What’s A Presbyterian?

 

Presbyterians come in all “shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. We have a wide range of  different political beliefs, different economic backgrounds, even different cultural experiences.  Like any other denomination, no two Presbyterian Churches will look exactly the same! Here are just some of the values and beliefs that Presbyterians share:

We value diversity, not merely as a buzz-word, but as a gift.  We believe that men and women are called equally to ministry, and both serve as clergy and as elders (elected congregational leaders) in our churches. We also believe that differences of age, cultural background, and worldview enrich our worship and understanding of God.

Presbyterians believe strongly in lifelong education–not just for the women and men who serve as our clergy, but for our members as well; many of our nation’s earliest colleges and universities were founded by Presbyterians. Why?  We believe that a good, ongoing, well-rounded education in the arts and sciences, current events, and the Bible is the best way to use God’s wonderful gift, the mind, and to gain fresh understanding of how God continues to speak to us.

Presbyterians also believe strongly in mission and service:  Mission is humble partnership with God’s people in the world, seeking and serving needs:  physical needs like food, clothing, shelter, and medical treatment; or emotional needs like companionship, compassion, and support.  As we serve alongside others, we listen to their stories and experiences, and we humbly share what we have experienced of God’s love, in actions and in words.

Usually, we learn far more than we teach, and we receive far more than we give.

As for our theology, we Presbyterians share much with our brothers and sisters of other Christian denominations, but here are a few points of emphasis:

  • We believe that God is the supreme authority throughout all creation (the universe). But God is not just a distant authority:  God loves us and knows us completely, and God desires for us to know and to love God.  God has a purpose or a will for our lives and delights as we discover it and (imperfectly!) follow it.
  • Our knowledge of God and God’s purpose for humanity comes from the Bible, particularly what is revealed in the New Testament through the life of Jesus Christ. The Bible holds God’s Word for us, but we must work hard to study it, interpret it and understand it.
  • We believe in the reality of sin. Sin is not just “bad behavior.”  If it were that simple, we could just make a choice:  “I am going to stop behaving badly and live a more faithful life.”  The answer to our sin could be self-help books! Instead, sin is a chronic condition–a human inability to follow God’s will that separates us from God’s perfection, and we can’t fix it. “Church people” are no more or less sinful than anybody else!  Paul describes the frustrating power of sin in his letter to the Romans (7:14-15):  “For we know that the law [of God] is spiritual; but I am of the flesh[human], sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
  • Since we cannot justify (make right) our own lives, we need to be made right by God’s love and by God’s action. Our salvation (justification) through Jesus is God’s generous gift to us and not the result of our own accomplishments.  Jesus came not only to teach us, but to save us.  His rejection by humanity and his crucifixion mark the “high water mark” of human sin, and the apparent victory of sin, death and despair.  His resurrection and new life rise above that high water mark and make possible a path from us to God.  A simple way to understand it–we could not reach God but in Jesus God reaches out for us.
  • This strong belief that God must choose to save us, rather than our choosing to be saved, is reflected in our beliefs about baptism. Whether we experience baptism as an infant, a youth, or an adult, we believe that baptism marks a claim that God is making upon our lives, a decision God makes rather than one we make.  Before we ever know or love God, God knows and loves us.  BUT BAPTISM IS ONLY THE BEGINNING–we all begin as “spiritual infants” and we never stop growing:  the child or adult who is baptized needs the ongoing nurture of the church, the regular community of worship, the shared experience of the sacraments and the sharing in ministry and mission to continue to grow in faith.

Want to know more?  Please call the church office @ 667-1288 to ask about the next Inquirers Class or to schedule an appointment.  Also, check out Presbyterian 101 from the General Assembly Mission Council, Presbyterian Church USA.

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