Monday, April 30, 2012

What's a vision?

Our Session has been talking about what the "vision" of our church is; this is a topic we intend to present to the congregation for discussion in the coming weeks. I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on what a vision is, and how it fits into the larger scheme of things.

"Vision" is often misunderstood as a top-level definition of the purpose of a church; the answer to the question "why do we exist?" This is a misunderstanding, because, while vision does speak to this question, it does so in concert and harmony with other different factors. Those other factors are mission, core values, philosophy of ministry, strategy, and tactics.

Mission


The mission of the church is the same for every local congregation: in the most basic terms, it is the growth and expansion of the Kingdom of God through the means Christ has given for the proclamation and transforming power of the Gospel: preaching and teaching, sacraments, prayer, discipleship, fellowship, and service.

The mission has its roots in Matthew 28:16-20 (the "Great Commission"), Mark 12:28-31 (the "Great Commandment"), and other key texts such as Acts 1:8, Acts 2:42-45, and Romans 10:11-17. There are many ways to articulate the mission of the church, but they all generally articulate the same thing in one form or another. The mission of the church never changes, because Christ Himself instituted it and gave it to us.

Because mission is so fundamental to the church's existence, it is often mistaken as the vision of a local church as well. But it isn't— rather, it is the foundation upon which the local church might construct its vision (and other aspects of ministry identity).

Core Values


If mission is the foundation upon which a local church is built, then core values are the architecture that give shape, style, and emphasis to the way the church's life and ministry take shape. As long as core values are consistent with the Bible, there's nothing wrong with preferring or valuing one thing over another— in the same way that some may prefer modern architectural styles, while others might like Roman or Neo-Gothic styles better.

Some core values are almost at the same level as mission— in fact, some aspects of mission may be restated in core values. Other core values may seem like they have little or nothing to do with mission, but are nevertheless are important because of what they reflect of the values of the congregation.

While mission never changes, core values can and do change; however, they are the least-flexible aspects of a congregation's identity, and whatever changes take place will ordinarily be incremental, gradual, and subtle.

Vision


Now we get to how vision fits into the picture. Where mission is the foundation of a biblical church, and core values form the architecture of it, vision is the structure of the church itself. Put another way, vision is the answer to the question, "What does it look like for this congregation to exercise the mission of the church, in light of its core values and identity?"

Again borrowing from the metaphor of design and construction, vision is made up of the building blocks that compose it. Two houses with the same foundation and even the same design will look very different when one is constructed of wood framing and siding, while the other is built of concrete and adobe. So, too, will two very similar churches look different based on the "materials" they are made of.

The building blocks of a vision are these: theology, personality/temperament, spiritual gifts, demographics, background(s), and context. While some of these overlap with mission and core values (such as theology, and perhaps backgrounds and context), there are still particular ways that they influence vision directly. Likewise, some of them are slightly different in the realm of organizations like a congregation, versus how they manifest in individuals (such as personality and spiritual gifts).

A vision statement will encompass elements of the mission of the church as well as its core values, and will also describe particulars of how each of the building blocks influences the look and feel of a congregation. It may not do so exhaustively for every term or aspect, but that is because it is still more general than it is particular in its articulation. Usually, a vision will be stated in a few sentences— three or less— and will essentially be a very descriptive paragraph.

Slogan/Motto/Mantra/Catchphrase


Once a vision is identified, it is extremely helpful to a congregation for a version to be drafted that is even more summarized. If the leadership can distill the essence of a vision down to a brief sentence (or even less, like a three- or four-word phrase), this can be memorized by every member and can helpfully draw conversations back to the vision of the church. Think of this as the address of the house we've built on the foundation of mission, with the architecture of core values, and the construction of our vision.

Philosophy of Ministry


Taking the vision statement as its basis, a good philosophy of ministry will develop and explain the immediate application of each aspect of the vision of a local church. In this way, the congregation has a clear description of where their collective ministry will focus, how and why they will do what they do, and how they will evaluate new ministry opportunities as useful for the fulfillment of their vision. Philosophy of ministry answers the big-picture question of, "Why do we do what we do?" If vision is the functional construction of our spiritual house, then philosophy of ministry is its intended use— bedrooms, living rooms, kitchen, etc.

Ministry Strategy


The strategies of a church's ministry applies the vision and philosophy of ministry into particular situations and circumstances. It puts feet on the particular aspects articulated in the congregation's philosophy of ministry. It describes the answer to the question, "What will be the ways we will exercise our philosophy of ministry?" The strategy of a church will be the kinds of things that we do to fulfill the intentions described in philosophy of ministry: do we play games, read, or watch TV in the family room? And so forth.

Tactics


From strategy we move to tactics, which are the day-by-day, week-by-week aspects of hands-on ministry in a church. Tactics is the application of our strategy. If strategy describes what kinds of things we do, tactics defines the particular things themselves: we play these particular types of games; we read this genre of books; etc. It addresses the question, "How does our strategy inform our daily and weekly activities and priorities?"

Overview


In summary, you can see how there is a flow of increasingly-particular articulations of our congregational identity, with vision being something at the center. Here's a way to understand this simply:

Vision schema

Monday, April 23, 2012

Family Man (repost)

A great song by Andrew Peterson, wonderfully-made visual…

Monday, April 16, 2012

Our Session— when and why we meet

From Pastor Ed… (for Sunday, 4/15/2012)

Not long after I arrived in the fall, our Session— the body of all of our Elders, gathered to function as overseers of the church— settled into a regular pattern for our meetings. I thought it would be helpful to describe that pattern, and discuss why we meet as we do. First, though, a little background…

You may or may not know that the Session has met almost weekly for much of the life of our congregation. If you've been a part of another church that was elder-led, you may know that this is much more frequent than is typical. Our denomination's Book of Church Order requires that a Session meet at least quarterly; most of the Sessions I have worked with met about monthly. I've known of Sessions that met weekly for a season, but have never known of one that met weekly on a standing basis— until now!

It is a great blessing to be a part of our Session, in many ways, not least the willingness to meet regularly together. At one point not long ago, Marcie commented to me: "y'all are getting so much done!" She's right— and it wouldn't be possible were we meeting only monthly. That we gather for about an hour and a half every Wednesday morning enables us to accomplish much for Christ's Church and Kingdom.

Every week, the Session spends significant time praying for the specific needs of the church. The prayer list we use is compiled of prayer requests that have been submitted via the registration cards on Sundays, that I have collected through visitation or other conversations, and that have been gathered by way of the prayer request letters that go to every member. We devote the first part of our meeting each Wednesday to lifting up these prayer requests.

What happens next varies from week to week. While we have shifted our schedule around to address pressing matters, generally this is the pattern that we follow:

On the first and third Wednesdays of the month we take up "business" matters. This includes shepherding reports, discussion of the needs for discipleship and discipline in individual members' circumstances, and coordination of congregational care and ministry together. This is also the time when we talk about particular plans for doing ministry better, hear from various teams and committees about the work they are doing, and determine how to coordinate the various aspects of ministry together. In typical recent "business" Session meetings, we have approved the final 2012 budget, heard a report from the Missions Committee, approved plans for the preaching schedule for the summer, assigned new member candidates to be interviewed (and heard reports on those interviews), approved a communication to our Presbytery, and discussed how we would care for certain members in their needs.

On the second Wednesday of the month, we've been discussing a book together. Currently we are discussing Dr. Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Worship: letting the Gospel shape our practice. This book and discussion is presenting great opportunities for us to think in an abstract way about our worship, and also practically about how we do it well, and how we can do it better. All of us have appreciated and benefited from these discussions, and I expect that we'll continue to do this for the foreseeable future. I'd like to read across a several general categories over time, including theology (like what we are reading now), personal growth and spiritual formation, and the pastoral practice of our office.

On the fourth Wednesday, the Session focuses on "big picture" questions. For the past several months, those questions have focused on the "next steps" discussions that we've also been having at other levels congregationally. As we begin to bring those discussions to a close over the coming months, other big picture questions remain prominent: How does our congregation best minister to those around us? What are the right long-term goals for us, and how are those to be measured? Are there specific areas of ministry (worship, discipleship, youth/family ministry, etc.) that we should re-evaluate according to biblical convictions? What is the role of our congregation in shaping the culture around us? And so on. Having a particular day for these more abstract, objective discussions is a great benefit, as it protects us from neglecting important questions while also keeping us from being distracted by them at other times.

Finally, when there is a fifth Wednesday, the Session invites the staff and Diaconate to join with us for a morning given entirely to prayer. We include the prayer requests mentioned above, and also spend extended time in prayer for the ministries of our church, as well as for matters related to our community, our presbytery and denomination, and our ministry among those. We've had two of these since I've been here (and another is coming in May), and they have been great, sweet times in fellowship.

I'll say this again: I'm so grateful and blessed to be part of this Session, and excited about all that God is doing in our midst. Please join me in praying for the continuing work of the Elders our Lord has appointed over this congregation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jobs revisited


[This is an updated repost; the original post appeared in January, 2009]

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. Part of that is due to the fact that I started working fairly early-- #2 began when I was only 14, while #3-7 all happened while still in high school. Part of it, too, is due to the fact that I’ve sometimes had to hold more than one job at a time. And part of it is because I had a few jobs that just didn’t work out.

Mostly, though, I’m pleased to say that most of the people I have worked for have expressed gratitude for my work, and indicated that they were sad to see me go. I’m grateful that my father, my mother, and the man who discipled me through college-- along with some better managers and bosses-- instilled a strong work-ethic in me fairly early on.

So, here’s the master list: all of the jobs I’ve held, starting with the earliest regular job I had (mowing the lawn and cleaning the pool for my family, which I started doing when I was big enough to push the lawn mower at age 11!). These are only the jobs I had for pay; there were other “jobs” or positions I held, but only as a volunteer, so they are excluded from this list.

  1. Lawn mowing/pool cleaning-- to “earn” my allowance, once it was no longer an allowance but pay for this work. I also mowed for the office building where my father’s office was. (6 years)
  2. Janitor-- in the building where my father’s office was. (3 years+)
  3. Handyman’s Assistant-- helping with room additions, plumbing, carpentry, other various tasks. (1 summer)
  4. General manual labor-- for a neighbor, moving gravel (9 tons) and sand (7 tons) from his driveway, uphill, to the drainage ditch around the pool he was building, with a shovel and wheelbarrow. (2 months during summer)
  5. Gutter-cleaning/Yard work-- good money going door-to-door in my neighborhood. (2 summers and falls)
  6. Clown, juggler, and magician-- I started doing this as a volunteer with a fellow magician friend at a festival, and we were offered paying work at a party. It turned into a regular thing, and was great fun. (3 years)
  7. Host/Server/everything else-- California Dreamin’, a restaurant in Columbia, SC. I started as a host, but I also ran food (=delivered it to tables), worked as a “bar back” (washing glasses mostly), washed dishes, worked in the kitchen, waited tables-- pretty much everything but tend bar (I wasn’t legally old enough) and manage. I consider this my first “real” job, even though I had earned a lot of money already by this point (I was only 17 when I started this one). (14 months)
  8. Server-- Garfield’s, another restaurant. (1 summer)
  9. Timothy’s/Bailey’s-- yet another restaurant; this one was my first introduction to “fine dining,” as it was a really swanky place. The ownership changed right before I started there, and thus the name change. (6 months)
  10. Typist/Transcriber-- “independent.” In 1991 (my freshman year in college), I was one of the only people in my dorm who had a computer of their own, and a handful of guys in my English Composition class hated typing their papers (or simply couldn’t type!). I capitalized on this by offering my services for 5¢ per word, which they gladly paid; since I was already at about 50-60 words per minute, I made pretty good money with this. Even better, when they were assigned the task of editing the papers, they brought the edits to me to prepare-- and I had saved the originals, so they paid twice for many of those words. (Just so you know: I disclosed this fact to them, and they were unconcerned.) I did this for two semesters. (10 months)
  11. TGI Friday’s-- yes, another. This one was weird, as we took a three-week family vacation about a month after I started, and they basically replaced me before I got back. (2 months)
  12. Computer Lab Assistant--University of South Carolina. My first job using my burgeoning computer interests. (6 months)
  13. Theater Technician--University of South Carolina. I worked in the scene studio; hung, focused, and ran lights; worked with the sound systems; organized props; even a little bit in the costume studio here and there. (6 months)
  14. Server-- Key West Grill and Raw Bar. A quick job, mostly because it was so far from where I lived. (3 months)
  15. Landscaping-- for a friend and colleague of my mother’s. I had dropped out of school at this point, and took any work I could get-- clearing lots mostly; my first exposure to a chainsaw. (4 months)
  16. Construction-- again, through my mom’s friend and colleague. I was just about useless to them, so they had me scraping spilled mortar off of concrete slabs with a flat-end shovel-- what a loud and annoying task. (1 month)
  17. Sales/Stock-- Structure. This was my first dip into the retail world, though I spent most of it in the stock room. Nice clothes, but not my style, and there was a lot of pressure to wear them (as well as participate in the employee stock purchase program), and it was a 45-minute drive from my house. (2 months)
  18. Sales-- Be Beep, a Toy Shop. Was a great job, selling toys, putting them together, delivering larger items to some customers, and generally playing with kids and grown-ups alike. I loved this job. (18 months)
  19. Cook/Sales-- Little Caesar’s Pizza. After I left Structure, this was my second job. I learned how to toss dough, and I’m pleased to say I’ll still eat Little Caesar’s pizza even after working there. (8 months) [An aside: it was at this point in my life that I began to learn how to handle multiple tasks and responsibilities simultaneously: I was working two jobs, going to school full-time, serving with Young Life as a Volunteer Leader, and leading the worship team for Fellowship of Christian Athletes-- AND I had a girlfriend.]
  20. Youth Minister-- Southeast Presbyterian Church/Rose Hill Presbyterian Church/ Covenant Presbyterian Church. I started out with Southeast part-time, while still working at Be Beep. (Jobs #21, 22, 23, and 24 also were concurrent with Southeast.) Southeast eventually merged with Rose Hill, and shortly after that I also began to work with Covenant in a united youth ministry. This job was formative in more ways than I can enumerate here. (4 years)
  21. Server/Sales-- Columbia Bread and Bagel Co. I opened, which meant (for a bakery) I went in at 4am. Still, it was a good job, and I learned a lot about bread. I needed something full-time, though. (3 months)
  22. Sales/Lab Technician-- Jackson Camera and Video. I worked mostly in the lab, and I learned a ton about how color photos are processed (prior to that, I had only done B&W in a lab); I also sold cameras, mostly when my co-worker wasn’t there. (10 months)
  23. Sales/Lab Technician-- Columbia Photo Supply. This was a great improvement over Jackson Camera, in part because I did mostly sales here. Great folks to work with and for, and they helped me re-emerse myself in photography as a hobby and business. I only left because I was moving to full-time with the church. (18 months)
  24. Photographer-- "independent.” I mostly worked with one guy, who took me under his wing, doing wedding photography. Ironically, he had learned photography from my father, who had taken HIM under his wing. He taught me a ton; I still did this occasionally until a couple of years ago, even though I “retired” about five times! (14 years?)
  25. Writer-- “independent.” I started writing a long time ago, but I started getting paid for it in 1998. Since then, I’ve continued to write as much as I can, and every now and then I still get paid for it! (11+ years)
  26. Website Developer-- “independent.” Really, I was a subcontractor for my mom, who needed someone to handle this for the family company. I only did it until she found someone in-house to do it. Still, this was 1998, so there weren’t many folks who could take this on at that point. (7 months)
  27. Youth Minister-- Westminster Presbyterian Church. Having finally finished college, this was my first post-undergraduate ministry job, in Roanoke, Virginia. There were some great folks there, and I still miss a number of the students and families that I worked with, even though it has been almost 10 years. (19 months)
  28. Basketball Coach-- Faith Christian School. A local school in Roanoke asked me to do this while I was serving at Westminster. It was fun, even though we lost every game: almost none of the kids had any organized sports experience, and many had never even played pickup games. We drilled on skills, sportsmanship, and being a part of a team. (5 months)
  29. Construction-- M&M Construction Company. When we first moved to seminary, we were flat broke and still looking for a job for Marcie, plus there were a couple of weeks before my teaching job started. So I worked construction, working on a deck, insulating and drywalling a room, and doing demo. Nice folks, too. (3 weeks)
  30. Yardwork/Landscaping-- “independent.” Again, during the first weeks in St. Louis, I was looking for work wherever I could find it. I found a couple of households that needed some yardwork and landscaping done, and I served them for most of the first semester. (4 months)
  31. House-cleaning-- “independent.” And again-- ad-hoc work during seminary. While I had never planned to return to janitorial work, this family paid well enough to coax me back into it. Unfortunately, they hit financial trouble and couldn’t afford to continue. (2 months)
  32. Teacher/Consultant/Administrator-- Wildwood Christian School. I worked here throughout seminary, and for a year after finishing. I taught Logic, Advanced Literature, Rhetoric, Bible, and a Senior Research Seminar. I also helped them plan for marketing, did a staff evaluation, and organized the administrative side of things for a while. I’m glad to be out of the education world-- at least for now-- but it was a good place to work, and they were good to us. (5½ years)
  33. Photographer-- Covenant Seminary. Apart from a variety of ways that I’ve worked as a photographer “independently” I was also on the staff of the seminary as a photographer for the Advancement department. For a while, many of the shots that were featured in seminary promotional materials were taken by me-- that was pretty neat. (3 years)
  34. Sound Technician-- Francis Schaeffer Institute. The Schaeffer Institute ran a program called “Friday Nights @ FSI” that (ironically) was hosted by Borders bookstores, and they would have speakers address a variety of topics. My job was to run sound for them, record the lectures, and participate in hospitality. This was fun, but it got a little tedious after a while-- every other Friday almost year-round. (2 years)
  35. Adult Ministries Pastoral Intern-- The Covenant Presbyterian Church. This started as a volunteer internship, but after a semester or so the church graciously began to pay me for my work. Mostly, I served one of the Associate Pastors for the church, handling a number of administrative, organizational, and service tasks so that he could focus on teaching and counseling ministry. (2½ years)
  36. Teaching Assistant-- Dr. Philip Douglass, Covenant Seminary. I graded and evaluated a lot of Dr. Douglass’s assignments for several years, and also occasionally worked with students more individually than he was able to do. (4 years)
  37. Consultant-- Douglass & Associates. My relationship with Phil Douglass graduated from T.A. to associate, and while I suppose technically I still work with him-- though only vaguely these days-- I haven't done any hands-on work with Phil or with his consulting work in several years. My work with him as included hands-on work with churches, writing and editing, website development, marketing and promotion. (6 years)
  38. Computer/Productivity Consultant-- “independent.” During my transition from seminary into ordained ministry, I began working with several families on their Apple Macintosh computers, as well as with productivity and organization. I officially "retired" from this about two years ago, and I can't say I have missed it. (4 years)
  39. Pastor-- Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church. My first position as an ordained pastor, this was a great pleasure and a privilege to serve in. God showered us with many blessings during these years, and in His mercy enabled much fruit to bear from my ministry there. (4 years)
  40. Principal/Co-Director— Doulos Resources. Right around the time this list first appeared (in 2009), one of my best friends (who I worked with in #20, Richard Burguet— he was the pastor of Southeast Presbyterian) and I began a ministry to support the church through producing resources that were needful, and/or that might have difficulty finding their way to production otherwise. In this capacity, I've functioned as an editor, publisher, website developer, marketer, counselor, and a number of other "hats". (3+ years)
  41. Pastor-- Dove Mountain Church. Which brings us to the present. God continues to bless me with the service He allows of me in ministry, and I'm so thankful to be where I am, and serving in the role(s) I do. (6+ months and counting)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lent gives way to Easter

From Pastor Ed… (for Easter Sunday, 4/8/2012)

Theologian Vigen Guroian once described the season of Lent in terms of gardening. At the same time of year as Lent— late winter into early spring, after the thaw has begun but before new growth sets in earnestly— the work that a gardener does is difficult and not particularly pleasant: turning the earth, clearing out old weeds, breaking up hardened dirt, folding new, fertilized loam into the spent soil of the last growing season. The pleasure and delight of it, Guroian says, is not in the work of the season but in what it gives way to in the coming growth and harvest.

So too Lent: the work we are given to during the 40 days of Lent is not especially pleasing nor easy. Considering our sin, our need, our desperation; facing up to our selfishness and our tendency to seek after the pleasures of the moment instead of the blessings of enduring self-abasement; fasting of something beloved in order to more closely turn our love toward the Savior. The joy of Lent comes in its ending.

This has been a difficult Lent for me in some ways. My heart has not been wholly in the fasting that I have undertaken, and I've been tempted to abandon my fasting— a temptation that I have too easily given in to, justifying myself along the way: "it's not doing me any good," or, "I don't feel like fasting anymore," or, "I'm already giving up other things." Likewise, rather than considering my sin more fully, more deeply, my tendency has been to avoid considering it at all. As the 40 days of Lent is intended to parallel Jesus' 40 days of fasting and preparation in the desert, it seems like I've found the parallels in all the wrong places this year… plenty of desert-like dryness, and an abundance of temptation.

The end of Lent, therefore, is all the more welcome for me. Lent ends with Easter, as 40 days of fasting and preparation give way to eight weeks of feasting and celebration. Death to self— and also, as in my case, death by selfishness— is overcome by resurrection to new life in Christ. All that appears dark and insurmountable in the power and strength of ourselves succumbs to the light of redemption and the dawning of the hope of new day.

In all of my faltering and failure through Lent, my great hope is that it isn't my accomplishments but Christ's that account for my salvation. Though I am tempted and give into temptation, Christ was tempted in every way yet did not sin. While I am quick to embrace living for the immediate gratification of "now" our Lord both lived and died for the ultimate glorification of all of His people. Although I sometimes feel shrouded in a pall of death from my sin and shortcomings, Jesus Christ has overcome death and secured my promised resurrection. Hallelujah— Christ is risen indeed!

As I reach the end of this year's Lent and embrace the welcome warmth of this Easter, my prayer is that my eyes would be opened all the more to the glory of Christ's accomplishment on my behalf and yours. Just as two of His disciples walked along with Him, seeing and learning how all of the Scriptures taught of Him, may God grant us the blessing of opening His Word to us in fresh ways. And just as those disciples' eyes were opened when Jesus broke bread and gave it to them, and they saw Him for who He was and is, so also might we see Christ more clearly and fully through the bread and wine that He has blessed and given to us in the Sacrament.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Assurance and the Lord's Supper [repost]

From Pastor Ed… (from Sunday, 4/1) — slightly edited from a previous post.

___________________________________

In the previous installments about "preparing our hearts" for the Lord's Supper (considering "what it DOESN'T mean" and "what it DOES mean"), I looked at some biblical reasons why we should see this sacrament as the means of grace that it is (and also some Catechism questions that speak to the issue). In other words, why our "preparation" for Communion ought not become a means of works!

There is one lingering issue that I want to address regarding the Lord's Supper: the matter of assurance.

If the brunt of our preparation for Communion is focusing on Christ's work on our behalf— even in light of reflecting on our sin and want, and how desperately we need Him— then it is certainly possible that some who endeavor such preparation would occasionally (or even frequently) struggle with questions of assurance of their salvation.

Once again, our Westminster Larger Catechism is so helpful here. Here is question 172:

May one who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation, come to the Lord's Supper?
Answer: One who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, may have true interest in Christ, though he be not yet assured thereof; and in God's account has it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it, and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians) he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved; and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord's Supper, that he may be further strengthened.


I think when most American evangelicals consider the question, "may one who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation, come to the Lord's Supper?" the knee-jerk answer would be a resounding, "NO!" Again, I think this reflects misconceptions about what it means to be "prepared" to take the Supper, and about the Supper itself.

I love how the Westminster Divines correct this mistaken instinct. The bottom line? "He may and ought to come, that he may be further strengthened."

Let's consider two things about this: the reasons why he may and ought to come, and the hope for what the result of his coming would be.

First, why may he come at all (let alone ought to come)? The Catechism gives several reasons:
  • He may have true interest that he isn't yet assured of. Someone who lacks assurance needs to be reminded that their "interest" in Christ (not interest like a hobby or curiosity, but interest in the sense of our inheritance) is not based on their perceptions. No matter what one's sense of "feeling" close to God, assured of faith, etc., one whom Christ has claimed is claimed for good!
  • His own soul's inclinations may contradict his lack of assurance. The Divines point out that someone who is apprehensive about the fact that he isn't in Christ may, by nature of the apprehension, have evidence that he is! Likewise, the desires to be found in Him, and to turn from his sin, are both indicators that, according to God (though not necessarily according to the unassured), he does in fact have saving faith. Why? Because Scripture is clear that none of these come to a man (or woman) apart from the Holy Spirit, and that in fact we, when our souls are dead in our sin, seek out the opposite. The only reason for the inclinations mentioned here is that the Spirit has regenerated the soul of the unassured, has removed his heart of stone and given him a heart of flesh.
  • The Sacrament itself is appointed for such relief. There is a reason why we call it one of the "means of grace"— it is a means by which God communicates and affirms to us His grace. When a believer comes to the Sacrament, he/she may rarely wrestle with assurance or he/she may regularly doubt, but the Supper is itself a way that God ministers to Christians by affirming ("signifying and sealing" is the language the Westminster Divines used) to them that He has poured out His grace for their sins, and reconciled them to Himself. In it, He grants "relief to weak and doubting Christians… that they may be further strengthened."

This naturally leads us into the hope of what may result from the coming of the doubting Christian. What is that result? That they be affirmed in the "promises made," that they be "further strengthened," and that they be generally given greater assurance and hope in their own salvation. In other words, that where they doubt before, they have greater confidence after; where they are weaker in faith prior to coming to the Table, their faith will be stronger afterward.

There is that phrase in-between, that urges, "he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved." What does this mean? I think it generally points the doubting Christian back to what I have already discussed: that he/she consider the depth and breadth of their sin, and consider also the enormity of the Cross to cover their sin. After all, whether we are conscious or mindful of it or not, all of us are weak in our faith, and have cause to doubt our worthiness (or even to be certain of our unworthiness!)— but all of us likewise have great hope in the effective and finished work of our Savior, who leads us to deeper awareness of our atonement in Him.