If your life could be defined in answer to one question, what would that question be? For some it might read something like this: “How can I live as happy and as pain-free a life as possible?” For others it might be: “how can I influence this world for good?” For still others it could be: “what do I want to be remembered for after I die?” For those of us brought up in the Reformed faith we might say: “How can I glorify and enjoy God with my life?” Each of these questions gets to the heart of what it means to be truly committed to something. We commit to certain things because we see a purposeful end beyond the commitment. We commit to planting and watering seeds because it brings forth food. We commit to rearing our children in the nurture of the Lord because we are not only teaching them to live for this life, but also the life to come. Our commitments not only shape our thinking, but they fuel our desire and fill our lives with active pursuits. A life with commitment has purpose and vitality, whereas a life without commitment is hardly lived at all.
The Session of Tenth Presbyterian Church has recently adopted two important documents: a statement of Tenth’s Calling and Identity, and a list of seven Core Commitments. This was a deliberate action by our elders to refocus our congregation’s minds, actions, ministries, and relationships in these years coming out of the pandemic. The Calling and Identity traces our spiritual heritage, showing how Tenth is part of the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” as we confess in the Nicene Creed. The seven Core Commitments focus on basic activities which have characterized the life of the Church since the time of the Apostles. Here are the seven things:
- Faithful Proclamation of God’s Word
- Joyful Corporate Worship
- Growing Christian Disciples
- Prayerful Dependence on God
- Loving Care and Fellowship
- Extending Mercy
- Gospel Witness
These seven things are not new to Tenth but are a revision of a document from 2006 which outlined Tenth’s ministries. The Scriptural mandates for these actions are manifold. The snapshot of the early church in Acts 2 demonstrates their centrality to the life of the Church:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”Acts 2:42-47
Why are these seven commitments important for us, and how can we get them into us as a church?
It is instructive for us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” The term “devoted” means to continue steadfastly in, to hold fast to, or be busily engaged in something. It means being “all in!” It was occupying their minds, their time, their resources, and their hearts. I served with a pastor who used to say, “let me look at your calendar and your checkbook and I will know what you are devoted to.” Our Session believes these seven commitments are worth being humbly devoted to.
Christian devotion has doctrinal, moral, and social aspects. The doctrinal aspect means that Christians seek to know God through his Word and apply that Word to their lives. The moral aspect means Christians seek to submit to and obey God’s will as revealed in his Word. The social aspect means that Christians seek a loving relationship with God and with other people. These three aspects appear in a single verse in 2 John 6: “And this is love (social aspect), that we walk according to his commandments (moral aspect); this is the commandment (doctrinal aspect), just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it” (emphasis added). Understanding the doctrinal, the moral, and social aspects of living the Christian life helps us to apply the seven Core Commitments within the life of our church corporately and individually.
To apply the seven Core Commitments doctrinally we need to understand these as nouns, Biblical principles that we should get into our heads. We must continue to grow in our comprehension of what it means to proclaim God’s Word, to worship him, to make disciples, to pray, to love one another, to have mercy, and to witness. The truths contained in each commitment show us how to live out of love for God and help provide a Biblical structure to the various ministries of the church.
To apply the seven Core Commitments morally holds us accountable for actually doing them. We need to apply each one as a verb, something which we are to practice faithfully. They are principles set forth in God’s Word. To ignore them means we fail to trust in the means our Lord has given to build his church.
To apply the seven Core Commitments socially tests whether we are doing these things relationally. The social aspect tests our motives. Do we practice these things out of love for God and one another, or for some other reason? Do we do these things in Jesus’ name for the sake of his kingdom? The social aspect reminds us that we should do these things individually, but also corporately as the Church. They are the actions of each of us and all of us. This relational aspect helps us to see the interrelationship of each of the commitments. Understanding each commitment as adverbs clarifies how they can relate to one another. For example, combining commitments 2 and 1 together, we need to worship, but we need to worship scripturally. We should extend mercy lovingly (6 and 5). We ought to make disciples missionally (3 and 7), etc. Each of the commitments should inform and shape the others, even as we inform and shape one another as we are molded by Christ.
As disciples of Christ, we follow and learn from him. These seven Core Commitments help us because they point us to Jesus himself. These activities permeated Jesus’ life. Here is just one example of each:
- Faithful Proclamation of the Word – Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them (Matthew 5:1-2).
- Joyful Corporate Worship – I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of them I will sing your praise (Hebrews 2:12).
- Growing Christian Disciples – I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word (John 17:6).
- Prayerful Dependance on God – In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God (Luke 6:12).
- Loving Care and Fellowship – Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:5).
- Extending Mercy – When he went he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick (Mark 14:14).
- Gospel Witness – Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10).
When I think about questions which have shaped my own life, I remember the years when my wife and I were serving at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. Every time we had a new members’ class received into the church, our pastor Dr. Kennedy would ask the five membership vows which are prescribed by our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. One of these questions is: “Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?” Well, what is the work of the church? In many ways the seven Core Commitments are meant to help answer that question for us by showing us what we ought to be doing as a church. And, as someone who has spent his whole life working for the church, I can say it is a good defining question. But that is not the question which most shaped me. The question which impacted me was one Dr. Kennedy always added after the five vows were answered by the new members. It was this: “Do you in sincerity love the Lord Jesus Christ?” That is the question which has wonderfully haunted my life ever since. The seven Core Commitments are ultimately here to help us as a church to answer that question. To that end, may we be humbly devoted to these things to the glory of our Savior and the good of his Church.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Colin Howland. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org