Who Are We?
If you’d like to know more about our church . . . the accompanying questions and answers can help you get started! These are questions we ask ourselves, but they also may be the questions you’d have for us.
One caveat: Much of what is said here is more who we want to be than who we are right now. We humbly confess that our church life does not always match the vision we have down on paper. But we hope that, by God’s grace, we will more and more fulfill (and refine) our vision in the years to come.
If you are interested in being a part of a church like the one described below, we’d invite you and encourage you to come help us execute this vision!
Trinity Presbyterian Church is a congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God incarnated in human flesh and that through his death and resurrection he has accomplished our salvation from sin. The promised gift of the Holy Spirit now applies that salvation to us by uniting us to Christ through faith alone. In Christ we have every blessing pertaining to this life and the life of the world to come. We believe God’s salvation is absolutely gracious. But this free gift of salvation includes not only forgiveness of sin’s guilt, but also deliverance from sin’s power.
We believe the Bible is the very Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and inscripturated for preservation in the church from one generation to the next. We believe that all of life is to be lived for God’s glory because Christ’s lordship is comprehensive. He rules as Crucified King over every square inch of creation. We look for the gospel to transform not only our individual lives but whole societies and cultures; not only personal piety, but also politics and public life.
We believe that history is under the sovereign direction of God, who has planned whatsoever comes to pass, in order to publicly manifest the greatness of his glory and conform his people to the image Christ Jesus. Because history is God’s story, the meaning of life is to glorify God and enjoy communion with him forever. We believe Christ is presently reigning and that his kingdom will be victorious. At the last day, he will appear in glory and power to judge all humanity and complete his work of rescuing creation from sin. God’s people will be resurrected bodily and dwell forever in a perfected heaven and earth.
We are a Reformed, evangelical, and catholic church. We desire unity and fellowship with all who are faithful to Christ. We are presently seeking to make our denominational home in the CREC (the Communion of Reformed and Evangelical Churches), but we are also desirous of working in cooperation with other churches in the Birmingham area to promote a common witness to the gospel of Christ in this region.
Doctrinally, we affirm the great ecumenical creeds and formulas of the early church (Nicene, Apostles, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian), as well as the great confessions of the Reformation era (especially the Westminster Standards). We believe the Reformed faith is the best expression of “mere Christianity.” But we do not require a commitment to Reformed theology as a precondition of fellowship.
Our worship and every other dimension of our life together as a covenant community is aimed at presenting one another mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). We long to be a church that serves the Birmingham area, and the world, through word and deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in order that the earth may be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). Our desire is to “lift high the cross” in order that all the peoples of the earth may come to join with us in worshipping the crucified and risen King, giving Christ preeminence in everything (Colossians 1:18).
Our vision can be summed up in the words “Mission and Maturity.”
What does it mean to be “missional”? A missional church is a servant church. We believe Jesus Christ has sent his church into the world to manifest the life of the future kingdom in the present time (John 20:21), in order to draw the nations into the family of the Savior. Christ continues to fulfill his mission through the church, which is his living body, and which represents his presence on earth. We desire for others to witness our love for one another and the quality of our community life so that they may know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one sent from the Father to be the Redeemer of the world (John 13:34; 17:21). We have been given the life and gifts of the kingdom in order that we may share these treasures with others, transforming the fallen cities of men (including Birmingham!) into the glorious City of God. The church herself is an alternative city, a kind of counter-culture, showing the world in a microcosm the shape and structure of a renewed human civilization under God’s blessing. But as the church acts a counter-culture, she also becomes the transformer of culture, more and more shaping the wider world into the kind of society God desires.
We know that the church does not exist solely for her own benefit; like her Savior, she is called to die for the life of the world. Thus, we don’t want to simply “throw rocks at the culture;” instead we seek after ways to serve the culture in the name of Christ, that it might be transformed and renewed, that the kingdoms of this world might more and more become the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe the secret to cultural transformation is not education, politics, or programs (as good and important as all those things may be in their own right). Rather transformation comes as God’s people practice worshipping him in holiness and truth; as they begin living lives of self-giving love for their neighbors; and as they strive to embody the way of the cross in all their cultural endeavors.
Being missional means we seek to show the world that only in the light of the gospel story can we begin to make sense out of life -- including our sufferings, our joys, and the wider scope of history. We seek to embody this story in how we live as a church and in how we engage those outside the church. We desire to be a missional church in all we do, empowered and impelled by the gospel, as we reach out to the community and world around us in love and humility, serving in word and deed, and showing forth hospitality and mercy.
What do we mean by “maturity”? We believe the ultimate aim of life is conformity to Christ’s image, as the Crucified and Resurrected One. To this end, we believe Jesus has gathered his people into the church in order that through the means of word, sacrament, and fellowship, we might come to be the kind of people God intended from the beginning, full of faith, love, and hope. Through the gospel, our fallenness is overcome, as we are enabled to repent of destructive and dehumanizing ways of life and enter into the obedience of faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ inaugurated a new eon in human history; by faith in him, we become God’s new humanity and begin to model the way he designed human life to be lived, conforming to the pattern of the cross. The cross not only cancels out our debts before God; it also becomes the mold into which our lives are poured. In Christ and among the community of his people, humanity comes of age, attaining to wisdom, holiness, and glory. In Christ, we not only find the forgiveness of sins, we find a new way of being human. Christ not only gives to us what Adam, our first father, squandered away in the Garden of Eden; he turns the Garden into the glorified New Jerusalem (Revelation 21-22).
As we grow towards Christ-likeness, we more and more live out the life of the kingdom in our families, communities, and callings (work). Discipleship is not limited to personal growth or private Christian practices; it extends to the whole range our cultural and social life, including the way we view money, power, friendship, marriage, parenting, work, leisure, art, entertainment, and so forth. Our lives come to more and more manifest Christ’s victory over sin and death; our community increasingly becomes a sign-post pointing ahead to the final, renewed creation, where sin and death will be completely removed.
Our desire is to be a mature and ever-maturing church, manifesting the maturity of Christ’s humanity in every way, including how we live together as the body of Christ, in how we embrace God’s whole counsel revealed in the Scriptures, in how we make use of God’s gifts in creation, in how we live out our Christian identity in the culture, and in how we practice living lives of forgiveness, joy, peace, compassion, sacrificial love, and self-control.
Of course, “Mission and Maturity,” or sending and gathering, serve and reinforce one another. The path to Christian maturity is only traveled as we fulfill our mission to the world in sacrificial love. And the way to complete our mission to disciple the nations is to strive for holistic conformity to Christ in every facet of life, obeying all he has commanded. We do not pretend to have executed our vision to perfection; we have not yet arrived at the goal, by any stretch. But the vision serves as the blueprint according to which our church seeks to build its inward and outward facing ministries.
According to the Westminster Confession, the church is the kingdom of Christ, and the house and family of God. To this we can add: the church is Christ’s body and bride; the temple of the Holy Spirit; the new Israel and new Jerusalem; God’s royal priesthood; the firstfruits of the world to come; the Mother of believers; the communion of the saints; and so on.
As such, we do not believe the church is an optional “extra” that we are free to take or leave. The church is not a “Jesus fan club” or a theological debating society. It cannot be compared to a political party or a community service organization. It belongs to a different order of existence altogether. The church is not a human creation; rather it is God’s new society, formed out of the side of the crucified Christ, even as Adam’s bride was formed from his side as he slept. This is a “high” ecclesiology, to be sure, but it is a view that grows out of the Scriptures and the best of the historic Christian tradition.
Thus, the Westminster Confession teaches that outside of the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Normally, when God saves a person, he does so by uniting them to Christ and, as a corollary of that, incorporating them into the covenant community. There is no salvation outside the church because the church is the place Christ has promised to make himself specially present to his people, as his Word is preached and as the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are enacted. The Christian life can only be lived in the context of the fellowship, nurture, and discipline that are found in a local congregation.
This is not to say that church membership alone guarantees salvation. We must have faith and repentance. But faith and repentance can only survive when fed and nourished by participation in the life of the church. Salvation is found in the church because salvation is the great reversal of humanity’s separation from God and humanity’s internal alienation from one another. The church is the society of the redeemed, the restoration of communion with God and community life with one another. In other words, the church just is salvation in its present, pre-consummation form.
The church is unique among the institutions of society in that the church alone is created by the death and resurrection of Christ and only the church will survive into the final new creation. Family and state will fade away, but the church will endure forever. The church is also unique in that the church, as an institution, possesses the means of grace. These means are essentially the Word, especially as it is read and preached in worship, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as they are celebrated by God’s people. These are the means through which Father gives us Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit. Thus, these means are effectual instruments of salvation in the believing community. These means of grace also give us our identity, as God’s missional people, called to model the life of mature service in Christ’s name.
We like to think of the church in three dimensions. First, the church is a culture. The church manifests her own way of life, complete with her own defining story, her own symbols and rituals, her own vocabulary, her own songs, her own festivals and calendar, her own heroes and villains, and so on. The church is a distinct nation – a new Israel – within the nations of the earth. The church is an alternative city – the new Jerusalem – dwelling within the cities of the world. Thus, we act as our own culture without rejecting or despising the cultures around us, but seeking to show them what a redeemed culture looks like. While Christians are still very much a part of their native cultures outside the church (e.g., we are still Americans, Chinese, or whatever), we find our primary cultural identity in the life of the church. The most basic thing about us is our relationship to Christ and his people; everything else is peripheral.
Second, insofar as the wider culture is still in need of conversion and discipleship, the church acts as a counter-culture. We are not afraid of being different. We do not want to be different just for the sake of being different, of course, but for the sake of modeling life the way God intended it. Thus, our marriages adhere to a different paradigm, we raise our children with different goals and standards, we have a different notion of success, we have an alternative way of understanding money, work, politics, and so on. The church should never be what the world expects it to be, any more than Jesus was what Israel expected. The church should never merely conform to liberal or conservative molds. Liberals want the church to support a non-judgmental relativism, tolerating everything except intolerance. Conservatives want the church to underwrite traditional family values and moralism. But the church provides a different way of life altogether, neither conservative not liberal in fundamental orientation, but radically devoted to serving Christ in all of life. In this way the church is against the culture for the sake of the culture. The church seeks the good of the city precisely in being an alternative, counter-city.
Third, the church is the transformer of culture. This does not mean we are out to impose our views on others by political force (though we may take note here of the inescapable fact that all civil law imposes somebody’s vision of morality on others). Rather, cultural transformation means we work to make this world more and more anticipate the world to come. Because we believe in God’s justice – God will finally set to the world to rights – we believe it is good and right and necessary for God’s people to seek to anticipate that final justice in the present. God is concerned for creation; we must be as well. We cannot be content to dwell in “country club churches” that pay no thought to the fallen, broken world on the outside. The church approaches cultural transformation differently than other organizations that desire cultural change because she does so in the humility and power of Christ and the Spirit. But we aim at nothing less than a fully Christianized society, in which peace, love, and righteousness are pervasive at every level. To put it another way, we strive to show Birmingham in a microcosm what life would look like if everyone in the city decided to give Christ preeminence in every facet of the culture. As we strive to do so, we expect the principles of kingdom life, embodied in the church in concentrated form, to spill over into the rest of life.
“Reformed” is adjectival; in other words, we have to ask, “What does ‘Reformed’ modify? What are you trying to reform?” The answer is, “We are seeking the reformation of the catholic church.” By “catholic” here, we mean the universal church, the church throughout the whole earth and all of history.
Thus, we think of ourselves as “Reformed catholics.” We do not reject the historic Christian tradition. We do not believe the church fell off the face of the earth after the death of the last apostle, only to be revived sometime after Luther in 1517. While the church has been prone to all kinds of error throughout history (and still is), God has preserved his people and his truth, often against incredible odds. As Theodore Beza put it, “The church is an anvil that has worn out many a hammer.” Or in the words of Hilaire Belloc, “The church is a perpetually defeated thing that always survives her conquerors.”
We believe the Reformation that began in the sixteenth century was a great work of God, reviving many truths that had been lost or distorted, and discovering new truths that had been neglected up to that point. The Reformation was absolutely necessary. But, as Jaroslav Pelikan has said, the Reformation was a tragic necessity – tragic because it revealed massive corruption within the church’s leadership, disrupted a growing Christian civilization, and tore the church into denominational pieces that effectively weakened the church’s ability to shape the culture.
We see ourselves as living within the Reformation stream, emphasizing the sovereignty of God, and the great solas, the battle cries of the Reformation: sola Scriptura, sola Christus, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Deo gloria, and sola ecclesia. Unfortunately all of these slogans have been abused. For example, some have used sola Scriptura to reject historic creeds and church authority, and to establish a radical individualism in which each person reads the Bible as he sees fit. But understood in their original context, we believe each of these slogans represented an important re-articulation of Christian truth. Thus, we believe Scripture is our highest and only infallible authority; we believe salvation in found in Christ alone; we believe this salvation can only be received by faith; we believe this salvation is a gift of God’s free and sovereign grace; we believe all of life should aim at making God’s glory publicly manifest and known; and we believe that the church is ordinarily the place in which and the agent through which salvation takes place.
Of course, we see no reason why the sixteenth century Reformation should be the last. The church is still in need of reform, and so she must be ever reforming. This does not mean we are open to rethinking basic Christian convictions that have been set down in the ancient creeds, but it does we are open to rethinking their implications and nuances in light of the supreme authority of Scripture. The church should never assume that she has “arrived” theologically; instead we should always be seeking to grow up into the fullness of Christ. We should pray that God would raise up another generation of Luthers, Calvins, Bucers, and Cranmers, that his church may take another quantum leap forward towards maturity and holiness.
Our church is named “Trinity Presbyterian” for several reasons. Consider each part of the name, beginning at the end.
“Church” comes from the Greek term ekklesia, meaning “the called out ones.” As a community of God’s people, we have been called out of the world in order to serve the world. We are against the world as it is, so we can be for the world, reshaping it by God’s grace into what it should be. Biblically, the church is defined as God’s temple and kingdom, as well as Christ’s body and bride. It is a royal priesthood, the City of God, and the new Israel. The church is the place of salvation and the one institution that will endure for all eternity. When family and state have disappeared, the church will still stand. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against her.
In the ancient world, ekklesia was also the term used for “city council” meetings in which the leaders of a city came together to exercise rule and authority. The church may not look powerful, and indeed the power she exercises is of a different nature than worldly authority. Nevertheless, the church is the most powerful and central institution on earth. The church’s power comes through sacrificial service and petitionary prayer. The church exerts her dominion as she shows mercy and generosity to those in need and weakness, serving the world in sacrificial, cruciform love. The church embodies the biblical truth of the cross, namely that true power is identical to (not antithetical to) self-giving love. Jesus was enthroned as King precisely as he was lifted up on the tree to die. So it is with the church. Historically, no other institution has done more to shape history or command loyalty than the church because no other institution exists solely because of love and for the sake of love.
But more importantly, the church has a power which is unknown to the world and often invisible to the world. Through the church’s prayers, she has access to the throne of grace, the “oval office” of the universe, so to speak. She may not have the ear of earthly political rulers, but she does have the ear of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Through prayer, the church acts as God’s “cabinet” and the world’s “city council,” ruling the nations as she asks God to show mercy to the world and bring his redemptive purposes to fulfillment.
We are “Presbyterian,” in that we trace our lineage back through the great Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. This is our theological and ecclesiastical heritage. While we believe the church is always in need of reformation – and hence view “Reformation” as a continuing “project” rather than a finished “product” – we are greatly thankful for the renewal God gave to his church during that crucial period of history. Reformed hallmarks include the sovereignty of God in saving his people from sin, an aspiration to glorify God in all of life and culture, a focus on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as incarnate Son of God and only Savior, justification by a living faith, and the ultimate authority of the Scriptures as God’s perfect and final revelation. We desire to learn from our brethren in other branches of the church and we do not believe the Reformed tradition is flawless. But we also believe Presbyterian faith and practice best exemplifies the biblical pattern for the church in the present time, and this historical connection is a major feature of our church’s identity.
The name “Trinity” reflects the centrality of God in our worship and life. The word “Trinity” is simply a synonym for “God” as Christians understand him, because the God revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ is a Tri-unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Jesus (and especially in his cross), the life of God is turned inside out so we come to see and know God as he is. The full Godhood of God is most clearly revealed in the humanity of Jesus. There is no “hidden God” lurking behind Jesus; rather, who God is for us in Jesus is a glimpse into who God is in himself.
Thus, Jesus is God’s supreme self-disclosure. But Jesus cannot be understood apart from the Father who sent him, and the Spirit he and the Father poured out on the church after his death and resurrection. The church from her earliest days has confessed God is Triune: three eternal persons existing as one being, sharing a life of mutual love and fellowship. It is the doctrine of the Trinity that separates Christian faith from all other religions and philosophies. But it is also the doctrine of the Trinity that unites all of God’s people into one family. We all share a common baptism into the Triune name. We all confess together God’s Triune identity.
Understanding the Trinity is the key to understanding ourselves. God’s Triune existence is a model for humanity, made in the image of the God who is three-in-one. Because God is a communal being, we know we were made to live in community as well, indwelling one another’s lives as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all indwell one another. The Trinity is our pattern: As God is, so the church should be – a holy family, sharing a common life. As God lives, so we should live – in mutual love and fellowship. As God does, so we should do – giving ourselves to one another in humble service and sacrifice. Our church desires to be a place where the Trinity is not just a doctrine, but a way of life.
More than anything else, we treasure the glorious gospel of God’s grace, given to us in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Compared to the gospel, the world can offer mere trinkets. The gospel is our all in all because in the gospel Christ is all in all. In the gospel we find that God is for us – as he puts all of his infinite resources at work to secure our salvation.
Our church is built around the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially as that gospel creates, sustains, and empowers us as a worshipping community. Gathered worship drives our vision, both fueling mission and drawing us towards maturity. The gospel comes to supreme embodiment in our community as we worship together in the presence of the Triune God.
The centerpiece of our church’s life is weekly Lord’s Day worship. Each Lord’s Day, we come together to celebrate the amazing gospel truths that God accepts us as we are, but also promises to change us into what we should be. Traditionally, Christians have understood this gathering as “the Lord’s Service.” This expression indicates that the service is first and foremost God’s service to us in word and sacrament, and only reflexively our service back towards God in prayer and praise. We do not gather to “give” God anything except what he has first given us; his grace surrounds and envelops us at every point. God gives us himself and his kingdom through the Word as it is read and preached and through the bread and wine at his table as we eat and drink together. God offers us forgiveness and new life through these means, forming us into his family and drawing us towards maturity. Even our response of faith, prayer, and praise is part of God’s gift. Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest who leads us in our worship, enabling us to please God by the work and power of his Spirit, as we share in his own ministry of faithful worship and intercession. Our sacrificial praise is offered up to the Father in and through Christ, for it is through his crucified body that we have access to the throne of grace and the heavenly sanctuary. The pattern of the liturgy, moving through the steps of being called to meet with God as his covenant people, confessing sin in all humility and faith, receiving cleansing through the declaration of absolution, being consecrated to Christ’s service by his word, collecting gifts to support the worship and work of the church, and being charged and commissioned to take the light and life of the kingdom into the world, derives directly from biblical models of worship. This pattern is essentially the gospel story translated into liturgical shape. It is the liturgical model we find throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Leviticus 9, Revelation, etc.).
Our service is full of participatory forms for the congregation because we believe (with the Reformers) that the covenant people are God’s royal priesthood, called to offer the Lord Spiritual sacrifices, in body and voice as well as in mind and soul. We practice a liturgical pattern of worship because we are convinced it is the best and wisest form of cradle-to-grave pastoral care we can offer our people. The liturgy is inclusive, enabling everyone from children to intellectuals to the aged to engage the service. We seek to select liturgical elements such as prayers and hymns that are informed by and shaped by the best of the church’s tradition, as well as by solid biblical reflection.
Covenant renewal worship, then, serves as a pattern for all of life, because it teaches us the way of sacrifice. Absolutely everything we do in day to day living is to have a sacrificial texture and flavor to it (Romans 12:1-2). The liturgical sacrifices offered on Sunday train us in sacrificial living outside the sanctuary. Thus, as God has forgiven us, we learn to forgive others; as God has taught us his glorious truth, so we long to share the good news of Christ with those who do not know him; as God has clothed us in Christ and fed us at his table, we are impelled to clothe and feed the naked and hungry; as God has blessed us, we in turn desire to become a blessing to others. Gathered worship is the temple out of which the rivers of life flow; it is the fount of Christian culture and the nursery of God’s kingdom. All this is true because the church’s assembly is the place Christ has promised to make himself present and available in a special way to transform his people and steer the course of history towards its final destination, as he enthrones himself upon the praises and prayers of his people.
Martin Luther said it best: “Therefore, he who would find Christ must first of all find the church. How would one know where Christ and his faith were, if one did not know where his believers are? And he who would know something of Christ, must not trust himself, or build his own bridges into heaven through his own reason, but he must go to the church, visit, and ask of the same . . . for outside of the church is no truth, no Christ, no salvation . . . The Holy Christian Church is the principal work of God, for the sake of which all things were made. In the Church, great wonders daily occur, such as the forgiveness of sins, triumph over death, . . . the gift of righteousness and eternal life.”
If you visit our church and find you have questions about our worship service, feel free to talk to the pastor or an elder. Also, please take a look at our Liturgy page.