July 15 was summer intern Christopher Chelpka's first Sunday morning sermon at Bonita Presbyterian. "Many seminaries are starting to require these guys to go out and have a testing of the gifts they think they have," said Pastor Stephen Parker. "They get feedback from the congregation -- there will be several people evaluating the sermon." The church was homey -- low, gently arched roof; flowers painted along the edges of the small, rectangular windows; mauve doors and molding -- and the stage was small, with room for little more than two chairs and a substantial lectern. The musicians -- organist and pianist, usually playing together -- were stationed down below. During the prelude, the clusters of chatting congregants (including a sizable proportion of youth) broke up and took their seats.
"The Psalmist says, 'Bless the Lord, O my soul,'" began Parker, "and forget not all His benefits." The congregation struck up a deeply traditional hymn -- "The Lord, ye know, is God indeed/ Without our aid He did us make/ We are His folk, He doth us feed/ And for His sheep He doth us take" -- sung to the tune of "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow." Then Parker prayed that "our worship would be pleasing in Your sight, that even your Holy Spirit might work in us to perfect the praise of our lips," and we sang again.
Chelpka led the responsive Psalm and the confession of sin ("Cleanse us and give us the mind and heart of Jesus..."), then read "The Scriptural Assurance of Pardon": "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Back to Parker for intercessory prayer: "We would pray this morning that our lives would be consistent and compatible with the message...so that people would not be distracted...because of what we wear, how we act, what words we use...that with joy we may render unto our Lord Jesus Christ all that is His of our lives." In this vein, he reaffirmed that the collection was not "a commercial break," but "part of worship -- it's all about rendering unto God what belongs to Him." Another hymn: "Take my silver and my gold/ Not a mite would I withhold..." Then the sung doxology, more prayer, and Chelpka reading from Second Timothy: "The saying is trustworthy, for if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny himself."
Chelpka's sermon was on knowing "the beginning of perseverance -- death and life in Christ; the way of perseverance -- dependence on God; and the end of perseverance -- the eternal reign with Christ."
"Regeneration is our beginning," he began. "We can't grow near to God until we've been raised from death to life." Chelpka cited Romans on baptism: "'We were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead...we too might walk in the newness of life...' What does it mean to have died with Christ...to live with Him?" Romans again: "'He died to sin once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.'"
On to the way of perseverance. Earlier in Timothy, Paul had drawn analogies to a soldier, "single-minded"; to an athlete, "competing according to the rules"; to a farmer, "working and obeying, but hoping for something more... God promises that once saved, you're always saved -- He will endure you and persevere you to the end... But Our Lord warns, 'Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father.' It's possible to deny Christ with your actions.... So heed this warning: put your whole faith and trust in Christ" and "you can have hope, because you're no longer trusting in yourself, hoping that...your working is going to...get you into heaven. You can have hope because God has done it, has completed it in Christ."
The end for those who persevere: "a crown of righteousness, which Christ earned for us.... We're able to do the very thing that we long to do: to glorify God in every thought, every word, every deed."
What happens when we die?
"Those who have put their faith and trust in Christ will be raised with Him," said Chelpka. "Those whom He saves, He carries to the end. Believers can expect and have hope in a resurrection where we're ushered into the glory of God. Those who haven't put their faith and trust in Christ can't expect that, because it's only through Christ that we have salvation. Christ took on the punishment that those whom He saved deserved. If people have not put their faith and trust in Him, they're outside of that, which means that they will be punished."
5111 Central Avenue, Bonita
Denomination: Orthodox Presbyterian
Address: 5111 Central Avenue, Bonita,
Founded locally: 1975
Senior pastor: Stephen Parker
Congregation size: 90
Staff size: 1 full-time, 2 part-time
Sunday school enrollment: 40 adult, 6-10 Jr.-Sr. high school
Annual Budget: "Congregation is faithful in tithing without coercion."
Weekly giving: see above
Singles program: no
Dress: semiformal to formal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: 11 a.m., 6 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 5 minutes