Presbyterians 101

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is: Reformed, Creedal, Confessional and Covenantal. Let us help you learn more about the unique theology and polity of the PC (USA). Please choose the category you would like to explore further:

 

 

 

The Great Ends of The Church Back to top

 

The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world (Book of Order, G-1.0200).

Presbyterians are distinctive in two major ways: they adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.

 

 

Reformed Theology Back to top

 

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.
In its confessions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) expresses the faith of the Reformed tradition. Central to this tradition is the affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of God who 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 election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation;
  • Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the Word of God;
  • A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God's creation;
  • The recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God (Book of Order, G-2.0500).

 

Church Government Back to top

 

A major contributor to Reformed theology was John Calvin, who converted from Roman Catholicism after training for the priesthood and in the law. In exile in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin developed the Presbyterian pattern of church government, which vests governing authority primarily in elected laypersons known as elders. The word presbyterian comes from the Greek word for elder.
Elders are chosen by the people. Together with ministers of the Word and Sacrament, 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. They shall serve faithfully as members of the session (Book of Order, G-10.0102).
The body of 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 smallest, 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. Elders and ministers who serve on these governing bodies are also called presbyters.

 

Women in the Church Back to top

 

One of the places where the church has had the opportunity to live up to its proclamations for the equality of all persons is in the status that it gives women in its own life and work.
Although women were first ordained as elders in one of the predecessor denominations to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1930, it was not until 1956 that presbyteries were permitted to ordain women to the ministry.
In a different predecessor denomination, the 1956 General Assembly approved changes in the church's constitution to allow the election of women as deacons and ruling elders. Those changes were defeated by the presbyteries, but the 1957 General Assembly responded to the defeat by urging that women be included in all church committees including those on finances and budget. The first ordination of women as elders in this denomination actually occurred in 1962. As ministers, women were ordained beginning 1965.

 

The Sacraments Back to top

 

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
"The Reformed tradition understands Baptism and the Lord's Supper to be Sacraments, instituted by God and commended by Christ. Sacraments are signs of the real presence and power of Christ in the Church, symbols of God's action. Through the Sacraments, God seals believers in redemption, renews their identity as the people of God, and marks them for service" (Book of Order W-1.3033.2).
"The early Church, following Jesus, took three primary material elements of life--water, bread, and wine--to become basic symbols of offering life to God as Jesus had offered his life. Being washed with the water of Baptism, Christians received new life in Christ and presented their bodies to be living sacrifices to God. Eating bread and drinking wine they received the sustaining presence of Christ, remembered God's covenant promise, and pledged their obedience anew" (Book of Order W-1.3033.1).

 

The Lord's Supper Back to top

 

"The Lord's Supper is the sign and seal of eating and drinking in communion with the crucified and risen Lord. During his earthly ministry Jesus shared meals with his followers as a sign of community and acceptance and as an occasion for his own ministry" (Book of Order W-2.4001a).
Around the Table of the Lord, God's people are in communion with Christ and with all who belong to Christ. Reconciliation with Christ compels reconciliation with one another. All the baptized faithful are to be welcomed to the Table, and none shall be excluded because of race, sex, age, economic status, social class, handicapping condition, difference of culture or language, or any barrier created by human injustice. Coming to the Lord's Table the faithful are actively to seek reconciliation in every instance of conflict or division between them and their neighbors (Book of Order W-2.4006).
The Lord's Supper is to be observed on the Lord's Day, in the regular place of worship, and in a manner suitable to the particular occasion and local congregation. It is appropriate to celebrate the Lord's Supper as often as each Lord's Day. It is to be celebrated regularly and frequently enough to be recognized as integral to the Service for the Lord's Day (Book of Order W-2.4009).
The invitation to the Lord's Supper is extended to all who have been baptized, remembering that access to the Table is not a right conferred upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. In preparing to receive Christ in this Sacrament, the believer is to confess sin and brokenness, to seek reconciliation with God and neighbor, and to trust in Jesus Christ for cleansing and renewal. Even one who doubts or whose trust is wavering may come to the Table in order to be assured of God's love and grace in Christ Jesus (Book of Order W-2.4011a).

 

For more information regarding the Presbyterian understanding of baptism, please visit our Baptism page.

 

*All information on this page was taken from the PC(USA) website: (www.pcusa.org/101/).*