Perseverance in College
Believe me, I was as shocked as you were to hear that your church announced its pastoral vacancy. Your father and I learned about this at our session meeting last week. I was given to believe that Pastor King was thriving at Covenant Presbyterian Church, especially from my last conversation with him at presbytery last October. He indicated particular satisfaction with his ministry to college students, and I certainly detected no discontent on his part.
I know this comes as a disappointment to you, given how much you profited from King's ministry. The bad news for you is that Covenant may possibly not secure a new pastor before your graduation. You are, after all, in the middle of your junior year, and Presbyterian pulpit searches generally proceed at glacial speed.
Your discouragement about your situation prompts some reflections on the doctrine of perseverance. We tend to consider the P in TULIP as an abstraction. But reducing it to a bumper sticker like "Once saved always safe" can lead us to forget how difficult the Christian life is. Perseverance is neither mechanical nor automatic. Rather, it is the result of healthy habits of Christian piety.
We persevere only by making use of the means of perseverance. Our Confession of Faith (chap. 17) warns that the saints may, because of their "neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God's displeasure." The doctrine of perseverance provides no justification for the neglect of Christian duty.
So this is a time when you need to stay active in your church. Some of your Rutherford classmates may use this unexpected turn of events as an occasion to attend worship elsewhere or perhaps not even at all on Sunday morning. As you are probably aware, Arminians attack the Reformed doctrine of perseverance because they fear it makes Christians lazy or negligent or even self-indulgent. I suppose they could find all the evidence they need for this charge by visiting a Christian college dormitory at 10:00 on Sunday morning.
Some say that perseverance is better termed the "preservation" of the saints. After all, it is God who preserves his people. Of course, this is true. But we are still called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. "Synergism" never struck me as the best way to describe this; it is preferable to use the language of the Confession and remember that the God who preserves his people also ordains the means of that preservation. In other words, the sovereignty of God in preservation does not negate the significance of secondary causes like the preaching of the word, the sacraments, and prayer. So we must be mindful of our obligation to persevere, even as we rest in God's preservation.
Also, try to keep in mind that the church is more than the pastor. A vacant pulpit is not a vacant church. Remember to pray diligently for the session and the search committee. Get to know your elders by name, if you have not already done so. Encourage the church to minister more effectively to college students, even in this interim. Find ways to serve the church. The communion of the saints entails communion in each other's gifts and graces, which conduce to mutual good and edification.
So if you are tempted to ask, "What's in it for me" at a church without a pastor, the answer is: plenty. Even as your church struggles to find preachers or an interim pastor, it remains your principal source for the means of grace. The Synod of Dort argued that when God begins a work of grace in us, he preserves, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of the Word of God (as well as the use of the sacraments).
Above all, be patient. God has called you to salvation and to all the means thereof. That includes joining in the challenge that confronts this small flock of his. Try not to let this become the occasion for discontentment with God's provision. In time, Covenant Presbyterian Church will surely discover that the hand that wounds is the hand that heals.
As we have observed before, your experience in this church has exposed you to the diversity of our denomination. This episode now confronts you with the difficulties that confront a congregation when it loses its pastor. In case you didn't notice, you are becoming a grown-up Presbyterian.
"Glen Roberts" is a pseudonym for two Orthodox Presbyterian elders. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2009.