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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.

Let’s Sing! “Jesus, Your Mercy”

Let’s Sing! “Jesus, Your Mercy”

We have about 160 songs in a catalogue we’ve curated for singing on Sunday morning. Each song old and new is a unique mingling of poetry and melody. Yet even the new songs that we sing are about same old things, and we sing them in order to do same old things.

This past week we introduced a new song, “Jesus, Your Mercy,” which we’ll sing again this Sunday. This song is a prayer to our merciful Lord, a song to help us confess our sin and rejoice in our assurance rooted in the mercy of God. Meditate these words and wear yourself into the tune ahead of Sunday. 

Lyrics

1. Jesus, Your mercy is all my plea
I have no defense, my guilt runs too deep
The best of my works pierced Your hands and Your feet
Jesus, Your mercy is all my plea

2. Jesus, Your mercy is all my boast
The goodness I claim, the grounds of my hope
Whatever I lack it’s still what I need most
Jesus, Your mercy is all my boast

Chorus
Praise the King who bore my sin
Took my place when I stood condemned
Oh how good You’ve always been to me
I will sing of Your mercy

3. Jesus, Your mercy is all my rest
When fears weigh me down and enemies press
A comfort I cling to in life and in death
Jesus Your mercy is all my rest

4. Jesus, your mercy is all my joy
Forever I’ll lift my heart and my voice
To sing of a treasure no pow’r can destroy
Jesus, your mercy is all my joy

Bob Kauflin, Jordan Kauflin, Nathan Stiff © 2019 Sovereign Grace Worship

 

Links

Coronavirus Updates

Plans for Resuming our Sunday Gathering! Updated May 13, 2020

We are planning to resume our Lord’s Day services this coming Sunday. Visit the Heritage Resume page to learn about our plans for Sunday. That page is to-the-point, but some of our thinking and details are on Pastor Trent’s blog post, Together Again, this Sunday: Why and How.”

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You’re Invited! Join Us Online Updated March 21, 2020

Go to our Heritage Live page for instructions and plan to join us this Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

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COVID-19 Update | Pastor Trent’s Blog Post Updated March 19, 2020

Read it here: Hardship and Church Health: How This Could be Good for Us

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COVID-19 Update | Update on Sunday’s Online Service Updated March 18, 2020

Heritage Family,

As Sandy shared in his email to you on Monday, we have canceled our normal Lord’s Day gathering for this Sunday. We are glad to comply with the governor’s request. As I shared in Saturday’s blog post, “Coronavirus, Community, and the Cross,” in this circumstance we would consider hosting something in place of our gathering through digital means. That is our plan.

This Friday, look out for an email and invitation from me to Sunday’s online meeting. We’ll be using a video platform called Zoom. More details and instructions to come. It should be as easy as following a link, which was important to us.

This email comes before all of our plans are completely laid, but I wanted to bring you up to speed. Thank for your patience as we get things in good order.

Grace to you –

Trent

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COVID-19 Update | March 16 HBC Update

Here we are, following our Good Shepherd day by day. The CDC is now advising groups of more than 50 to not meet for the next 8 weeks. The SC Governor has suspended school until the end of March. Just this afternoon the White House issued guidelines advising people to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10. So we are praying and making adjustments.

So until further notice, there will be no gathering on Sunday morning or in smaller official HBC groups at other times. Again we will continue to monitor recommendations from the CDC and SC DHEC. Then, make decisions for our ministry. For some insights into precautions for yourself and others, review the article Trent included in his blog. If you are in a high-risk category, be extra careful.

Don’t you love that we are invited not to fear? Dozens of passages such as Deuteronomy 31:7-8 or Matthew 14:22-33 remind us that God the Father and God the Son know the human tendency toward fear. Divine presence and powerful action on our behalf should assure our hearts and give us courage. As you pray, think, talk, and act, there are two simple categories: Loving God and Loving Others (members and neighbors).

Loving God

Continue spending time in God’s Word and praying.

Stay informed but don’t let yourself get overwhelmed in the 24/7 news cycle. We will continue to share articles like this one to encourage and equip you.

Sunday Service: Alternative to Gathering

For now, just know that we are talking and planning toward a 9:30 a.m. Sunday video/internet strategy. Trent will be sending an email on Wednesday to give more details. He and Brian Burch, HBC Tech Director, have already been talking through specifics and logistics.

Loving Members

Elder Communities and Shepherding Groups

Later this week, Abe Stratton will be sending an email update to Elders, Deacons, and Shepherding Group leaders. Especially during this time, our focus will be on loving each other through more time and energy given through elder communities and shepherding groups.

Benevolence

Be prepared to share your time and resources to help others in your elder community and shepherding group. Different sectors of our economy will be temporarily hurt worse than others. Someone in your elder community or shepherding group may have to stay home with a child, work reduced hours, or be temporarily suspended from working.

Loving Neighbors

Do you have a co-worker or an older neighbor in a high-risk category? Offer to check on them and help in various ways (e.g. pick up their groceries or medicines).

Psalm 23,

Sandy McCormick
Executive Pastor

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COVID-19 Update | Pastor Trent’s Blog Post Updated March 14, 2020

Trent posted a blog this morning following up with some biblical and pastoral thoughts about church life for the next weeks or months. Read it here: “Coronavirus, Community, and the Cross.”

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COVID-19 Update | Gathering and Programming Plans Updated March 13, 2020

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) circumstances continue to evolve each day. Out of love for others, we have to err on the side of reasonable caution.

So for an indefinite period of time, we are cancelling all church programming except our weekly Lord’s Day gathering at 9:30 a.m.

Nursery, Pre-School, and Children’s Church will function as normal for this Sunday. However, we ask that no volunteers over 60 serve in these areas. If you are scheduled to work this Sunday, your ministry leader will be in touch with you. Parents: We ask you be extra careful that no child with a fever, cough, runny nose, etc. is brought to church.

While we will have the service, there is no judgment on you if you do not attend for personal safety reasons. Each of us needs to pray, keep monitoring CDC and SC DEHC updates, and consider how we serve others. Let’s be creative in staying connected and loving one another.

Several on the elder team are in frequent communication. We are getting input from a small group of HBC healthcare professionals. We would all appreciate your prayers.

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Coronavirus Update March 12, 2020

The news and updates about the Coronavirus, like all situations in life, present us with an opportunity to glorify God. How can God help us demonstrate love for Him and others? We want to respond with faith in God and loving wisdom in caring for ourselves and others.

Remember and share these truths about God and our world.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1)—whether spiritual, financial, emotional, relational, or physical. He reigns and nothing happens outside his loving, wise, and good sovereign reach—even disease and death (Dt. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Job 1:20-21; Ja. 4:13-16). The Coronavirus is not the first of its kind (e.g. H1N1/Swine flu, Avian flu, Ebola, MERS, SARS), nor will it be the last until the Lord ushers in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). Ask the Lord to help you trust Him and not be anxious (see this article).

Pray, letting your requests be made known with thanksgiving.

Any reminder of our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9) and brevity of life (Ja. 4:14) is good for us (Ps. 119:67, 71). The Coronavirus reminds us to fervently pray for ourselves, our neighbors, and our ministry partners. Here is a useful blog about prayer related this situation. One of our ministry partners, Lewis Kong in Hong Kong, has been having services online for a few weeks. There are actually new contacts being made as people view the services online.

Following are several actions we are taking and some which you can take:

Stay informed. We are continuing to monitor the latest news and recommendations released by the CDC, SC DHEC, and local officials. These links are provided for your ongoing use. We are also proactively learning what churches in other parts of the country and the Upstate are doing. For example, some content in this letter was used and adapted with permission from Downtown Cornerstone Church in Seattle, WA.

Keep gathering on Sunday morning. Unless you are in a high-risk category (see below), we encourage you to continue to gather with the church. If you are in a high-risk category, please be aware that COVID-19 has a much higher risk for acute illness than normal viruses. As of Wednesday afternoon, the top SC public health official is not recommending the general public avoid large group gatherings. Therefore, we are not planning to cancel Sunday worship or electives. Note: Concerning Communion, we do not share a common cup or a common loaf of bread. But the elders will be discussing any appropriate adjustments to how we might lovingly and wisely serve the Lord’s Supper.

Use discernment in participating in other gatherings.  We will continue to monitor healthcare recommendations and update you on changes to any gatherings. For now, use your personal discretion about participating in Shepherding Groups, Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies, etc.

Remain flexible and cooperative regarding any modifications or cancellations. For example, we are cancelling the Senior Servants Banquet on March 21 because of so many in the high-risk categories. Also at this time, we are keeping the Family Meeting on Sunday, March 22 but cancelling plans for the breakfast for supper meal. There will be no meal that night. Use your judgment in possibly inviting other HBC members to join you for a meal after the Family Meeting.

Take normal precautions. As with any virus, the CDC recommends staying home when you are sick. If you or a family member has a cough, fever, or other respiratory difficulties, we ask you to refrain from participating in any church-related activity until you are fever-free for 24 hours. Additionally, frequently washing your hands and covering your mouth if you cough or sneeze are also key preventative actions per the CDC. All of our bathrooms not only have soap dispensers but hand sanitizer. Each of the children’s rooms is also equipped with hand sanitizer.

Take extra precautions in cleaning. Our facilities staff is paying extra attention to cleaning and sanitizing after any gatherings at our church. On Sunday mornings, various door handles will receive extra cleaning. You should do the same in your home and your workplace.

Take extra precaution when meeting and greeting others. For now, do an elbow bump, give an “air hug,” etc. when you want to welcome others. This could be at church or anywhere.

Avoid possible cross-contamination: Sharing or passing multiple-touch items. Out of love for others be prepared to be inconvenienced in order to care for each other. We need to be cautious because some members not in high-risk categories care for an elderly parent or another high-risk individual. Or a member might work in the healthcare field and serve those in high-risk categories. Effective this Sunday and for the immediate future, we will:

  • Not be passing offering plates during the morning service. But please be faithful in your giving via online or through the lobby offering boxes.
  • Not be passing clipboards in the Elective Classes.
  • Not be serving coffee on Sunday Mornings.
  • Not be having food items or beverages in the Electives.

Note if you are in a high-risk category.  People who are at higher risk of illness should consider ways to lower their risk of infection by limiting contact with crowds. The most high-risk categories are those: (1) over 60 years old, or (2) with underlying health conditions such as heart disease and lung disease, or (3) who are immune-compromised.

Note if you become exposed to the Coronavirus and self-quarantine. Should you be contacted or somehow learn that you have been exposed to an infected person, we ask you to self-quarantine (which is a way to love others). Check with your doctor for the latest instructions about a self-quarantine and when it is permissible to lift the quarantine.

Note if you become sick with the Coronavirus and please notify us immediately. We will need to identify those who may have had contact with you.

Be patient as the elders discuss and finalize contingency plans for alternatives to group gatherings. There will be plans should federal, state, or local authorities issue recommendations affecting group gatherings. Please pray for the elders to have wisdom about any possible changes. A small HBC team of professionals serving in various healthcare sectors will be consulted for real-time assessments and information to share with the elders.

Have Compassion and Serve. We grieve with those who have lost loved ones to this latest pandemic (Rom. 12:15). As things continue to unfold, all of us should be prayerfully sensitive about looking for ways to serve others who are high-risk, sick, or just fearful about the entire situation (Gal. 6:10). One possibility would be temporarily hosting some of our college students who have had an unexpected change in their semester schedule. Contact Dan Cruver if you are willing to temporarily host a student or students.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

To the Nations

To the Nations: Watching Paul Pursue Jesus’ Mission (Winter/Spring Electives 2020)

Who was the Apostle Paul? What do we know about his life before Christ? How did he fulfill his calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles? We will examine the life and ministry of Paul as he passionately pursued Jesus’ expanding mission throughout the Roman Empire. Paul was a theologian, an orator, and a scholar; but primarily he was a missionary. Together we will learn from Paul’s experiences and see how his life models gospel power, gospel passion, and gospel priorities for us.

Teachers: Mark Vowels, Timothy Martin

Class Notes

Week 1: Why Study Paul

Week 2: Paul’s Pursuit of Righteousness

Week 3: Paul’s Conversion Experience

Week 4: Paul’s Earliest Ministry

Weeks 5 & 6: Paul’s First Missionary Journey

Week 7: Paul’s Defense of Grace (the Jerusalem Council)

Week 8: Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Week 9: Paul’s Third Missionary Journey