Introduction: Why Another Church?
As I began to announce and plan for a United Reformed Church plant in Birmingham Alabama, the question that kept coming up was some variation of, “Why another church?” or “Why another Reformed church?” In response to this, a mentor emailed me an encouraging note that “at last check, there were PLENTY of lost people there where the buckle of the Bible Belt is located.” Whatever Semper Reformanda means, until Christ returns, people will need faithful gospel ministry, both the lost and the hurting of God’s flock.1 I guarantee that wherever you go, this will be the case, even in the buckle of the Bible Belt.
On the 24th of January, we will meet at Caveat Coffee, 2832 Linden Ave, Homewood, AL 35209, at 6:30 p.m. (CST). We will have a presentation and Q&A on “Preaching as a mark of faithfulness in the Church.” I will answer the question, “Why another church?” by looking at the marks of a true church from the Belgic Confession and how those marks evidence themselves in a Reformed church.2 This will be followed by a general Q&A.
How Did We Get Here?
Another question that might be on people’s minds is how this plan came to be. In short, through God’s providence, I am a minister in the URCNA and am from greater Birmingham. None of this was according to my personal plan, but through God’s providence, I am thrilled with this calling.
Through influences like W. Robert Godfrey, R. Scott Clark and The Heidelblog, as well as Michael Horton and White Horse Inn, I went to seminary at Westminster Seminary California. It was there that I learned that all of these men were Dutch Reformed and in the URCNA. I already loved the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism, and studying at WSCAL deepened my love and appreciation for them, as well as for the Canons of Dort.
When I began my PhD program in Washington, DC, my family began worshipping at Christ Reformed Church. The rest, as they say, is history. That was in 2017, and by 2020, I was privileged to be ordained as the first associate pastor at Christ Reformed Church. Both of my children were baptized and have grown up at this church, all while singing the Psalms and learning the Christian faith.
Though in the Reformed world we often think of the PCA as quite large, even in greater Birmingham where the PCA is large, the SBC and UMC (and the newly forming communions out of it) far outnumber the PCA. There is plenty of room for the growth of the Reformed witness in the Bible Belt. The buckle of the Bible Belt still needs the gospel preached faithfully. It still needs faithful confessional churches. There are folks in Birmingham who could stand a bit more Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice in their lives. The intention is to add to, not subtract from the ministry of other NAPARC member churches.
The Vision of the Church
Our goal and vision is to be a well-ordered Reformed church, to be an “ordinary means of grace” church for ordinary people, and to be a robustly Biblical, Christian, and confessional church. Some of the commitments which distinguish us from a lot of modern church plants are as follows.
The first thing that will distinguish a Reformed church is a commitment to the marks—the Word, Sacraments, and Discipline. None of these are optional for a well-ordered Reformed church. This works out through a commitment to preaching the Word, to viewing Communion and Baptism as means of grace and the proper work of the church and not as add-ons. And discipline is manifested not just in the obvious ways but also through pastoral care and robust membership.
Recently, I stumbled across a church plant in Birmingham which had a video to describe what they “were about.” The video actively de-emphasized the means of grace and church membership and in their place enthroned “community groups” and “service.” They mistook the effects and outflow of gospel ministry for the calling which Christ gave the Church to make disciples by preaching and sacraments.
The second practice that distinguishes our tradition is catechesis, or instruction in the Christian faith, which is a form of the ministry of the Word and part of pastoral care for members. We teach and preach through our Confessions and especially the Heidelberg Catechism weekly. A well-ordered church ensures its future by caring for and building up all its members, young and old, in the most holy faith. We follow the direction of our Savior that we should “let the little children come,” and so we encourage children in worship as they learn in the school of Christ alongside us and older saints though regular catechesis.
Lastly, our commitment to God’s Word is also a commitment to center the Psalms in our worship. I tell you from personal experience how sweet it is to hear everyone from young children to older saints singing songs that were written 3,000 years ago. The singing of God’s songbook, the songbook of our Savior, is a formative element of our worship. Singing the Psalms teaches us all that the Christian life can sound like minor key in this old world which is passing away; it teaches us God’s Word and to look to Christ Jesus—the Messiah of the Psalms; and it connects us to the Church in history who sang the Psalms.3 This has motivated me to select as our first core-group Bible study, which will begin this summer, Dr. Godfrey’s excellent book Learning to Love the Psalms.4
How Can You Help Our Fledgeling Plant?
First, keep the work in your prayers. Pray especially for our core group as it begins to gather over the coming months and throughout the year. Pray for our overseeing church, Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC. Pray for my family as we close one chapter in DC and open another in Birmingham.
Second, share our work with your churches, friends, and family. We do not expect everyone to come, but we would like everyone to know that we are around. Already, I have received messages from folks all over the US who know people in Birmingham. If you have a friend of a friend in the area who would be excited about our work, please have them reach out to me.
1. On the phrase Ecclesia Reformata, semper reformanda see, W. Robert Godfrey, “What Does Semper Reformanda Mean?” Originally Published in Tabletalk but available online. On the language of the lost and hurting in God’s flock, I direct the interested reader to Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls. Trans. Peter Beale. (Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth, 2009).
2. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession addresses how to distinguish true and false Churches.
3. On the first point see Carl Trueman, “What Do Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic and Contemporary Evangelicalism. Tain, Ross-Shire: Christian Focus Publications (2004). Available online; on the second point see Richard P. Belcher, The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms. Tain, Ross-Shire: Christian Focus Publications (2006).
4. W. Robert Godfrey, Learning to Love the Psalms. (Sarasota, Fl: Ligonier Ministries, 2017).
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Christ Reformed DC (URCNA), the overseeing church for this work in Birmingham, is grateful for the Heidelblog sharing the news about our exploratory labors. Many thanks!
This week we launched some digital platforms so folks can more easily get in touch with Luke Gossett and learn more about the work. Also, if you’re in Birmingham and want to meet up with Luke, we’ll have our next meeting there at Caveat Coffee on January 24, introducing the idea of three Marks of the Church at 6:30 PM
I would like to see the URCNA plant a church in my area. That being in Illinois, 25 miles from the St. Louis County
Ditto here in Atlanta. I was part of a small group meet with Brian Lee and a couple of other URCNA elders about 10 years ago, but nothing came of it because we just did not have enough people committed to th eeffort, primarily because we were coming from a difficult PCA plant that ultimately failed and few people had it in them to start over. I am not sure how agressive the URCNA is being now with increasing their footprint, but there is a huge need for biblically faithful worship and teaching here.
Thanks for your reply. I don’t think it’s been attempted in these parts. I’m in PCA church.
To H.L. Jackson,
If you are interested in church plants in Atlanta, you might consider Atlanta Reformed Presbyterian Church (https://atlanta-rpc.org/). This assembly is still a mission church as far as I know, so additional members to strengthen the work would be an answer to prayer.
Roxanne, you can contact me at email@example.com and I can try to put you in touch with URC folks in the midwest. Most of our regional bodies (“classes”) have church planting committees, and these groups are looking to hear from folks like yourself and explore new church planting options.
H.L., I remember those trips to Atlanta and I am very sorry that nothing ever came of them. We have made a bit of progress in our classis (Eastern U.S.) and I would encourage you to drop me an email as well. I’d be happy to put you in touch with the folks on our church planting committee and start a conversation.
There is no guarantee that we can ever pick a spot on the map and create a church plant there, but these works often begin with dialogue and prayer, and seeking the Lord’s will. And we also recognize that there are a lot of faithful word and sacrament works in our fellow Presbyterian and Reformed churches in NAPARC. Our goal is to work alongside them and expand and improve our reformed witness everywhere we are able.
The fields are white for the harvest, the laborers are few.
Wow, so very grateful that the folks in Alabama will have the opportunity to attend such a church. My family lives in Morehead City NC and we wonder almost daily why we can’t have a reformed church in our town. Prayers that the one in Alabama will grow and The Lord will be glorified!