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Our Beliefs

The "Essential Tenets" (or teachings) below come from The Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. They present a clear and concise explanation of what Presbyterians believe.

 

Presbyterians have been of two minds about essential tenets.

We recognize that just as there are some central and

foundational truths of the gospel affirmed by Christians

everywhere, so too there are particular understandings of the

gospel that define the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition.

 

All Christians must affirm the central mysteries of the faith,

and all those who are called to ordered ministries in a

Presbyterian church must also affirm the essential tenets of

the Reformed tradition. Recognizing the danger in reducing

the truth of the gospel to propositions that demand assent, we

also recognize that when the essentials become a matter

primarily of individual discernment and local affirmation, they

lose all power to unite us in common mission and ministry.

 

Essential tenets are tied to the teaching of the confessions as

reliable expositions of Scripture. The essential tenets call out

for explication, not as another confession, but as indispensable

indicators of confessional convictions about what Scripture

leads us to believe and do. Essential tenets do not replace the

confessions, but rather witness to the confessions’ common

core. This document is thus intended not as a new confession

but as a guide to the corporate exploration of and

commitment to the great themes of Scripture and to the

historic Reformed confessions that set forth those themes.

 

The great purpose toward which each human life is

drawn is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Each

member of the church glorifies God by recognizing and

naming His glory, which is the manifestation and revelation of

His own nature. Each member of the church enjoys God by

being so united with Christ through the power of the Holy

Spirit as to become a participant in that divine nature,

transformed from one degree of glory to another and escorted

by Christ into the loving communion of the Trinity. So we

confess our faith not as a matter of dispassionate intellectual

assent, but rather as an act by which we give God glory and

announce our membership in the body of Christ. We trust

that when God’s glory is so lifted up and when His nature is

thus made manifest in the life of the body, the church will be a

light that draws people from every tribe and tongue and nation

to be reconciled to God.

 

I. God’s Word: The Authority for Our Confession

 

The clearest declaration of God’s glory is found in His Word,

both incarnate and written. The Son eternally proceeds from

the Father as His Word, the full expression of the Father’s

nature, and since in the incarnation the Word became flesh all

the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are offered to His

disciples. The written Word grants us those treasures,

proclaims the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and graciously

teaches all that is necessary for faith and life.

 

We glorify God by recognizing and receiving His authoritative self-revelation, both in the infallible Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and also in the incarnation of God the Son.

 

We affirm that the same Holy Spirit who overshadowed

the virgin Mary also inspired the writing and preservation of

the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit testifies to the authority of

God’s Word and illumines our hearts and minds so that we

might receive both the Scriptures and Christ Himself aright.

 

We confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience, but this

freedom is for the purpose of allowing us to be subject always

and primarily to God’s Word. The Spirit will never prompt

our conscience to conclusions that are at odds with the

Scriptures that He has inspired. The revelation of the

incarnate Word does not minimize, qualify, or set aside the

authority of the written Word. We are happy to confess

ourselves captive to the Word of God, not just individually,

but also as members of a community of faith, extending

through time and around the globe. In particular, we join with

other members of the Presbyterian and Reformed community

to affirm the secondary authority of the Book of Confessions as a

faithful exposition of the Word of God.

 

II. Trinity and Incarnation: The Two Central Christian

Mysteries

 

A. Trinity

 

The triune nature of God is the first great mystery of the

Christian faith. With Christians everywhere, we worship

the only true God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is

both one essence and three persons. God is infinite,

eternal, immutable, impassible, and ineffable. He cannot be

divided against Himself, nor is He becoming more than He

has been, since there is no potential or becoming in Him. He

is the source of all goodness, all truth and all beauty, of all love

and all life, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. The

three persons are consubstantial with one another, being both

coeternal, and coequal, such that there are not three gods, nor

are there three parts of God, but rather three persons within

the one Godhead. The Son is eternally begotten from the

Father, and the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and

the Son. All three persons are worthy of worship and praise.

God has no need of anyone or anything beyond Himself. Yet

in grace this Triune God is the one Creator of all things. The

ongoing act of creation is further manifested in God’s gracious

sovereignty and providence, maintaining the existence of the

world and all living creatures for the sake of His own glory.

 

He is the Holy One, the ground of all being, whose glory is so

great that for us to see Him is to die. Yet He has made the

creation to reflect His glory, and He has made human beings

in His own image, with a unique desire to know Him and a

capacity for relationship with Him. Since our God is a

consuming fire whom we in our sin cannot safely approach,

He has approached us by entering into our humanity in Jesus

Christ.

 

B. Incarnation

 

This is the second great mystery of the Christian faith,

affirmed by all Christians everywhere: that Jesus Christ is

both truly God and truly human. As to His divinity, He is

the Son, the second person of the Trinity, being of one

substance with the Father; as to His humanity, He is like us in

every way but sin, of one substance with us, like us in having

both a human soul and a human body. As to His divinity, He

is eternally begotten of the Father; as to His humanity, He is

born of the virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. As to

His divinity, His glory fills heaven and earth; as to His

humanity, His glory is shown in the form of a suffering

servant, most clearly when He is lifted up on the cross in our

place.

 

We confess the mystery of His two natures, divine and

human, in one person. We reject any understanding of the

communication of attributes that must result in a blending of

the two natures such that Jesus Christ is neither truly God nor

truly human. We insist upon sufficient distinction between the

two natures to preserve the truth of the incarnation, that Jesus

Christ is indeed Immanuel, God-with-us, not one who used to

be God, nor one who has merely been sent from God. Rather,

in His coming we have seen God’s glory, for Jesus is the exact

imprint of God’s very being and in Him the fullness of God

was pleased to dwell. The divinity of the Son is in no way

impaired, limited, or changed by His gracious act of

assuming a human nature, and that His true humanity is

in no way undermined by His continued divinity. This is a

mystery that we cannot explain, but we affirm it with joy and

confidence.

 

This mystery of the incarnation is ongoing, for the risen

Jesus, who was sent from the Father, has now ascended

to the Father in His resurrected body and remains truly

human. He is bodily present at the right hand of the Father.

When we are promised that one day we will see Him face to

face, we acknowledge that it is the face of Jesus of Nazareth

we will someday see. The one who, for us and for our

salvation, was born of Mary, died at Calvary, and walked with

disciples to Emmaus is the same Jesus Christ who is now

ascended and who will one day return visibly in the body to

judge the living and the dead.

 

Jesus promised His disciples that He would not leave them

comfortless when He ascended into heaven, but would ask the

Father to send them the Holy Spirit as a comforter and

advocate. We are able to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and

God only through the work of the Holy Spirit. He comes

to us as He came to the gathered disciples at Pentecost: to

kindle our faith, to embolden our witness, and to accompany

us in mission.

 

III. Essentials of the Reformed Tradition

 

A. God’s grace in Christ

 

God declared that the world He created was good and that

human beings, made in His own image, were very good. The

present disordered state of the world, in which we and all

things are subject to misery and to evil, is not God’s

doing, but is rather a result of humanity’s free, sinful

rebellion against God’s will. God created human beings

from the dust of the earth and His own breath, to be His

images and representatives, conduits of God’s grace to the

creation. Since the fall our natural tendency is to abuse and

exploit the creation, preferring evil to goodness. God also

created human beings to speak His grace and truth to one

another, to be helpers who are fit for one another, so that our

social relationships would strengthen our ability to serve and

obey Him. Since the fall, our natural tendency is to engage in

relationships of tyranny and injustice with one another, in

which power is used not to protect and serve but to demean.

 

God further created human beings with the capacity for

relationship with Him, with His law written on our hearts so

that we had the ability to worship Him in love and obey Him

by living holy lives. Since the fall, our natural tendency is to

hate God and our neighbor, to worship idols of our own

devising rather than the one true God.

 

As a result of sin, human life is poisoned by everlasting death.

No part of human life is untouched by sin. Our desires

are no longer trustworthy guides to goodness, and what

seems natural to us no longer corresponds to God’s

design. We are not merely wounded in our sin; we are dead,

unable to save ourselves. Apart from God’s initiative,

salvation is not possible for us. Our only hope is God’s grace.

 

We discover in Scripture that this is a great hope, for our God

is the One whose mercy is from everlasting to everlasting.

This grace does not end when we turn to sin. Although we

are each deserving of God’s eternal condemnation, the eternal

Son assumed our human nature, joining us in our misery and

offering Himself on the cross in order to free us from slavery

to death and sin. Jesus takes our place both in bearing the

weight of condemnation against our sin on the cross and in

offering to God the perfect obedience that humanity owes to

Him but is no longer able to give. All humanity participates in

the fall into sin. Those who are united through faith with Jesus

Christ are fully forgiven from all our sin, so that there is

indeed a new creation. We are declared justified, not because

of any good that we have done, but only because of God’s

grace extended to us in Jesus Christ. In union with Christ

through the power of the Spirit we are brought into right

relation with the Father, who receives us as His adopted

children.

 

Jesus Christ is the only Way to this adoption, the sole path

by which sinners become children of God, for He is the

only-begotten Son, and it is only in union with Him that a

believer is able to know God as Father. Only in Jesus Christ is

the truth about the Triune God, fully and perfectly revealed, for

only He is the Truth, only He has seen the Father, and only He

can make the Father known. Only Jesus Christ is the new Life

that is offered, for He is the bread from heaven and the

fountain of living water, the one by whom all things were made,

in whom all things hold together. The exclusivity of these

claims establishes that God’s love is not impersonal, but a

particular and intimate love in which each individual child of

God is called by name and known as precious; that God’s love

is not only acceptance, but a transforming and effective love in

which His image within us is restored so that we are capable of

holy living.

 

B. Election for salvation and service

 

The call of God to the individual Christian is not merely an

invitation that each person may accept or reject by his or her

own free will. Having lost true freedom of will in the fall,

we are incapable of turning toward God of our own

volition. God chooses us for Himself in grace before the

foundation of the world, not because of any merit on our

part, but only because of His love and mercy. Each of us

is chosen in Christ, who is eternally appointed to be head of

the body of the elect, our brother and our high priest. He is

the one who is bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, our divine

Helper who is also our Bridegroom, sharing our human nature

so that we may see His glory. We who receive Him and

believe in His name do so not by our own will or wisdom, but

because His glory compels us irresistibly to turn toward Him.

 

By His enticing call on our lives, Jesus enlightens our minds,

softens our hearts, and renews our wills, restoring the freedom

that we lost in the fall.

 

We are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and we all

deserve God’s eternal judgment. Apart from the saving work

of Jesus Christ, we are incapable of being in God’s presence,

incapable of bearing the weight of His glory. We rejoice that

Jesus Christ offers us safe conduct into the heart of God’s

consuming and purifying fire, shielding us with His perfect

humanity and transforming us by His divine power. Having

received such grace, we extend grace to others.

 

We are not elect for our own benefit alone. God gathers His

covenant community to be an instrument of His saving

purpose. Through His regenerating and sanctifying work,

the Holy Spirit grants us faith and enables holiness, so

that we may be witnesses of God’s gracious presence to

those who are lost. The Spirit gathers us in a community

that is built up and equipped to be light, salt, and yeast in the

world. Christ sends us into the world to make disciples of all

nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy

Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that Christ has

commanded us. We are now in service to God’s plan for the

fullness of time: uniting all things in heaven and earth to

Himself. To this end, we preach Christ, calling all persons to

repent and believe the gospel. We also care for the natural

world, claim all areas of culture in the name of Jesus, serve the

poor, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, and defend the

helpless. We do this work not with any thought that we are

able to bring in the kingdom, but in the confident hope that

God’s kingdom is surely coming, a day when suffering and

death will pass away and when God will live among His

people.

 

C. Covenant life in the church

 

We are elect in Christ to become members of the community

of the new covenant. This covenant, which God Himself

guarantees, unites us to God and to one another. Already in

the creation, we discover that we are made to live in

relationships to others, male and female, created together in

God’s image. In Christ, we are adopted into the family of

God and find our new identity as brothers and sisters of

one another, since we now share one Father. Our faith

requires our active participation in that covenant community.

Jesus prays that His followers will all be one, and so we both

pray and work for the union of the church throughout the

world. Even where institutional unity does not seem possible,

we are bound to other Christians as our brothers and sisters.

In Christ the dividing wall of hostility created by nationality,

ethnicity, gender, race, and language differences is brought

down. God created people so that the rich variety of His

wisdom might be reflected in the rich variety of human beings,

and the church must already now begin to reflect the

eschatological reality of people from every tribe, and tongue,

and nation bringing the treasures of their kingdoms into the

new city of God.

 

Within the covenant community of the church, God’s

grace is extended through the preaching of the Word, the

administration of the Sacraments, and the faithful

practice of mutual discipline. First, through the work of

the Holy Spirit, the word proclaimed may indeed become

God’s address to us. The Spirit’s illuminating work is

necessary both for the one who preaches and for those who

listen. Second, the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s

Supper are signs that are linked to the things signified, sealing

to us the promises of Jesus. In the Baptism of infants, we

confess our confidence in God’s gracious initiative, that a

baby who cannot turn to God is nonetheless claimed as a

member of the covenant community, a child of God, cleansed

by grace and sealed by the Spirit; in the Baptism of adults, we

confess our confidence that God’s grace can make us new

creations at any stage of our lives. In the Lord’s Supper, we

confess that as we eat the bread and share one cup the Spirit

unites us to the ascended Christ, so that His resurrection life

may nourish, strengthen, and transform us. Third, the

community of the Church practices discipline in order to help

one another along the path to new life, speaking the truth in

love to one another, bearing one another’s burdens, and

offering to one another the grace of Christ.

 

D. Faithful stewardship of all of life

 

The ministries of the church reflect the three-fold office

of Christ as prophet, priest, and king – reflected in the

church’s ordered ministries of teaching elders, deacons,

and ruling elders. We affirm that men and women alike are

called to all the ministries of the Church, and that every

member is called to share in all of Christ’s offices within the

world beyond the church. Every Christian is called to a

prophetic life, proclaiming the good news to the world and

enacting that good news. Every Christian is called to extend

the lordship of Christ to every corner of the world. And every

Christian is called to participate in Christ’s priestly, mediatorial

work, sharing in the suffering of the world in ways that extend

God’s blessing and offering intercession to God on behalf of

the world. We are equipped to share in these offices by the

Holy Spirit, who conforms us to the pattern of Christ’s life.

Jesus teaches us that we are to love the Lord our God

with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our

mind. There is no part of human life that is off limits to

the sanctifying claims of God. We reject the claim that love

of any sort is self-justifying; we affirm that all our affections

and desires must be brought under God’s authority. We reject

the claim that human souls are unaffected by the fall and

remain naturally inclined to God; we affirm that soul and body

alike must be cleansed and purified in order to love God

properly. We reject the claim that the life of the mind is

independent from faith; we affirm that unless we believe we

cannot properly understand either God or the world around

us. Historically, the Presbyterian tradition has been especially

called to explore what it is to love God with all our minds,

being committed to the ongoing project of Christian

education and study at all levels of Christian life.

 

E. Living in obedience to the Word of God

 

Progress in holiness is an expected response of gratitude

to the grace of God, which is initiated, sustained, and

fulfilled by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. The

first response of gratitude is prayer, and the daily discipline of

prayer – both individually and together – should mark the

Christian life. The life of prayer includes praise to God for His

nature and works, sincere confession of our sin, and

intercession for the needs of those we know and for the needs

of the world. As we practice the discipline of regular self-examination and confession, we are especially guided by

the Ten Commandments. We therefore hold one another

accountable to:

 

1. worship God alone, living all of life to His glory,

renouncing all idolatry and all inordinate loves that

might lead us to trust in any other help;

 

2. worship God in humility, being reticent in either

describing or picturing God, recognizing that right

worship is best supported not by our own

innovative practices but through the living

preaching of the Word and the faithful

administration of the Sacraments;

 

3. eliminate from both speech and thought any

blasphemy, irreverence, or impurity;

 

4. observe the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest,

being faithful in gathering with the people of God;

 

5. give honor toward those set in authority over us

and practice mutual submission within the

community of the church;

 

6. eradicate a spirit of anger, resentment, callousness,

violence, or bitterness, and instead cultivate a spirit of gentleness, kindness, peace, and love; recognize

and honor the image of God in every human being from conception to natural death.

 

7. maintain chastity in thought and deed, being

faithful within the covenant of marriage between a

man and a woman as established by God at the

creation or embracing a celibate life as established

by Jesus in the new covenant;

 

8. practice right stewardship of the goods we have

been given, showing charity to those in need and

offering generous support of the Church and its

ministries;

 

9. pursue truth, even when such pursuit is costly, and

defend truth when it is challenged, recognizing that

truth is in order to goodness and that its

preservation matters;

10. resist the pull of envy, greed, and acquisition, and

instead cultivate a spirit of contentment with the

gifts God has given us.

 

In Jesus Christ we see the perfect expression of God’s holy

will for human beings offered to God in our place. His holy

life must now become our holy life. In Christ, God’s will is

now written on our hearts, and we look forward to the day

when we will be so confirmed in holiness that we will no

longer be able to sin. As the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

Jesus leads us along the path of life toward that goal, bringing

us into ever deeper intimacy with the Triune God, in whose

presence is fullness of joy.

 

(This text is taken from ECO with whom our church has been linked through The Fellowship of Presbyterians because the PCUSA has not agreed upon essential tenets of the Christian Faith)

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