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what we believe

What is distinctive about the Presbyterian Church?

Presbyterians are distinctive in three major ways: they follow a formulation of religious thought known as Reformed theology; they have a form of government which stresses the active, representational leadership of ministers and church members; and Presbyterian is a connectional body of worshipers who participate in mission, ministry and organizational oversight of congregations locally (through a presbytery), regionally (through a synod), and nationally (through the General Assembly). Presbyterians believe the will of God may be better discerned by a collective body of believers rather than by a single individual, which is why the Presbyterian Church is governed at all levels by a combination of clergy and laity, men and women who represent the diversity of the congregation.

How did the Presbyterian Church begin?

Presbyterians trace their history to the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. Our heritage, and much of what we believe, began with the French lawyer John Calvin (1509-1564), whose writings synthesized much of the Reformed thinking that came before him. Calvin did much of his writing in Geneva, Switzerland. From there, the Reformed movement spread to other parts of Europe and the British Isles. Many of the early Presbyterians in America came from England, Scotland and Ireland. The first American Presbytery was organized at Philadelphia in 1706. The first General Assembly was held in the same city in 1789, and it was convened by the Rev. John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.

What do Presbyterians believe?

Some of the principles expressed by John Calvin remain at the core of Presbyterian beliefs. Among these are the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scripture, justification by grace through faith, and the priesthood of all believers. Collectively, these beliefs affirm that God is the supreme authority throughout the universe and our knowledge of God and God's purpose for humanity comes from the Bible, particularly as revealed in the New Testament through the life, teachings, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our salvation (justification) through Jesus is God's generous gift to us and not something that we can earn through doing good works. (For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9) Although we do not have to do anything to earn salvation—in fact we cannot do anything because everything already has been done by and through Jesus Christ—but everyone is called to respond to this free gift through acts of ministry, mission, and service. We do not respond because we have got to, but because we get to out of our love for all that Jesus has done for us.

What are the essential principles of the Presbyterian Church?

The Book of Order is Part II of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), and the opening chapter outlines the preliminary principles. It begins by affirming that Jesus Christ is Head of the Church, which is his body. This affirmation is followed by what Presbyterians call the "Great Ends of the Church," which include the core principles at the heart of all activity within and beyond a particular congregation. The Great Ends include: the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. [Book of Order G-1.0200]

What does the Presbyterian Church believe about mission and ministry?

The Presbyterian Church believes the mission and ministry of the church today is a continuation of God's work through history. Presbyterians believe the church is called to present the claims of Jesus Christ, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord, and to a new life as his disciples. We affirm we are called to participate in God's activity in the world through its life for others by healing and reconciling and binding up wounds; ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless; engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice; giving itself and its substance to the service of those who suffer; and sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world. [Book of Order G-3.0300b-c(3)] Furthermore, the Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ. [Book of Order G-3.0400]

What do Presbyterians affirm regarding diversity and inclusiveness?

  • Variety of Worship: The church in its witness to the uniqueness of the Christian faith is called to mission and must be responsive to diversity in both the church and the world. Thus the fellowship of Christians as it gathers for worship and orders its corporate life will display a rich variety of form, practice, language, program, nurture, and service to suit culture and need.
  • Openness to Others: Our unity in Christ enables and requires the church to be open to all persons and to the varieties of talents and gifts of God's people, including those who are in the communities of the arts and sciences.
  • Full Participation: The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall give full expression to the rich diversity within its membership and shall provide means which will assure a greater inclusiveness leading to wholeness in its emerging life. Persons of all racial ethnic groups, different ages, both sexes, various disabilities, diverse geographical areas, different theological positions consistent with the Reformed tradition, as well as different marital condition (married, single, widowed, or divorced) shall be guaranteed full participation and access to representation in the decision making of the church. [Book of Order G-4.0401-.04
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