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

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

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!

Meet Our Summer Intern: Jarod Hill

Meet Our Summer Intern: Jarod Hill

Paul’s words to Timothy are the Holy Spirit’s words to our elders: “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2Tim. 2:2). That’s our biblical strategy for finding and appointing elders here at Heritage, and for propagating the gospel beyond our walls.

With this in mind, meet Jarod Hill, whose summer internship is just now wrapping up. Jarod has been busy in a few ways that he will explain below. 

Our purpose in this internship is to see churches led by pastors who faithfully connect the Bible’s theology of the church to the church’s worship, life, and mission. In other words, to see churches flourish in the gospel and gospel work. Pray that Jarod would be that kind of shepherd for a church in the years ahead.

Before we get to know you a bit, tell us what excited you the most about serving as an intern this summer?

What excited me most about the internship were the opportunities to learn and grow. Throughout the internship, I read, wrote on, and discussed twelve books. These books covered an array of important topics to help me grow in seeing how a theology of the church shapes our practice of church. Every week I met with Trent to discuss my reading and he helped me think these things through and clear up any questions. Those meetings with Trent were by far my favorite part of each week.

Also, although I dreaded it to an extent, I very much looked forward to preaching and developing those skills as well. Preaching to the Heritage family at a recent Family Meeting was an honor.

Now, let’s go to the beginning, your new beginning. How did the Lord save you?

Unlike many people, I do not recall a specific day on which was saved. The first eighteen years of my life, I grew up in a small Reformed Baptist church that tended to overemphasize the doctrines of grace and specifically the doctrine of election (a wholly biblical truth) and underemphasize man’s responsibility in salvation (an equally biblical truth). Because of this imbalance, I spent my life waiting for God to show me that He chose me before the foundation of the world to be His son, because that’s what it ultimately came down to. He either chose me or He didn’t.

After those eighteen years, my family decided to leave that church and join a church closer to where we lived. It was at this new church we were attending, where one of the pastors took me out for dinner a couple times and discussed theology and what I believed. Over those dinner meetings, my pastor helped me to realize that, “if (I) confess with (my) mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in (my) heart that God raised him from the dead, (I) will be saved (Romans 10:9),” and was therefore, in the elect and chosen before the foundation of the world for salvation. I realized that verse was true to me and the implications that followed. Several weeks later, I was baptized.

You’ve been at Heritage for several years now. Why did you decide to stay and how have you been shaped during these years?

It was a combination of a few things: solid theology, a loving church community, and the right connections. Before even visiting Heritage, I did a lot of research on churches in the Greenville area. First and foremost, I was looking for a church that was theologically conservative and orthodox and also believed and proclaimed the doctrines of grace. Secondly, I wanted to be a part of a church family that genuinely loved and cared for one another and heavily emphasized discipleship of one another. Lastly, I was hoping to find a church that had some Southern Baptist Theological Seminary connections (because that’s where I plan to get my seminary degree from) and Bob Jones connections (because that’s where I was getting my undergraduate degree from). Heritage Bible Church was the only church that I could find that went above and beyond in checking all of those boxes. I’m super thankful to be a part of this family and excited to officially join Heritage in the coming months, Lord-willing.

Now, the most influential book on your life and what has been the most influential sermon on your life? Tell us a little about both.

Without being cliché and saying “the Bible” is the most influential book on my life, I can easily say John Piper’s books, Desiring God, and, When I Don’t Desire God, are tied for the most influential books on my life. Desiring God is John Piper defending from Scripture the topic he calls, “Christian Hedonism.” In his book, Piper summarizes Christian Hedonism by saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Piper puts it another way in his book by switching up the words to the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Instead of the answer being, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” Piper changes it to, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” What a blessing it is to be able to fulfill man’s entire purpose and receive the only fully satisfying joy we have available to us at the same time. Truly desiring God will prove difficult for any of us because we remain sinners. That’s why Piper wrote, When I Don’t Desire God, to give practical actions we can take found in Scripture to help strengthen our desire for Him.

When it comes to most influential sermons, the most influential sermon on my life is by Paul Washer and is titled, “Paul Washer- Shocking Message” on YouTube. I think I first heard this message my first year at Bob Jones and was actively going against God in several areas of my life. God used it to break and convict me and you can bet on God doing that to you almost every time you listen to it.

You’re near the end of reading a hand full books over this internship. What’s been the most insightful book so far and why?

Oddly enough, the most insightful book I read was one of the last in my internship, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, by Thomas Sowell, who is not even a Christian. This is the one book Trent has us read that isn’t about the church, but about the world we find ourselves in today as the church. In his book, Sowell theorizes (and I believe expresses correctly) why the world tends to sort itself out into two broad coalitions politically and economically. He writes not to prescribe a political ideology but to describe how it is that political visions tend to sort themselves out as they do. He explains this phenomenon as a conflict of visions of human nature, specifically a conflict between the “constrained vision” and the “unconstrained vision.” The constrained vision views mankind as fundamentally flawed and constrained by that basic reality. The unconstrained vision sees mankind as a people whose potentialities are not constrained by what we would call sin. Thus, we have on the one hand a vision of humanity that pursues tradeoffs and another that insists on perfect solutions, one that is averse to centralization in government because it does not trust humans with power, and another that seeks utopia. This book really helped me to better understand where certain views most likely come from and the importance knowing what a person’s fundamental beliefs about the world is.

You’ve been in our elders meetings for a few months now. What have you observed and learned so far?

Above all else, these elder meetings helped me to understand the importance of a plurality of elders. Every elder meeting, the elders and anyone else in the room discuss with one another a typically highly-debated topic from Scripture that needs clarification for the good of the church. The first topic they were going through when I began attending was divorce and remarriage. A second topic, which they are currently discussing, is church discipline. Because of the plurality of elders, input from each elder is used to better define terms and discern the Scripture’s teaching. All of this strengthens our church in ways that are hard to see except over time.

I also want to mention that the church elders of Heritage love the members so much. During the elder meetings, they pray for specific people of different elder communities and shepherding groups and each meeting is focused on loving you all better by leading the church in the most God-glorifying way imperfect man can. Be in prayer for them, they need your prayers and support!

What are your desires vocationally for the future and how can we pray for you?

Although I’m currently unsure what this will eventually look like, I hope to be actively involved in ministry of some type. I don’t know whether that will be on the mission field, pastoral, or in the workforce while being heavily involved in a church. Lord-willing, my plans in the near future are to become and eventually work as a certified financial planner (CFP) while pursuing a master’s degree in biblical counseling from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In the future, I desire to be a beacon of hope in the lives of my future clients, fellow church members, family, and friends by giving them practical advice with the knowledge and experience I hope and plan to attain.

Please pray that God continues to guide me and that He would change my desires to match His. Also, please pray that I can be a blessing and encouragement to people at work, my friends, and my family. Lastly, I would appreciate prayer asking God to change and develop my heart to be a more selfless, caring heart than what I have currently. Too much of what I do and say has selfish motives behind it, even if what I do and say looks good from the outside. Thank you for your prayers!

Finally, got any favorite teams or hobbies or special skills we should know about?

I’m a die-hard Indianapolis Colts fan. If I’m able to, I watch every Colts game and listen to daily Colts podcasts to get to know the players and coach better, which adds to the enjoyment of watching the games. I’m also a huge Marvel fan. My prized possession is a 75th Anniversary Captain America shield signed by Stan Lee, the co-creator of Marvel Comics. Also, although I rarely get to play now, I have played trumpet pretty consistently for about 12-13 years now in everything ranging from marching band to symphony orchestra. Performing music on trumpet is one of my favorite things to do.

Now Taking Questions for Our Annual Elders Q&A

Now Taking Questions for Our Annual Elders Q&A

One way our elders at Heritage seek to lead our church to maturity in Christ is by the simple work of answering questions. We do this in informal and private ways, and we do this in especially public ways such as our annual Elders Q&A. On November 14 at 4:30 p.m. we will host our third annual Elders Q&A. You should come.

Why Would We Do This to Ourselves?

It’s not always easy being on the spot, even if you’ve had time to think through what you might say. But it’s good for us as a team and it’s good for us as a church. Here’s why we host this evening each year.  

  • To promote a culture of openness and vulnerability.
  • To model healthy question asking and answering.
  • To enhance our elders’ unity and insight into the ministry.
  • To clarify any ambiguities or gaps in our leadership for our members.
  • To instruct in biblical eldership and increase the visibility for our team.
  • To update the congregation on any timely projects or studies we’ve been working on.

We’ll plan for an hour and fifteen minutes. We’ll plan for dinner following. 

Get Us Your Questions by October 10

If you have a question—think doctrine, church life, plans for our shared mission, etc.—you can get it to us in a variety of ways:  

  • Text. Text your question to 864.735.7465.
  • Email. Email your question to [email protected]
  • Write. Grab a Connection Card on Sunday, scratch out your question, and drop that in an offering box.
  • Form. Submit a question here.
  • Tell. Communicate your question for the Q&A to an elder in person or through email. They’ll ask you to write it down so that we don’t lose your intent in translation, but you’re welcome to start with a conversation.

We’ll also have some time available in the evening to answer questions from you in a more impromptu style.

As a help in this process, aim to submit your questions by Sunday, October 10. This lead time helps us notice recurring themes, know how to devote time to particular questions, discuss any topics as a team if needed, and order our time in a way that best serves the congregation. We’ll certainly consider any questions that come in after that date.

As a reminder, we won’t be able to answer every question that gets asked. However, if you put your name on a question and we did not answer it at the Q&A, we will reach out to answer that question for you in person or by email. In some cases, we may devote a blog-post to the topic.

Before the Q&A, get acquainted with Heritage’s elders at the About Page. Also, here’s the recap from 2019 and from 2020 for those that couldn’t join us.

The Miracle of Giving and Why We Stopped Passing the Plate

The Miracle of Giving and Why We Stopped Passing the Plate

We haven’t passed the plate in over a year, yet our lights are on, our pastors are paid, and giving has increased. Let’s talk about that.

COVID gave our elders an opportunity to test-drive something we had been pondering informally for some time: giving without plates. Measured in terms of the church’s generosity, it’s gone great.

The purpose of this post is to walk you through some of the Bible’s teaching on giving and some of our thinking in moving away from giving as part of our Lord’s Day worship service, in that order. This is a good opportunity to practice reasoning from the biblical data to a faithful practice. It’s also an opportunity to see how a local church’s giving is a miracle of God.

Isn’t Giving a Part of Corporate Worship?

Must giving happen in the context of the gathered church on the Lord’s Day? Put another way, is giving a biblically prescribed element of public corporate worship? Before we answer this question, let’s summarize the kinds of giving we find in the New Testament.

  • First, we have relief giving, for those both inside and outside the church. The case of Paul’s Jerusalem collection for the relief of saints during a famine is one example: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come … Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor. 16:2, 7). What we often call benevolence characterized the church’s care for its own people from the earliest days: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44, 45).  While benevolence may or may not be structured, the care widows seems to have involved the church’s resources in a way that involved oversight of an enrollment (1Tim. 5:9).
  • The second kind of giving is missions giving, the kind about which Paul spoke to the Philippians: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4, 5).
  • Finally, there is the support of those who labor in the Word. “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages'” (1Tim. 5:17, 18; cf. Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7; 1Cor. 9:9).

So, there are all sorts of giving going on. When you affirm our elders’ direction for our annual budget and when you give to the general fund at Heritage, you partner with your brothers and sisters in all of these ways.

When should this giving happen? We can look in two places for clues.

First, when we consider the passages that speak about giving, the only indication we have as to the context of giving comes to us in Paul’s instruction concerning the relief giving he mentioned in 2 Corinthians: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (16:9, emphasis added). Certainly, it makes sense to give when we come together, since giving is an expression of our partnership in the gospel. Yet the accent seems to be on the practicality of giving every week “so that there will be no collecting when I come” (16:9).

Second, when we look at the places that speak to the substance and shape of our Lord’s Day gatherings, we don’t find giving on the list. For example, Paul’s writes to Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1Tim. 4:13). To this list we might add singing to one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But a collection doesn’t make these sorts of lists. 

There are certainly some good reasons to give on Sunday, even in our public gathering. If I had to reason for this practice, I would say that it helps teach us that our money is an important part of our discipleship. It’s an act of individual worship and an essential part of our partnership together in the gospel as a church. Placing it in our worship service also helps us teach our children.

But it goes too far to say that it must to be a planned element of our worship service. We might even argue that it can encourage the wrong kind of giving—from coercion or for show—about which the New Testament warns (2Cor. 9:7; Matt. 6:2, 3).

Our conclusion, then, is that passing the plate is one of many faithful ways to obey Christ in this area of giving, a method which comes with its pros and cons, and a matter of prudence. In fact, as with everything, we have to be careful not to make too much of our little human tradition.

Change in The Plate

Why did we stop passing the plate? When it comes to change in the church, if it’s not a matter of clear obedience to Scripture, we should have a compelling reason for the disruption. Not every human tradition is a problem.

There are two reasons we stopped passing the plate. First, discontinuing this practice gives us more freedom in how we use our limited time together in our Sunday gathering. How about a metaphor. If you were a chef preparing a meal for your family every week, you would be limited by the requirement that potatoes go in every meal, mashed, and in the same spot on the plate. On Sundays we reserve twenty-five minutes for singing, reading, and praying outside of the announcements and the sermon. The offering is an element that involves ushers moving around the room for the distribution and collection of plates. This means a few things: we must be seated rather than stand, we should avoid things that the plate would distract from such as reading Scripture or a creed or a confession together. That means, if we just sang a song of confession, we can’t then pray a prayer of assurance, as one example. If we just prayed a prayer of assurance, we can’t then stand to sing a song of thanksgiving. There are a dozen or so of these combinations that aren’t available to us. Since we discontinued this practice, our services have enjoyed a more coherent and seamless flow. Second, though less importantly, moving away from passing the plate encourages giving in some other ways that are more regular and even across the year.

Those are some advantages. One disadvantage is that we lose a weekly reminder of the importance of giving for our life as a church. Yet as elders we believe we have relied on the plate as a kind of stand-in for what should be more creative reminders and overt teaching on this subject. In this spirit, we intend to make giving more accessible. We’ve added a permanent “Give” button in The Weekly, our recently refreshed weekly email to the church, and plan to increase the visibility of our offering boxes in the lobbies. We will also instruct more regularly on the why and how of giving through announcements, slides, classes, and at our Family Meeting. Just drips mostly, but enough to make giving even more of a priority for our already generous church.

Working the Miracle, How to Give and How Much

Years ago I enjoyed fellowship at a church where the offering was part of the worship service and where we then stood to sing the doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” That practice gave testimony to the miracle of that church’s giving.

But so do boxes and online giving. The work of this church is sustained without any coercion or even eyes watching. Restaurants and retail establishments can’t do that. But we can. That is proof of the Spirit’s miraculous work among us. It is God’s doing.

There are several ways you can give, summarized on our Giving page.

  • First, give online. Set up a recurring payment or give one-time gifts through our church’s secure online giving platform. You do not have to be a registered member to give online.
  • Second, give in person. Give on Sunday with an offering envelope through our offering boxes staged in the lobby outside the Worship Center.
  • Third, give by mail. Make your check payable to “Heritage Bible Church” and mail it to: Heritage Bible Church, 2005 Old Spartanburg Road, Greer, SC, 29650.

That’s how to give. But how much should you give?

There’s a reason we call it “giving” at Heritage, rather than “tithes and offerings.” That language of tithes and offerings draws on Old Testament teaching for Israel under the old covenant which required 10% as a matter of both religious and civil responsibility. In fact there were multiple tithes required of Israelites, including the Jubilee tithe, so that it likely involved giving as much as 20% of ones income in a given year. Israel was, after all, a nation. We simply have no prescription like that in the New Testament for the church.

However, when we consider the scope of the church’s financial partnership outlined above, 10% is a reasonable target for some and a place to start for others. It’s also a reasonable point of reference considering our propensity to hoarding and greed as well as the new covenant’s inward requirement on our giving, that it be generous and cheerful (1Tim. 6:17–19; 2 Cor. 8–9).

Keep working the miracle, Heritage. Give like the gospel is true. Give cheerfully, sacrificially, and regularly as proof that Christ’s kingdom is real and his rule is righteous.