Core Values for Reformed Church Planting


Core Values for Reformed Church Planting

Terry L. Johnson

We are in a transitional time for the Christian Church in modern culture, and in particular for Presbyterianism. Many mainline churches around us have fallen prey to liberalism of various types, while many evangelical churches look more like the culture than the church.


It is imperative that a Savannah River Presbytery remain faithful to Christ and to His vision for the church. We believe that the church must remain distinct from the world and remain distinctly Reformed and Presbyterian in its emphases if she is to fulfill her mission (John 13:34-35).


Seventeen “Core Values” for Church Planting

Our vision for the church is both biblical and Presbyterian. It is consistent with the best of our historic church life and with our Christ-mandated mission. As we seek to plant churches that are growing, vibrant, reflections of a full-orbed biblical faith, these Acore values” will assist us in determining if we are on track. These “core values” will help us determine if the churches that we are planting are characterized by the distinctives that are set forth in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms.


We seek to build churches that will be faithful to the following commitments: expository preaching, regulated worship, family worship, confessional theology, Sabbath observance and a Reformed understanding of the gospel, of conversion, of evangelism, of church membership, of mutual accountability in the church, of church government, and of Christian discipleship – and thus a church with a shared vision of ministry.


1. Expository Bible Preaching

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)


The establishing of lectio continua Bible reading and preaching was among the first liturgical reforms of the Protestant Reformation. Sequential expository preaching has long been a hallmark of Reformed Protestantism. Expository Bible preaching is not a style but a principle. Its controlling concern is to expound what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. We recognize the difference between preaching that is Bible-based and preaching that merely uses the Bible as a starting point to discuss other matters. It is our desire to strongly encourage the careful exposition of entire books of the Bible.


2. Regulated Worship

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)


“God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints . . . If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. . . . But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” [1 Corinthians 14:33-40 (selected)]


The Psalmist tells us that worship is giving to the Lord the glory due his name (Psalm 29:1-2). Where do we find direction for glorifying God in gathered, congregation worship? We find it in the Bible. It is our desire to affirm the classical understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship as practiced in the Reformed Churches. Our worship, Reformed Protestants historically have maintained, must be “according to Scripture.” This principle in a practical sense simply means this: sing the word, pray the word, read the word, preach the word, and see the “visible word” in the sacraments. We strive to ensure that all that we sing is scriptural, that our prayers are saturated with Scripture, that significant portions of the word of God are read in each public service, that preaching is biblical and expository, and that our administration of the sacraments is according to Scripture and accompanied by substantial biblical explanation. We seek churches, church plants and church planters committed to classic Reformed worship.


3. Inclusive Psalmody

“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.” (Colossians 3:16)


We aim deliberately to re-include the singing of psalms in our worship. “Exclusive psalmody” is the view that we should only sing psalms in our congregational praise. It is a time-honored position held by many in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, and we esteem highly those who do. However, we also believe there are ample and important biblical reasons also to sing biblically sound hymns and songs of human composition (not the least of which is the biblical imperative that the redeemed praise the Redeemer for the redemption [see Psalm 98 and Revelation 5], and that explicitly and not merely implicitly and typologically). Nevertheless, the problem in many churches is not advocacy for exclusive psalmody but rather the practice of exclusive hymnody. What is being excluded and ignored in many circles is the psalms – which are at the heart of the devotional tradition of every major historical branch of Christianity. Hence, the book of Psalms, as God's divinely inspired hymnbook, should be regularly sung in our services along with scripturally sound hymns.

4.  Covenantal Administration of the Sacraments

We affirm the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are covenantal signs and seals and true means of grace in promoting the spiritual well-being of God’s people. They must not be ignored or neglected as mere signs, nor should they usurp the place of the Word as though they are able to operate alone. A regular, simple, and faithful observance of the sacraments in the life of the congregational will serve to remind believers of their true identity in Christ and urge them on to the faithful fulfillment of their covenantal vows.


5. Morning and Evening Worship

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:8-10)


We believe, with the majority of Christians in all ages (and with the Westminster Divines!), that the Old Testament Sabbath command has a weekly new covenant fulfillment in the Christian Lord’s Day. Further we will believe that the Bible teaches that the whole of that day (following the explicit one day in seven pattern of the old covenant of grace) is to be spent in worship, deeds of mercy, necessity and witness, and rest. Biblical, providential, and historical evidence agree that the best way to help the Lord=s people keep the Lord’s Day is to frame the first day of the week with gathered praise. We encourage worship morning and evening, after the pattern of the morning and evening sacrifice, and the traditional practice of the morning and evening prayer (Psalm 5:3; 141:1).


6. Sabbath Observance

Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)


“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day . . . .” (Revelation 1:10)


Furthermore, we aim to promote a high view of the Lord’s Day in our circles. We understand that there will be differences in our specific practice, but the big picture and the central message needs to be trumpeted again. Our forefathers often said that Protestantism cannot survive without the Lord=s Day. Yet benign neglect of the Sabbath by church leaders is leading to its extinction, while our culture is obstructing its observance and tempting our people to ignore it. We want to emphasize the great blessedness that awaits the people of God in the observance of the Lord’s Day. (Isaiah 58:13)


7. Family Worship and Catechetical Instruction

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)


We use the designation “Family Worship” as synecdoche for the whole of family religion, and are convinced that the church today needs a revival of older principles and practice in this area too. We aim to encourage family worship (including singing, Scripture reading and prayer), along with family attendance of the public worship of the church. The catechisms, too, are almost lost tools that would supply remedies for many of our current problems. A sense of the strategic role of parents in the Christian nurture of their children needs to be freshly pressed home. If the prime and main focus of our promotion of spiritual life in covenant children is on Sunday School, Youth Programs, retreats and conferences, VBS, and various other special Christian Educational emphases (as wonderful and helpful as these can be), then we will neglect the plan that God himself established for the discipleship of covenant children: godly parents living, talking and teaching the faith in the home.


8. Reformed Doctrine (or Westminster Calvinism)

“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)


We aim to affirm and promote, as positively as possible, Westminster Calvinism – a warm-hearted and whole-hearted embrace of the theology, ethos and praxis of our Confession. Respect and energy for the Confession, as well as honesty and wholehearted subscription are great needs. Mere acquiescence to the Standards, without the personal embracing of them as a compelling summary of biblical truth, cannot be an acceptable pattern. Unchecked, loose convictions will promote a destructive diversity which will threaten the long-term health of the church.


9. Shared Vision for Evangelism/Church Planting/Missions

“But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)


“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18)


“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)


“. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)


Love for God’s word, enthusiasm for sound Reformed theology, and a zeal for souls is our ideal and norm. We need men who have heard and are endeavoring to respond faithfully to the biblical call to “do the work of an evangelist;” who have the Apostle’s twin attributes of heat and light; who share his energy for the work of evangelism and church establishment; and who have as a genuine aim in their ministry the drawing in and building up of the Lord’s people in response to Jesus’ commission and promise.


10.  An Emphasis On “Deed” Oriented Ministry

“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)


And when the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He granted sight to many who were blind. And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. ‘And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.’” (Luke 7:20-23)


The ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ was one of both word and deed. Jesus preached the gospel of the Kingdom and He manifested that the kingdom had come by deeds of mercy. The gospel must be proclaimed within a context of mercy and compassion. The ministry of deacons in leading the church body in developing “hands on” ministries of mercy must not be neglected if our evangelism is to have a context of compassion.


11. Ministerial Piety

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)


Piety is “the life of God in the soul of man.” We do not mean that true spirituality is merely soulish or disembodied (cf. Romans 12:1-2). But in the Bible, true religion flows from the heart. We see that much is positive among our ministers in the way of business acumen. We see skilled managers and engaging personalities emerging from our seminaries. But we detect a marked deficiency of piety in the ministry of the church in our own time. We can remember giants in the land, and we feel ourselves midgets. Indeed even the word “piety” is held in some suspicion. We aim to foster personal piety in the ministry. We recognize the need to own our spiritual poverty and challenge one another to strive for devotion in love to God and in our experience of the love of Christ. This piety will express itself in deep commitment to the ministry of prayer and the word.


12. A Cross-Centered Understanding of the Gospel and Evangelism

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)


“But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)


The gospel is the heart of Christianity. Yet many today are confused about what it is! Some view the gospel as something that makes people=s lives better (only partially true), some think the gospel is “God loves you,” (again, only partially true). But the biblical gospel is that God loves sinners at the cost of his Son. Anything less than this rich, full, biblical presentation of the gospel will produce spurious conversions. The whole truth is that we are dead in sin and in need of spiritual life, and God graciously grants that life by his Son––that is Good News! Our task is to pass on this wonderful truth to the next generation and pray that they receive it.


How we explain the gospel is directly related to how we understand it. There is a greater need today to know and teach the gospel itself rather than to teach methods and strategies respecting how to share it. True evangelism is presenting the Good News freely and trusting God to convert people. We must cultivate a gospel-embracing and gospel-sharing people, if we are to be faithful in the days to come.


13. A Transformational Understanding of Conversion and Discipleship

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)


The spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can bring it about. We need God to convert us. Conversion should not be equated with or stereotyped as an emotionally heated experience, but must evidence itself by its fruit. Real conversions followed by serious discipleship is necessary if we are to be a healthy church.


We are eager to grow both in numbers and depth. The only certain observable sign of true growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. These concepts are nearly extinct in the modern church. Recovered for today, true discipleship would build the church and promote a clearer witness to the world. But again, this radical concept must be taught and propagated to another generation if a vital church life is to flourish.


14. A Positive Understanding of the Role of the Law and Effort in Sanctification

“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Romans 3:31)


“. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)


It is essential to healthy discipleship that a Christian understands something of the ongoing role of the law in the Christian life (the third use of the law) and the grace dynamic of the Holy Spirit’s uniting of us to Christ by faith. Neither of these things should be set over against the other. Neither should be de-emphasized in balanced instruction on Christian growth. Sanctification is both active and passive; both monergistic and synergistic; both by the standard of the law and by the power of the Spirit; both responsive to biblical imperatives and dependent on the grand indicative of union with Christ; both inward and outward; both individual and corporate. Evangelicalism stills tends to present theories of sanctification in one of two equally erroneous camps: legalism and passivism. Neither does justice to the richness of New Testament teaching on the subject. Neither is confessionally sound.


15. A Serious Understanding of the Responsibilities of Church Membership and Discipline

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)


“Go therefore and make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . .” [Matthew 28:19-20 (selected)]


“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” (Acts 2:42-45)

Membership must be a living commitment to a local church which results in attendance, giving, prayer and service. As members we travel together as aliens and strangers in this world and on the road to our heavenly home. We seek to restore a high view of church membership.


When we are united to Christ by faith, we are united to all who are united to Christ by faith. This results in a mutual accountability that is visibly manifested in the way we care for, look after, encourage and challenge one another to the life of godliness in the local church. The whole church has an interest in the spiritual health of every individual member. Church officers, particularly elders as shepherds, should especially seek to promote true Christian discipleship and mutual accountability among the flock.


16. A Representative and Connectional View of Church Government

“ . . .WHEN HE [Christ] ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN . . . And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” [Ephesians 4:8-13 (selected)]


Church government matters. Luke, three times in the book of Acts, connects biblical church government and discipline with church growth and health (Acts 6:1-7; 14:19-28; 15:1-16:5). The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus gave officers (and therefore church government) to the church as a gift necessary for our edification. Church government and order are not matters of indifference. We aim to be unapologetic champions of Presbyterian order and government as we plant churches and train officers. Good order is crucial if we are going to see church health and growth in the way that the Bible anticipates. Broad familiarity with and commitment to historic Presbyterian polity is another one of our goals.


17. A Reformed Worldview

“. . . in Him we live and move and exist . . .” (Acts 17:28)


“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5)


“. . . sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” (2 Peter 3:15)


We aim to think Christianly about all of life. Further, we wish to promote a Reformed world and life view. We believe the following sorts of elements are essential components to an authentically Reformed worldview: an unequivocal commitment to the authority of Scripture (including affirmation of its inspiration, inerrancy, authority, perspicuity, and sufficiency); to the sovereign, Triune God as creator and providential ruler of the World (including the affirmation of the creator/creature distinction, the implications of the doctrine of the Trinity for all the loci of theology, especially philosophical theology, theology proper, Christology, soteriology and ecclesiology,  special creation, God's continuing involvement with His creation, a theocentric perspective on all life, space and time, non-neutrality, and the Kingdom of God); to the historical reality of the Fall and the sinfulness of man (including affirmation of the noetic effects of sin, the reality of Satan and the forces of evil, and humanity=s need for reconciliation and redemption); to the sovereign grace of God in salvation (including the affirmation of the priority and supremacy of grace in redemption, consequent humility and gratitude of the redeemed, and resultant assurance of salvation); and the nature of the Church (including affirmation of its unity and diversity, and visibility and invisibility).