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What We Believe

What do Presbyterians believe? 

In making decisions, Presbyterians listen to each other, to the Bible, and to the church’s Constitution. Presbyterians stress the importance of a unified body of Christ.  We are one body because God has called us together in Jesus Christ.

Presbyterians rely on the Bible and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for authority and guidance.

The Constitution consists of two books:

The Book of Confessions 

Contains 11 documents, dating from the 4th century to the late 20th century that give us the main theological themes found central in Scripture.

The Book of Order 

Sets out democratic principles of representative government and applies them to life in the church. 

 

What is Presbyterian government all about? 

Presbyterian Polity is representative government very similar to the United States government.  We elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf.  Those elected are expected to vote according to their consciences as they are informed by the Holy Spirit.  They cannot be instructed by their constituency on how to vote, nor are they bound to vote in the same way as the majority of those who elected them.  

Congregations form presbyteries, then synods, and finally the General Assembly.

The pastor moderates meetings of the church session (the elders), but is not the “boss.”  The congregation votes to call or dismiss the pastor, and the session votes on decisions affecting the spiritual and programmatic life of the congregation.  In most Presbyterian congregations, committees reporting to the session oversee the church’s mission, Christian education, stewardship, worship, and other activities.

 

Who is ordained in the Presbyterian Church?

Elders and Deacons as well as ministers are ordained.  Deacons are ordained to a ministry of service.  Elders are ordained to a ministry of governance.  Ministers of the Word and Sacrament are ordained to service and governance and also to a ministry of teaching and pastoral care.

 

Do Presbyterians believe we are saved by our good works or by grace?

Presbyterians follow what the apostle Paul taught: no one is good enough to deserve salvation. Thus, we are saved only by grace because God decided to save us through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus.   So it is not enough just to say that if we have done a good job being righteous (our good works) that we will be rewarded in heaven after we die.

 

Do Presbyterians believe in fate or predestination?

Presbyterians believe in the doctrine of predestination, which says God chose to redeem us long before we could even understand what that might mean.   Because God chose us before the foundation of the world, that means we are predestined to life.  That does not take away our freedom or ability to choose; we make many free choices every day.    

Beyond that, predestination teaches us that God has given us a new and bigger freedom: the freedom to fulfill our destiny.  So we do not believe that good deeds or evil deeds are the result of our predetermined fate.

 

Do Presbyterians believe in reincarnation or eternal life?

Presbyterians believe that scripture does not teach reincarnation; it points us toward eternal life in the presence of God.  We do not believe in an endless cycle of death and rebirth so that we continually get another chance to attain a certain level of goodness.

 

Why do Presbyterians celebrate The Lord’s Supper on a table and not an altar?

Presbyterians believe that the sacrifice of Christ has already been offered once and for all; it needs no repetition, and the action of a minister cannot make it occur again.  Thus, the Lord’s Supper takes place at a table rather than an altar.  Thus, the communion table itself, although it may be quite ornate, holds no particular significance or holiness. 

 

What do Presbyterians believe about life after death?

Presbyterians believe that God will indeed redeem us and cleanse us from all of our sins and we will be readied for heaven without a need for a doctrine of purgatory - where the remainders of our sinfulness would be purged.

 

Where does the Presbyterian church get its authority?

Presbyterians believe that church authority is not carried in individuals and that the church leaders can declare the will of God only on the authority of Scripture.

 

What do Presbyterians believe about prayer?

Presbyterians believe that praying is an act of worship and devotion and only can be offered to God directly.

 

What do Presbyterians believe about sin?

Presbyterians believe that sin is sin but that forgiveness is God’s free gift in Christ. Confession and assurance of pardon are not what enable God to forgive us, but rather what enable us to recognize that we are forgiven.

 

More information

For more information, visit www.pcusa.org