And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. — Revelation 22:1
That was the line that came to mind upon seeing the stage at New Life Presbyterian. A strip of darkened metal ran through its center — along the back wall, and down the face of the pulpit, the altar, and the stagefront — cutting into the curved blond wood and resembling nothing so much as a runnel, a way for water to flow from on high and down into the congregation. I had time to notice it during the moment of silence invoked by Pastor Brian Tallman, after the initial singing and before the Call to Worship.
That initial singing did a fine job of catching the overall character of the music, even as it wandered from choral showpiece to organ-heavy hymn to folksy praise tune. (The musical notation for the song “To Thee I Lift My Soul” read, “Pensively.”) Notable lyrics: “Do thou lead me in thy truth/ therein my teacher be.” “How deep Your thoughts each one/ Fools won’t be shown/ The foolish can’t accept this truth/ To him unknown!”
That intellectual streak — that emphasis on careful speech and precise teaching, showed up throughout the service. “Although not written by the apostles,” read a footnote in the hymnal, “the Apostle’s Creed is a concise summary of their teaching. It originated as a baptismal confession, probably in the second century...” And this from the opening prayer, read by Elder Ed Patton: “Praise be to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, for He chose us in Him before the creation of the world...to be adopted as His sons, in accordance with His pleasure and will....”
Patton’s prayer was not all praise and thanksgiving, however. He lamented that “so many reject the sumptuous feast set before them in the Gospel to dine instead on impure and unwholesome fare,” that “this nation, the greatest force for good in the world,” nevertheless allowed the abortion of “millions of our children” and “celebrated and promoted” homosexuality. “Turn us back, O God,” he prayed. “The real answer is the change in hearts that only You can accomplish.”
Tallman then turned the congregation’s gaze back in on itself and its own sinfulness. He read the commandments given by God in Exodus. “You shall have no other gods before me...” Then he said, “Let us make careful confession of sin, as God’s word has pricked our hearts.” A lengthy silence followed. “Indeed, we have sinned against you,” he resumed, running down a long list of possible offenses against those commandments before asking God, “Cleanse your people now.” A pause, and then: “People of God, because Christ has died...your sins are forgiven.”
The Reading of Scripture was taken from Paul’s letter to Timothy and concerned the treatment of church elders. “We have been suggesting that there are two great themes that converge” in Timothy, said Tallman: “guarding the Gospel and ordering the church.
“What we’ve seen is that to guard the Gospel is to order the church, and to order the church correctly is to guard the Gospel. And a crucial element of ordering the church and guarding the Gospel is establishing faithful, Godly leaders who will not lead God’s people astray.”
Today’s text covered four points: “Providing for the leaders, protecting the leaders, prosecuting the leaders, and placing the leaders.” Included in Tallman’s commentary was a request that the congregation consider that first one — about providing — from their own perspective instead of his. “Consider how much God loves you, according to this; how concerned God is that you get faithful and good teaching...: ‘I love you this much, that I want you to set aside someone to give their time wholly to the study and preparation of My word, so that you can believe it when you hear it...’ Our greatest task is to serve you like Christ served the church and to point you to the cross.”
After the service, Tallman returned to the Sanctuary to teach a class on the Westminster Confession of Faith.
What happens when we die?
“When an individual dies,” said Tallman, “he’ll be in an intermediate state, where the body is separate from the soul. He will be either in the presence of God for blessing or the presence of God for wrath and cursing. At the end of time, when Christ comes, the earth will be resurrected, and so too will individuals’ bodies. The bodies of those who are Christians, trusting in the righteousness of Christ and His death on their behalf, will live forever on the earth under the blessing of God. Those who are not Christians will live in the presence of God’s wrath for all eternity.”
New Life Presbyterian
Denomination: Presbyterian Church in America
Address: 5333 Lake Murray Boulevard, La Mesa, 619-667-5999
Founded locally: 1965
Senior pastor: Brian Tallman
Congregation size: about 400
Staff size: 6
Sunday school enrollment: n/a
Annual budget: about $650,000
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: semiformal to formal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: 9:25 a.m., 6 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes