What We Believe
Presbyterians don't have a strict set of beliefs which unite them or separate them from other followers of Christ. Presbyterians believe in:
- God the father, creator of the universe
- Jesus, the incarnation of God on the earth
- Holy Spirit, the presence of God in the world and in the believer
- The Church, a universal company of Christ's followers
- Forgiveness of Sins, made possible by the crucifixion of Christ
- Life Everlasting, shown by the resurrection of Jesus
- The Bible, as the inspired word of God.
The Bible as the inspired word of God is a hallmark of many Protestant religions. Presbyterians have always believed the Bible is the most authoritative source for faith, but it does not believe the authors of the Bible were "pens of God". We believe they were inspired by God to reveal his presence to all people, but they did so in their own words and in with the influence of their times.
One way this is illustrated is in the issue of female clergy. Many denominations believe that women should not hold positions as clergy based on the opinions in expressed in the Bible. Presbyterians (PCUSA) embrace the contributions of women in our church both as elders (lay persons) and as ministers of the Word (clergy).
Some churches hand down doctrine and simply expect members to accept it. Being a Presbyterian puts more emphasis on personal freedom and responsibility. Every Presbyterian must find a personal set of beliefs through contemplation and worship. We believe that no Christian church has exclusive possession of the church government authorized by Christ. We therefore do not claim that being a Presbyterian is the only way to achieve salvation. Presbyterians also believe the Holy Spirit heightens truth, and thus admit different understandings of the Confession of Faith. Finally, we also believe that a church never reaches a "reformed" state. It is always in a state of reformation and needs to be open to the power of the Holy Spirit for change.
Presbyterians also follow a stated, though not strict, liturgy in our church services. One feature of many Presbyterian church services is reading together and aloud different creeds and confessions. These are statements of doctrine which express the beliefs of a church or congregation. The recitation involves the whole congregation in the act of worship and helps reinforce our common beliefs.
Presbyterians follow only two biblically based Sacraments. The Sacrament of Baptism unites us with Jesus and makes us members of God's family, the church. The particulars of the baptism, whether full immersion or a symbolic sprinkling, are not important. It is only important that it occurred under the guiding hand of a Christian church. Baptism is not a guarantee to Heaven, nor do we believe its lack denies someone salvation. It is the initiation into a church community, a public confession of our sinful state, and shows our willingness to make Jesus and His teachings a part of our lives.
The Sacrament of Communion, also called the Lord's supper or Eucharist, is a time to renew faith and focus on the responsibilities and gifts we have as Christians. The elements--the bread and wine--represent the sacrifice that Jesus willingly made for all sinners. Together, they represent the new covenant God has made with his children. Any member in good standing in any Christian church is welcome to participate in communion.
So, what does it mean to be a Presbyterian? It means we are Christians in service to our church and our community. We willingly give our time and money to support our church. It means that we try to set an example in our actions that is worthy of Christ's sacrifice. And finally, it means that we have an obligation to help anyone we can, in any way we can, when they are in need.