"Christians can't fight battles of sin alone. I failed miserably when I tried to deal with sin on my own. I felt alone. I was fearful of sharing my struggles with others," said Jim Allsop, New Life Church's treasurer. Allsop said he appreciates New Life because of the community's involvement in his life and assistance in his fight against sin. "It's the body of Christ working together." Jim Allsop has experienced this community since his arrival in 1991. "A friend introduced me to New Life. At the time, I wanted to find a church that was willing to take on the hard questions about the Bible." Allsop said one of the difficult questions he came across involved limited atonement. Limited atonement is the belief that Christ's death on the cross was sufficient only for those who are part of the church. "I always thought Christ had died for everyone. But as I studied the scripture, it became clear that God knew who he was going to save before time began." Allsop said this belief changed his Christian faith. "This really shook me up. It made me rethink my view of God. I now recognize that I'm so desperate for his grace and mercy every day for the sin that remains in my heart. I'm constantly trying to kill the old [sinful] man and put on the new [Christian] man. It is a daily war." New Life's Sunday service began with hymns: "Hallelujah Praise Jehovah," "Jesus Priceless Treasure," and "Be Thou My Vision," led by a worship leader, accompanied by an organist and pianist. Beechwood panels wrap around the windowless sanctuary walls. The room's only decor is a simple gold cross on the front of a beechwood pulpit. The sanctuary forms a triangle that meets at the front podium and communion table. The congregation sits in eggplant-colored upholstered pews that fan out from the front.
Pastor Brian Tallman preached behind the large pulpit, only his chest and head visible to the congregation. "Today, we are examining 1 John 3:4--10," began Pastor Tallman. "In this text, the children of God and the children of the devil are made obvious by John." Tallman observed that unlike in John's time, it has become difficult in the church today to determine who is a Christian. "Today, in the church, there is no distinction in behavior from those inside and outside of the church. According to The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience , those proclaiming to be Christian are no different in their racism, divorce rates, sexual immorality, or physical abuse in the home." Tallman suggested two reasons why the church has demised: the lack of church discipline and preachers who offer cheap grace. "Preachers today tell people that they can live any way they want. That Jesus makes no demands on how you should live," said Tallman. Tallman concluded that Christians need to believe the right things about the Bible, love their brothers, and that their faith should manifest itself in how they live."
After service I asked Pastor Tallman about his experiences with church discipline. Tallman has seen church members excommunicated, before he became pastor of New Life four months ago. "It is terrifying to think of someone being turned over to Satan, as the Bible instructs churches to do. This un-repentant person is declared an unbeliever that is hardened by sin." Tallman said the person was either brought in front of the congregation or, if they are not present, their name and sin were read to the congregation with scripture that identifies the sinful behavior. "When I have seen this, I felt a sense of seriousness and self-examination looming in the back of my mind. It caused me to consider my life and whether I had hardened myself to sin." Tallman believes any person who does not repent of sin when confronted should be disciplined by the church. "The Puritans once brought a man before the congregation for church discipline because he wasn't performing [sexual acts] with his wife." Pastor Tallman emphasized that church discipline should always be done with the motivation to restore a Christian, not as punishment.
"From my experience, the level of accountability this church offers is rare," said Steve Yerbury, a small group leader. Yerbury said a friend of his was brought in front of New Life and disciplined. "From my friend's experience, he would say it was the best thing that happened to him." Yerbury's friend was later restored when he confessed his sin and repented. "People would think we are nuts on the surface, but I think all people have a desire for these type of intimate relationships. I love that people here want to see me on the right path. And I know what we are doing is supposed to be done, based on scripture."
I asked Pastor Tallman what happens to a person after he dies. "After death we stand before God and He will determine our eternal state based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ," replied Tallman. "If we have faith in Christ, we will enter into heaven based on Christ's righteousness. People who don't place their faith in Jesus will go to hell, where the presence of God will only be felt in judgment and wrath."
New Life Presbyterian
Denomination: Presbyterian Church of America (PCA)
Address: 5333 Lake Murray Boulevard, La Mesa
Founded locally: 1966
Senior pastor: Brian Tallman
Congregation size: 350
Staff size: 4
Sunday school enrollment: 90--100
Annual budget: $600,000
Weekly giving: $8,000--12,000
Singles program: no
Dress: business casual to dressy
Sunday worship: 9:30 a.m., 6:00 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 1/4 hours