The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a confessional church. We have a Book of Confessions that contains nine creeds or statements of faith. These confessions provide our identity, locate us in a particular theological tradition, set the margins for our creative diversity, and help us focus on essentials.
Presbyterians hold two values in tension. One is freedom of individual conscience; the other is the integrity of the community’s standards. The former represents our desire to be always reforming, granting freedom to those who seek to reform us. The latter represents our desire to be Reformed, maintaining a continuity with the past which has shaped our identity. We have been healthiest when we have maintained a balance between these two values. The key to this balance is to know what is “essential”.
Our present Book of Order gives significant guidance to essential beliefs. The Book of Order declares that the creeds and confessions of the church identify us as a community, guide us in studying Scripture, and summarize the essence of the Christian tradition. The Book of Order then proceeds to list ten doctrines which we can take to be essential and necessary.
Two are noted as shared with the church, catholic, or universal:
- The mystery of the Trinity,
- The incarnation of the eternal Word of God in Jesus Christ.
Two are indentified with our affirmation of the Protestant Reformation:
- Justification by grace through faith,
- Scripture as the final authority for salvation and the life of faith.
Six are declared to express the faith of the Reformed Tradition:
- God’s sovereignty
- God’s choosing (election) of people for salvation and service,
- The covenant life of the church, life in responsible and caring relationship,
- A faithful stewardship of God’ creation,
- The sin of idolatry, which makes anything created ultimate, rather than worshipping the Creator,
- The necessity of obedience to the Word of God, which directs us to work for justice in the transformation of society.
In obedience to the Word of God, we have returned to scripture again and again to get a sense of how we ought to be and what we ought to do. We believe that HOLY SCRIPTURE TEACHES US THAT GOD …
…CREATED the heavens and the earth and made human beings in God’s own image, charging them to care for all that lives. God made man and woman to live in community, responding to the Creator with grateful obedience. Even when the human race broke community with its Maker and with one another, God did not forsake it, but out of grace chose one family for the sake of all, to be pilgrims of promise, God’s own Israel.
…LIBERATED the people of Israel from oppression. God covenanted with Israel to be their God and they are to be God’s people, that they might do justice, love, mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. God confronted Israel with the responsibilities of this covenant, judging the people because of their unfaithfulness while sustaining them by divine grace.
…WAS INCARNATE in Jesus Christ, who announced good news to the poor, proclaimed release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, let the broken victims go free, and proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost; in his life and death for others, God’s redeeming love for all people was made visible; and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is an assurance of God’s victory over sin and death and the promise of God’s continuing presence in the world.
God’s redeeming and reconciling activity in the world CONTINUES through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who confronts individuals and societies with Christ’s Lordship of life and calls them to repentance and to obedience to the will of God.
THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST IS THE PROVISIONAL DEMONSTRATION OF WHAT GOD INTENDS FOR ALL OF HUMANITY.
As such, the church is called to be A SIGN IN AND FOR THE WORLD of the new reality, which God has made available to all people in Jesus Christ. The new reality revealed in Jesus Christ is the new humanity, a new creation, a new beginning for human life in the world:
The church is given its life and its message by the story of God’ continual and unbroken love in the pages of scripture. The New Testament in its turn provides us with new words and new images that help us understand this new demonstration – embodiment – of God’s living purpose.
Scripture teaches us that THE CHURCH IS THE BODY OF CHRIST, both in its corporate life and in the lives of its individual members, and is called to give shape and substance to this truth.
Scripture teaches us that THE CHURCH IS CALLED TO TELL THE GOOD NEWS of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord, proclaiming in Word and Sacrament the new age has dawned.
- God who creates life, frees those in bondage,
- forgives sin, reconciles brokenness,
- makes all things new, is still at work in the world.
Reflecting on scripture and the gift of new life and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the church affirms her calling TO PRESENT THE CLAIMS OF JESUS CHRIST, leading persons to repentance, acceptance of him as Savior and Lord, and new life as disciples.
Reflecting on scripture and the gift of new life and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the church affirms her calling TO BE CHRIST’S FAITHFUL EVANGELIST: going into the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all he has commanded; demonstrating by the love of its members for one another and by the quality of its common life the reality in Christ; sharing in worship, fellowship, and nurture, practicing a deepened life of prayer and service under the guidance of the Holy Spirit;
Reflecting on scripture and the gift of new life and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the church affirms her calling TO PARTICIPATE IN GOD’S ACTIVITY IN THE WORLD through its life for others by:
- healing and reconciling and binding up wounds,
- ministering to the needs of the poor, sick, the lonely, and the powerless,
- engaging itself and its substance to the service of those who suffer,
- sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world.
Our most recent faith statement affirms that “The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith, sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the church.”