What to Expect

This is our church denomination, which stands for the “Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches.”

Many worship services in modern churches tend to be informal. The model is often that of a concert or entertainment event, with a very “come as you are” attitude toward visitors. Consequently, when someone joins one of our churches Sunday morning for worship, often the most obvious difference in our worship approach is the concern for reverence and dignity, and what comes across as “formality.”

While the structure of a typical CREC worship service has a lot in common with what visitors might call a “traditional worship service”—enough so as to simply be a variation on such services—there are certain elements about that which stand out, and which probably will draw some questions.

The first is the common practice of identifying our worship services with the phrase “covenant renewal.” By this we do not mean that our covenant with God has only a set amount of time on it, and that it might expire like a lease if we do not renew it. Our covenant with God is eternal and will not expire. But it is also alive, and is designed to grow and flourish. As a meal renews the body, so also the worship of God renews our covenant with Him.

The second element of covenant renewal that calls for explanation is the pattern or structure of worship. Our services are “bookended” by the opening and closing. When the minister declares the “call to worship,” the service is convened or established. At the conclusion of the service, when he commissions the congregation by means of the benediction, the people of God are sent out into the world to be salt and light, having been renewed in their walk with God.

The middle part of the service follows a three-fold structure, which are confession, consecration, and communion. In the Old Testament, there were three distinct kinds of sacrifices—the guilt offering, the ascension offering (often translated as whole burnt offering), and the peace offering. The guilt offering was intended to address a particular sin on the part of the worshipper. The ascension offering was an offering of “entire dedication.” The whole sacrificed animal ascended to God in the column of smoke as an offering to Him. The peace offering was one which the worshipper was privileged to partake of, as a covenant meal. Whenever those three offerings are mentioned together in the Old Testament, they are listed in that order, which makes good sense. You deal with the guilt first, you dedicate all to God, and then you have communion with God. This is why our covenant renewal services follow the structure they do, absent the sacrificed animals. Jesus Christ died once for all, in order to be the fulfillment of the entire sacrificial system—He was not just the guilt offering.

So this is why our worship services, once God is invoked, contain these three elements. First we confess our sins, and receive the assurance of pardon. Second, we dedicate ourselves to God (offering, Scripture reading, sermon, etc.). And then last, we observe the Lord’s Supper. Once that is all done, we receive the benediction, we go out into a lost world that needs to hear about Jesus Christ.

Our practice of weekly communion comes out of our understanding of covenant renewal worship. The natural progression moves from confession to consecration, and from consecration to communion. We want this progression to occur every time we worship God. The heart of biblical worship is organized around Word and sacrament.

And so it is that our services culminate every week with an observance of the Supper. Understood the right way, this does not in any way minimize the importance of biblically-grounded exegetical sermons. They are not in competition, any more than cooking or eating are in a competition.

It is commonly known that people who worship together over an extended period of time tend to view the outside world in similar ways, and this is also true of CREC churches. Given the important role that political and cultural issues have in our era, it may be helpful to make a few comments. Cultural and political engagement on the part of Christian churches is a good thing (conservative as opposed to progressive), but that should not be mistaken for partisanship (Republican as opposed to Democrat, etc.). The first reason for this distinction is principled—the role of the church is to be prophetic, and not to be “a constituency” to be flattered, cajoled, or manipulated by any political party. The second reason is that a number of our churches are located in places like Poland, Russia, Japan, and Canada, and the partisan issues there are quite different than they are here in America. For example, commitment to the dignity of human life is a constant among us while commitment to a particular political party would have to vary according to the circumstances on the ground.

That said, this is the sort of thing you can expect to find in our churches. On a string of basic social issues (abortion, homosexual marriage, women in combat) you will find CREC churches uniformly hostile to the leftist agenda. With regard to economic issues, there is a broad antipathy toward socialism in all its forms and guises. Statist collectivism is one of the great idols of our age, and our churches are overwhelmingly opposed to it. On questions related to American foreign policy you will find a diverse range of opinions, but they will generally vary between support based on conservative Christian principles as distinguished from concern or opposition based on conservative Christian principles.

If you grew up in a conservative evangelical or fundamentalist home, you can expect to find a good deal more liberty on questions of alcohol or pipes and cigars than you are perhaps used to seeing from conservatives. This should not be understood as an exception to our commitment to liberty, but rather an expression of it.

Whenever words like “conservative” or “progressive” are used, it is always worthwhile to ask what we think we are conserving, and what we think we are progressing toward. In our churches we are trying to conserve the cultural gains made by the Holy Spirit in the development of the first Christendom. Because those gains were real, we are real conservatives. Where our concerns overlap with those of more secular conservatives, this is a function of them receiving the gift without acknowledging the Giver—but the gift was real, for all that. There is a completely different sense in which we do look forward to what the Holy Spirit will do to our culture as we progress toward the future (and so someone could call us “progressives” in that sense).

It is fairly common in CREC circles to hear folks speaking about the centrality of worship. This requires some explanation because it is easily misunderstood. Because the church exists in time and in history, that which is “central” to our identity and work has to be understood in terms of our mission and task. A vase of flowers can be “central” on the mantelpiece, but that is not the kind of centrality we are talking about. Worship is central in the same way that the engine under the hood is central to the operation of the car. The engine is not an essential decoration, and neither is it a useless weight of heavy metal that prevents the car from moving down the road.

The task given to the Church by Jesus before He ascended into Heaven was the task of discipling the nations, and this was to consist of inaugurating them into that discipleship by means of baptism, and then to teach them obedience to everything that Jesus taught us (Matt. 28:18-20). This means that the assigned mission of the Church consists of two components—birth and growth. The Church is not supposed to take mission on as a side operation; the Church is mission.

The ancient prophets envisioned the time of new covenant glory as a time when the worship of God was rightly ordered in every place. “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts” (Mal 1:11).

The transformation of the world will be accomplished as a result of planting faithful churches in every place, so that God’s name will be great throughout all the nations. Because His name has been made great there, a number of other things will be accomplished (of a cultural and political nature), but we do not lobby to accomplish those things directly in the first instance. We know that they must come, however, and we teach the people to expect them. The church is potent precisely because it is not an activist club. At the same time, we avoid the error of some who want to plant churches that are indistinguishable from occult mystery religions, practicing odd, impotent rites behind closed doors. No, the Church is a city on a hill.

One marked feature of worship in the CREC is the abundance of psalms. There have been some in the Reformed tradition who have insisted on singing only psalms, but that is not what we are doing. We do not hold to “exclusive psalmody,” but it would be fair to say that we seek to practice common psalmody. While we sing other hymns as well, we do want our dedication to psalms to be overt and evident. Psalms provide the backbone of our musical worship.

CREC churches share a deep commitment to the pursuit of Christian education. We are convinced that the world must be understood in a distinctively Christian way, and young saints are to be trained up into that way of thinking about it. The reason the world must be understood in a Christian way is because the world was created by the Christian God. Apart from Him, it cannot be understood properly. But because of the presence of sin in the world, there are a great many obstacles to this proper understanding. It does not come easily. Education is all about learning how to take your rightful place in the world, and this is something too important to leave to our young people to figure out for themselves. Discipleship does not begin when a child reaches the age of 18.

Some of our churches are closely associated with solid Christian schools, and some have more parishioners with connections with the homeschooling community. Some of our churches have members that use both forms of education, but we are overwhelmingly committed to the need for genuine Christian education. This is the principle. The particular method for providing that education is up to the parents, but our churches in their teaching authority emphasize the principle. This is what is entailed in bringing children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). This should be thought of as more of a cultural expectation, and not as a “legalistic requirement.” Christian education is something we are striving to provide for all our covenant children .

We consider this to be part of our life together. In our congregations, when a child is baptized, the congregation is presented with a question that has the force of an oath. “Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting these parents in the Christian nurture of this child? If so, then signify by saying amen.”

Another thing that is common in CREC churches is the corporate amen. There are other verbal responses that our congregations give, but amen is the most common. For other examples, after the Scripture reading, the reader says something like “The Word of the Lord,” and the congregation responds with “Thanks be to God.” The most common use of amen is at the conclusion of psalms and hymns, when everyone says amen together.

Most people come to our churches from the broader evangelical world. If you grew up Roman Catholic or Lutheran, you are accustomed to the use of wine in communion. But if you come to one of our services from an evangelical background, the use of wine can be quite a surprise. And because, as mentioned earlier, we usually observe communion weekly, this is an adjustment you have to deal with every week.

We do this because we are convinced that Jesus used wine when He first established the meal, and we believe that we do not have the authority to alter what He established. The Jews used wine in their Passover meals, and Jesus established this sacrament in the context of that meal. The “cup of blessing” that Paul refers to (1 Cor. 10:16) was the third cup in the Passover meal, and it was a cup of wine. Indeed, in an age without refrigeration, it would not have been possible to keep and maintain what we think of as grape juice.

One of the ways we know that the wine in the Bible was alcoholic is through the constant reminders not to drink too much of it (Eph. 5:18). If biblical wine were simply grape juice, these moral exhortations make no sense. The master of the wedding feast at Cana was not amazed that the best grape juice had been saved for last, after all the third rate grape juice had dulled everybody’s senses (John 2:10).

Some might feel that including alcoholic drink in a sacramental meal is somehow disrespectful. But this is actually a modern version of letting the traditions of men (which can exert a powerful influence) set aside the Word of God—which Jesus said not to do (Mark 7:9).

Apart from offering praise to God, the music of a worship service also has the important role of setting the tone of the service. Scripture teaches that music sets the mood. A particular kind of music is for mourning, and another is for dancing (Luke 7:32).

In our CREC churches, we are trying to set a tone of reverence. This runs contrary to the spirit of the age, which wants an informal, breezy, and casual approach to church. The problem is that God commands us to approach Him in worship with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28). Our God is a consuming fire. This fear is a not a craven fear, the kind that has to do with punishment. It is the kind of fear that is consistent with boldness. We approach the throne of grace with boldness. We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). In order to do this, a particular kind of music is necessary.

We sing the way we do in church, not because we believe that other forms of music are wrong or bad, but rather because we believe they are not fitting for this kind of occasion. A particular kind of music is fine for a kindergartner’s birthday party, but not for worship. A particular kind of jazz is just what you want for the background music of your dinner party, but not for worship. Of course, reverent does not mean “joyless,” and singing dirges at God’s funeral is the very opposite of reverence. The key is that we are striving to sing the kind of music that accompanies the nature of the service.

As a general rule, sermons in the CREC are expository. This means that messages work through a book of the Bible, passage by passage. It is also important to note that Old Testament books are not neglected in this—they are not the Word of God emeritus, or put out to pasture. They, together with the New Testament, are the minister’s tool chest (2 Tim. 3:16).

This is not to say that all the messages will be expositional, working through books of the Bible. But most of them will be. Some of the messages will be keyed to the church year, expounding what the Reformers called the “evangelical feast days,” marking events like Christ’s birth, or resurrection, or ascension into Heaven. At other times, there may be a series of topical sermons, addressing a particular need that a congregation might have. But for the most part, sermons are anchored in particular books of the Bible.

At the very center of the strong family emphasis that you will find in our churches, you will also find our practice of communing our children at the Lord’s Table. This is unusual in Protestant churches, and in some places it is even controversial. A few words of explanation here would probably be helpful.

Children have their unique challenges in their walk with Christ, as we all do, but an additional challenge is that as a class they are routinely treated as spiritual “outsiders.” Even in churches that baptize infants, it is often the case that a credible profession of faith is required before a child is admitted to the Lord’s Supper. But in our churches, the Lord’s Table is not protected with a profession of faith; the Lord’s Table is regarded as a profession of faith.

It is true that little children do not yet know how to make this profession; it is our assigned task to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord so that they learn how to do it. We teach them to make this profession by making it together with them every week. In our view it is analogous to bringing them home from the hospital right after they were born, and speaking to them in English . . . even though they don’t know English yet. That is quite true, but the fact that we do this is why they grow up to speak it fluently. We want our children to grow up speaking communion with Christ as their native language.

We are (all of us) saved through the gift of faith, from first to last, and it is no different with our children. As with all communicant members of the visible church, it is possible for a child who grows up this way to turn away from Christ. When such a sad event happens, they are to be disciplined as any other member would be. But in the meantime, the apostle Paul compares the entire congregation to one loaf of bread (1 Cor. 10:17). And it is our conviction that all who are bread should get bread.

Other Questions

You might have some questions about why we do the things we do. Or you might have been here for some time and need a refresher. Regardless, we want everyone to worship with all of their mind as well as heart, soul and body, so here are some answers to common questions. If you have others, please let us know.

We’re not a place that bad people are sent to have their behavior improved, although that is also true of our purpose. Instead, the term stems from that period of Church history when the teaching and practices of the Church had become so corrupted that God had to raise up strong leaders and careful students of the Bible to re-direct or reform it from the bottom up. By reformed, we call to mind the need to restore the church from many contemporary abuses, as well as testify that we stand in the stream of historic Protestant orthodoxy.

As evangelicals, we desire to confess the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in both love and doctrinal integrity. Our gathering of churches in our denomination is not intended as a separation from other orthodox believers who confess the name of Christ, but rather as a gathering within that broader church, in order to work together effectively to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This term refers to our form of church government. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders called the “session.” Groups of local churches are governed by a higher assembly of elders known as the presbytery. All of the presbyteries join together in a general Council. Specific roles in church services are reserved for an ordained “minister” or “pastor,” also known as a “teaching elder,” or a “minister of the word and sacrament.” Other elders are called “ruling elders.”

While not every church thinks of itself as “liturgical” or self-consciously puts together an order of worship, every church worships in a particular way. In this sense liturgy, like tradition, is inescapable; it’s not whether a church will have a liturgy but how the liturgy it does have will honor God and bless the worshipers.

The Bible speaks of a particular flow of worship. At the Temple of Israel, the sacrifices generally followed this order: 1) sin or guilt offering, 2) ascension offering, 3) fellowship offering. While the animal sacrifices were types and shadows that ultimately pointed to Jesus (Luke 24:27), their order was logical and relational. Anyone who approaches a holy and loving God is called to first acknowledge and confess sin. Having received forgiveness, we dedicate or consecrate ourselves to God, confessing our faith and hearing His word. And lastly, God welcomes us to His Table to commune and fellowship with Him and with one another.

You may have also noticed that the sacrificial system and our order of worship follow the order of salvation. First we are justified (sin offering; confession); then we are sanctified (ascension offering; consecration); and finally, we are glorified and have intimate table fellowship with God (peace offering; communion). Add a call to worship to begin, and a commissioning to send the church out, and you have our order of worship: Call to Worship, Confession, Consecration, Communion, and Commissioning. This is often referred to as “Covenant Renewal Worship” because through this worship, God renews His covenantal promises to us, and we pledge our continuing love and loyalty to Him.

Yes and no. If by formal you mean stiff, quiet, subdued and solemn, then no. But there is another sort of formality that characterizes beautiful and glad occasions like weddings. People are dressed, there is a ceremony with serious vows, and yet the whole thing is marked by joy, excitement and laughter.

The Bible describes Sunday worship as part of a feast day that looks forward to the final wedding feast when the church, the bride of Christ, will be united to God in great joy. God is our loving Father, and because of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, He is also our friend, but at the risk of sounding redundant, He is also God who made heaven and earth. If you have ever been struck dumb by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, been quieted by the beauty of Bach’s Cello Suites, felt the power of a thundering waterfall, or marveled at the intricate engineering that went into the human ankle, you’ve had a small taste of the power, glory, creativity and gift of God. Nature, music, human relationships and countless other things give us glimpses of the overflowing personality of the one who made it all.

This wild and omnipotent God has given himself—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—to us which is why we’re told to “Worship the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Americans are a casual bunch. We actually buy new clothes that are made to look used, holes torn and spots faded at the factory, because being casual is just so authentic. This postmodern ethos is probably a reaction to cold and lifeless formality which we equally want to avoid in worship. While we delight in times to kick back and relax, worship is a time to meet with the awesome (in the old, staggering sense), triune God, something to give thought and preparation to, something to revel in and enjoy. Now that would be different.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” We believe that God meets with His people, even the small, noisy ones, on the Lord’s Day. Not wanting to deprive our children of time with their God, we welcome them into our main service in which we all seek to mature like little children (Matt. 18:3). But given our current culture, where children (and adults) simply have very little practice sitting still, we all have to be patient with one another. If you need to take your children out for a bit, that is fine.

Reformed theology emphasizes the doctrines of grace, believing in the exhaustive sovereignty and efficacious love of God. These doctrines are prominent in the Bible and have been articulated in history by people like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, the puritans, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon. We believe that our race fell into sin and death in Adam and that Jesus died in order to save the world (John 3:17), turning away the wrath of God from all who call on Him.

Just a few generations ago Americans could listen to the Lincoln-Douglas debates for hours, processing and enjoying content-filled oratory. Gone are those days, replaced by thirty-minute TV shows which are interspersed by eight minutes of commercials which leaves twenty-two minutes—the curious length of so many sermons today. While we don’t aspire to Lincoln-esqe length, our sermons are usually about thirty-five minutes. The focus isn’t so much on time as it is on content—the Bible is full of wisdom and we don’t want to dish it out in teaspoons. God would have his word to dwell in us richly, and so the pulpit is called to preach “the very oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11) in all their fullness. While you won’t hear the sermon all day, we hope you’ll go home edified and challenged.

In the early church, communion was a regular part of worship (Acts 2:24; 20:7), and it wasn’t until the middle ages when churches began to take it infrequently. Some argue that frequent communion diminishes its importance, but we believe that like the Word, the sacrament is a means of nourishing grace to be taken often. Many of the Reformers including John Calvin argued for a return for weekly communion on this basis: “The Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once week of the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually.” We take this meal together as the culmination of worship where we sit down at God’s table with Him. All baptized Christians are invited to take the Lord’s Supper. If you have not been baptized, please contact us to arrange it.

GCPC is committed to Christian education. This education is accomplished in a variety of ways, including Christian day schools and home schools. We strongly encourage all of our families to get involved in some form of distinctively Christian education, and we have families that participate in both of these methods. Pastor Booth was the founding board chairman of Regents Academy, along with five other Christians from several other churches in the Nacogdoches area. He was also the founding board chairman of Veritas Academy in Texarkana, AR., and has been involved with home schooling and day schools for over 30 years. Regents Academy is not a ministry of GCPC, but it is a work that we do support with our prayers, donations, and labors; something that we hope all Christians in our community will join together to do. We do have four of our church members who currently serve on the board of Regents Academy (Pastor Booth no longer serves on that board).