LIVING INTO GOD’S STORY
We all live from stories. Stories shape our imagination. Stories shape our behavior. Stories shape our expectations of what is to come. City Reformed Church is a community rooted in the story of the gospel. This gospel is the news that in Jesus Christ God was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross” (Col. 1:20). This gospel is the “power of God unto salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Our mission as a church begins as an explosion of joy out of our experience of this remarkable story of redemption. Through the gospel God saves us, in saving us he sets us in community, in setting us in community he then sends us out in mission. All our values flow from the movement of this story.
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Glory and Grace
The chief and highest end of every human being is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. As God’s image bearers we were created for his glory and pleasure—to reflect it, to long for it, to rejoice in it. This is why worship is the heartbeat of what we do at City Reformed Church. Human fullness and satisfaction in this life is only found in a God-centered orientation to the universe. And yet, we have all fallen miserably short of God’s glory. But in the grace of Jesus Christ, through his life, death and resurrection, we are restored to the glory of God, we are returned to our highest end as image-bearers—the enjoyment of God. In Jesus the glory of God and the grace of God meet in one person. We never grow tired of reminding ourselves of two fundamental truths: first that the world is not about us, it’s about God; and second, that receiving grace is not merely the first step of the Christian life, but every step of the Christian life. We live for the glory of God through the grace of God. These two focal points are always central in our gathered worship life.
Truth and Beauty
Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:16) We are a community deeply rooted in the conviction that there is truth and meaning in this world that transcends human beings and that this truth is not merely propositions or ideas, but a living person–Jesus Christ. As the Creator and Redeemer of the universe we believe that Jesus is the meaning and key of everything—all of life, history and the cosmos. All truth is his truth. At the same time we also believe that truth is inseparable from beauty. As the old hymn proclaims him, “Beautiful Savior, King of Creation,” so we also adore Jesus as beautiful and lovely. Jesus’ truth enlivens our minds, and his beauty inflames our hearts. As a people we are committed to pursuing truth and creating beauty in this world because Jesus is at the center of it.
Tradition and Innovation
Tradition is what gives our worship and witness depth, stability, and relevance. We are a community committed to the ancient Christian creeds and the Reformed confessions. From these traditions we are grounded in a sense of history and identity, connected to a living community that spans the ages, and gifted with a concentration of spiritual and theological wisdom that are resources for the future (Jeremiah 6:16). Tradition is not the opposite of innovation, rather we hold to tradition for the sake of innovation. This innovation is nothing more than the experience of God’s new creation grace in our time and place. We always move through tradition in order to arrive at mission.
Hospitality and Belonging
In believing the gospel not only are we reconciled to God, we are inserted into community—the body of Christ. Without Jesus we are all sons and daughters of Cain—spiritually homeless people, cursed to wander the earth as lonely and vulnerable fugitives in the land East of Eden (Gen. 4:11-4). But in Jesus God was hospitable to us. God, says Cyril of Jerusalem, “stretched out his hands on the cross, that he might embrace the ends of the world; for this Golgotha is the very center of the earth.” On the cross God embraces and receives a people into his own communal life as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and then places them into the community of the church. Our hospitality toward one another is a reflection and extension of God’s own hospitality towards us. This hospitality is not simply an act of entertaining guests, but the risky orientation of a community making room in its innermost life to receive and embrace strangers and wanderers. Through hospitality God creates among us a deep sense of belonging in a new spiritual family which overcomes the curse of Cain.
Eating and Drinking
The Gospels tell us that the Son of Man came into the world “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34). This is an important statement about Jesus’ method of getting along in the world and how we should follow him. Jesus’ first recorded miracle was turning water into wine so that a wedding party could go on. On numerous occasions he played dinner host, feeding thousands of people at a time (Mark 6:30). Most importantly at the Last Supper Jesus connected his death and resurrection with a meal of bread and wine (Mark 14:22-25). It is not an exaggeration to say that “eating and drinking” plays a central role in the salvation of the world and continues to be central for how God gets things done in the world. At City Reformed Church we celebrate good food and drink and take every opportunity to be together eating and drinking. The future Kingdom of God will be inaugurated with the most fantastic dinner party ever thrown. We remember and celebrate this ritually when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together.
Lamentation and Intercession
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew. 5:4). As a community we mourn our own spiritual and physical brokenness, but also the brokenness of Milwaukee. On numerous occasions Jesus expressed lamentation for individuals, the crowds and even a city (John 11:35; Luke 19:41). Jesus did not avoid suffering and pain in the world rather he embraced it. Everything in our culture teaches us to move away from suffering, to look away from tragedy, to minimize pain. At City Reformed Church we don’t avoid suffering and pain, rather we lean into it—not because we are masochistic, but because to have the heart of Jesus is to follow him into those dark corners of the world—whether it is the human heart or forgotten peoples and neighborhoods of the city. And our immediate response to this suffering and brokenness is always the same-- “Have mercy, O, Lord! Please do something!” A community that mourns lostness and brokenness is a community that is constantly in prayer, moved to intercede for the world.
Seeking and Finding
Jesus pursued the spiritually lost. He tells us that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Jesus invited himself into the home of wealthy Zacchaeus, a crooked and despised man, and said “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Just as Jesus did we pursue lost people regardless of who they are or what they have done. We believe that the central act of the church’s mission in the world is to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead, to call people to repentance and life with God. City Reformed Church is committed to the complexity of the evangelistic task. Milwaukee is a “Christ-haunted” place—church steeples dot the skyline, but spiritual emptiness and alienation is the reality of the city. Because of the history of this city it has its own unique culture of unbelief; its own peculiar skepticism and objections to the Christian faith. We are committed to sympathetically understanding this spiritual culture; we are committed to the long and often difficult process of seeing people journey from places of unbelief and skepticism to a place of living faith.
Justice and Peacemaking
Jesus came into the world and was powerful in Word and Deed. Whenever the gospel is proclaimed it comes with the power to change lives and bring restoration and healing. We believe that God has called us to be a community of peacemakers that seeks the welfare of the city of Milwaukee (Matthew 5:9; Jeremiah 29:7). This means showing mercy to the poor, fighting against injustice, and pursuing the flourishing and wholeness of God’s shalom in our city. When we do this God is honored, a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God is held forth, and the message of the gospel becomes reality.
Creativity and Work
One of the marks of discipleship is creative and innovative engagement with the world. To be created in the image of God means we are made to be creators; and this is tied deeply to our sense of work and vocation. Before the fall God gave a command to the first human couple that combined creativity and work: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” all things (Genesis 1:28). We were made to be creative workers in creation. Now in Jesus Christ creativity and work has redemptive meaning since salvation is described for us in terms of “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:16). God’s redeeming work in this world has the character of new creation and this is reflected in the mission of the church. At City Reformed Church we put a high value on creativity— in our celebration of the arts, in how we think of about our work, and for how we engage the city as a community. We believe that a church engaged in mission is a church engaged in creative acts. Because they came before the fall we value work and art as an ends in themselves. We see them as things that glorify God but also as things that are able to advance the mission of God in the world. For this reason we seek to disciple people in their vocations towards the end of creative flourishing and fruitfulness in the world.