January 28, 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters at St. Brendan’s,

In the great battle at Chancelorsville during the War Between the States, General Robert E. Lee found himself at an impasse. Positioned opposite an enemy well entrenched, well supplied, and looking to be reinforced very soon, Lee tried numerous assaults on the front line – only to meet with disappointment time and again. He simply couldn’t make headway. It was at this crucial juncture that the skills of his fellow general, Stonewall Jackson, enabled Lee to develop a new strategy. And so, keeping a contingent of men on the front line under Lee’s command to dupe the enemy, Jackson took another contingent around the flank of the Union army and caught them totally off-guard. Jackson’s troops stormed the Union lines and the Union fell back in precipitous retreat – harried and pursued by the Confederates along the way. The next day the Confederates continued the push forward and the Union army suffered one of its most disastrous defeats of the war.

This story illustrates for us a very important principle. Pushing ahead in the same direction simply for the sake of pushing ahead is no virtue. There are times in the course of battle, and in the course of life, when the most strategic thing to do is to stop pushing in a certain direction and look for an alternative route. Indeed, this kind of strategic thinking is the crucial point that separates excellent generals from others. Excellent generals are willing to consider that the first course of attack may not have been the best. And when they meet obstacles in the way that are hindering the march forward, they adjust and develop new ways of overcoming the enemy.

In the life of St. Brendan’s we are facing one of these decisive moments. I have now served as the full time pastor for six months. In that time we have grown in considerable ways – our love for one another is deeper, our passion for the Word is increasing, and our devotion to our God is adamantine. Thanks be to God for this growth!

Alongside this growth, we have faced a number of challenges endeavoring to convince others to join us in this venture. Some of these challenges simply go with the territory of church planting – being a small church, meeting in unusual places, being unable to escape notice when you visit church, etc. Others are connected with our doctrinal and liturgical distinctives – the sovereignty of God, Calvinism, covenant renewal worship, etc. The challenges we have faced in these areas are challenges which we have expected and in which we rejoice. The enemies surround us on all sides and, as one early American naval commander remarked, “They can’t get away from us now.”

Alongside these difficulties are others which appear to be of our own making and which, in the judgment of the Steering Committee, are worth avoiding. Among these, the most noticeable is the confusion that is frequently generated by our name, St. Brendan’s. “St. Brendan’s?” folks ask, viewing us with slanted eye, “Are you Roman Catholic?” “Well, no,” we reply with a smile and proceed to offer an explanation of who we are. Meanwhile our acquaintance is thinking to himself, “St. Brendan’s? What in the world are these folks doing venerating saints? I thought only the Catholics did that. Hmmm. I guess there are more strange creatures in the world than I had imagined before.” And why all this self-deliberation when we’re delivering such a persuasive and profound explanation of what it means to be Reformed and Evangelical? Because of the name.

Proverbs 15:2 tells us that “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable.” I fear that our name thwarts this intention. Rather than earning us at least a reasonable hearing with those we meet, it conjures up associations which don’t represent who we actually are and which are contrary to what we are. What are these misconceptions? As I mentioned above – that we are Roman Catholic and that we venerate images. And the tragic thing is, is that the precise point where we most stridently disagree with the Roman wing of Christendom is the exact point where we are tacitly implying we agree with them. Namely, whom are we to worship?

When Paul visited Jerusalem and found himself falsely accused of despising the Mosaic law, he did what he could to dispel this misconception. While the outcome certainly didn’t heal the rupture, Paul’s action exhibits the type of wisdom displayed in Proverbs. Since folks were falsely misconstruing his actions and since he could allay the concerns that were being raised without compromising the truth, he visited the temple to try to bring peace. I think that our situation parallels Paul’s and that we should exhibit the same type of wisdom – changing our name to avoid obvious misconceptions of who we are and what we value.

It is important as we make this change that we also be realistic. Our name is not the only barrier we present to would-be inquirers. We’ve got our fair share of unusual practices and doctrines – Calvinism, the sovereignty of God, covenant succession, covenant renewal, liturgical worship, psalm singing, hand raising, chair banging (oops – I haven’t introduced that one yet), etc. And so don’t expect to see the doors burst open and a massive crowd shove its way into the sanctuary. But do expect less raised eyebrows when you mention where you go to church.

What then shall we call ourselves? Since we have been learning the last couple weeks that the Triune God is to be the center of everything, the Steering Committee has recommended that we call ourselves Trinity Church – A Reformed & Evangelical Congregation. The essence of who we are is Trinitarian believers organized by the Lord Jesus Christ into a formal body. And so the word Trinity emphasizes that that which should most characterize us is Trinitarian living and reflection. All of life – marriage, family, business, community, government – should reflect the life of the Godhead: joyful communion revealing unity and diversity in majestic orchestration. In addition, we are the Church – not simply a warm association of like minded people, but part of the living body in which the Lord Jesus Christ has vested His own authority for the proclamation of the Gospel and the discipling of all the nations. The explanatory phrase – A Reformed & Evangelical Congregation – explains where Trinity Church fits within the current stream of Christendom. We are Reformed, heirs of the robust and biblical exposition of the historic Christian faith found in such 16th century Reformers as Calvin, Bucer, and Beza. But not only are we Reformed, we are also Evangelical – passionately devoted to the Gospel (euangelion) – the good news that the Triune God has invited us to enjoy communion with Him.

Shall we then leave St. Brendan wholly behind us? No. Like Lee at Chancelorsville, we’ll leave those troops on the front line to befuddle the enemy. And so St. Brendan’s may emerge as the name for some celebratory feast or some missionary endeavor that encapsulates the passion which Brendan himself shared with us for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In consideration of these things, let us remember that the church shall ultimately grow only as our Lord Himself blesses our endeavors. And so let us beseech Him to pour out His Spirit upon us and use us to transform our community into the type of Trinitarian community it should be.

For the Steering Committee,

Stuart W. Bryan
Trinity Church
A Reformed & Evangelical Congregation