OUR PRESBYTERIAN HERITAGE
About our unique name:
“Presbyterian” derives from the Greek word presbuteros, or elder. From earliest times congregations were led by those who demonstrated maturity through experience and spiritual growth. Presbyterian churches are “elder churches,” governed as representative democracies by elected lay people and called pastors.
What is “reformed” theology?
Presbyterians belong to the historic stream of Christian believers who, beginning in the 1500’s in Europe, began to “re-form” their faith on the basis of biblical principles, instead of reliance on Catholic church traditions.
Those who are reformed in their faith believe that the Bible is the final arbiter of spiritual thinking and practice: God’s Living Word (Jesus) continues to speak over the centuries through the Written Word (scriptures of the Old and New Testaments).
What is a Presbyterian?
A Presbyterian is a Christian. This is the important statement about a Presbyterian. Whether a Presbyterian follows Calvin or Knox or the Westminster Assembly is meaningless unless we follow Jesus.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? First, it means to believe in him. To follow Jesus means to submit your life to him as your Savior and trust him as the one who gives you everlasting life by dying for you on the cross. To follow Jesus means to love him, pray to him, ask him to guide you each day and protect you from temptation.
Second, to follow Jesus means to obey him as your Lord. That means you don’t lie, you don’t steal, you don’t commit adultery. It means you love and respect members of your family. It means you love your neighbors—you help and support them. It means you love your enemies. You don’t try to destroy your enemies, but win them over.
To obey Jesus means to share the good news about Jesus with people who don’t know him, whether you do it in the church building, or in your own home, or 12,000 miles away. To obey Jesus means to feed hungry people, to give clothes and shelter to those who need it. It means to visit the sick and those in prison.
Sometimes we deceive ourselves into thinking that if at one time in our lives we accepted Jesus as our Savior then we are Christians. But accepting Jesus as Savior is only the beginning. Jesus said, “You are my disciples if you do what I command you.”
A Presbyterian is a person who has a particular attitude toward the Bible. We believe that the Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice, or as our newer ordination vows state, “the authoritative standard by which your faith and life are to be directed.”
What does that mean? It means that if you find your creed doesn’t conform to the Bible, you change your creed. If you find something you are doing in your life does not agree with the Bible, you stop what you are doing. The Bible is the yardstick for what Presbyterians believe and how they act. It is for this reason that most Presbyterian ministers are expected to have a reading knowledge of Hebrew and Greek in order to be able to read the Old and New Testaments in the original languages.
A Presbyterian is a person who believes education is important. One of the first things Presbyterians did in Geneva 400 years ago was to start a college. Our ministers today are called teaching elders. The pulpit robe worn by most Presbyterian ministers is the teaching gown of the medieval church.
And Presbyterians do not just study the Bible. They study everything—science, mathematics, literature, history, economics—everything. Why? Because this planet is God’s planet, which he has put into our care. And if we are to care for this planet, we have a duty to understand everything we can about it.
A Presbyterian is a person who believes the church should be governed in a certain way—by electing representatives who seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in setting the policies of the church. Presbyterians believe that the church should be governed in an orderly, responsible way.
A Presbyterian is a person who follows a certain lifestyle. This statement is important because it expresses one of our strengths as well as one of our weaknesses.
A Presbyterian is a person who gets up early in the morning and makes his/her bed. He/she prays and reads the Bible. He/she eats a nourishing, but modest, breakfast. He/she goes to his/her job or business and does a day’s work for a day’s pay. He/she saves his/her money. He/she gives a tenth of his income to the church.
If he is a father, the Presbyterian prays with and for his children and teaches them the faith by his words and his actions.
A Presbyterian honors the Lord’s Day. He/she takes his/her family to church. He/she sits in worship with his/her children and shows them how to worship, unless he/she is singing in the choir or serving in some other capacity during the service. When not at worship, a Presbyterian uses the Lord’s Day to rest, to think about God’s will for his life, and to care for others.
A Presbyterian serves his/her community, nation, and world. He/she believes that God’s rule must be acted out by God’s people.
What Do Presbyterians Believe?
There is no strict set of beliefs that unites Presbyterians or separates them from other followers of Christ. Like other Christians, Presbyterians believe in:
THE TRINITY—God exists in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
GOD—the Creator of the Universe.
CHRIST—the incarnation of God on earth. Christ is the Son of God, the Revealer of God and the Savior of humanity.
THE HOLY SPIRIT—the presence of God in the world and in the believer.
THE CHURCH—a universal company of Christ’s followers.
FORGIVENESS OF SIN—made possible by the crucifixion of Jesus.
LIFE EVERLASTING—shown by the resurrection of Jesus.
THE BIBLE—the inspired Word of God.
SOME PRESBYTERIANS BELIEFS
HEAVEN—The souls of the faithful are reunited with God in a warm and loving relationship.
HELL—Separation from God may exist now as well as in the hereafter.
VIRGIN BIRTH—Jesus’ birth was miraculous.
MARY—Mary is honored as the mother of Jesus. She was the special person chosen to bear the Son of God.
RESURRECTION—The resurrection of the body refers to the reuniting of the spiritual body and physical body.
CONFESSION—This is voluntary and made directly to God. But it may be made in the presence of a pastor.
SALVATION—God grants the gift of grace, which enables us to gain the faith necessary for salvation.
THE CROSS—The empty cross symbolizes the risen Christ who opened the Kingdom of Heaven.
THE SACREDNESS OF MARRIAGE—Presbyterians try to curb divorce by encouraging young people to prepare seriously for marriage.
CHANGE—Presbyterians admit different understandings of the Confessions of Faith. This is because they believe that the Holy Spirit constantly heightens truth.
PARENTHOOD—There is nothing in the church’s teaching that discourages intelligent, unselfish family planning.
EDUCATION—Presbyterians stress education, both for the ministry and for the laity.
THE “ONLY” CHURCH—No Christian church has exclusive possession of the church government authorized by Christ.
THE SACRAMENTS—These include baptism and communion.
Presbyterians interpret the Bible very much like other Protestants do. Ultimately, however, every Presbyterian must find a personal set of beliefs through study, contemplation and worship.
Presbyterians Have Two Main Sources for Inspiration and Guidance in Their Faith
The Bible is an inspired record of the revelation of God to all. Presbyterians have always believed that the Bible is the most authoritative source for faith and practice for all people.
Presbyterians do not believe that the authors of the Bible were “pens of God’ as the pre-Christian writers believed. Instead, they believe the authors were inspired by God to reveal God to all people.
Creeds and Confessions
Creeds and Confessions are statements of doctrine that express the beliefs of a church or congregation. They include:
- the Apostles’ Creed
- the Nicene Creed
- the Scots Confession, 1560
- the Heidelberg Catechism
- the Second Helvetic Confession
- the Westminster Confession of Faith
- the Larger Catechism
- the Shorter Catechism
- the Theological Declaration of Barmen
- the Confession of 1967
- “A Brief Statement of Faith” 1991