Beliefs & Values
Third Church is committed to the doctrines of the Reformed Christian faith as taught in the Holy Scriptures and expressed in the historic Confessions.
We believe in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life.
We believe that God has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say.
We believe that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, was true God and true man, existing in one person and without sin; and we believe in the resurrection of the crucified body of our Lord, in His ascension into heaven, and in His present life there for us as High Priest, Advocate, and Lord of all.
We believe that our first parents sinned by rebelling against God’s revealed will, and thereby incurred both physical and spiritual death, and that as a result, all human beings are born with a sinful nature that leads them to sin in thought, word, and deed.
We believe that we have lost freedom of will in the fall, and that we are incapable of turning toward God of our own volition. God has chosen us for Himself in grace before the foundation of the world, not because of any merit on our part, but only because of His love and mercy.
We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice, triumphing over all evil; and that all who believe in Him are justified by His shed blood and forgiven of all their sins.
We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells and gives life to believers, enables them to understand the Scriptures, empowers them for godly living, and equips them for service and witness.
We believe that, in Christ, we are adopted into the family of God and find our new identity as brothers and sisters of one another, since we now share one Father. Within the covenant community of the church, God’s grace is extended through the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the faithful practice of mutual discipline.
We believe that as we live in obedience to the Word of God, progress toward Christ-likeness is an expected response of gratitude to the grace of God, which is initiated, sustained, and fulfilled by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Inwardly Strong and Outwardly Focused
Third aims to disciple the congregation into an authentic expression of faith that not only humbly pursues personal growth in Christ-likeness, but also works in love for social justice and to make manifest the Kingdom of God on earth.
We value worship. Because God deserves all glory and has created us for His glory, we seek to worship God in an environment that is intensely Christ-centered, where God is experienced, lives are transformed, and our lives are oriented toward mission. Third Church gathers for three services on Sunday mornings, all guided by our core worship values. Our services are at 8:45 am, 10:00am, and 11:15 am, all in the Sanctuary with a common convergent worship style and form.
We value discipleship. Third aims to disciple the congregation into an authentic expression of faith that both humbly pursues personal growth in Christ-likeness and works in love for social justice and to make manifest the Kingdom of God on earth. We have a strong educational program for all ages, with an average Sunday School attendance at 67% of worshippers. Numerous adult small group Bible studies for men, women, married couples, singles, and various age groups are open to all. To challenge our thinking and broaden our perspective, we have hosted many guest speakers over the last decade, including Gary Haugen, Mark Labberton, Andy Crouch, Peter Kreeft, Ken Bailey, Peter Kuzmic, and Os Guinness. Recognizing that evangelism is central to our call as a missional church, Third is increasingly focused on learning how better to witness and share our faith.
We value prayer. Through prayer we experience intimate relationship with God and learn to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer focuses us on the will of God, joins us to the heart of God, and releases through us the miracle working power of God. Not only is prayer an integral component of our worship, but it characterizes the continual posture of Third. Our ordained and lay leaders are committed to praying over both the corporate and individual needs of the church body. Each week, the bulletin highlights a church leader, a mission partner, the bereaved and individuals with health needs for our members to lift up in prayer. Regularly, we hold a 36-hour prayer vigil as an opportunity for the body of Third to enter into the presence of God in a meaningful way, seeking His will in our lives and the life of the church.
We value gifts for ministry. Christ's people have been given gifts. His church functions best when each member discovers, develops, and deploys his or her God-given gifts in ministry. Our members are involved in adult discipleship, children’s ministry, missionary care, small group fellowship, youth work, music ministry, homeless assistance, evangelism, marriage mentoring, financial ministry, and ministry through the arts. They also lead various care ministries such as grief counseling, tutoring of Arabic-speaking immigrants, parenting fellowship, outreach to job seekers, and group support for those with special needs. Our diaconate prioritizes care in many ways, including providing financial assistance to those in need, making care visits, and organizing congregational fellowship.
We value the Great Commission. We are a missional church, equipping our members to serve joyfully both in everyday circumstances in their neighborhoods and through international mission opportunities. With annual giving to missions at 30% of its budget, Third Church prioritizes the work of God outside its walls.
We engage in and support Christ’s work locally. God has helped Third to be characterized locally by giving — the giving of space, pastors, members, money, leadership, talents, and spiritual gifts. Our buildings are in nearly constant use for ministry, with the Christian Arabic Church, Community Bible Study, Westminster Academy for homeschoolers, Alcoholics Anonymous, Eating Disorders Anonymous, a dance ministry, a healing ministry, and others sharing our space on a weekly basis.
Third does not feel called to become a mega-church, but rather to encourage and support the growth of new congregations. God has used Third Church to help launch or nurture eight churches in the greater Richmond area; five of those worshipping communities are currently led by former associate pastors or members of Third. In the past 35 years, God has also used Third members to create and sustain many vibrant parachurch ministries in Richmond, with the goal of seeking the shalom of the area. These include ministry to the business community, medical and dental help for the working poor, tutoring and activities for inner-city kids, citizen leadership training for young adult Christians, and counseling for sexual brokenness.
We engage in and support Christ’s work internationally. Third financially supports 38 international missionaries around the world – and has assisted many of these individuals for more than 20 years. Beyond financial care, we value building meaningful relationships with our missionary partners. The church disseminates a list of praises and prayer concerns for our partners on a regular basis, and several missionary-focused prayer groups meet monthly. Each children’s Sunday school class “adopts” a missionary to pray for throughout the year. Third also tangibly engages our mission partners. Many dedicated members connected to our friends in the field faithfully write personal letters of encouragement. Over the past three years, our church body packaged more than 300,000 meals through Stop Hunger Now to send overseas. Annually, Third organizes several short-term mission trips that are open to families, youth, and adults; many groups return to work with the same organizations in order to build lasting relationships for Christ. We are blessed to be a blessing!
A commitment to missions most strongly characterizes the history of Third Church, from its inception in 1834 through times of challenge and change and into this era. During times of growth and decline alike, God has used this church in active mission work.
Begun as a mission to dockworkers and seafarers along the James River, the church first worshipped and grew in the East End of the city. Enrolled as Third Presbyterian Church of Richmond with a membership of sixteen in 1835, the church was popularly known as Bethel Church in those days. Both rich and poor gathered for worship, first along the wharfs, and then in a tobacco factory, and by 1850 in a new brick building in the heart of Church Hill.
The Civil War threatened the survival of the church. The church space was used for hospital care, and the women assumed increasing responsibility as they knitted, sewed, nursed and prayed. Out of this group emerged, after the war, the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society. Membership, finances, and safety were all weakened during the war and post-war years, but God renewed the church by 1900 and began to grow it. A historian recorded that “contributions to all causes steadily increased, especially to foreign missions.” By 1910, membership was at 607.
Changing demographics in the East End, as well as the two world wars, challenged Third Presbyterian Church in the following decades. Although the church continued to worship, give, invest and serve in remarkable ways, it lost many members both to the wars and to the mass exodus from the neighborhood. Finally, in 1956, the congregation voted to sell its property in Church Hill and relocate to Forest Avenue in the West End of Richmond.
Facility-building years in the county continued to be marked by service and mission, and the membership again grew. With an enduring commitment to foreign and local missions, the congregation called pastors in ensuing decades who helped to lead the church into greater support of, as well as participation in, mission. Members themselves, discipled deeply at Third, continued to found and lead a variety of missional outreaches in the city and throughout the world.
The current era of the church includes helping to launch and support many new worshipping communities as well as parachurch ministries. It has been a time of swelling and sending, of growing and stretching. Taxed by the most recent church launch efforts, and by the concurrent process of dismissal from the PCUSA and assimilation into the ECO, Third Church faces a season now of rebuilding and renewal, as it has in the past. God continues to show His grace and favor, on and through Third Church. To Him be the glory!