Who Are Presbyterians?
The Presbyterian Church was established in the 16th Century during the development of Protestantism. Originally influenced by John Calvin’s involvement in the French Protestant movement, this focus on a balance of power through “elder” (Greek: presbuteros) leadership in the church, made its way to the British Isles, where it flourished and was launched into the rest of the world.
Presbyterians are unique in two primary ways:
- adherence to a pattern of Christian thought known as Reformed theology, and;
- the practice of a form of church government that stresses the active, representative leadership of both pastors and elders (elected lay people who serve on the Session, the governing board of the church). Incidently, the form of government of the United States of America is founded on the Presbyterian model, which means there would be no United States of America, as we know it, without us Presbyterians!
Some basic principles of Presbyterian and Reformed theology are:
The Sovereignty of God
God is the supreme authority throughout the universe and is in control of all that exists.
The Centrality of Jesus Christ
Presbyterians share with all Christians the belief that Jesus Christ is central to our lives, our worship, and our service. We believe Jesus Christ is God Incarnate: 100% human and 100% divine, a mystery. We believe that God in Christ came to live among us, and die for us, that all might come to know the grace of God and the gift of salvation through faith in Him.
The Authority of Scripture
The Bible is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God. Presbyterians are not literalists or fundamentalists, but do understand the Bible to be the authoritative source of faith and practice for all of life. It is not the words on the page that are authoritative, but it is the Spirit of God that speaks through these words that make them the Word.
Justification by Grace through Faith
Our salvation (justification) through Jesus Christ is God’s generous gift (grace) to us and not the result of our own accomplishments. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The Priesthood of All Believers
Presbyterians believe it is everyone’s responsibility (not just pastors) to share the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
We are Saved to Serve
Presbyterians believe the purpose of salvation is to serve God by serving others. Salvation is not understood as a thing, or a commodity, or as fire insurance, but as God’s gracious election for the purpose of service. Christian service includes, but is not limited to, the following: Worship, Sharing the Good News (evangelism), Mission, Christian Education, Love of Neighbor and Enemy, Prayer and Meditation, Social and Political Awareness and Activity.
We Presbyterians state, in our Book of Order, that there are six Great Ends (purposes) of the Church: 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 truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and, the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.