The Consistent Core

earths inner coreA few days ago I had coffee with Rob Philips and his son David.  Rob was the pastor here at Mt. Pleasant from 1979-1992.  We had a wonderful three hour conversation about all manner of things.  We are different in some ways, he’s got 30 years on me, is an extreme extrovert (I’m definitely closer to the introvert end of the spectrum), and so on.  Yet we have an extraordinary number of things in common.  We went to the same seminary (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an evangelical bastion). We rabidly support the same college (Pitt Panthers) and professional teams (do I really need to say it?).  We both have four kids – two boys, two girls, all with biblical names (in one case the same name).  Mostly we have in common a deep love for Jesus Christ and for Mt. Pleasant, for the people and the ministry of this community of faith.  We were both ordained here and had all four of our children here.  Our conversation ranged far and wide over the dead and the living, the joys and sorrows, the glorious ways in which God moved in our midst, the endurance of his faithfulness.

I’ve often reflected on the things that make Mt. Pleasant so warm, so exciting, so effective.  So many churches I see and visit are dull and lifeless, leaderless, listless, lethargic.  Mt. Pleasant has a pulse, an energy, an enthusiasm.  There are a number of things that I could point to that contribute to this, phenomenal lay leadership for one.  But the thing that Rob and I share, and I believe have been a consistent part of our church’s ethos for decades, is a core commitment to the evangelical Christian faith.

Some folks may wonder what is meant by the word ‘evangelical.’  It is a term that has taken a beating in some quarters in recent years.  Some would simply equate the word with ‘religious right,’ assuming it has a political meaning.  Other misunderstandings are possible as well.  So I will define what I mean by the term.  The evangelical faith is one that is committed to:

The Authority of Scripture.  We believe the Bible is God’s Word.  There is a God who is there and he has chosen in his mercy to reveal himself to us.  The words of scripture are the very words of God.  The scriptures are reliable and they are trustworthy.  They are living and active.  The word of God changes lives, and we are committed to preach and teach it (Job 1!) and to hold to it unswervingly.

The Atoning Work of Jesus Christ.  The most important person to have ever lived or who will ever live is Jesus Christ, his incarnation, sinless life, atoning death, bodily resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven, and imminent return are absolutely everything.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one can come to the Father but by him.  There is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved.

A Commitment to Evangelism, Missions, Conversion.  Christ has died for our sins and is risen.  He has conquered sin and death.  There is the free offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who will repent and believe.  It is our privilege and responsibility to share this good news with those of every race, tribe, people, and nation.

An Emphasis on the Work of the Spirit.  The faith isn’t just believing a bunch of facts.  God is with us.  He is with us in the person of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God lives in us, He unites us, empowers us, gifts us, teaches us, convicts us.  Pentecost matters for how we live out the faith every day.

A True Ecumenism. Evangelicalism in this sense trumps the petty divisions of denominational affiliation and unites around the core of the faith that really matters (think Apostles’ Creed).  It is not that the other stuff isn’t important, it just isn’t important enough to get in the way of the weighty matters described above.

Together with this evangelical faith are a few Mt. Pleasant distinctives that support all that we do:

A Warm and Welcoming Community.  One of our most popular official concluding remarks, especially on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, is the simple admonition “Hug somebody.”  In the first century days it was a kiss of brotherly love; we go with a hug.  “Everyone is so friendly,” is not a strange comment to hear in these parts.

A Strong Emphasis on Grace.  Some evangelicals are known as judgmental for the failure to couple strength of conviction with a healthy balance of compassion and grace.  I don’t see that here.  I don’t see an unwillingness to forgive, or an elephant’s memory of the sins and missteps of others.  We know that God is a forgiving God, a gracious God, and we who have received that grace in the vertical plain must display that grace in the horizontal plain.

A Passion for Ministering to Children.  For many years Mt. Pleasant has seen its children’s ministries thrive.  Different leaders, different programs, different buildings, but the thing that has stayed the same is the commitment “This is for you and for your children!”  There is no task more urgent than passing the faith on to the next generation.  That has been our conviction here, and the prayerful commitment of this community (including its oldest members) has led to the successful sharing of Christ with each new generation.