WHAT WE BELIEVE



Presbyterians affirm that God comes to us with grace and love in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose for us so that we might have eternal and abundant life in him. As Christ’s disciples, called to ministry in his name, we seek to continue his mission of teaching the truth, feeding the hungry, healing the broken, and welcoming strangers. God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, giving us the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love to be Christ’s faithful disciples in the world.

Following Jesus, Presbyterians are engaged in the world and in seeking thoughtful solutions to the challenges of our time.


Generally, then, what do Presbyterians believe?

We hold to most of the principles expressed by John Calvin, a French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. These principles include the sovereignty of God, the authority of scripture, justification by grace through faith, and the priesthood of all believers. All of this essentially means that God alone is the supreme authority of the universe.

Our salvation comes as a generous gift from Jesus Christ, and is not the result of our own accomplishments. It is the job of each of us (not just those who are ordained leaders) to share this Good News with the world. The PCUSA is governed by a combination of clergy and laity (church members and friends) who are both men and women. More details about this information appear below (“Want More About Presbyterians’ Theology and Government?”).

We confess our beliefs through statements that have been adopted over many, many years and can be found in our Book of Confessions. While we share these common beliefs, we also understand that God is the lord of the conscience, and it is up to each individual to understand what these principles mean in our lives.

Our polity, or system of government, is mandated by our Book of Order, where we are called to service by the six Great Ends of the Church:

1.   The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.

2.   The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.

3.   The maintenance of divine worship.

4.   The preservation of the truth.

5.   The promotion of social righteousness.

6.   The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

You can see each of these Great Ends of the Church depicted in beautifully colored banners in our sanctuary.


What About Jesus?


Presbyterian_Cross_meaningWe believe that Jesus was born fully human and fully divine. He grew up knowing all of the feelings that each of us know. He completely trusted in God and was completely sinless. His ministry on earth was very short (about 3 years) before dying, being buried, and rising from the dead. We believe that he is as alive today and still with us just as he was on Easter morning (even though we can’t “see” or “touch” him).

We call him “Lord” because he has saved us from the power of death and sin. It is only through his sacrifice that we are able to know the fullness of God’s love for us. We believe that Jesus will return to earth to complete the task of creating a world where peace, justice, and love will rule. We view this event with joyful anticipation, not fear.


What is the Holy Spirit?


The Holy Spirit is one part of the Trinity: (1) God, the creator of the universe; (2) Jesus the Christ, the savior who was revealed as the perfect model of humanity; and (3) the Holy Spirit, the ongoing presence and power of God in the world. On Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter, we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ earliest followers.

The Holy Spirit empowers us to grow in faith, make more mature decisions and live more faithful lives. The Spirit gives us the authority to interpret the Bible and to act in God’s name for the good of humanity. The Spirit also gives each person his or her sense of “call” to a special function in the world (and we ALL have one!).

The Holy Spirit (sometimes called the Holy Ghost) convicts us of sin, moves us to repentance, and persuades and enables us to embrace Christ by faith. God is willing to give the Spirit to all who simply ask.


What do Presbyterians Believe About Sin and Salvation?


We believe the Bible when it states in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Unlike crime, sin is a condition of the heart and an expression of the condition where we are estranged from God and fail to trust in God.

We know from the Bible that God was faithful to the people of Israel and to the church. We believe that God has offered us salvation because of God’s loving nature: it is not a right or a privilege that can be earned, because none of us can be “good enough” on our own. We are ALL dependent upon God’s goodness and mercy and are only saved by the grace of God.

Presbyterians believe that it is through the action of God working in us that we become aware of our own sinfulness and need for God’s forgiveness. God is more than willing to forgive our sins if we just confess them and ask for forgiveness, in the name of Christ.


So, When Were You Saved?


No one can know the exact date, hour, minute, or second that he or she was saved, because it happened over 2000 years ago! This reflects our conviction that salvation is centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Our salvation is not dependent upon one particular moment when we were “converted.” Remember, salvation is not something that we do at all. It is God who acts, God who saves through Jesus Christ. Presbyterians focus on God’s action rather than human action.


Want More About Presbyterians’ Theology and Government?


Presbyterians adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members. No minister is more important or holds more power than laity (church members and friends) or elders (elected leaders of the congregation). In fact, in most cases, congregations vote to call, or hire, a pastor, and major decisions such as selling church property are put to a congregational vote.


Theology


Presbyterians primarily hold and affirm God’s sovereignty (God’s majesty, holiness and providence of God who creates, sustains, rules and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love). Other great themes of the Reformed tradition include:

·         The election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation;

·         Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the Word of God;

·         A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God’s creation;

·         The recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God. (Book of Order, G-2.0500)


Government


The body of elders elected to govern a particular congregation is called a session. They are elected by the congregation and in one sense are representatives of the other members of the congregation. On the other hand, their primary charge is to seek to discover and represent the will of Christ as they govern.

Presbyterian elders are both elected and ordained. Through ordination they are officially set apart for service. They retain their ordination beyond their term in office. Ministers who serve the congregation are also part of the session.

The session is the smallest, most local governing body. The other governing bodies are presbyteries, which are composed of several churches, synods, which are composed of several presbyteries, and the General Assembly, which represents the entire denomination.


What is the Significance of the Sacraments for Presbyterians?


Along with others in the Reformed tradition, Presbyterians believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper (also known as the Eucharist or Communion) are sacraments instituted by God and commended by Christ. They are signs of the real presence and power of Christ in the church, symbols of God’s action.

Presbyterians believe in and practice infant and adult baptism as one of the two sacraments of the church. We do not see baptism as reflecting that a person has accepted Christ in his or her life, or that someone is saved from sin. Baptism is a reminder that God has claimed us in a covenant. With infant baptism, our community is called to help those who are baptized to grow in their faith so that ultimately he or she is able to confirm that faith. Confirmation for Presbyterians usually occurs around age 12-13, after study with the pastor and a meeting with the church’s Session. After confirmation, a teenager is then considered a member of the church.

Our sacrament of communion is not like that of other denominations. Our focus is not on the elements (the bread and wine/juice) or how they might change from one thing to another (bread to body or wine to blood). We believe that the Holy Spirit transforms us as we take the elements and we are raised to feast with Christ. When we engage in communion, Christ is present not in the elements themselves, but in the action of remembering.


Do Presbyterians Believe in Predestination?


The short answer is “no.” Presbyterians don’t believe in predestination, we believe only in God. We also know that God knows much more than we can know. God has the first and the last word in all situations.

Presbyterians believe that God has given humanity the tremendous gift of freedom. However, it would be a mistake to argue that human beings are absolutely free moral agents. We do not believe that God has “pre-programmed” ever action. However, if God knows first and last, as we believe God does, then God may well have decided to allow circumstances and randomness and genetics to constitute and play a major role in the universe.


Decently and In Order


It is always said of Presbyterians that we do church decently and in order. Some would actually say that we are obsessed with too many rules and too much legalese. The reality is that we do not make up rules as we go along, we believe that God prefers order to chaos and manipulation.

Presbyterians believe that the Holy Spirit moves through ordered groups. In the decent and orderly process of prayer, study, debate, deliberation, and voting, Presbyterians are convinced that the Church, by God’s grace, can be open to and led by God’s call. We are called and engaged as disciples and stewards of God’s grace in every part of our lives—all to the glory of God.


How Do Presbyterians Support Women in the Church?


One of the places where the church has had the opportunity to live up to its proclamations for the equality of all persons is in the status that it gives women in its own life and work.

Although women were first ordained as elders in one of the predecessor denominations to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1930, it was not until 1956 that presbyteries were permitted to ordain women to the ministry.

Women are a vital part of the ministry of the PC (U.S.A.) and of Franklin Presbyterian Church, and are encouraged to serve as elected ruling elders, deacons, and to pursue the ministry. In fact, Franklin Presbyterian Church has the distinct honor of being the first church in the Presbytery of Eastern Virginia (PEVA) to have called and installed the presbytery’s first female pastor, the Reverend Mary Jane Winter, in 1976.


The Bottom Line?


“At the heart of the Presbyterian understanding of God is one thing: GRACE!

Grace is God’s love and acceptance freely given and not earned. Grace is a gift, not to people who deserve it or to people because they are particularly special. It is a gift given out of the generosity of God’s love for all creation.

Grace is boundless and expansive and, many believe, in the end—irresistible. Grace affirms that it is not humanity that saves itself but God, who has acted in the past, acts today and will act tomorrow.”*

*From Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt by Ted Foote and Alex Thornburg.

 

If you’d like to learn more, visit http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/101/

You are also warmly encouraged to email the pastor or call the church and speak with the pastor.
















 
 
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