Presbyterians are a group of Protestants whose church is founded on the concept of democratic rule under the Word of God. The Presbyterian denomination is a form of Christianity democratically organized to embrace the faith common to all Christians. In the New Testament, "presbuteros" means elder, and refers to the democratic custom of choosing leaders and advisors from among the wisest members of the church.
All that is required to be a Presbyterian is to:
- confess the Christian faith
- trust in Christ as our forgiving Savior
- promise to follow Christ and Christ's example for living
- commit oneself to attend church and to become involved in its work.
What is the Presbyterian Church?
It is a representative democracy governed by elders elected from and by the congregation. Its authority resides with the duly elected representatives of the congregation in the appointed church governing bodies. The local church governing body is the session.
Local sessions oversee the day-to-day work of the church and supervise:
- Deacons - elected to conduct the temporal and charitable ministry of the church.
- Trustees - (in some churches) elected to manage financial, legal, and property affairs of the church.
The overall church structure is made up of four governing bodies. These are the:
- Session or local governing body - ordained ministers (ministers of the Word) and elders, all elected by the congregation
- Presbytery - elders and ministers from congregations who oversee several churches
- Synod - representatives elected from each presbytery to oversee several presbyteries
- General Assembly - the national governing body made up of equal numbers of laypeople and clergy chosen by the presbyteries.
What do Presbyterians believe?
There is no strict set of beliefs that unites Presbyterians or separates them from other followers of Christ. Like other Christians, Presbyterians believe in:
- God - the Creator of the universe
- Christ - the incarnation of God on earth
- The Holy Spirit - the presence of God in the world and in the believer
- The Church - a universal company of Christ's followers
- Forgiveness of sin - made possible by the crucifixion of Jesus
- Life everlasting shown by the resurrection of Jesus
- The Bible - the inspired Word of God
Presbyterians have two main sources for inspiration and guidance in their faith.
The Bible is an inspired record of the revelation of God to all.
Presbyterians have always believed that the Bible is the most authoritative source for faith and practice for all people.
Presbyterians do not believe that the authors of the Bible were "pens of God" as the pre-Christian writers believed. Instead, they believe the authors were inspired by God to reveal God to all people.
Creeds and Confessions
These are statements of doctrine that express the beliefs of a church or congregation. They include:
- the Apostles' Creed
- the Nicene Creed
- the Scots Confession, 1560
- the Heidelberg Catechism
- the Second Helvetic Confession
- the Westminster Confession of Faith
- the Larger Catechism
- the Shorter Catechism
- the Theological Declaration of Barmen
- the Confession of 1967