What Presbyterians Believe:
Presbyterians affirm the love, holiness, and grace of God who creates, sustains, rules and redeems the world.
- We are saved by God’s grace and are called to share God’s love with others.
- Our hope for this life and the life to come results from God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
- God calls us for service to others.
- We discover our calling and guidance for living through the Holy Spirit and study of God’s revelation in scripture.
- We try to practice a life that nourishes all other life on the planet and for all God’s children.
- Presbyterians believe that Jesus Christ is the model for human living.
Presbyterians are Distinctive in Two Major Ways:
- We adhere to a pattern of thought known as Reformed theology.
- We have a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members. Both men and women are ordained as ruling elders (lay leaders) and teaching elders (ministers).
Theology is a way of thinking about God and God’s relation to the world. Reformed theology evolved during the 16th century religious movement known as the Protestant Reformation. It emphasizes God’s supremacy over everything and humanity’s chief purpose as being to glorify and enjoy God forever.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) expresses the faith of the Reformed tradition, with the central affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of God. We believe that God creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love.
Related to this central affirmation of God’s sovereignty are other great themes of the Reformed tradition:
- The calling of the people of God to service as well as for salvation
- A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God’s creation
- The call for the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God
- Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the Word of God
The presbyterian pattern of church government, which vests governing authority primarily in elected laypersons known as ruling elders, was developed by John Calvin. The word presbyterian comes from the Greek word for elder. Ruling elders are chosen by the people. Together with teaching elders (ministers), they exercise leadership, government, and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a particular church as well as the church at large, including ecumenical relationships.
The body of ruling 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 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. Ruling elders may be elected as commissioners to any of the higher governing bodies. Elders then vote with the same authority as ministers and are eligible for any office in these higher bodies. Elders and ministers who serve on these governing bodies are also called presbyters.
For more information about Presbyterians, see the PCUSA website.