If you’re around River much, you’re likely to hear us say that we’re Bible-based, Gospel-driven, and Kingdom-focused. That’s because these three descriptors are at the heart of who we believe God calls us to be and do.
We are Bible-based
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the God-breathed Word of God and the only rule for faith and life. We gladly affirm the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Holy Scripture. Because the Bible is God’s Word, we desire to be not just Bible-based but also Scripture-saturated: we want the Scriptures to ooze from everything we say and do. But knowing the Bible is not enough: the point of knowing the written word of God is to encounter the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. And that brings us to the Gospel.
We are Gospel-driven
The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God who became man. He lived a perfect life, the life we could not live because of sin. He died the death that we deserve by taking our sin upon Himself. He was then raised from the dead so that we too can experience new life. We believe that all we do and all that we are is shaped by this good news which Jesus called the Gospel. We earnestly desire that our worship and service as a church reflect the transforming power of the Gospel. Furthermore, we believe that the Gospel is not only for non-believers’ entrance into Christianity but also for believers’ growth in the Christian faith as well. For more on Gospel-driven sanctification, read the article by that same title by Jerry Bridges or Tim Keller’s insightful article on this subject, entitled The Centrality of the Gospel.
We are Kingdom-focused
We believe that the Kingdom of God is not only a future hope but is also a present reality. We believe that the ascension of Jesus Christ means that He is presently ruling and reigning from heaven, and therefore we are called upon to honor and obey Him in every area of our personal lives and to plant the banner of Christ’s Kingdom rule in every arena of human endeavor. At one and the same time this means that we are focused on taking the Gospel to every area of our lives but also to every nation and tongue and tribe of men on the earth.
Another way of stating these descriptors is to say that we are Biblical, confessional, and missional.
We affirm the Reformation principle, Sola Scriptura, —“the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written” (from the Evangelical Theological Society’s statement on Scripture). Thus we highly value expository preaching: preaching which goes verse by verse through an entire book of the Bible to expose the text in its context and let the Bible speak for itself because as one writer puts it, “Ultimately preaching accomplishes its spiritual purposes not because of the skills of the preacher, but because of the power of the Scripture proclaimed.”
But we’re also confessional which is another way of saying that we are Gospel-driven. We systematize what the Bible says and therefore guard what the Scripture teaches by our confession which is The Westminster Confession of Faith together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The overarching principle of the Westminster Confession is Covenant Theology, and the overarching idea of covenant theology is what you and I commonly call the Gospel. Even more specifically this means that we are Christ-centered and even more pointedly cross-centered. This means, among others things, that in our worship we seek to be Christ-exalting from beginning to end, drawing from liturgies both old and new.
We are Missional
The Gospel points us to the reality of the Kingdom of God, the cosmic redemption and eternal renewal of all things for which we together with all creation presently groan and wait. The Good News is such good news that we eagerly desire to take the Gospel to the nations, starting with our own neighborhoods. More than simply a duty, obeying the Great Commission is our delight. But also more than simply a spiritual reality, we are called to bring the Gospel to bear on all of life; we are called to bring all of life in line with the truth of the Gospel. No portion of life is excluded, not church, family, politics, business, art, education, journalism, thought, emotion, nor even what we call the natural world. This means that we do not promote separatism that creates firm distinctions between the sacred and the secular; nor do we promote a social gospel that simply attaches the name “Kingdom of God” to any humanitarian endeavor. Rather, we seek to be against the world for the sake of the world. As one writer puts it, we seek to be culturally engaged without being culturally absorbed.
But there are a few other phrases that describe us as well.
We are Evangelical
To say that we are evangelical means that we believe in what we call the Essentials. We joyfully affirm our unity with those from every tradition and denomination who hold to these fundamentals including those true believers in Christ who, for whatever reasons, find themselves members of denominations or churches with which we might have certain disagreements.
We are Evangelistic
This means we take seriously the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Without compromising the sovereignty of God, we affirm the responsibility of each person to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and our responsibility to extend the gospel invitation as a call to salvation to everyone who hears its message.
We are Reformed
The word “reformed” can be defined simply in two ways: 1) It is a reference to our historical link to the Reformation of the 16th century and intends to describe us as the heirs of tradition which comes from Luther, Calvin, Knox and other reformers. 2) The word “reformed” is used most commonly to refer to certain theological distinctives which have marked reformation believers, particularly those in the Calvinist tradition.
These distinctive can be summarized by our glad affirmation that the Bible alone is our rule for faith and life; that salvation is through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone; and that all things are for the glory of God alone.
We seek to hold to our reformed convictions humbly, recognizing the sincerity and earnestness of Godly men and women who have other positions.
We are Confessional
This means that we have a written confession of faith which we believe to be a good and accurate summary of the Bible’s teaching. Our confession consists of the Essentials of Our Faith, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechism. It is important to note that every church has a confession, formal or informal, even though some churches claim they have no confession but Christ or no creed but the Bible. Every church summarizes their convictions in some form to distinguish their members from those who do not believe in their distinctives.
We are Covenantal
To say we are covenantal means we believe that the unifying principle of the Scriptures is the one covenant of grace that God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and finally, and most importantly, in Jesus Christ. The covenant is a pledge or bond of loyalty which God made with his people through each of the above named people. The covenant is a relationship of loving loyalty that God has initiated with us as his people throughout history. To speak of the unity of the covenants means that there is one way and one way only to salvation in both Old and New Testaments—that is, by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This covenantal understanding of the Bible is in distinction from any system of organizing the Scriptures which would attribute differing ways of salvation to a succession of historical Biblical eras.
We are Presbyterian
This word refers to our form of governance. We believe the most clear Biblical pattern is for churches to be governed by elders (presbyters in Greek) who rule jointly in what are called church courts: sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly. Our pastor and representative elders get together three times a year to encourage one another, examine candidates for ministry, and coordinate our missionary and church planting efforts at presbytery meetings. River Community Church is a member of the Central South Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Related to our identity as a reformed body, we also acknowledge that being Presbyterian has a theological definition as well: we are firmly planted in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. We affirm two sacraments of the church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper, believing that baptism is for believers and their children and that the Lord Jesus is spiritually present at the celebration of Holy Communion.