Matthew Fitzsimmons

The Theological Identity of Desert Springs

The following is a portion from a document we are discussing in our new members class at church about the theological identity of our assembly. It isn't a complete doctrinal statement, but I thought it would be good to post here as it shows why I chose this church. It may put to rest fears that some of you may have, and will also give a few of the differences from the way I was raised. I won't put the whole thing in quotes because that wouldn't look quite right, but here it is:

We are convinced that our church must not be so broadly open that it fails to make vitally important distinctions which the Bible itself makes; nor are we to insist that every member share the same precise set of theological convictions. To be more specific, Desert Springs is and will be characterized accurately with the following terms:

We are evangelical.

To say that we are evangelical today means that we take our stand with all those who believe in what used to be called “the fundamentals”: the existence of the triune God, the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the substitutionary and vicarious atonement of Christ, the physical resurrection of Christ, the sure return of Christ, and the infallibility and divine authority of the Bible which is the only faithful and true authority to what we are to believe and howe we are to live. We joyfully affirm our unity with those from every tradition and denomination who hold to these fundamentals including those true believers in Christ who, for whatever reasons, find themselves members of denominations or churches with which we might have certain disagreements.

We are evangelistic.

This means we take seriously the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Without compromising the sovereign Grace of God, we affirm the responsibility of each person to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and our responsibility to extend the message of the Gospel as a call to salvation to everyone who hears its message. We invite all, without distinction, to drink freely of the Water of Life and to live eternally with God. In this way, we seek to “extend the supremacy of God.”

We are reformed.

The word “reformed” can be defined simply in two ways: (1) It is reference to our historical link to the Reformation of the 16th century and intends to describe us as heirs of that tradition which comes from Luther, Calvin, Knox and other reformers. (2) The word “reformed” is used most commonly to refer to certain theological distinctives which have marked reformation believers, particularly those in the Calvinist tradition.These distinctives can be summarized by our glad affirmation of the responsibility of every person to repent and believe, and that it is God who, by His sovereign electing grace, draws men and women, otherwise dead in sin, to faith in His Son. Therefore men and women bring nothing to the table of their salvation but their sin and resistance while God freely gives every spiritual blessing in Christ. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone to the glory of God alone. By faith alone in Christ alone are God's people justified.Reformed distinctives include the sovereignty of God in His creation and providence, and election of believers apart from any merit of their own; the irresistible grace of God providing for and preceding the faith of the individual; the sufficiency of God's grace apart from which man is dead in sin and wholly defiled in all his faculties of soul and body; the efficacy of Christ's death for all those who believe in Him by grace; the safeguarding of all those for whom Christ died for eternal life.

We are confessional.

This means that we have a written confession of faith that we believe to be a good and accurate summary of the Bible's teaching. Our confession consists of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These documents are not without flaw; yet we believe they do contain carefully worded summaries of the Bible's content. All ruling and teaching elders in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) must vow that they passionately hold to these standards and are required to indicate to their presbyteries or sessions where they take exceptions. It is important to note that every church has a confession, whether formal or informal, even though some claim they have “no confession but Christ” or “no creed but the Bible.”

We are covenantal.

To say we are covenantal means we believe that the unifying principle of the Scriptures is “covenant.” A covenant is a pledge or bond of loyalty, which God makes with His people through an appointed mediator. God made a covenant of works with Adam, in which Adam represented all of his offspring, and which Adam failed to keep Consequently, God the Father revealed His covenant with God the son to represent His people; to be the one who would image the Father, obeying His Word at every turn. This covenant is expressed in history in shadowy form primarily with Abraham, Moses, and David until the full reality is shown in the person and work of Jesus Christ. To speak of the unity of the covenants means that there is one way and one way only to salvation in both the Old and New Testaments this is by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This covenantal understanding of the Bible is in distinction from any system of organizing the Scriptures that would attribute differing ways of salvation to a succession of historical Biblical eras.

We are God/kingdom-centered.

We believe that the Kingdom of God is not only a future hope, but is also a present reality. We believe that the ascension of Jesus Christ means that He is presently reigning from Heaven and therefore we are called upon to honor and obey Him in every area of our personal lives and to plant the banner of Christ's Kingdom rule over us in every area of human endeavor. Christ's present heavenly reign is at the heart of our Purpose Statement as a church, that “we exist to extend the supremacy of God by delighting in the Worth and Work of Jesus Christ in Tucson and beyond.

We are Presbyterian.

This word refers to our form of governance. We believe that the most clear biblical pattern is for churches to be governed by presbyters (elders) who rule jointly in what are called “church courts”: sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly.

It is important to know that these distinctives are good ones; that is to say, it is profitable and health-producing for Christians to believe these things. We believe that as we come to delight in them, we will grow to love and honor the Lord Jesus more fully and understand more richly what it means to live by grace.Nevertheless, acceptance of all these distinctives is not required for membership in our church. One can join and be a participating member of our church without holding to any but the evangelical distinctive. Ruling and teaching elders and deacons, however, must hold to all these distinctives; and while there is room for exceptions to be taken, to be ordained as an elder or deacon in the PCA means that one can affirm that these descriptive terms apply to him.Likewise, teachers in our Christian Education will sign a Teacher's Covenant by which they affirm their willingness to teach according to the confessional standards of our church, and agree to discuss with the pastor any area where they disagree. Teachers who agree to be gracious in matters where they take exceptions to our confessional standards may receive approval to teach by our Session, which must approve all teachers.In the Reformation era, Martin Luther had a sponsor whose name was Frederick of Saxony. Frederick was a prince and a 16th-century entrepreneur who funded many of Luther's projects. He was a man of warm heart and deep conviction. On his coach, he had emblazoned these Latin words: suaviter in modo, fortiter in re, which means, “gentle in manner, strong in truth.” THis is what Desert Springs desires to be: warm, gracious, inviting, friendly, and outward facing; yet holding strong convictions that always come directly from the Bible. It is our firm conviction that to be strong in truth without being gracious in manner is to shade rather than adorn the Gospel. It is also our deep conviction that to be gentle in manner while not adhering to scriptural truth is sadly unbiblical. By God's grace, we will be both as we press on in the Lord's grand design for Desert Springs to be used “in Tucson and the world.”