Editor’s Note: Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to worship with the brothers and sisters at Cornerstone and even to speak at one of their conferences. It was a great joy. What a delight it was to find copies of the Three Forms of Unity (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort in their pews) and to see them growing toward the Reformation so rapidly. Last month the congregation was received provisionally into Classis Pacific Northwest of the United Reformed Churches in North America. Since the HB is devoted to recovering the Reformed confession and to helping others to do the same, I asked the former pastor of the congregation, Stan Way, to tell us the story of how the congregation moved from Münster, as it were, to Geneva.
Divine providence is a gracious and profound mystery. How God reshapes the convictions of individuals and the theological life of a church is a wondrous thing. The spiritual journey often catches us by surprise and alters the way we see and the way we worship. This is what we’ve experienced at Cornerstone Christian Church over the past fifteen years. The theological convictions of the pastors and elders changed and over time this transformed the church’s doctrinal understandings and approach to public worship. We moved from being a contemporary church to being a confessional church.
Our Roots In Calvary Chapel
Some background might be helpful. Cornerstone Christian Church of Medford, Oregon began as a Calvary Chapel church plant in 1978. It was one of three Calvary Chapel church plants in the Rogue Valley during that time. The church flourished for ten years under the leadership of its founding pastor. In 1988 he left to plant a church in a suburb of Portland. As is often the case when a strong charismatic leader leaves, the church struggles. Cornerstone struggled through several pastoral changes, and yet the Lord faithfully sustained the church through the efforts of a dedicated group of elders. Many of these elders had embraced the doctrines of grace and were becoming thoroughly Calvinistic in their convictions. The church was beginning a transformative spiritual and theological journey.
Discovering The Reformation Together
In the spring of 1997 I was called to be the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone and I was on a transformative journey of my own. I was raised in classical Pentecostalism and was ordained as an Assembly of God minister in 1968. Providentially, my early pastoral ministry was in non-denominational churches where I was exposed to the doctrines of grace through the ministry of R.C. Sproul. This opened the door to theological understandings to which that I had never been exposed. It was challenging and thought-provoking and definitely life-changing. When I arrived at Cornerstone I discovered that we were on the same journey, but they were far ahead of me. The elders were encouraging and patient with me and over time we moved forward together. Over the next two years we read through and discussed several Reformation confessions. We discovered the Three Forms of Unity and The Westminster Confession of Faith and also read portions of The Baptist Confession of 1689.
We listened to Reformed podcasts, attended Ligonier conferences, and conferences held at Westminster Seminary California. Every Monday morning was spent as a pastoral staff, reading together, listening to Calvinistic speakers, and discussing what we had read or heard. It was a great time of theological growth and developing unanimity. In addition to these sources of theological renewal, we invited some of the leading voices in the confessional stream of the church to be guest lecturers for the Cornerstone Lectures, held twice each year. Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. Derek Thomas, Dr. Carl Trueman, Dr. Bruce Waltke, and Dr. Hywel Jones are just a few of the men who came and lectured and ministered to us over the years. Having the privilege of spending time with men of their caliber was a real encouragement and a source of godly counsel.
Our Turn To The Three Forms And The Reformation Of Worship
A definite turning point for Cornerstone came in 2009 when we subscribed The Three Forms of Unity as our confessional standard. We had already altered our liturgy to be more dialogical in nature. This was the most difficult and disruptive change we made. We no longer sang contemporary worship choruses for 20 to 30 minutes uninterrupted in each Sunday morning service. We added confessions of sin, pastoral prayer, Bible readings, the Apostles’ Creed as our confession of faith, and doctrinally sound hymns to our worship services. My colleagues and I taught through the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and I taught an overview of the Canons of Dort. We committed ourselves to pastor-led worship, embraced paedobaptism, established church membership, and began confirmation classes for our young people 12 years old and above, in order for them to make a credible public profession of faith and come to the Lord’s Table with a gospel informed understanding of the sacrament. These have all contributed to a stronger and more spiritually stable church.
Cornerstone’s transformation from being contemporary to confessional has not been painless. We lost precious people in the process. Many of those who had been with the church from its beginning could not in good conscience make the journey with us. We lost many but gained others. The Lord protected the church from a hurtful split. The pastoral leadership remained unified throughout the process. This does not mean we always agreed, but we respected and trusted each other. We waited for one another, and didn’t move forward until we agreed.We’ve all grown a great deal!
Our New Pastor
During this transition we began to pray and consider joining a fellowship of like-minded churches or a denomination for ongoing encouragement and accountability. We also discussed what we wanted in a new Senior Pastor, since at 72 years of age I was now anticipating retirement so a younger man could come and carry the church forward. We wanted a seminary-trained minister who was married and between the ages of 35–50 years old. We were looking for a man with pastoral experience in either a Presbyterian or Reformed denomination. The Lord brought Dr. Quentin Falkena to our attention; we extended a call to him which he accepted in September of 2018. He and his family were certainly an answer to our prayers! Quentin had been serving on the staff of a URC church in Chino, California, for 10 years. Under his leadership we have made great strides forward. Upon the recommendation of Immanuel’s Reformed Church in Salem, Oregon, Cornerstone was received provisionally into the federation of United Reformed Churches in North America on September 24th of this year.
The journey from contemporary to confessional has been arduous at times, but well worth the effort! Cornerstone is entering into a new chapter of its life and ministry. We are grateful to God for his direction and sustaining grace! We are confident that the Lord has prepared us to faithfully proclaim the gospel and disciple God’s people for many years to come.
I can’t help but ask; can one be a ‘true church’ and not be part of the URCNA or the OPC?
Others here are certainly more qualified than I to answer your question, but in short, the answer is absolutely. There are central core doctrines that every “true church” will adhere such as the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, and the future return of Jesus to gather together His church to Himself, to name just three. But grace allows us to acknowledge and respect those with different views from those we believe is other areas where God’s word may be interpreted differently, for example how Apostolic gifts are in use today.
Of course, the True Church are all the Elect of God’s invisible church, those who have acknowledged Jesus as the Savior and Lord of their life and placed their trust in Him as Prophet, Priest, and King, often called the invisible church. But since your question seems to pertain more to what we would term the “visible” church, then you should look for three things to decide if you are attending a true church: First, the faithful preaching of God’s word, two, the administration of the sacraments (baptism and communion), and three, proper application of church discipline.
Much more could be said, but I hope this short and simple explanation is useful to you.
Your comment is brief so I can’t tell whether you’re serious or kidding.
To be sure, in the Belgic Confession the Reformed Churches confess three marks of a true church: the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the use of discipline. Where ever these marks exist, there is the true church.
The URCs in NA are in ecclesiastical fellowship with a variety of denominations in North America via NAPARC across the globe via the ICRC. Further, we don’t suppose that these organizations exhaust the list of denominations that are part of the true church.
Many of the congregations that compose the URCs were once, like Sovereign Grace Ogden, independent (many, but not all, of those having emerged from the CRC).
Yes, it was written partially tongue in cheek; I know what makes a ‘true’ church- it is in our confession! (3 forms, baby.)
The good, even great, news is that another church has discovered the confessions and had a change of heart towards the worship of God. Amen!
They also joined the URC. That is great. I guess I was wanting to throw my two cents in by remarking that the first part alone was worth the article, and wondered why that truly is not enough for some to acknowledge a wonderful act of God’s great and tender mercy, apart from the denominational marriage. But that used a lot more words…
If I may ask; given the marks of a true church exist in an independent, confessional church, are there additional ‘marks’ required in order to be recognized or affiliated with NAPARC?
This article is very interesting. I would refer you to Living Word Community Church (Fort Worth), Texas for a similar story.
Thank you David. Do you have any more information about them?
Yes, they went from a Pentecostal to Bible church and now are thoroughly Reformed. They lost a good chunk of their membership in the process, and would put to shame many a Reformed denominational church in their Calvinism. Their senior pastor, Stan McGehee, Jr. is on Sermon-Audio and you can read their story at http://www.lwcchurch.org.
Thank you for the HB. I have grown tremendously in my faith as a result of your work and appreciate your clarity of thought and deep insight into Reformed Theology, Piety, and Practice.
I found one recurring thought in this post that I hope you will comment on. Several times Stan referred to the transition at Cornerstone as a move “from contemporary” to “confessional.” In light of that, I have two questions.
First, In my mind, I don’t see the two terms as being mutually exclusive or antithetical. This may be a question for Stan, rather than you, but could you define “contemporary” and “confessional” and explain why the two are opposed? As I understand what it means to be Reformed in theology, piety, and practice, I don’t see why a church can’t be simultaneously confessional and contemporary. In one sense, I think all confessional churches, insofar as they exist today, are contemporary in the sense that they are appropriating the theology, piety, and practice articulated in the Reformed creeds and confessions into our current context. However, I think what Stan was defining contemporary in a different sense. I think he may be referring to contemporary as a certain worship aesthetic and principle that cuts against the T, P, and P of the Reformation (e.g. his reference to 20-30 minutes of praise choruses).
Second, do you think it is possible to be confessional and have a worship service that is contemporary in aesthetic and plays contemporary christian worship songs (assuming that those songs are theologically aligned with our confessional standards)?
Thanks for your thoughts! Please ask any questions if you need clarification. I am sincerely wrestling with these questions and I want to make sure I am asking correctly!
One further addition to my post that may help clarify my second question. This worship service would include all the elements mentioned by Stan (confessions of sin, pastoral prayer, Bible readings, the Apostles’ Creed as our confession of faith, and doctrinally sound hymns to our worship services). I’d also add a call to worship, benediction, and collection of tithes and offerings.
To be sure, one could use contemporary tunes (or tunes from a wide variety of cultures) as part of a service that was organized according to the rule of worship (RPW). Like the time of service, the language of the service, the clothing worn (e.g., a suit on the American mainland or a formal Hawaiian shirt on the Islands), tunes are determined “by the light of nature” (to use the language of the Westminster Divines). So, we might use African tunes, Indian tunes, European tunes, Genevan tunes, Celtic tunes, or American folk tunes as appropriate for worship.
Typically, however, most “contemporary” services are not organized according to the rule of worship. In that regard, Stan was using the word “contemporary” as a short-hand term to encompass a range of practices and a particular stance toward worship which relies rather more on the “normative” principle (we may do whatever is not forbidden) than on the Reformed “rule of worship” (Calvin). If the rule of worship is: We may do in worship only what God has required and if we follow the biblical (and historic Reformed) pattern of a dialogic service, as distinct from the Charles Finney-inspired pattern of 30 minutes of chorus (part 1) and a sermon (part 2), most contemporary services would fail the test. To be sure, on that test many so-called “traditional” services also fail, since those services have more to do with the 19th century than with historic Reformed practice or even historic Christian practice, since no congregation used musical instruments in public worship until AD 754.
As to “doctrinally sound” hymns, you may know that my answer to that is to say, yes, they are to be found in God’s Word since it is entirely sufficient for Christian worship. God has even gone to the trouble of inspiring an infallible songbook. He has arguably given us other songs in other parts of Holy Scripture but 160 or so songs would seem to be plenty for any congregation. You may know that fully one class of songs in the Psalter was designated “hymns” in the Greek translation(s) of the Hebrew Psalms. This is surely what Paul had in mind when he said “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” since those are other classes of songs in the psalter.
Dr. Clark and Pastor Stan, thank you for sharing this story. The church I am attending has gone through a similar transformation over the last several years and it has been rocky but fortunately the Eldership has provided excellent leadership. It is neat to hear of another instance of believers growing in their maturity and theology together as a church body.