Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA), a vibrant, multi-staffed, multigenerational congregation in beautiful, historic Williamsburg, Virginia, is seeking a new Youth Director to oversee our ministry to Middle School and High School students.
Our congregation of 300+ members is blessed to include young families, empty nesters, Undergrad & Grad students from College of William & Mary, active retirees, Internationals, and single young adults. Additionally, on any given Sunday it is common for us to have many visitors from out of town join us for worship.
Direct and coordinate ministry to students grade 6 – 12.
Build meaningful relationships across generations to encourage our students and their families in their faith.
Develop heartfelt followers of Jesus Christ, cultivating substantive Christ-centered faith, grace-shaped relationships with others, and gospel-driven service & mission to Greater Williamsburg and the World.
Evangelistic follow-up with students who visit Grace Covenant, and engagement with un-churched friends of students involved with Grace Covenant (when appropriate).
Coordinate & Recruit a team of volunteers to share in the ministry as Sunday School teachers and leaders, small group leaders, youth group leaders, mentors, interns, etc.
Grace Covenant has been partnering with RYM, and we expect to continue that partnership. Therefore candidates must be willing to learn and incorporate the RYM philosophy of ministry to his/her own philosophy of ministry. However, previous experience with RYM is not a pre-requisite.
Application Details & Instructions
Application Deadline: 8/1/23
Full Time Position: Salary + Full Medical & Dental Benefits
Position Start: TBD
Direct Report: Lead Pastor
Send Resume, including a short personal testimony to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Proverbs 27.17 says: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
As a way to connect men, and to encourage men to sharpen one another, Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry is renewing an initiative we first launchehd last year called SIP Groups. The acronym SIP stands for Scripture, Invitation, and Prayer.
SIP Groups are simple. Each group will consists of 5 or 7 men. Each participant commits to take one day each week to send a simple group text, with a verse or short Bible passage, and a brief prayer related to the passage.
Here are a few examples:
1 Timothy 1.8-9
“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,…”
Thank you Father for waking us this morning and thank you for your word and law for without we would just be lost. Help those that are lost like we have been and allow us to be a blessing in others lives bless us with a wonderful holiday season and thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to die for our sins even though we did and do not deserve it bless and protect our families in Jesus mighty name we pray amen!!!
Psalms ch 40 v 16
“Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; Let those who love Your salvation say continually, The lord be magnified!”
Dear Heavenly Father! We thank you for this day, for the blessings you will bestow upon us. Thank you for your love that shines upon us in the darkest of times, we know you are with us. With your hand reaching down to us, helping us in our troubling times!! Please forgive us of our sins, let us have a heart of gratitude putting you first in our lives!! For its in your great name we pray!
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Lord, God Almighty, Grant that we may be given even a glimpse of your glory; let us behold your splendor, so we would be reminded that NOTHING compares with you. We thank you that you have sent your son, Jesus, in whom and by whom we see you. Thank you that in Him we will dwell in your presence forever. ~ Amen
Occasionally someone may add a comment about the verse before offering the prayer.
Good morning SIP Family!!!
Colossians ch 3 v 16
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God!!
Let us lift each other up, encourage each other and pray for each other. To serve God and each other with love!!
Our great and glorious Father!! Thank you for this day you have given us! Thank you for the love you have shown us. Dear Father, help us today to be more Christ like, to serve each other. Let your spirit be our guide, to glorify your Name in we do. It is in your great name we pray !! Amen!!
No matter what, the text message is short and simple. But, it is amazing how encouraging you will find it to be.
Those who are the recipients of these messages often reply with a word of thanks, or with some comment about how the verse or prayer has encouraged them on that day; or with a simple thumbs-up emoji. In this way, SIP Group participans are connecting and mutually affirming.
As a slight change, Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry is encouraging SIP Groups to run throughout the Summer – beginning no later than Memorial Day (May 29) though August, rather than just the 40 Days that we have done in the past.
To sign up requires only two things:
We need your name
We need your cell phone number for the group texts.
Nominations of new candidates for the offices of Elder and Deacon will be opened on March 1 and received through Easter Sunday, April 9. All nominations will be received digitally. A link at the bottom of this page will take you to the nomination form. Simply use the drop box to select the office for which you would like to nominate a candidate, fill the designated blanks with the name of the candidate you want to nominate, provide your name and email, and click submit.
We invite all members of Grace Covenant to submit nominations for offices of Elder and Deacon. But before making any nominations, we ask that you please read through the information on this page.
Importance of Electing Qualified Officers
The Apostle Paul teaches us that the desire to serve as an officer in the church is a worthy ambition. He heartily endorses it. He then goes on in 1 Timothy 3 to explain the demanding requirements needed to be an Elder or Deacon in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s sort of a good news-bad news approach. The good news is that the ambition to spiritual leadership is a worthy one. The bad news (which, of course is not really bad, only demanding) is that it is not for everyone who desires it. Those who aspire to office in the church must meet the highest standards, and must be examined and tested.
The reason for such high standards for Elders and Deacons, Paul says, is that the church is the very “household of God…the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) Paul had – and so should we have – an exalted view, and a vision for the church as the people of God (1 Peter 2:10), the new Israel of God (Galatians 6:16, 1 Peter 2:9), the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), and the pillar and foundation of the great truths of the gospel, (1 Timothy 3:15) Therefore, it’s imperative that those who lead the people of God have the high qualifications listed by Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus.
Finally, Jesus entrusted the church with the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19), meaning that by the preaching of the word and the exercise of church discipline, the church leadership has the authority to receive people into the visible kingdom of God, as well as put people outside the visible kingdom, if necessary. Hence, spiritually wise, discerning men are needed for this important responsibility.
Officer election is not to be taken lightly.
Priorities & Questions for Evaluating Officer Candidates
All church officer candidates ought to be qualified, possessing both abilities pertaining to the respective office and knowledge of Biblical doctrines, BUT these are not the only essential qualification factors. Potential church officers ought to be evaluated through the lenses of the following attributes before being nominated. While all of the attributes listed are essential, they are listed below in their order of importance:
Does the candidate exhibit the character required for the respective office?
Does the candidate live a life that is becoming of a follower of Jesus Christ?
Does the candidate exhibit a clear understanding of the Gospel?
Does the candidate hold clear doctrinal, ethical, and moral convictions that are in-line with the standards of the Presbyterian Church in America?
Does the candidates life reflect these convictions?
Does the candidate care about others?
If the candidate is married, how does he treat his wife? What is his relationship with his children like?
Have you experienced or witnessed the candidate offering encouragement or selfless service to others?
Does the candidate possess the necessary gifts and talents required to effectively function in this office?
Is the officer candidate in line with the values of this particular church?
Does the officer candidate have a harmonious relationship with the other church officers?
Does the officer canidate have an axe to grind with another church officer, or with one of the pastors or church staff?
Does the officer candidate have a personal agenda, whether doctrinal, social, or political issue?
Defining the Church Offices
In the New Testament, our Lord at first collected His people out of different nations, and united them to the household of faith by the ministry of extraordinary officers, called Apostles, who received extraordinary gifts of the Spirit and who were agents by whom God completed His revelation to His Church. Apostles and gifts related to new revelation have no successors since God completed His revelation at the conclusion of the Apostolic Age.
The ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the Church are Elders and Deacons.
Within the class of Elder are two orders: Teaching Elders, often called “Pastors”, and Ruling Elders, who are not to be viewed as less than “pastoral” and have no lesser authority than Teaching Elders.
The Elders – both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders – jointly share the government and spiritual oversight of the Church. It the responsibility of the Elders to jointly watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, so that no corruption of doctrine or compromise of morals are able to take root. The Elders must take oversight and exercise government and discipline of the particular congregation, but also share in the cultivation of the Church more broadly through participation in the regional Presbytery and nationally as part of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
The office of Deacon is not one of rule, but rather of service both to the physical and spiritual needs of the people. This office is one of sympathy and service, after the example of the Lord Jesus; it expresses also the communion of saints, especially in their helping one another in time of need. To the office of Deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment. In the discharge of their duties the Deacons are under the supervision and authority of the Session (the Presbyterian term for a Council of Elders).
No one who holds office in the Church ought to usurp authority, or receive any official titles of spiritual preeminence, except such as are expressed in the Scriptures.
Sometimes there is confusion about what qualities and qualifications are required of those who will serve in the offices of Elder and Deacon. What is the difference between Elders and Deacons? And, though there are many qualities that are shared by both Deacons and Elders, there are some qualifications unique to each office. The video below offers an excellent brief explanation of the differences:
The qualifications for Elder and Deacon are listed by the Apostles Paul & Peter in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. Please read through these passages prayerfully and carefully before submitting your nominations. Generally, and briefly, they are as follows:
The Qualifications for Elder are:
*Above Reproach. Is the candidate living in such a way that no one can point a finger at him for ungodly habits or actions? This is first and foremost, and the following characteristics simply amplify this quality.
*Husband of One Wife. Literally, this means a “one-womaned man.” Is the candidate, if married, a loving and faithful husband; or, if single, is he above reproach in his relationships with women? The main issue here is one of purity in thought, word, and deed, toward women, and faithfulness to one’s wife.
*Temperate & Self Controlled. Is the candidate self-control-led in all areas of his life? Does he over-indulge himself in any areas?
*Prudent. Is the candidate a good thinker, reasonable, wise?
*Respectable. Is the candidate respected by his peers, and is he a good model of Christianity for others?
*Hospitable. Literally means “loving strangers.” Does he meet people well, and is his home open to minister to Christians, as well as non-Christians?
*Able to Teach. This is not the gift of teaching, per se, but an ability to communicate Biblical truth and counsel to groups or individuals.
*Not Addicted to Alcohol. Does he have any habits he cannot control, particularly in the area of food or drink?
*Not Quarelsome. Is he prone to arguments with family or friends?
*Gentle & Uncontentious. The antithesis of quarrelsome, having an evenness of temper, and a reasonable, teachable spirit.
*Free from the Love of money. Is the accumulation of material wealth a primary motivation and object of concern for this candidate?
*Manage Household Well. Much could be said here, but basically this deals with the man’s ability to lead his family, to teach his children the truths of Scripture, and to have the respect of both wife and children.
*Not a New Convert. Paul says new believers in leadership are especially prone to attacks and resultant harm or scandal.
*Good Reputation Outside the Church. Does the candidate have a good reputation at his place of employment, in his neighborhood, and at his place of recreation?
The Qualifications for Deacon are:
(Some are the qualifications for Deacons are tha same as for Elder. This list below includes those qualities not listed under qualifications for an elder.)
*Dignity & Worthy of Respect. Closely related to the characteristic of being “above reproach,” and of a “good reputation.” Is the candidate a man who is respected for his devotion to the Lord?
*Sincere. Is the candidate honest, or does he tend to say one thing and mean another? Is he given to over exaggeration in order to impress others?
*Love What is Good. Does the candidate look for, and expect, the best in other people? Are his values consistent with Biblical values?
*Hold to the Deep Truths of the Faith with Clear Conscience. While Deacons are not required to be “able to teach”, they must know what they believe, and hold firmly to it. Much of their ministry will be effected by their beliefs.
Note: The major difference in qualifications for elder and deacon is NOT of character or of spiritual maturity, but essentially only in gifting and calling. BOTH Elders & must demonstrate consistently high standards of character and godliness. While both Deacons & Elders must “hold to the truths of the faith with a clear conscience”, Elders must also demonstrate a clear understanding of the doctrines of our faith with an ability to teach.
Preparation: Church members should prayerfully read through the following passages: 1 Timothy 3.1-13, Titus 1.5-9, and 1 Peter 5.1-5 before submitting a nomination.
Nomination. An officer must be nominated by those who are members in good standing of Grace Covenant. These people should have some relationship with the candidate, having been ministered to by the candidate in some way, e.g., through friendship, small group involvement, committee work, etc…
Initial Screening. The Elders of the church have the responsibility of evaluating all nominees initially, for their fitness for service.
Interview. Each nominee is interviewed by the Session (Elders) in the areas of Biblical qualifications and call to the office.
Training. Nominees have the right to refuse the nomination, but should they accept it, they will begin an officer training program led by the Pastor(s). This program involves training the nominees in the areas of personal piety (spiritual formation), sound theology, church government, philosophy of gospel-centered ministry, and practical ministry (respective to each office).
–Examination. After the officer training has been completed, the nominee still has the right to refuse the nomination. Should he wish to proceed, he is then tested by written and oral examination conducted by the Pastor and Session.
–Election. If the nominees are approved, their names go the congregation for election. A simple majority vote of a quorum of members present at a congregational meeting is needed to elect the nominees.
The nomination and election of qualified church officers is vital to the health of any church. It is not a matter to be taken lightly. But it is the privilege given to church members to select and to elect those who will guide and serve their church.
A couple of Notes:
ALL candidates for church offices must be active members of Grace Covenant for at least one year prior being nominated.
Please DO NOT speak with the candidate about your nomination. Even if there is a question regarding length of time of church membership. We request that you leave that to the Session as part of their responsibility of initial screening of candidates in this nomination process.
Grace Covenant Church members may submit more than one candidate for nomination to each office.
We are about to embark on another week of hosting our neighbors-in-need, through our partnership with Community of Faith Mission (COFM). COFM will arrive following our morning worship service on Sunday, February 5, and set up will take place upon their arrival (or after the service). Guests will arrive in the evening. Each day, between Sunday February 5 and Saturday February 11, guests will check in at church at dinnertime, share a meal, and settle in for the evening. Each morning our guests will be helped to their destinations for that day. Volunteers are essential, not only to serve, but to connect with these neighbors in a personal way. If you have not yet signed up, and you are willing, please contact Peter McHenry, who is coordinating Shelter Week for Grace Covenant. Regardless of your skill level, or lack of skills, your presence is powerful and important.
As I write, several men from our church are participating in a statewide Men’s Retreat at Rockbridge… In coming weeks we will be providing info about some fun opportiunities for children and families, as well as activities for our middle school and high school students…
But today I want to take a moment to touch on two particular items:
Worship @ Grace Covenant
First, having been monitoring attendance at our weekly worship services, both throughout the Fall and now into the New Year, the Elders have made the decison that it is time for the church to resume our regualr 2-service weekly schedule. We will not jump right into it, but we are preparing to return to our regular 2-service schedule the first Sunday in March, or Sunday March 5. Beginning that Sunday, worship will again be offered at 8:30 and 11am, with Education Hour in-between, at 10am.
No doubt, some may wonder: “Why this change?” We know that many have enjoyed the energy of the single-service, as well as the opportunity to see some folks that you may not see as often when we are in 2-services. Most of our Elders have enjoyed those aspects of the single service as well. But there are practical reasons why we feel it is time to return to two services.
First, the singe-service schedule has always been intended to be a temporary thing. Coming out of COVID, and church attendance down (not just at Grace Covenant, but all across the country) we were able to fit into one service; and with all of the families that are new to Grace Covenant, we wanted to provide an opportunity for people to connect. As Fall progressed, into Advent, and now into the New Year, our Sunday attendance continues to grow – both with long-time members returning more frequently and new families looking to become part of Grace Covenant.
As attendance has increased, finding seats has been a bit more challenging at times. Are there still seats available in our sanctuary each week? Most Sundays, yes. But as attendance began to rise, I started to stand in the back of the sanctuary as the services were beginning. What I noticed was that many families, if they are of more than 2 or 3, are often forced to split up to find seats. From a church growth standpoint, this is a good problem. But it is not ideal for families. Related to that, I have done some research about church health trends in a Post-COVID world. I won’t go into all the (boring) details, but for the sake of understanding I will share one point. Church health experts, pre-COVID, found as a general rule that when a church reached 80% of seating capacity, it eventually had a negative effect on guests, including those looking for a church. The more rural an area, the lower the percentage for comfortable seating. It is widely called the 80% Rule (though it is more of a principle than a rule). Studies are showing that Post-COVID, what was once the 80% Rule, is now more like the 60% Rule (or 65% among certain demographics). People have become more conscious about space. We see it all around – people still stand several feet apart in grocery store lines, when just a few years ago people stood much closer together. While we have not consistently surpasseed 80% capacity, we are almost always well above the 60% capacity.
Now, if this was only anecdotal sociological mumbo-jumbo, we likely would not have made the change at this time. Not on that basis alone. But it is not just about data. We have been made aware of a number of long-time, and much-loved, church members who are uncomfortable in the more crowded space. Though some of them are attending in-person, at times, their presence is not without some personal angst about potential health risks. We are also aware of others who just don’t feel it is wise, for them personally, to return to in-person services until we resume offering 2-services. It is, in no small part, out of love for them, as well as our desire to make room for others the Lord is bringing to Grace Covenant, that we have made the decision to return to the regular 2-service schedule.
In coming weeks we will be offering more details, but we plan to ease into the 2-service schedule. One thing of note is that, for the month of March, we will plan for Children’s Church, Kid’s Quest (Catechism), and likely even nursery, to be offered during the 8:30 service only. Churches around the country have been slow to recoup volunteers for ministry. Though thankful for the many of you who do volunteer, Grace Covenant has not been imune to this challenge. We see it most evident in our need for nursery and children’s ministry volunteers. Our hope – and even expectation – is that we will see the growth in the number of volunteers steadily increase to enable us to provide the full range of children’s minstries equally at both services.
NOTE: If you would be interested in helping with the nursery from time to time, or working with the children in some capacity, please contact Mary Slade, Nursery Coordinator, or Nathan Luzwick, Children’s Ministry Director. Nathan and Mary would be delighted to hear from you, and they will happily help you get plugged in to serve our Mission to the Next Generation. And if you have questions about resuming our 2-service schedule, please speak with any of our Elders.
New Sermon Series
Ths second thing I want to touch on is our upcoming sermon series. We have now come to the end of our study of the Book of Hebrews. This coming Sunday we will focus on preparing ourselves to come to the table. But beginning Sunday February 12, we will begin a study of the Book of Jonah. The series will be titled In the Wake of Relentless Grace. As always, we will dig into the bible text each week. In this series, however, we will camp in some of the same verses for multiple weeks, looking at the passages from different angles, which will reveal to us that there is much more to Jonah than just the familiar Fish Story. As one commentator notes:
“The moralistic way this story is often told, emphasizing Jonah’s disobedience and God’s surreal punishment, can mask some of the other important dimensions of the story.”
My goal will be to uncover at least some of those oft neglected dimensions. As we do, we will learn not only more about this runaway Prophet, we will also learn more about God and his grace – AND, we will discover some important things about ourselves in the process.
As we have done in the past, we will provide some resources that can help deepen our understanding and appreciation of God’s Word. Let me start today by sharing a video overview of Jonah produced by the Bible Project:
This video does a good job of providing an in-depth overview, and it touches upon some of the themes in the Book of Jonah. That said, the themes in Jonah – including some we will explore – are far from being exhausted in this video. As we study this book together, throughout the Winter and Spring, I hope we will all be reminded that “Jonah is NOT just for kids!” (To borrow a phrase from an old cereal commercial.)
That’s all for now. I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday. And just as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, so I say to you: “I do not cease to give thanks to God for you, remembering you always in my prayers…” (Ephesians 1.16)
Grace Covenant is part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a denomination birthed in 1973 with firm commitment to the mission statement: “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission”
In 2023 the PCA celebrates 50 years of fruitful ministry. As part of the preparation for celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the PCA a number of resources are being developed – many of which will be of interest to a wide array of church members. To learn about some of these resources, check out this message from PCA Stated Clerk, Bryan Chapell:
Here is the link Dr. Chapell references in his video: PCA50
What fewer are likely aware is that there is a branch of RUF that works specifically with International Students who are studying in the U.S. – RUF-I, or RUF International. International students often represent the best and the brightest from their respective countries. Many of them will return to their homelands and become significant leaders – including some places where missionaries are not allowed. International students also have unique needs. So RUF-I seeks to come alongside these students, to provide a safe and welcoming place, and to love them and share the love of Jesus with them. While there are only a fraction of RUF-I campus ministries as compared with traditional RUF, one campus with RUF-I is George Mason University, a large Virginia state college.
Here’s why we are writing this note: We received notice a few weeks ago that an administrative glitch had occurred, and support from Grace Covenant designated for Ben Robertson accidentally was placed in the account of RUF-I staffer Janelle Grove, who serves RUF-I @ George Mason. Janelle was effusively thankful and grateful – and she expressed it not only to us at Grace Covenant, but to many of her supporters. Apparently Janelle was a bit short in her support, and had recently asked prayer supporters to pray that she raised the needed additional funds – about half of which seemed to come out of the blue, unsolicited, from a church where she had no personal connection – Grace Covenant. Unfortunately for Janelle, those funds needed to revert to the campus minister for whom they were designated.
Our missions committee leaders and our Elders all felt awful for Janelle (- though Janelle took the news very graciously). So we had a thought: Though our Missions Committee has no immediate plans to pick up regular support for Janelle (though her ministry is certainly worthy), and the the committee has either already designated funds or already has preliminary plans for the funds which have been entrusted to them, what if we made this situation known to you, the Grace Covenant family? What if some, in the spirit of Christmas, and out of a commitment to see the gospel reach the Nations, might feel led to offer one-time gifts to support Janelle and her ministry? Afterall, she serves a worthy mission, at one of our state universities… Perhaps the glitch could prove providential. Perhaps at least part of the gift Janelle briefly thought had been given might be recouped.
So we come to you, with just a suggestion. If you would feel led to offer a gift to Janelle’s ministry, we want to encourage you to do so. Even if it is only a small amount, no doubt Janelle will be encouraged, and the seed of the gospel will be shared with the International Students the Lord brings into her relational sphere this school year. To learn more about Janelle, click the RUF-I @ George Mason link, and scroll down to her bio. In her bio you will also find Janelle’s email, and a secure link through which you can offer your gits. For those who would prefer, you can instead make a gift to Janelle though Grace Covenant’s Missions Committee. Just make sure you clearly designate the funds to “GCPC Missions” and “For Janelle Grove”.
The holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving gatherings on Thursday. Advent begins on Sunday. Christmas just around the corner. For many this is “the most wonderful time of the year”! But the holiday season also begins the twilight of the calendar year. So I want to take a moment to touch on a a few communication points and then highlight some of the upcoming Grace Covenant holiday traditions.
First, as the years end is drawing near, I want to again thank the Grace Covenant family for your generosity to our ministries and mission in 2022. Your gifts to our Missions and Mercy funds have been extraordinary throughout the year, allowing both our Missions Committee and our Deacons to be able to bless and support both our ministry partners and our neighbors in need. While we are thankful that those essential ministries have been well fortified throughout the year, at this point it does project that our general fund will likely end 2022 with a deficit. Even if this projection should prove to become the reality, it does not diminish our thankfulness for your generosities, nor doubting God’s providence. Our Elders simply wanted me to make you aware to invite you to join us in prayer and as information to be considered as you make any year end giving decisions.
Second, the Session (i.e. Council of Elders) has asked me to make you aware of a change that has taken place in our leadership. Ruling Elder Mark Begly, who has been on an extended sabbatical from the Session, has informed us that he and Connie feel they are being led in a new direction, which includes sensing a call to begin worshipping with a different church. We continue to love the Beglys, and we continue to pray for them in this period of transition. Mark and Connie have expressed their continued love for their many friends at Grace Covenant, and we expect that many of those friendships will continue. If you have any questions, feel free to speak with any Elder active on Session.
And finally, we have a number of exciting opportunities and events coming up during this holiday season:
On Sunday we begin recognizing the Season of Advent with the lighting of the Advent Wreath. Also during this Advent season, our choirs – Adult and Children’s – will sing in our services.
Decorating for the season will take place on Monday November 28 at 6:30pm. You are invited to help set up the Christmas trees, poinsettias, etc. The more hands the more fun! Not only do the decorations serve as a visible sign of the season, participating in the decorating is a great way to connect with others and make some new friends. Children are welcome to help. If you have questions, please contact Diane Britton.
On Saturday evening, December 10, Jack & Susan Tuttle are opening their home for Grand Illumination. For those who are newer to Grace Covenant, the Tuttles have been hosting a Grace Covenant Grand Illumination event for a number of years. Put on hiatus for a few years, due to COVID, we are excited that we can again gather this year. Everyone – singles, families, friends, etc. – are invited to enjoy the Tuttles’ hospitality, and partake of wonderful assortment of pot-luck finger-food dishes, and then walk together to a prime spot in Colonial Williamsburg to view the fireworks. So mark your calendars and join us for Grand Illumination.
Our annual Candlelight Christmas Eve service will be held on December 24. And this year Christmas Day is on a Sunday. For those who may wonder, Yes, we will hold service as usual on Christmas morning!
For details and more events, please check out Grace Notes.
Reformed theology gets its name from the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, with its distinct theological emphases, but it is theology solidly based on the Bible itself. Believers in the reformed tradition regard highly the specific contributions of such people as Martin Luther, John Knox, and particularly John Calvin, but they also find their strong distinctives in the giants of the faith before them, such as Anselm and Augustine, and ultimately in the letters of Paul and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Reformed Christians hold to the doctrines characteristic of all Christians, including the Trinity, the true deity and true humanity of Jesus Christ, the necessity of Jesus’ atonement for sin, the church as a divinely ordained institution, the inspiration of the Bible, the requirement that Christians live moral lives, and the resurrection of the body. They hold other doctrines in common with evangelical Christians, such as justification by faith alone, the need for the new birth, the personal and visible return of Jesus Christ, and the Great Commission. What, then, is distinctive about reformed theology
1. The Doctrine of Scripture.
The reformed commitment to Scripture stresses the Bible’s inspiration, authority, and sufficiency. Since the Bible is the Word of God and so has the authority of God Himself, reformed people affirm that this authority is superior to that of all governments and all church hierarchies. This conviction has given reformed believers the courage to stand against tyranny and has made reformed theology a revolutionary force in society. The sufficiency of Scripture means that it does not need to be supplemented by new or ongoing special revelation. The Bible is the entirely sufficient guide for what we are to believe and how we are to live as Christians.
The Reformers, and particularly John Calvin, stressed the way the objective, written Word and the inner, supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit work together, the Holy Spirit illuminating the Word to God’s people. The Word without the illumination of the Holy Spirit remains a closed book. The supposed leading of the Spirit without the Word leads to errors and excess. The Reformers also insisted upon the believers’ right to study the Scripture for themselves. Though not denying the value of trained teachers, they understood that the clarity of Scripture on matters essential for salvation makes the Bible the property of every believer. With this right of access always comes the responsibility of careful and accurate interpretation
2. The Sovereignty of God.
For most reformed people the chief and most distinctive article of the creed is God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty means rule, and the sovereignty of God means that God rules over His creation with absolute power and authority. He determines what is going to happen, and it does happen. God is not alarmed, frustrated, or defeated by circumstances, by sin, or by the rebellion of His creatures.
3. The Doctrines of Grace.
Reformed theology emphasizes the doctrines of grace, best known by the acronym TULIP, though this does not correspond to the best possible names for the five doctrines.
Tstands for total depravity.
This does not mean that all persons are as bad as they could possibly be. It means rather that all human beings are affected by sin in every area of thought and conduct so that nothing that comes out of anyone apart from the regenerating grace of God can please God. As far as our relationships to God are concerned, we are all so ruined by sin that no one can properly understand either God or God’s ways. Nor do we seek God, unless He is first at work within us to lead us to do so
Ustands for unconditional election.
An emphasis on election bothers many people, but the problem they feel is not actually with election; it is with depravity. If sinners are as helpless in their depravity as the Bible says they are, unable to know and unwilling to seek God, then the only way they could possibly be saved is for God to take the initiative to change and save them. This is what election means. It is God choosing to save those who, apart from His sovereign choice and subsequent action, certainly would perish.
Lstands for limited atonement.
The name is potentially misleading, for it seems to suggest that reformed people want somehow to restrict the value of Christ’s death. This is not the case. The value of Jesus’ death is infinite. The question rather is what is the purpose of Christ’s death, and what He accomplished in it. Did Christ intend to make salvation no more than possible? Or did He actually save those for whom He died? Reformed theology stresses that Jesus actually atoned for the sins of those the Father had chosen. He actually propitiated the wrath of God toward His people by taking their judgment upon Himself, actually redeemed them, and actually reconciled those specific persons to God. A better name for “limited” atonement would be “particular” or “specific” redemption.
Istands for irresistible grace.
Left to ourselves we resist the grace of God. But when God works in our hearts, regenerating us and creating a renewed will within, then what was undesirable before becomes highly desirable, and we run to Jesus just as previously we ran away from Him. Fallen sinners do resist God’s grace, but His regenerating grace is effectual. It overcomes sin and accomplishes God’s purpose.
Pstands for perseverance of the saints.
A better name might be “the perseverance of God with the saints,” but both ideas are actually involved. God perseveres with us, keeping us from falling away, as we would certainly do if He were not with us. But because He perseveres we also persevere. In fact, perseverance is the ultimate proof of election. We persevere because God preserves us from full and final falling away from Him.
4. The Cultural Mandate.
Reformed theology also emphasizes the cultural mandate, or the obligation of Christians to live actively in society and work for the transformation of the world and its cultures. Reformed people have had various views in this area, depending on the extent to which they believe such a transformation possible But on the whole they agree on two things. First we are called to be in the world and not to withdraw from it. This sets reformed believers apart from monasticism. Second, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. But the chief needs of people are still spiritual, and social work is no adequate substitute for evangelism. In fact, efforts to help people will only be truly effective as their hearts and minds are changed by the gospel. This sets reformed believers apart from, mere humanitarianism. It has been objected to reformed theology that t anyone who believes along reformed lines will lose · all motivation for evangelism. “If God is going to do the work, why should I bother?” But it does not work that way. It is because God does the work that we can be bold to join Him in it, as He commands us to do. We do it joyfully, knowing that our efforts will never be in vain.
[excerpted from The Presbyterian Journal, 18.39 (27 January 1960): 5-7.]
It is frequently pointed out that the word “Presbyterian” refers to the Eldership and that Presbyterianism, as such, is a form of church government. But Presbyterianism is not only a form of government in the Church. It is also a well defined system of beliefs or of doctrine. In the exaltation and interpretation of the Bible the Reformation reached its zenith in the teachings and writings of John Calvin. Thus Presbyterianism, following his interpretation of the Bible, is known as Calvinism. More specifically, the Calvinism of Presbyterians is based on the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, documents which were written nearly a hundred years after Calvin died.
Presbyterians share with other evangelical churches many basic beliefs. Presbyterians also recognize that earnest Christians may follow other interpretations of the Bible in non-essential matters. But Presbyterians believe that in the Reformed system (another word for Calvinism) the teachings of the Bible are most fully and most accurately set forth. Every Presbyterian officer and minister takes a vow that he believes the Reformed faith to be that system of doctrine which the Bible teaches. Every Presbyterian officer and minister in the more conservative Presbyterian churches, moreover, also vows that he will take steps to remove himself from his position should he ever find that his beliefs have taken another direction.
Now the strength of Presbyterianism lies in its central loyalty to the Scriptures. These churches have always insisted that only in the Bible may we find what we must believe about God, His works and His ways. Only the Bible is a rule of faith and life free from error–“our infallible rule of faith and practice.” We believe that Presbyterianism agrees with what the Scriptures teach and that it contains nothing contrary to what the Scriptures teach.
As a system of doctrine, all Presbyterian beliefs are determined by a basic thought about God: that He is sovereign in all things. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God teaches that God governs His creation, His creatures and all their actions. If loyalty to the Bible is the great strength of Presbyterianism, its belief in the sovereignty of God is its very life.
By this doctrine, Presbyterians mean to say that who God is provides the key to human experience, not what man does. And what God works provides the key to salvation, not what man works. When we think of faith, we think first of God.
When we think of the effects of faith we think first of God. Even when we think of the ordinary events in the lives of every man we think first of God.
Presbyterians believe that everything which happens takes place according to the will of God and can be fully understood only in the will of God. Nothing can come to any man that He does not allow for His own purposes and glory. He overrules the actions of evil men and brings their evil to naught. He works all things after the counsel of His own will and turns all thing–even apparent evil–to ultimate good in the lives of those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose.
Man’s reason for living is to glorify God by doing His will and to enjoy Him forever in the practice of life’s highest privilege which is to serve the sovereign God who created him and gives him breath.
Presbyterians believe that as the result of Adam’s sin all men are sinners; that sin is a stain upon us from our birth so that if left to the natural inclinations of our wills our lives would inevitably turn to evil.
In the view of Presbyterians human nature is not neutral: it is not free to move upward or downward depending on circumstance, environment or education. Neither is human nature good–capable of infinite development in goodness, needing only to be left alone or “brought out” to achieve perfection. Human nature is rather sinful and “inclined to evil as the sparks fly upward.”
We see undesirable behavior and sinful tendencies in the smallest infant and we observe that without discipline and restraint human beings inevitably live selfishly. This view of human nature Presbyterians describe by the term “original sin” because human imperfection seems to be both innate and instinctive. This imperfection (sin) taints every facet of our personalities. Consequently the description of original sin to which Presbyterians subscribe is summarized in the doctrine of “Total Depravity.” Mankind, we say, is inevitably (originally) and altogether (totally) marked by sin on account of the Fall.
The doctrine of “Total Depravity” also suggests man’s helplessness. Human beings are not only sinful, they are also helplessly sinful. We are spiritually dead in our sins, bound under the guilt and penalty of sin and unable to do anything to please God. None of our works are pure and therefore pleasing to God. All our righteousness is as filthy rags. We do not even have it in us to turn to Him that we may be cleansed and healed.
Presbyterians believe that God so loved us–while we were dead in trespasses and sins–that He sent forth His only begotten Son to redeem us.
The Lord Jesus Christ, pre-existent with the Father, by Whom He created the worlds, came to earth by being born of the virgin Mary. He, the Eternal Son, took upon Himself our nature, lived a sinless life as a man and died on the cross in a sacrifice which somehow paid the price of our redemption from sin–we know not how but we believe it. In a victory over death and the grave our Lord rose from the dead and returned to the Father from Whom He sent the Holy Spirit to apply to those who would believe the effects of His work.
In the gift of the Holy Spirit–by grace through faith–the originally sinful nature of man is transfigured to become godly and possessed of the capacity to be God-like. This “new life” begins now in the hearts of those who have been justified by grace through faith and received the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. It continues into and through eternity.
In keeping with the doctrine of sovereignty, under which God is seen to determine all things, Presbyterians believe that the knowledge of Christ and the acceptance of Christ which belong to salvation also come from God. We are saved by faith alone and this faith itself is a gift of God.
Our personal redemption is not due to any goodness of our own for we have none; neither is it earned by our good works, for sinners cannot accumulate “credit” leading to redemption. We find Christ because He finds us. We love Him because He first loved us. We become His because He chooses us, calling us and sanctifying us after He justifies us.
Presbyterians do not pretend to understand the great truth underlying the election of God. They simply know that they did not seek God until He enlightened their hearts; they did not believe until He gave them faith; they did not come until they felt themselves moved. The mysteries of His will we cannot fathom, but we know that had it not been for Him we would not be where we are.
Because salvation is clearly not given to every man (although we know not why) Presbyterians therefore believe in reprobation, or the eternally lost condition of those not elect.
The doctrine of election is dear to Presbyterians because, on the one hand, it pays homage to the sovereignty of God in all human affairs and, on the other, because it gives a certainty and an assurance to those whose trust in the Lord Jesus Christ that no dependence on themselves can give. The effect of such a faith is the assurance that all things work together for good to them who “…are the called according to His purpose,” that nothing in this life or in the life to come can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
This assurance means, to the believer, that he can go forward boldly into whatever path he feels led because he knows that it is God who goes before. It further means that he is eternally secure in the love of God because he has been sealed–not of himself–by the Holy Spirit until the final day of fulfillment.
Presbyterians believe that as the election of God calIs men to redemption in Jesus Christ so it calls them to newness of life in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit not only makes a child of sin to become a child of God, He also leads the new believer into a new way of life which is in conformity to the will of God; into holiness of life in sanctification.
We believe that every Christian will show forth in his life the fruits of a living faith; that he will grow in spiritual maturity and in patterns of living which will increasingly conform to the will of God for him. We believe that love, joy, peace and all the other characteristics of godliness will necessarily become evident in this life as the Holy Spirit increasingly takes charge; that he will more and more “live unto righteousness” as he moves towards the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” As love of God increases within him, love for his Christian brothers and for his human neighbors everywhere will correspondingly increase.
To this end, Presbyterians believe in the necessity for utilizing the “means of grace,” prayer, worship and, most especially, the study of God’s Word.
Presbyterians believe in the holy, catholic Church; that is, in the universal unity of Christ’s body in time and eternity. As a vine and its branches comprise a single whole, so Christ and all those in whatever place or age derive their life from Him comprise a single body, the Church universal. This Church is not to be identified with any denomination or body on earth for it exists wherever a true child of God may be found. We believe that there are Presbyterians who belong to this Church and there are Presbyterians who do not; there are Baptist, Methodists and Roman Catholics who belong to this Church and there are Baptists Methodists and Roman Catholics who do not.
Because Presbyterians believe in the holy, catholic Church, they also believe in the Communion of Saints: the corporate practices of the Christian life. Christian living is not a solitary thing. We believe it to be the Lord’s will that Christians congregate in churches for worship, for service, for growth in grace and mutual edification.
The Church universal is related in those corporate manifestations of Christ’s body in which the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, the exercise of government and discipline according to the New Testament pattern establish and enlarge the household of faith.
Presbyterians believe in two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We believe that they are genuine sacraments, that is instituted by Christ Himself; visible signs which actually confer the blessing or grace of God when appropriated in faith. We do not believe that the blessing is inherently present in the sacraments, but that they are rather the signs and seals of the blessings they represent. As the Holy Spirit does not dwell in the pages of a Book, and yet He warms our hearts by means of the message of that Book, so grace does not reside intrinsically in the sacraments, but comes to the believer who receives them in faith.
He also leads thace does not reside intrinsically in the sacraments, but comes to the believer who receives them in faith.
Baptism is a sacrament which signifies and seals God’s covenant promise to be a Father to His own and to their children. It visibly represents the way this promise is carried out in the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the life of those in whom the promise is fulfilled.
It is a sacrament which belongs to any in whom there is reason to assume that the promise is being fulfilled, that is, on any professing their faith or setting up a household of faith. We believe that baptism belongs to the children of believers when a household of faith is set up and the conditions of prayer and worship are met. These bring evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the hearts of the children as well as in the hearts of their believing parents. Because we have visible as well as historical evidence that in a Christian home children may grow in the true nurture and admonition of the Lord, we believe that the covenant sign and seal of the Lord’s presence (baptism) belongs to such children.
The Lord’s Supper not only shows forth the Lord’s death until He shall return, but is a sacrament in which He is truly though spiritually present and u:uly though spiritually received. Again, as the Word conveys grace by providing the occasion for the Holy Spirit to speak to the human heart, so the Lord’s Supper conveys the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ to believers who approach the Table in faith.
Presbyterians believe that the Supper is not the possession of any person, congregation or church. It is the Lord’s Supper. It is not the table of any sect or denomination. It is the Lord’s table. We do not minister about the table as hosts, but as guests of Him who issues the invitation to come and who distributes His benefits severally as He will. Consequently we do not believe that we can dispense or withhold the gift of grace; that we can bar any believing Christian whom He would feed. For such reasons we practice “open” communion. At the same time we expect those who partake to be members in good standing in an evangelical church.
THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE EVERLASTING
Presbyterians believe in the return of Jesus Christ “to judge men and angels at the end of the world.” Until He comes, we believe that the souls of those who die in Him depart to be with Him “where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.”
At the last day, we believe that the dead shall be resurrected and the living shall be changed. Christ’s elect “unto honor…and everlasting life,” but the reprobates “unto dishonor.., and punishment with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”