Why We Belong: What it means to be Presbyterian
For more than 200 years Presbyterians have remained unwavering in this one conviction: Jesus is the Lord (1 Cor: 12:3). All power, truth and salvation rest with God alone. Today, millions of people worldwide worship in Presbyterian churches, they gather as grateful and loved people, eager to hear Scripture and celebrate the sacraments. They gather because God has called them into community to share with one another and the world a greater love, a brighter witness, a truer faithfulness, than they could achieve alone.
Presbyterians have always chiefly been a “sent” people. Today, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shares the gospel through the ministry of 200 coworkers in 75 countries working on matters of evangelism, reconciliation, and the alleviation of poverty. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance witnesses to the healing love of Christ by caring for communities in the midst of crisis. And heeding the call of the Holy Spirit, Presbyterians across the country are building up 1,001 new worshipping communities and empowering congregations to seek out new beginnings and engage their diverse communities.
Presbyterians may not agree on all things, but we do commonly stand with one another as a people saved and in service of God.
That’s why we belong.
The Trinity – we believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (many congregations looking for more expansive language will use the terms Creator, or Mother, and Savior, drawing on biblical imagery). The Trinity is not an optional “extra” to God; it is the very nature of God as revealed to us in Scripture.
The Nature of God – “ The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people” (Book of Order).
The person of Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world and is the true awaited Messiah.
Salvation – “Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him”
(Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ).
Sacraments – We celebrate two sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper – because these are uniquely instituted by Christ.
Scripture – “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” ( Confession of 1967).
The church – “Christ Jesus in the only Head of the Kirk [Church], even as it is the body and spouse of Christ Jesus” (Scots Confession).
Ordination – All ordained leaders in the PC(USA) publicly affirm that Jesus Christ is Savior and “acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church” (Book of Order).
Evangelism – “God sends the church in the power of the Holy Spirit…to tell all nations and peoples of Christ’s call to repentance, faith, and obedience” (Book of Order).
Missional ministry – “ The church participates in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love” (Book of Order).
Stewardship – “The ways in which a believer uses God’s gift of material goods, personal abilities, and time should reflect a faithful response to God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ” (Book of Order).
Women in ministry – We believe women and men are all called to all ministries of the church. We advocate for justice and equality and for the rights of all women.
As a denomination kindled in the Reformation and its insistence on the individual’s unmediated relationship with Christ, the PC (USA) openly embraces disagreement over the interpretation and application of Scripture in contemporary society. There are conservative Presbyterians, and there are liberal Presbyterians and everything in between. We believe this diversity makes us stronger, as we recognize that “we see in a mirror, dimly” (1Cor 13:12) and that not all knowledge is granted to us.
At times, however, Presbyterians feel led by God to take a position on an issue that seems to threaten the very foundations of the gospel and our call “ to do justice” (Micah 6:8) Even then as we take positions, we uphold each individual’s freedom of conscience, governed by Christ alone, and thus his or her right to vocally disagree.
These policy decisions are made by a group of elected pastors and lay leaders (called ruling elders) from all across the country, voting in what we call the general Assembly. These policies can be changed; they are an interpretation of the Scripture, not Scripture itself.
In 1958, one of those assemblies said it this way: “Neither the Church as the body of Christ, nor Christians as individuals, can be neutral or indifferent toward evil in the world.” We have a responsibility, the statement went on, “to reveal God’s grace in places of suffering and need, to resist the forces that tyrannize, and to support the forces that restore the dignity of all [people] as the children of God, for only so is the gospel most fully proclaimed.”
What makes a Presbyterian?
While there are many distinctive Presbyterian qualities and beliefs, ranging how we structure ourselves (we’re not Congregationalist, and we don’t have bishops; we elect representatives) to our commitment to education and healthcare, what really sets us apart is our conviction that everything we do is a response to what God has done. Anything we have to offer is a response to God’s own self-offering in Jesus Christ. We do not earn that love; it is given freely. We live in gratitude for God’s grace. We love because God first loved us. And it’s that love – that gratitude- that sends us out into the world to give back, to work for a society that shares in the liberation, dignity, justice, and grace given to us through and in Christ.