We are part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), whose heritage goes back to 1640 when the first Presbyterian Church was established in America. Our historical roots emerged out of the Reformation of 1519 with the theology of grace taught by Martin Luther in conjunction with John Calvin's system of representative democracy. But, even further, Presbyterians share a common history with the Holy Catholic (Universal) Church from the beginnings of Christianity.
Presbyterians are Christians. Like all Christians, Presbyterians affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ, look to scripture as the authoritative witness to Christ, and share in the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The Presbyterian Church is just one of many expressions of the church of Jesus Christ. The Presbyterian Church identifies with the affirmations of the Protestant Reformation, which focuses on the rediscovery of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and the priesthood of all believers.
Our denomination tends to emphasize God’s universal love in Jesus Christ. We believe that God loves this world and loves every person who has ever lived. We do not seek to earn God’s love but to respond to a love that is already present. We confess our faith in Jesus, who is the Savior of the World (1 John 4:14). The Presbyterian Church is very much centered upon Jesus. And, we read the Bible in light of Jesus. Therefore, we are not fundamentalists who bind themselves to a literal interpretation of every verse in scripture. We bind ourselves to Christ and consider how the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus informs our intepretations of the Bible.
The Presbyterian Church is composed of both conservatives and liberals. We balance social justice with evangelism. And, we hold that both men and women can equally serve in every leadership position of the church. We are exclusive in our faith in Christ yet inclusive in our welcome of all people.
We also recognize that we are not perfect. The church is always susceptible to sin and must rely on the grace of God found in Jesus Christ. The hallmark of Presbyterian polity is in the Latin phrase, “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,” that is “The church reformed, always reforming,” according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit.
In order to reform ourself, the scriptures provide several models in which to make reforms. One of those is seeking God’s will through representative democracy. Both the Old and New Testaments have references to people electing elders to make decisions and to lead the people of God. The Greek word for elder is “presbytos” from which we get the word “Presbyterian.” In the Presbyterian Church, no major decisions are in the hands of just one person or just one congregation. All elected representatives and all congregations have equal votes and are called to follow Christ with prayerful and discerning hearts.
The Historic Principles of the Presbyterian Constitution written in 1788 still govern Presbyterians today. They include:
• A representative of the whole, shall govern the smaller.
• A majority shall rule, but the voice of the minority shall be protected.
• There are truths in which people of good character may differ, so mutual forbearance must be exercised.
• Election by the people.
• God alone is Lord of the conscience. (Pastors and politicians should not take away your right to believe and think independently for yourself.)
• Separation of Church and State.
• Freedom of other religions.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) affirms that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, and that the Holy Scriptures are the authoritative witness to Jesus Christ. The church has affirmed its faith through various confessions that have originated in different parts of the world (Turkey, north Africa, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, England, and America) and span different time periods (from the second century, to the 1500’s, to 1983). These confessions are an important guide. However, these confessions of the Church are understood as subordinate standards, subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him. The following are some excerpts from what we have historically expressed:
The Apostles’ Creed (c180-750)
“I believe in God the Father Almighty…”
The Nicene Creed (325-381)
“…We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God…”
The Scots Confession (1560)
“…As we believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, so we firmly believe that from the beginning there has been, now is, and to the end of the world shall be, one Church.... This Church is catholic, that is, universal, because it contains people of all ages, of all realms, nations and tongues, be they Jew or Gentile, who have communion and society with God the Father, and with his Son, Christ Jesus, through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit."
The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
“Question 1: What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
A: That I belong--body and soul, in life and in death--not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and ... by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
The Second Helvetic Confession (1566)
“…We hold that interpretation of the Scriptures to be orthodox and genuine which is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down, and expounded in the light of like and unlike passages and of many and clearer passages) and which agree with the rule of faith and love, and contributes much to the glory of God and the salvation of humankind.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)
“…God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of people which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith and worship…”
The Westminster Catechism (1649)
“Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of life?
A: To glorify God and to fully enjoy him forever.”
The Theological Doctrine of Barmen (1934)
“…Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation…”
The Confession of 1967
"God has created human beings for a personal relation with himself that they may respond to the love of their Creator"
“…The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel…The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God's work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding. As God has spoken his word in diverse cultural situations, the church is confident that God will continue to speak through the Scriptures in a changing world and in every form of human culture…”
A Brief Statement of Faith (1983)
In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.
We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe the gospel. Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition, Jesus was crucified, suffering the depths of human pain and giving his life for the sins of the world. God raised this Jesus from the dead, vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil, delivering us from death to life eternal.
We trust in God, whom Jesus called Abba, Father. In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community. But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator. Ignoring God’s commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care. We deserve God’s condemnation. Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation. In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all families of the earth. Hearing their cry, God delivered the children of Israel from the house of bondage. Loving us still, God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant. Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,
God is faithful still.
We trust in God the Holy Spirit, everywhere the giver and renewer of life. The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith, sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church. The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, engages us through the Word proclaimed, claims us in the waters of baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and calls women and men to all ministries of the church. In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God's new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.