Our Mission Statement

For the past number of months, a special task force has been diligently evaluating the work and worship of this church. I cannot begin to guess how many hours this task force has dedicated to this job. To all of you who gave of your time and your talents to the task force, I thank you.

The most important task given to the group was to prepare a cogent and succinct mission statement. With the Session’s help and final approval, it is a privilege to share with you the new mission statement for this church.

Glorifying God and sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ we build a community of hope and wholeness through worship, education, service and fellowship.

It is my opinion that this is a very eloquent mission statement. It succinctly expresses the lens through which this church will evaluate our church’s work and worship. One session member correctly stated that unpacking the meaning of this mission statement could be a topic for a dissertation. I will spare you that. Instead, over the next number of news letters I shall share with you my theological reflections regarding this fine mission statement. While these thoughts are my own and perhaps do not reflect the whole of the Session (This called a disclaimer), I am compelled to expound upon the concepts used in this statement. This month I begin with the phrase Glorifying God.

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the first question is as follows:”What is the chief end of man?”(Since this is a historical document, I use the original masculine gender form.)

The answer to the question is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

The term “glorify” has many uses in Biblical literature. We read that the “glory of the Lord shown about them.” Glory is often associated with light and shining. It may serve our purpose to use light as a metaphor to comprehend the term “glory.”

For instance, our moon has no light of its own. If the moon had light of its own it would be considered another type of celestial body. We speak of the light of the moon, while in truth we are referring to the moon’s reflection of the sun’s light. Moons, planets, and asteroids have no light. It can be said they have no glory of their own. Without the sun they are dark.

Metaphorically, it can be said that humans are like the moon; we have no light of our own. We only reflect that which originates with God. Theologically speaking, all that is good comes from the source. Even the term “imago dei”, the image of God in which we are made, is better translated from the Hebrew as “shadow”. We are made in the shadow of God.

Theologically speaking, we glorify God by reflecting the light that we do not in and of ourselves have. The moon waxes and wains. If we are truthful, the light we reflect also waxes and wains. The joy of a full moon rising is the stuff of poetry and love songs. Most of us are still mystified by a vision of the full moon rising. And once in a while, if we’re lucky, we behold a blue moon, which is really not blue, rather it is when the moon is full twice in one month. We can say the moon glorifies the sun by reflecting the light of the sun. The moon best glorifies the sun when it is full.

To bring this metaphor to term, we can say that we glorify God when we reflect the light which we do not innately possess. We best glorify God when, like the moon, we reflect the fulness of God’s light.

I am not sure what the purpose of the moon actually is. I know its responsible for the tides and things like that. That is what it does. I rather think it exists for our joy. So too, we humans create the most joy when we glorify (reflect the light) God, thereby bringing joy into the world and into ourselves.


Sharing the Teachings of Jesus Christ

Glorifying God and sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ we build a community of hope and wholeness through worship, education, service and fellowship.

This statement has been adopted by the Session as being the mission of AHPC. Last month I committed to writing a number of articles regarding this new mission statement, and I began with the concept of glorifying God. This month I attempt to reflect on the phrase, “sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ. I spent seven years in reflection on the ideas behind this phrase. Now I am charged with reducing my 235 page dissertation to one page in the Logos. If this article raises more questions than it answers, I’ll be glad to loan you a copy of this insomnia curing text.

One pastor told me to preach the Bible and only the Bible. It was apparent to me that this well meaning pastor made the assumption that the truths in the Bible are self-evident. If the truths of Scripture are so self-evident, then why are there so many interpretations of particular texts? Why is it that there are many translations of the same verse? In the Greek New Testament, there are hundreds of variants or differences in how the New Testament should be read. These variants are listed in what is called a “textual apparatus.” The Bible you open and read has already undergone decisions by human beings as to what texts should be allowed and what texts should not.

As to the proposal, the Bible only, I must raise the question as to whether that is possible. All of us are influenced by a plethora of factors which make the “Bible only” proposition impossible. Each of us has a life-world which has been molded and shaped by factors such as culture, history, economics and even genetics. These factors influence how we read the Bible. In fact, how we interpret the Bible may say more about us than it does about the text we interpret.

Some have claimed that the way to truth in interpretation is through discovery of the original intent of the author. The authors of the New Testament have been dead for over 1900 years. How will we know that we have reached the original intent of an author long dead unless we have already assumed the original intent? As the old saw goes, “it takes one to know one.”

Now some might conclude that with all this ambiguity, it might be better to throw the Bible away and read William Faulkner. Much of this confusion might be resolved through a different understanding of the Scriptures. Instead of holding that the Bible is a God dictated book, we might do well to hold that the Bible is a God inspired book. The Scriptures are common humanity’s testimony to events of God in human history. Embracing this concept helps us to avoid “bibliolatry,” making the Bible God instead a God being God on God’s own terms. This does not resolve the problem of relativism in the interpretive process.

It is at this point that a theology of the Logos or “word” comes to bear. John’s Prologue tells us that in the beginning of all things the WORD was already. From the WORD all things came into being. The Word is the living truth of God. John says that the WORD became flesh and lived among us. The Church claims that Jesus is the WORD in the flesh; the TRUTH in the flesh. We can say that in the life and teaching of Jesus we see reflected the TRUTH about human existence in relation to God, humanity and self. Wholeness and hope are the summation of truth. For an interpretation of Scripture to qualify as TRUTH, that which proclaimed must be applicable to all humans, regardless of race, creed, socioeconomic status, genetics etc. Anything less, might qualify as a truth, but falls short of the TRUTH. So when we write “sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ” what we are saying is that the mission of AHPC is to share the TRUTH of what God desires for us. That TRUTH is that God is for us, all of us.


Worship

Glorifying God and sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ we build a community of hope and wholeness through worship, education, service and fellowship.

That which sets the Church apart from other institutions is its worship. Worship is integral to the life of the Church. All paths of hope and wholeness begin in worship. In worship we come to recognize who we are underneath all the facades we construct for self defense. In worship and its emphasis on the God who is beyond even our greatest thoughts and dreams, we realize our own inadequacies for living life to its fullest. In worship we come to understand we are a broken people who need to be loved in spite of our inadequacies. Worship is about the Good News that we loved even in our condition of being separated from God, others and our inmost selves.

It is by no accident that we worship in the manner that we do. The worship at AHPC is designed according to the great theophany (God appearance) found in the sixth Chapter of Isaiah. Each part of the service attempts to reflect the greatness and power of God, the waywardness of God’s children, the love that reaches out to the children who have made messes of their lives, the assurance that each child is still loved and forgiven, the Word which points to a new way of living and being, and the hope that through a power beyond us, our lives can change and by that change we can change the world. All Christian life and endeavors begin in worship.

No doubt some will ask if worship is necessary to be a Christian. Worship does not make us Christians. However, if Christianity believes that we need to be in a relationship with God and with GodÕs people in order that we might mature into the hope-filled, whole people God has planned for us to be, then why wouldn’t we want to worship? Worship is a means of grace.

In Reformed worship we attempt to emphasize God’s greatness and not our own. As I observe the many worship movements in American Protestantism, I see personal piety glorified, personal righteousness amplified, and personal preference deified. Worship begins to resemble a spiritual mall where individual tastes and emotions are manipulated by slick methods of entertainment presented for the purpose of enticing the consumer. We Americans have been seduced by corporate America’s motto: “give the consumer what they want.”

In Reformed worship we attempt to keep the main thing the main thing. We do not conjure God, find God, or manipulate God. It is always God who finds, encourages, and empowers us. I find relief that the hope of wholeness is not left in the hands of humanity, considering our historical track record of bungling this endeavor so.


Glorifying God

Glorifying God and sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ we build a community of hope and wholeness through worship, education, service and fellowship.

The focus of this reflection is “we build a community of hope and wholeness through education.” When does our education end? Unfortunately, many Americans stop becoming educated when the final diploma is handed to them. I believe it was Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations who warns that in a highly specialized economy there is always the danger that the masses become so specialized in their area of expertise that they remain ignorant about many of the important things which have an impact on the movement of a culture. While most of us know Adam Smith as the father of Capitalism, many do not remember or do not know his warning regarding specialized industrialization. Smith expresses his concern that as specialization increases, general knowledge decreases, and as general knowledge decreases, the capacity to participate wisely in the maintenance of good government is diminished.

I know that after our formal education ends it is difficult to find time to read study and reflect. The Church should be the institution that encourages us to never stop learning. I must admit that one of the problems with the Church and education is its definition of education. Unfortunately, Christian education has been limited to “God-stuff.” We hold Bible studies, classes in theology and reflections on spirituality. The Church’s tendency in education is the separation of Caesar and God, the world and church, secular and sacred. In this the Church has erred. I find all things lead back to God, church, and sacred. If God is omnipresent, is not God involved in all things?

AHPC has moved a direction which supports this philosophical premise. We host a variety of non-Sunday educational activities. Some of those events include SAT prep courses, martial arts, fly tying and fishing seminars, support groups for substance abuse, one of the largest scouting troops in the state. The Session has adopted an open door policy regarding educational events.

One of the central contributions to education that AHPC makes is the Day School. Operating at full capacity the Day School has become known as a school where wholeness is not only taught but is demonstrated. At the present time there is a waiting list for the Fall enrollment. In a day and time when both parents are having to work to make ends meet, the Session is learning that educational opportunities should be flexible regarding time and content. The Session is in the process of creating a job description which focuses on learning opportunities for young families. We are experiencing renewed interest by families with young children and we are planning to staff the church so we can meet this need.

If you have any ideas about how we can grow to be the center of education God has called us to be, don’t hesitate to contact a member of the Session.


Fellowship in the Church Community

Glorifying God and sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ we build a community of hope and wholeness through worship, education, service and fellowship.

Times have changed and those changes have affected the meaning and expectations of the Church regarding fellowship. Time was when many of the citizens of the U.S. lived and worked on the farms and ranches scattered across the country. This was a time before TV, video games, and cell phones. Going to church consisted of an all day event for those who lived in these rural settings. Congregants left the farm early to arrive in the small city or village. They came to stay all day. Fellowship consisted of not only worship, but also included church school, lunch, and an early evening service. The idea of fellowship was centered around that sense of community which developed around all the planned events. Fellowship permeated the entire church experience. One would do well to remember that there were no competing time demands. These were the days of Blue Laws (all stores were closed). There was to be no work on Sunday. I can remember one Sunday afternoon I decided to get a head start on the week’s summer chores and began to mow the lawn. Someone called the house and reminded my dad that no work was to be done on Sunday. He interrupted my work initiative.

As much as some might wish to push back the clock, it cannot be done. Times have changed. The church and the idea of Christian fellowship now compete with more secular time demands. The stores are open and shopping continues as if it were any other day of the week. Televised sporting events pressure church leadership to finish worship before 12:00 or provide an alternative time to worship. Many of those involved in particular sports find that their practices and games are held on Sunday. The result is that our Sundays are harried, hurried, and the congregation is divided. The Church, like any other organism, must either adapt to environmental changes or die.

Since I have been the pastor of this church I have seen many changes that made their impact on the fellowship of AHPC. When I first came to this church we held monthly pot luck suppers. By in part these meals were well attended. Over the years more and more families became two income families. Both spouses work and both spouses simply want to collapse after working and tending to the children’s needs. AHPC has responded by reducing the number of fellowship meals on Wednesday evenings and have increased the number of fellowship meals after the worship service. We have found this to be more accommodating to the time and energy demands of our congregants.

Richard