Who are we Presbyterians? What makes us unique? How are we different from other “main line” denominations?
As a pastor, I have fielded these question many times. Congregations belonging to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are united by a desire to worship God and to identify and do the good work God is calling us to do. Recognizing that for many people this is easier said than done the Book of Order of the PC(USA) has organized this work into practical, concrete objectives called the “Six Great Ends of the Church.” These are:
- “The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind”
The things we say and the way we live should be evidence of the good news God reveals to us in scripture.
- “The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God”
We are “our brother’s keeper.” God calls us to remember our neighbors and all people; we should work to meet basic human needs and to support a community that fosters spiritual development.
- “The maintenance of divine worship”
We gather as a community to worship the triune God.
- “The preservation of the truth”
We will ensure that the truth revealed in scripture is appropriately honored and never watered down.
- “The promotion of social righteousness”
We live, and encourage others to live, in ways that uphold and recognize God’s presence and involvement with us in every moment. Our relationship with God is not limited to Sunday morning worship, God is sovereign over all elements of life.
- “The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world”
Jesus has introduced the Kingdom of God to us. His life and teachings communicate God’s ideal vision for living and relating with each other and God. We do our best to live in a way that reflects God’s way of life to everyone including the people who sit near us in church and in everyday life.
Congregations in the PC(USA) are also united by certain ideas that shape the way we understand the gospel (good news) and the way we should respond to it. These are some of the most important:
Authority of Scripture
There is no better source than the Bible for understanding who Jesus is and what his life on earth accomplished, especially God’s self revelation to us, so scripture always guides and informs our lives and work.
Once Reformed, Always Being Reformed
Common ground is required for us to succeed in our work and ministry together but we should be careful that it doesn’t become set in stone. The ideals that guide us are always subordinate to scripture and the work of God’s Spirit. In our history sometimes our ideals have failed to align with the truth revealed to us in scripture or to glorify God. Should this happen today the ideal must be realigned according to scripture as God continues to reveal God’s self to us.
God Alone Is Lord of the Conscience
We know God because God wants and seeks to be known by us. God comes to us in community and in private. We believe God is the highest authority so in the end we answer to God alone. We trust that God will guide our consciences as we work towards the fulfillment of the great ends of the church and live in ways that honor God’s calling.
Priesthood of All Believers
God gives abilities and talents to all people and calls everyone to use them to glorify God and serve our neighbors. Every person and every ability is a valuable and intentional part of God’s plan.
Justification by Grace Through Faith
We are not saved (brought in a right relationship with God) by good deeds or our own work. Our salvation is a free gift from God that is received through faith.
Sovereignty of God
God’s character is defined by unlimited freedom. Everything is in God’s hands.
We Are a Connectional Church
God didn’t create us to be alone, and we need each other. By working together towards the great ends of the church we will achieve more than we would on our own and we will help ensure that our efforts serve the will of God rather than the will of people.