What We Believe

What We Believe

We belong to the Presbyterian (USA) Denomination. Our church is within the Presbytery of the Ohio Valley (POV). A point of Interest from the Presbyterian (USA) website states the following:

Point of Interest:

Presbyterians confess their beliefs through statements that have been adopted over the years and are contained in The Book of Confessions. These statements reflect our understanding of God and what God expects of us at different times in history, but all are faithful to the fundamental beliefs described above. Even though we share these common beliefs, Presbyterians understand that God alone is lord of the conscience, and it is up to each individual to understand what these principles mean in his or her life.

Following this link will allow you to see information on “What Presbyterians Believe”.

The Statement

In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
whom alone we worship and serve.

We trust in Jesus Christ,
Fully human, fully God.
Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
preaching good news to the poor
and release to the captives,
teaching by word and deed
and blessing the children,
healing the sick
and binding up the brokenhearted,
eating with outcasts,
forgiving sinners,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,
Jesus was crucified,
suffering the depths of human pain
and giving his life for the sins of the world.
God raised this Jesus from the dead,
vindicating his sinless life,
breaking the power of sin and evil,
delivering us from death to life eternal.

We trust in God,
whom Jesus called Abba, Father.
In sovereign love God created the world good
and makes everyone equally in God’s image
male and female, of every race and people,
to live as one community.
But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.
Ignoring God’s commandments,
we violate the image of God in others and ourselves,
accept lies as truth,
exploit neighbor and nature,
and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.
We deserve God’s condemnation.
Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.
In everlasting love,
the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people
to bless all families of the earth.
Hearing their cry,
God delivered the children of Israel
from the house of bondage.
Loving us still,
God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.
Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,
like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,
God is faithful still.

We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
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.
The same Spirit
who inspired the prophets and apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
engages us through the Word proclaimed,
claims us in the waters of baptism,
feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calls women and men to all ministries of the church.
In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,
praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

With believers in every time and place,
we rejoice that nothing in life or in death
can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.*

About Jesus

Fully human, fully God.
Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
preaching good news to the poor
and release to the captives,
teaching by word and deed
and blessing the children,
healing the sick
and binding up the brokenhearted,
eating with outcasts,
forgiving sinners,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,
Jesus was crucified,
suffering the depths of human pain
and giving his life for the sins of the world.
God raised Jesus from the dead,
vindicating his sinless life,
breaking the power of sin and evil,
delivering us from death to life eternal.
—“Brief Statement of Faith,” Lines 8-26

Jesus was born of a woman — Mary — in a particular place — the Middle East — to a particular people — the Jews. He was born as a helpless infant who hungered, cried, had to be changed and grew as all babies grow. As a grown man, Jesus knew all of the feelings humans know — joy, sadness, discouragement, loneliness and longing. Yet, Jesus also trusted completely in God and was without sin.

Jesus’ actual ministry on earth was short — approximately three years. Because his teachings challenged powerful religious and government leaders, he was executed as a dangerous and seditious criminal. He died, was buried and was resurrected by God. For Christians, this resurrection is God’s most amazing miracle and proof that Jesus was indeed divine.

We believe that Jesus is as alive today as he was on the first Easter morning and that he is present with us today, even though we cannot see him or physically touch him. We call Jesus “Lord” because he has saved us from the power of death and the power of sin and because, through his sacrifice, we are able to know the fullness of God’s love for us.

Christians also believe that Jesus will one day return to the earth to complete the task of creating a world where justice, peace and love rule and evil is no more. To those who believe in Christ, such an event is seen not with fear but with joyful anticipation. Because Jesus showed that not even death can stop God’s purpose and God’s activity, we know that we have life and hope forever.

About Humans & Salvation

Presbyterians believe the Bible when it says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Unlike crime, which involves the breaking of human law, sin is a condition of the heart or an expression of that condition where we are estranged from God and fail to trust in God. Sin expresses itself in particular acts. The “Brief Statement of Faith” of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) says:

But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.
Ignoring God’s commandments,
we violate the image of God in others and ourselves,
accept lies as truth,
exploit neighbor and nature,
and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.
We deserve God’s condemnation.
—lines 33-39

Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.

Loving us still,
God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.
Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,
like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,
God is faithful still.
—lines 40, 47-51

God has always been faithful to the people of Israel and to the church. Presbyterians believe God has offered us salvation because of God’s loving nature. It is not a right or a privilege to be earned by being “good enough.” No one of us is good enough on our own — we are all dependent upon God’s goodness and mercy. From the kindest, most devoted churchgoer to the most blatant sinner, we are all saved solely by the grace of God.

Out of the greatest possible love and compassion God reached out to us and redeemed us through Jesus Christ, the only one who was ever without sin. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection God triumphed over sin.

Presbyterians believe it is through the action of God working in us that we become aware of our sinfulness and our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Just as a parent is quick to welcome a wayward child who has repented of rebellion, God is willing to forgive our sins if we but confess them and ask for forgiveness in the name of Christ.

God further sent the Holy Spirit to be our companion, counselor and guide in living a life of service to God.

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.
—“Brief Statement of Faith,” lines 54-57

Baptism

One of the main reasons for the lively discussion that surrounds the doctrine of baptism among contemporary Presbyterians is the historic Reformed conviction that “the Holy Spirit claims us in the waters of baptism” (“Brief Statement of Faith”). In an age when serious Christian commitment is less and less in step with our society’s changing values, it is not easy to understand the precise nature and implications of God’s baptismal claim on us. Most of us no longer have any illusions that we live in a “Christian culture.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve embraced a new understanding of what it means to be God’s people that is adequate to the new situation in which we find ourselves.

A brief return to our Reformed roots helps clarify what is at stake. Centuries ago John Calvin identified God’s baptismal claim on Christians with his stirring words “We are not our own, but the Lord’s.” The crucial factor in the Christian life, he said, is that “we are consecrated and dedicated to God.” This means that “we may think, speak, meditate, or do anything only with a view to [the divine] glory.” That is what the Second Helvetic Confession means when it explains that in baptism “the elect are consecrated to God.” More recently, that is also what “A New Brief Statement of Faith” means when it begins with the phrase, “In life and in death we belong to God.”

We are not our own. We are God’s people. We belong to God. As Christians, we are not at the mercy of the torrent of societal values and cultural trends swirling and changing around us. Instead, we are at the mercy of the gracious triune God, who claims us in the clear, cleansing waters of baptism.

Unpacking what it means for us to “belong to God” as American Presbyterians at the turn of the 21st century is a daunting challenge. But now more than ever it is crucial that we recover the historic Reformed connection between baptism and God’s claim in our lives as Christian believers. The following points may provide a beginning.

1. God’s baptismal claim on us is gracious and unconditional.

Regardless of our divergences on other issues, Presbyterians can certainly agree that baptism is all about grace. If we know anything that is distinctively Presbyterian, we know that God’s grace extended to us in Jesus Christ is prior to and calls forth our own response of faith. We know our relationship with God depends primarily on what God has done and only secondarily on what we may or may not do. As Presbyterians  practice it, baptism is a powerful sacramental enactment of this truth. And because  God’s gracious call precedes and evokes the human response of faith, it is normal for Christian parents who are active church members to present their children for baptism as infants or very young children.

The grace God extends to us in baptism is not the kind of “cheap grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against. Through faith, grace is certainly free to us, in the sense that it is not earned or merited. But it was not free to God. Its price was the life of God’s only  Son, Jesus. And on the human level, it costs us our own lives, which now belong unconditionally to God. Baptism acknowledges our intention to live as God’s people.

When Presbyterians speak of baptism as a covenant, we emphasize the multiple commitments involved. First and most basic, there is God’s commitment to us. Then there are the commitments the community of faith makes to us. Finally, and no less important, are the commitments we make to God, to our children, and to the church. That is why our Book of Order echoes Calvin’s own two-sided treatment of baptism’s gracious character when it says:

“Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God’s redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is God’s gift of grace and also God’s summons to respond to that grace. Baptism calls to repentance, to faithfulness, and to discipleship. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world.”

Many contemporary Presbyterians may be a bit uncomfortable with the thought that God’s claim on us in baptism is unconditional. But it all depends on how we define “comfort.” The Heidelberg Catechism begins with the question, “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?” The answer: “That I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ . . . “ It goes on to recount the wonderful comfort we can gain from the assurance that Christ forgives us, liberates us from evil, protects us, governs circumstances for our salvation, promises us eternal life, and gives us the will and the strength to live for God. Practically speaking, the point is that Christ has stood in our place, fulfilling all the divine conditions for our salvation, wholeness and future hope. Nothing we do or fail to do can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38).

2. God’s baptismal claim on us is corporate and communal.

In many areas of American life the unbridled individualism that has long characterized our culture has now been tried and found wanting. However, it still lingers in many of the popular ideas we bring to church. Baptism is no exception.

Many of us still cling to cultural ideas of baptism as a source of grace that is subject to our personal schedules, opinions, demands, tastes and preferences. We may regard baptism as a private right that goes along with being listed on the church roll. We may even find ourselves assuming that in baptism God is at our disposal. With these individualistic assumptions it is difficult to appreciate the Reformed understanding of baptism as a sacred covenant in which we and our children are inseparably united as members to Christ and to the living community of faith by the Holy Spirit.

In contrast, a Biblical understanding of baptism underlines and profoundly reinforces its corporate and communal nature. Chapter 12 of First Corinthians emphasizes that together Christians constitute the Body of Christ and are individually members of it. In this same context the apostle Paul can say, “In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (12:13). Baptism implies active membership in Christ’s Body: the community of faith. The basic meaning of “member” is a part or limb. All this implies that trying to live the Christian life apart from the church is a contradiction in terms.

Baptism calls us to the kind of mutual caring and sharing that characterized the early Christians, and that made others say about them, “See how they love one another!”

3. God’s baptismal claim on us is transforming and liberating.

Traditionally Presbyterians have understood the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism to be centered in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. New Testament baptismal texts like Colossians 2:8–3:17 remind us that baptism initiates a lifelong process of transformation and liberation, both in the community of faith and in the individuals who belong to it. In that process we die to all that is evil in both our common life and our personal lives–as we are raised together to new life in Christ.

There is a troubling tendency in the church today to define liberation in terms that set it over/against personal transformation . Too often freedom is misunderstood as the right to follow some self-defined path to personal fulfillment on the assumption that the   transformation of our desires, habits, values or natural tendencies is impossible.

Baptism calls us to hope in God for more. We baptize in the strong name of the Trinity. God is not only our Creator. In Christ, God is also our Redeemer. As the Holy Spirit, God is also our Liberator and Transformer. As Christians, we are not left to resign ourselves to the natural limitations and possibilities of our world, our culture or our individual tendencies.

The triune God who created the world is also actively at work in that world, to redeem and transform it according to the vision of the divine reign.

Through faith in this triune God, baptism calls us all to share in the ministry of transformation and liberation that is the work of the Spirit who lives in our midst. As we embrace this call in this life, we will find ourselves being personally and corporately transformed by the living God as we receive foretastes of that genuine freedom that consists in harmony with God’s ultimate purpose for the whole creation.

This article originally appeared in the June 1995 issue of the Presbyterian Survey (now Presbyterians Today).