. That is not quite right. The Lord’s Day is when we celebrate the arrival of Sabbath rest for all who trust in Jesus (Matt. 11:28). Rest has already come, but we know that Jesus’ work is not yet complete. We feel this already/not yet tension in our bodies, in our troubles, and on Sundays when our heart isn’t in it. We have found rest in Christ, yes, but we gather to say to one another over and again, “strive to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:11).

The twelve points would be too much to expand on here, but you should read the whole document. However, one point is especially pertinent to the shape and substance of our meeting.

Our Main Design Principle

Let’s ruminate a bit more on that second aim, “we want our gatherings to be formed and filled by the Word of God.” When you construct a building you are constrained by the laws of physics. Those constraints are not ultimately limiting but freeing. With careful attention to this authority, buildings shoot into the sky to carry all kinds of life and activity. What is the authoritative guide for the architecture of our gatherings at Heritage?

We speak at Heritage about our commitment to Sola Scriptura—a Latin phrase which means “Scripture Alone.” We believe that salvation is revealed in Scripture alone and apart from the Word of God we cannot know how we may be saved, neither is anything necessary in addition to Scripture for salvation. This principle applies not only to salvation but to the Christian life and to the church’s worship. We say at times that the Scripture regulates the church’s worship.

A commitment to the authority of Scripture doesn’t yield one rigid form of corporate worship across time and culture. But it does regulate the things we do and to a good extent how we go about them.

In the next post we’ll get into the various elements of our gathering and how they fit together. In doing so our intent is to trust God’s means for his own worship, doing what he has prescribed and in a way that fits his nature and the nature of the church.

Look out for Part 2 in the next week or so.

You Can’t Join Us On Livestream. Say What?

You Can’t Join Us On Livestream. Say What?

Settle in and allow me to explain. 

Greg Gilbert wrote a helpful piece for pastors a little over a year ago. Some of his concluding words have stuck with me:

This is a hard year to be a pastor. There’s the pandemic. There’s the frustration, for many of us, of not being able to gather with the church as normal. There’s the vaguely ridiculous prospect of preaching to a congregation whose faces you can’t see because they’re all wearing masks. There’s the livestream you launched literally two weeks after you publicly called down God’s own curses on yourself if you ever consented to a “video venue.”

That last line made me laugh.

Pastors are principled people, and we should be. Do we have two services, each with different kinds of music, or not? Do we structure our church’s social and adult interactions along age lines or not? Do we turn the lights down in the auditorium and highlight the platform when the music starts or not? Do we even talk much about music, or do we highlight the congregation’s singing? Here’s another one: do we offer an option to “join us on our livestream”? Is that even possible? I suppose it depends on what we mean by that. Do we mean watching others go to church? Or do we mean join with the church online? Some hairs are worth splitting.

For some churches, starting a livestream was something akin to paving the parking lot. Sure, gravel works, but c’mon! Beyond the original COVID considerations, the livestream seems to do so much for us. It offers members some relief when they’re in a pinch: to watch if they’re home sick with kids, if they’re on the road with work, or if they’re homebound for an indefinite period of time. It also offers members flexibility: perhaps some to do church with the family at home here and there, or to spend a few more weekends at the lake house. Still for others it acquaints them with our church in a unique way who may be moving to town. For others still, it’s an evangelistic tool as they share the link with dear friends and family who might not know Christ, or at least yet. We care about all of these souls.

But something precious is getting lost in this, and lost for their sake.

Candidly, for our church a livestream presented a practice in conflict with our understanding of what it means to “come together as the church,” the greatest blessing Christ gives us next to himself (1Cor. 11:18). Livestream is less like paving the parking lot—an obvious use of technology to help people join us—and more like offering a parking lot venue for church on Sunday morning. Or, even more precisely, an option to go to church from the couch with your car in the driveway. We have to ask ourselves, is that even a thing?

This post is preemptive and instructive. We will discontinue the livestream in the near future, but we want to take some time to more personally shepherd some of you through the process and we’ll take a number of weeks to do that. We’ll send an email to the group that has received the weekly link when that time comes.

For now, I want to answer the question for all of us: why discontinue the livestream?

A Few Considerations

Jump to the next section for the heart of the matter. If you’re willing to hang with me, here are a few considerations that go into a decision like this.

First, every form of technology does something for us and to us. Our smartphones have done a lot for us and they have done a lot to us—to our posture and to our attention spans. Same with the wheel, nukes, silicon, and the internet. Do you have a TV in your family room? How about each of the kids’ bedrooms? There are benefits and unintended consequeces with every form and application of technology. A lot is left to wisdom as we lead our families. We love the church by thinking carefully about how technology will strengthen or weaken our life together.

Second, there is a difference between extraordinary and ordinary circumstances. We adopted the livestream in the crisis moment of the COVID shutdown as an emergency measure. The predictions were so dire we stopped gathering on Sundays for about two months. As we returned to meeting, we approached that season with several principles: first, we were minimally intrusive (we didn’t require masks or police conversations but we did separate pews); second, we didn’t require anything the government didn’t require (which was not a commitment to do everything the government might); third, we embraced a bias to stability (we didn’t shift plans that we’d have to shift back weeks later); fourth, we prioritized personal responsibility (asking you to stay home if you were vulnerable or sick); and fifth, we fostered an atmosphere of freedom (so we offered a video venue, livestream, invited masking but avoided other language that might imply a moral judgment on the matter, and we instructed you to resist making assumptions as a baseline for our interactions). The livestream helped make all of this work. It helped us negotiate the diverse circumstances and perspectives of our people. We were glad to serve our broader congregation in this way for a time. But crisis decisions do not drive our ministry philosophy. Neither are they a commitment to return to the same practices if there’s another go around.

Third, we are a church built on the Word not on “whatever works.” We are not a pragmatically driven church. We believe in being practical, but we are not driven by what seems to work, comparing ourselves to other churches. We say that God’s Word both fills and forms our church’s worship and life together. Sometimes this means we’re doing something lots of churches are doing. Sometimes this means we’re an outlier in town if we believe we can be more faithful with a different course. We don’t worry too much about it. We’re not competing with the factory across town. We’re working our part of the garden of the gospel’s growth in Greenville. May the Lord bless all of it.

Now to our reasons for discontinuing the livestream.

Gathering Means Gathering

We’ve been clear from the start that the livestream is not a gathering of the church and that it is a temporary measure. As we shared at November’s Elders Q&A, this is because God’s truth about the church and her gathering is precious to us.

Here are three of those precious truths.

First, the church gathering is covenantal, not individual.

There are all kinds of covenantal things going on when we meet on Sundays. In Acts 2:42–47 we find the first description of the church’s life together. There’s eating together, fellowship, helping one another, and hearing the Word together. The church is called to rejoice with one another, weep with one another, sing together, pray together, and be together. How kind is the Lord!

Flashing pixels can do a lot for us, but they can’t do most of this. A football fan can enjoy the game by TV from home, but a player has to be there to play. It did not escape many of us that over the last year our muscles for keeping track of one another were weakened. Haven’t seen someone for five weeks or five months? You could well assume they were on the livestream. A couple that goes to the lake house a few weeks in the summer now disappears for five or six weeks at a time. The new mom who stays home with her infant for several weeks on good advice instead stays home for several months. Then there’s the family that decides to do home-church once a month as a family. Or the worker who gets in late from travel on Saturdays and watches from home.

This may not be you, but in a church of our size all of this can go on. In short, the livestream is a technology that undermines the covenantal shape of our church. Singing together takes being together. So does everything else we’re called to do. Coming to church means more than hearing the Word, but speaking and singing the Word to one another, and manifesting the love of God by looking in one another’s eyes.

Second, the church gathering is public, not private.

I saw an advertisement recently outside a church that said, “Watch us online!” I don’t think they intended to express their theology of church in that sentence. But they did express ours! Let me explain.

I was speaking with a friend in the community recently about the Lord and about church. He had a fairly typical perspective: “To me, my relationship with God is between me and him. I don’t see the need for church.” We’ll have more conversations, I pray. But this sentiment of a privatized religion is pervasive in our day. It is true that faith and repentance is something for us to do individually. No one else can have a relationship with God for us and that’s the beauty of what Jesus accomplished as our high priest. Yet Jesus died to gather a people, not just individual people. Families are meant to be together and to eat together, and so it is with the church. Togetherness is essential to the blessing of both. How else will we find the kind of stirring encouragement for the hard days we’re in? “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24, 25). Jesus’ coming will be a public and encouraging event, just like the weekly gatherings of his people until that day.

“Watching online” is a subtle way of undermining the true public nature of the church gathering. We gather on the Lord’s Day and we eat and drink at the Lord’s table in the Lord’s name—in view of each other. The church is not something we see and hear, but a place and a people among whom we are publicly seen and heard.

Third, the church gathering is physical, not virtual.

Praise God, the church is “in human,” as one of my kids put it. Sometimes it is said that the church is not a building but a people. That’s definitely correct. Sometimes it is said that the church is not a meeting but a people. That is not quite correct. The church is by definition a people, yes, but a people that comes together. When Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” he was referring to the defined local church meeting in a literal place where he intends to show up (Matt. 18:20; cf. 16:18, 19; 18:17–19). As we know, the word for church literally means, assembly. In other words, the assembling of believers in covenant community on the Lord’s Day is the time and place where heaven is manifest in visible form on earth. Jesus really is with us in a special way when and where we gather in his name.

To put this in simple terms, a people that does not meet is not a church because it does not assemble as a church. To put this personally for each of us, it is impossible to “go to church” virtually, hence the cheeky title for this post. We don’t glorify God with many voices on Sunday, rather as we gather our voices something profound happens: “with one voice” we glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ro. 15:6). And that is the sound of the risen Lord touching down on earth.

There is a final legal consideration worth highlighting. When many churches during the pandemic, “did church online,” it should be no wonder that our governing authorities grew comfortable in some states restricting “in-person” gathered worship for many months on end. Churches were calling their people to “gather online.” This was well meaning, no doubt. But if Christians can fulfill their conscience-bound religious obligation to God and one another “virtually” by “meeting online,” then the state can’t be said to restrict their free exercise of religion at least on this point. In a D.C. lawsuit settled in favor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, the judge agreed with their contention: “It is for the Church, not the District or this Court, to define for itself the meaning of ‘not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.’”

Put together, we can say this: the livestream is not in direct contradiction with Scripture as a practice. It is not sinful for another church to offer it. It would not be sinful for us to offer it if for the right reasons. However, its inherent nature as a digital and decentralized experience teaches and thereby nurtures a contradiction with the Scripture. That’s what it does to us. And that kind of cloudy or even wrong thinking weakens us in the long-term as a covenantal, public, and embodied community.

When You Have to Miss

It would not be right for us to say a livestream does nothing for us. Surely it does much for us. It’s just that it doesn’t do anything critical that can’t be done adequately enough or better in some ways without the live part. It is of immense importance for us to hear the Word of God preached. And we can thank God for the various digital ways in which we can get the Word out.

So, while we will avoid a functional replacement for our gathering, by all means we intend to resource you from the overflow of our gathering.

What can you do when you can’t be with us? Here are some ideas:

  • First, listen to our Sunday at Heritage Spotify song playlist. Every week by Tuesday we load up the five or so songs we intend to sing and then add in about ten more Heritage songs to round out the playlist. Maybe there’s a song you need for the moment, in which case the Heritage Song Collection may help.
  • Second, listen to the sermon when the audio posts by early afternoon either to the church Sermons page or to the Sermon Audio page.
  • Third, and coming soon, watch the sermon video. We’re not far from posting a video of each sermon by mid-week to the web. “Stay tuned” for more details.

Will the feed still exist for archival purposes? As the saying goes, I could tell you, but I would have to kill you. Could there be dire circumstances in which we, on an invite-only basis, serve a saint? Hopefully you won’t have to find that out any time soon! What about sickness and travel? These have been a thing for 2,000 years. We’ll keep doing what the church has always done when for providential reasons we can’t gather with the saints. And when we’re away, we’ll feel it and we’ll long to be together again.

Finally, we want to recognize that some of you have built your life around this livestream option. We’d like to know your story and situation. Please reach out to me and let me know so we can help. I’ll work with your elder to come up with a plan for helping you transition. We mean to be patient and gentle in this process even as we are making this decided change.

Hope to see you soon!