What kind of church is McIlwain?
We are a Biblical Church
When we say that we are a “biblical church” we don’t mean to suggest that McIlwain does everything right and what every other church does is wrong; churches need grace just like people do because people make up churches—and McIlwain is no exception! We call ourselves a biblical church because, although we live in an age of unprecedented technological, social, and political change, we believe the one thing in this world that is unchangeable is the Word of God. The Bible is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and therefore without error and our only guide for faith and practice. It is God’s voice of authority and encouragement and our source of mission and vision. We preach from it, learn from it and are held accountable to it in our faith. We call ourselves a biblical church because we define who we are and design what we do based on what we believe the Bible teaches.
We are a Presbyterian Church
We are a Presbyterian Church because we believe the Bible teaches that Christ’s church is to be humbly shepherded and overseen by elders. The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek word for elder, presbuteros. The apostle Paul appointed elders in each church he planted (Acts 14:23), setting the biblical pattern for the Church in every era. Simply put, a Presbyterian church is a church led by the ministry and work of elders.
We believe that God calls elders to the work of shepherding and oversight (Acts 20:28), equipping them to shepherd through careful instruction in Scripture, encouragement in sound doctrine and the disciplines of godly living. It is through the elders’ faithful oversight that we believe God nurtures and leads His Church into mature worship, selfless work, and effective witness that the Lord Jesus is alive and working in the world.
We are a Gospel-Driven Church
By Gospel-driven we mean that the Gospel is the engine that powers all McIlwain seeks to do. Since the Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and, as Paul says, the matter of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3), our goal is to always direct our hearts back to the hope and assurance of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Keeping the Gospel as the driver of all we do reminds us that, though we are all individually great sinners, Christ is for each one of us a great Savior. When this kind of conviction drives our ministry and empowers our actions, we are truly learning what it means to both rest and work by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
We are a Community Church
Community is “in.” Urban and suburban planners have rediscovered the sense of purpose and belonging that results when people are connected by using local parks, buying from neighborhood businesses, sharing community gardens and getting to know who is on the block. That should be no surprise to Christians--because God made us to live as a people in community.
By his power in the Gospel of Christ God has made McIlwain a community of faith and fellowship, committed to loving and supporting one another as a family of believers. But God has also planted us in the thriving and diverse Pensacola community of East Hill and our desire is to serve and bless our neighbors as God enables. We want to know our neighbors, love our neighbors and minister God’s grace to our neighbors—all by being good neighbors and demonstrating what true community looks like.
We are a Reformed Church
We are a Reformed Church because we believe in the Biblical and theological truths that were rediscovered during the 16th and 17th century movement known as the Reformation. During the Reformation bold and passionate men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Martin Bucer looked both at their Bibles and at Roman Catholic Church—and saw great inconsistencies and even abuses. They and others like them proposed that the Church needed to be reformed to a more biblical way of ministry. Rome resisted reformation even to the point of arrests and executions in some cases—but God blessed the rediscovery of the doctrines of Grace that had been covered over by the teaching of mere men.
The Reformation saw the birth of what would become the Lutheran Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church and even the Church of England. At McIlwain we embrace the five main points that motivated the Reformation powerfully and simply summarize the clear teaching of the Word of God with regard to the foundations of the Christian faith: Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone and to God alone be the glory.
Sola Scriptura—Scripture alone!
The Bible is the very Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and inerrant in all that it affirms in matters of faith, history, and science. Without the Bible we could have no knowledge of the attributes of God, the sinful nature of man, or the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. The Church is always in submission to God's Word, which means that, in this world, only the Scriptures have full divine authority (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21).
Sola gratia—Grace alone!
Scripture teaches that “salvation is of the Lord”—that is, completely the work of God from beginning to the end. Though all of mankind became sinners through Adam's disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden, and though everyone, everywhere is spiritually dead, unwilling and unable to come to God, God has extended his grace to us in the glorious news of the Gospel. It is God who makes us alive in Christ, it is God who forgives our sins by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it is God who gives us faith in Christ, and is God who gives us the Holy Spirit so we may changed day to day to become more like Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-10).
Sola fide—Faith alone!
The Bible teaches that God's one way of providing making sinners right with himself (which is what is meant by “justification”) is by faith alone. Faith is the means by which we receive salvation: those who turn from themselves (repent) and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation are declared righteous by God—fully and finally. There is nothing that we can add to God's declaration. Yet, once we are saved, we continue to grow in Christ by faith alone, learning to love and trust him for day-to-day life. As the Scripture says, “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).
Sola Christus—Jesus alone.
The message of Christianity is not about “being good” in order to get to heaven, but about God’s saving sinners by his grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, who is the only way to God (John 14:6). Jesus Christ was—and remains—through the historical fact of the incarnation, both God and man, God in human flesh. Because of this Jesus is the focus of our worship, adoration, and praise. Jesus Christ is the Savior, for on the cross God forgave the sins of all who believe in Christ and saved them from God’s righteous judgment. Because of Jesus—and Jesus alone—we are able to stand in a new relationship with God as forgiven and redeemed children of God.
Soli Deo Gloria—Glory to God alone!
Finally, the Reformers united around this phrase as a means of keeping their focus on what God desired above all things: His own glory! So we, too, at McIlwain Presbyterian Church, with the doctrines of grace as our foundation, seek to keep the goal of God’s glory before us. It is only by this intentional seeking of God’s glory that we will find our true joy and purpose in life, precisely as is stated in the answer to first Question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It is for God’s glory that we have been delivered by the Gospel, unburdened by his grace to live in freedom, filled by the Holy Spirit to pursue lives of holiness and filled with zeal to seek with great expectation for those who are lost.
We are a Praying Church
John Calvin said that prayer is “the chief exercise of faith.” Nothing shows the reality of our faith than the practice of listening to and talking with God in prayer. Prayer was a priority in Jesus’ life and in the life of the early church. More than anything else, we believe that prayer is not how we change God’s mind to do what we ask, but rather how God changes us so that we learn to want what God wants—and then to ask accordingly for his glory! We take seriously the privilege of responding to God’s call to seek him in prayer, bringing to him our needs, requests and praise not because he needs reminding but because he is the only one who can do what we ask. We have an active ePrayer chain, weekly Men’s and Women’s Prayer groups and make prayer a foundational part of our LIFE Groups and our corporate worship.
We are an Outreaching Church
God has called believers to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 5:9), engaging individuals and influencing institutions with the truth of the Gospel and the claims of Christ. We are not to hide ourselves from the world but demonstrate to that world the truth of who he is by the fruit of good works (Matt. 5:15, 16). Jesus said that we are to be “the salt of the world,” which means we must have a preserving and flavoring influence in the culture (Matt. 5:13). Believers should therefore be engaged in every area of life—common and skilled labor, academics, economics, politics, the arts and entertainment, doing everything they do with excellence and as unto the Lord (Eccl. 9:10; 1 Cor. 10:31).
It is our particular vision to reach our immediate community, the historic East Hill neighborhood of Pensacola by seeking opportunities to participate in and even host community activities. The East Hill Neighborhood Association holds its regular meetings in our McIlwain House and we host an East Hill Neighborhood Block Party each year. We have recently begun offering the ALPHA Course, an outreach ministry that directly addresses questions about human life, purpose and meaning.