EVANGELICAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DISTINCTIVES WHO WE ARE Historically, we Presbyterians belong to a family of faith that can be described in two ways. If you talk about how we govern ourselves, we are called “Presbyterian” which means “rule by elders.” Our form of government is different from the Episcopal form with a hierarchy, or the congregational form where government is by the congregation, for we have a representative form of church government. If you talk about what we believe, we are called “Reformed.” This means that our belief grows out of the Christian faith as it was “reformed” during the Protestant Reformation, particularly through John Calvin and John Knox. The Presbyterian “family” has within it members which are unique and distinctive. In particular, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has some features that set it apart from the rest of the Reformed and Presbyterian denominations.
DISTINCTIVE 1: While adhering to the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught by the Bible, we have developed a document called “The Essentials of Our Faith.” While we believe all of our faith is important, some elements of that faith are absolutes. For example, it is essential that we agree on the meaning of the atoning death of jesus on the cross. However, we do not believe it is essential to agree upon the timing of Christ’s second coming. The EPC, therefore, has set forth these core beliefs of the Christian faith upon which here must be agreement, but permits latitude and differences of opinion on those matters not considered essential to be a Christian. DISTINCTIVE 2: The Westminster Confession Faith has had a number of revisions over the years. not only has the Evangelical Presbyterian Church adopted some important revision that bring it up to date, but in addition, it has adopted, a modern language version that has carefully maintained the integrity of the document while providing greater readability to our modern world. DISTINCTIVE 3: In a unique way among Presbyterians today, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is fully Trinitarian. We believe strongly in all three persons in the Godhead. As a consequence, there is a balanced emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. While affirming the priority of the fruit of the spirit over the gifts of the Spirit in the Christian life, we also affirm those who believe that all the gifts of God’s Spirit are biblically valid for today. While we are not Pentecostal, neither do we believe that the work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, should be ignored or forbidden. DISTINCTIVE 4: Part of the genius of Presbyterianism has been the role of the Ruling Elder, the layman, in the government of the church. When a denomination becomes clergy dominated, it tends to lose touch with the
grassroots of the church. To maintain that important balance, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church provides for each congregation to send two Ruling Elders for each minister to Presbytery and General Assembly. Presbyteries have means available to maintain this distinctive regardless of the number of ministers belonging to Presbytery. DISTINCTIVE 5: The understanding of the role of women in the life of the church differs widely. For example, one Presbyterian denomination may require that women be elected as Elders and Deacons, another may forbid their election. Equally sincere Christians may differ on this issue. In the Evangelical Presbyterian Church , the decision to elect women as Ruling Elders or Deacons is left to the discretion of the local congregation. we believe that under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, God’s people should be free to follow His leading on the important issue. DISTINCTIVE 6: The Evangelical Presbyterian Church recognizes that many things change over time. However, ther are certain feature of our government that are unique and distinctive, and should never change. Among these are the rights of a church over its own property and to elect it own officers. To insure that such features are not the victims of time or circumstance, there is written into our Book of Government, a section called, “Limitations in perpetuity.” Here are identified certain rights held in perpetuity by Christians, both individually and in congregations. These rights must always be guaranteed by the Church. Additions to this section may be made, but nothing can be taken away. DISTINCTIVE 7: The Evangelical Presbyterian Church spells out specifically the first duty of the Church. Our Book of Government reads “ The first duty of the Church is to evangelize by extending the Gospel both at home and abroad, leading others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” It makes clear that “good works” are not the Gospel, but the fruit of the gospel. The statement concludes, “…The Church must never confuse its primary task of evangelism (the Gospel) with the fruit of faith (good works).” This affirmation settles for us a dispute that has caused much division in our day when churches have become preoccupied with social change to the neglect of true spiritual change. DISTINCTIVE 8: In our Book of Government, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church spells out rights reserved to a particular church. These rights include many things also guaranteed in perpetuity, but additionally, the right is included for a particular church to own its property as well as to withdraw with its property if it so decides. it outlines other rights, such as the right to call its own pastor. This means no pastor can ever be placed over a congregation without its consent. DISTINCTIVE 9: The Evangelical Presbyterian church has no “per capita tax.” We do not believe that one court of the Church has the right to put a “tax” with obligation on another lower court. The Presbytery or General Assembly may have a per member asking which is a voluntary contribution of the particular congregation to support the administrative and benevolence work of the Church. Gifts may always be designated.
DISTINCTIVE 10: In the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, we have developed a system whereby the denomination can speak clearly and decisively to member congregations on issues facing our society. we do not believe in political positions, but we do believe the Church has an obligation on important issues. To do this, we have instituted a method whereby “position papers” are developed. initially set forth as “preliminary,” the paper is give to the denomination for response and input. Then a committee studies it and makes final recommendations to the General Assembly. Among the subjects on which the EPC has position papers are the Holy Spirit, the ordination of women, the value of and respect for human life, the problem of suffering, death and dying and divorce and remarriage. CONCLUSION: Perhaps the finest distinctive of all in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is the spirit of love that characterizes our denomination. With the historic marks of the true church---the practice of scriptural discipline, the right preaching of the Word and proper observation of the sacraments-----we have included loving fellowship (John 13:35). Our motto is “in Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Charity.” And underneath this motto, the seal of our Church adds “truth in love.” “Veritas in caritate,” so states the Latin translation of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:15. Indeed, the most distinguishing characteristic of all is “truth in love.” While Reformed and Presbyterian, we believe these distinctives set us apart as true to both our biblica Christian faith and our heritage. We were formed out of a desire to be a biblical denomination which was not diverted by unnecessary doctrinal arguments or sociopolitical issues. Our primary task remains to lift up the cross of Jesus to a lost and dying world.
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church 17197 N. Laurel Park Drive Suite 567 Livonia, MI 48152 (734) 742-2020 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org www.epc.org
EVANGELICAL PRESYBTERIAN CHURCH THE ESSENTIALS
All scripture is self-attesting and being Truth, requires our unreserved submission in all areas of life. The infallible Word of God, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is a complete and unified witness to God’s redemptive acts culminating in the incarnation of the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible, uniquely and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, is the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks. On this sure foundation we affirm these additional Essentials of our faith:
1. We believe in one God, the sovereign Creator and sustainer of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To Him be all honor, glory and praise forever!
2. Jesus Christ, the living Word, became flesh through His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and His virgin birth. He who is true God became true man united in one Person forever. He died on the cross a sacrifice for our sins according to the Scriptures. On the third day He arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven, where at the right hand of the Majesty on High, he now is our High Priest and Mediator.
3. The Holy Spirit has come to glorify Christ and to apply the saving work of Christ to our hearts. He convicts us of sin and draws us to the Savior. Indwelling our hearts, He gives new life to us, empowers and imparts gifts to us for service. He instructs and guides us into all truth, and seals us for the day of redemption.
4. Being estranged from God and condemned by our sinfulness, our salvation is wholly dependent upon the work of God’s free grace. God credits his righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, thereby justifies them in His sight. Only such as are born of the Holy Spirit and receive Jesus Christ become children of God and heirs of eternal life.
5. The true Church is composed of all persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit are united together in the body of Christ. The Church finds her visible, yet, imperfect, expression in local congregations where the Word of God is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered in their integrity; where scriptural discipline is practiced, and where loving fellowship is maintained. For her perfecting, she awaits the return of her Lord.
6. Jesus Christ will come again to the earth-personally, visibly, and bodilyto judge the living and the dead, and to consummate history and the eternal plan of God. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)
7. The Lord Jesus Christ commands all believers to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world and to make disciples of all nations. Obedience to the Great Commission requires total commitment to “Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.” He calls us to a life of self-denying love and service. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) These Essentials are set forth in greater detail in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Evangelical Presbyterian Church 17197 N. Laurel Park Drive Suite 567 Livonia, MI 48152 (734) 742-2020 www.epc.org
EVANGELICAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH POSITION PAPER ON ABORTION The Evangelical Presbyterian Church is convinced that the Bible strongly affirms the dignity and value of every human life. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before your were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) “My frame was not hidden from Thee when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15) “Listen to me, O coastlands, and hearken, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother He named me.” (Isaiah 49:1) “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15) “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41) The Westminster Shorter Catechism, a confessional statement shared by most Reformed churches, forbids the taking of life while demanding the preservation of life; “The Sixth Commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.” (Question 68) “The Sixth Commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.” (Question 69) Scripture teaches that we are not merely to avoid involvement in injustice. God’s people are called upon to speak for the oppressed and defenseless. The Scripture passages cited above are evidence that God accords human value and dignity to the unborn child. The 6th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church affirms that the Bible does not distinguish between prenatal and postnatal life. It attributes human personhood to the unborn child.
Because we hold these convictions concerning unborn children, we urge the promotion of legislation that brings our judicial and legal systems into line with the scriptural view on protecting the poor and weak. Christians are called to be good citizens by impacting the state in positive ways. All citizens, Christians and non-Christians alike, must have freedom of conscience on all private moral and ethical issues, since God alone is Lord of the conscience. But the issue of equal protection of life under the laws of the state is not a private but a public matter. The Bible teaches that all persons and nations are responsible before God for their ethical decisions, including those which relate to the preservation of human life. In addition to prayers and general assistance, the General Assembly urges that the following steps be implemented by individuals, congregations, and judicatories in an effort to provide substantial support for those impacted by problem pregnancies: 1. Women facing problem or unwanted pregnancies should receive support, love, acceptance, and counsel from pastors, counselors, physicians, and Christian friends both during and after the decisions they face. The Church must provide compassionate Biblical and spiritual guidance to these persons. 2. The men involved who respond with indifference must be confronted with their responsibilities and role in such crises. 3. The Church must support and nurture women who decide to carry an unwanted pregnancy to full term. 4. The Church must seek ways to support and care for all children who result from unwanted pregnancies. 5. The Church must serve as a therapeutic community to those who have experienced physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds from abortion or giving up a child for adoption. 6. Both individual Christians and the Church should oppose abortion and do everything in their power to provide supportive communities and alternatives to abortion. 7. The Church should declare to the world and teach its members that abortion must never be used as a convenience or a means of birth control.
The purpose of this statement is pastoral. It is best proclaimed by those who are profoundly aware of their own continuous need for the mercy and forgiveness of God. The Church must always follow the compassionate example of Christ, who said, â€œNeither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.â€?
Adopted 6th General Assembly, June 1986
Evangelical Presbyterian Church 17197 N. Laurel Park Drive Suite 567 Livonia, MI 488152 (734) 742-2020 FAX (734) 742-2033 www.epc.org
EVANGELICAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH POSITION PAPER ON THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN The Evangelical Presbyterian Church does not believe that the issue of the ordination of women is an essential of the faith. The historic Reformed position on the Scriptural doctrine of government by Elders is believed to be that form needed for the perfecting of the order of the visible church, but has never been considered to be essential to its existence. The Westminster Confession of Faith makes it clear that the church catholic is sometimes more, sometimes less visible according to the purity of the church at a particular time. Also, the purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.
Nonetheless, in spite of such failures to be all God wants His church to be, the Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that “…there shall always be a church on earth to worship God according to His will.” Thus, while some churches may ordain women and some may decline to do so, neither position is essential to the existence of the church. Since people of good faith who equally love the Lord and hold to the infallibility of Scripture differ on this issue, and since uniformity of view and practice is not essential to the existence of the visible church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has chosen to leave this decision to the Spirit-guided consciences of particular congregations concerning the ordination of women as Elders and Deacons, and to the presbyteries concerning the ordination of women as Ministers. It is in this context that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church states in its Book of Government, Chapter 7, entitled “Rights Reserved to a Particular Church” that, “The particular church has the right to elect its own officers.” (Section 7-2) This right is guaranteed in perpetuity. Finally, the motto of our church summarizes our stance: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Adopted 4th General Assembly, June, 1984 Evangelical Presbyterian Church 17197 N. Laurel Park Drive Suite 567 Livonia, MI 48152 (734) 742-2020 www.epc.org
What Does It Mean to Be Presbyterian? And What Do We Believe? Dr. Chris Alford, Worship Pastor Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church Introduction What does it mean to be Presbyterian? And what does being Presbyterian have to do with Christian beliefs or the way a church is operated? These are good questions, especially in these days when we hear so much talk in religious circles, and even in the secular media, about the Presbyterian Church. It’s fair to say that there are some significant debates and struggles in our present denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), particularly after the General Assembly of June, 2006. The issues can seem confusing and the talk has sometimes been heated. Folks from all walks of church life have voiced passionate, conflicting views. Yet, we believe that there are primarily two basic, and very important, issues at the center of these debates and struggles: the person and work of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture. Our hope is that with this informational booklet, we can share with you a bit about the history of our present denomination, and more important, some of the biblical and orthodox beliefs we embrace. This information is not meant to be a complete, authoritative accounting of our Presbyterian theology. Rather, our aim is to explain in simple terms our views on a few pivotal issues, and then also point you to some additional resources. The Lord Jesus Christ alone is the author and finisher of our faith. To the extent that this booklet can help us clarify our beliefs more carefully, confess “Jesus is Lord” more boldly, and point others in love to Him more effectively, we give Him the glory. What We Believe about Being Christian Going to church does not make someone a Christian, nor does belonging to a particular denomination. Why? Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship : A relationship with Jesus Christ. To be a Christian means, simply and profound ly, to be a follower of Christ. The word “Christian” is derived from the Greek word christos, or Christ, which means “anointed one”. To call Jesus the “Christ”, then, is already a kind of confession of faith. This truth leads to another: We believe that to be a follower of Jesus, one must also follow and accept what Jesus said about Himself. The idea may sound obvious, but even since the earliest days of the Christian church, many people have claimed to follow Christ but not believed that He is Messiah— the Son of God— fully human and fully divine. 1
We hold to the biblical, orthodox beliefs about Jesus, including these: He is the second person of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the names by which God has chosen to make Himself known. He is of the same substance as God the Father. He is both fully God and fully man. We confess, along wit h the saints through the ages, that “Jesus is Lord” and believe what He has said about Himself in Scripture, including, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Following Jesus is more than doctrine. Following Jesus also means we invite Him to live in our hearts— to be the Lord of our lives. Our lives then take on the character of Christ and Jesus Himself lives and works through us incarnationally. According to Scripture, those who have given themselves to Jesus begin to assume His likeness. In other words, true followers of Christ behave like Christ (1 John). Jesus said that the world would know His disciples by their love. This biblical truth means that followers of Christ interact with the world around them in a way that He would: with a heart for people, having a godly perspective on sin (starting with our own), and putting love and compassion over all things. What We Believe about Orthodoxy The notion that all a person needs to rightly interpret Scripture is “me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit” may sound good, but it can be unhealthy and it’s not entirely scriptural. The view that a person or group can have unique scriptural insight that others don’t have can lead to the worse kinds of heresy. The same can be said of the notion that all interpretations of Scripture are equally valid. The proper and biblical way to interpret Scripture is through the lens of Scripture itself. But there’s another important step along the way, and we must go back into history to rediscover that well-worn and time- honored path. Against Roman Catholic traditionalism, the Protestant reformers declared themselves as standing on “Scripture alone” (sola scriptura). This little phrase is one that believers may recognize even today, but many misunderstand it to mean that Christians should pay no attention to any source other than the Bible. In fact, Martin Luther and John Calvin made extensive use of the Tradition of the apostles and the writings of the early Church Fathers in their study of Scripture and in their reformation of the church. What sola scriptura really means is not “Scripture alone,” but rather “Scripture above all.” “Scripture first” (prima scriptura) would, in truth, be a better slogan for the Protestant view that the Bible is the ultimate source for Christian faith and practice. This classic, historical approach suggests that ways of knowing and understanding God that do not originate from the Bible are in second place (say, for example, writings of the Church Fathers). It says these things may be helpful in interpreting Scripture, but they may be tested and corrected by the Bible if they seem to contradict Scripture. Presbyterians have traditionally turned to two main sources for inspiration and guidance in their faith: The Bible, first, and then also to various creeds and confessions (including the classic creeds from the early church, as well as other, later creeds such as the Westminster Confession). 2
One of the ironies in the present debate in the PC(USA) is that some of the contentious points are not new at all. In fact, they are quite old. Here’s another irony: These important theological matters were debated and settled long ago when the early Church Fathers battled valiantly against heresies that threatened to destroy the Christian movement. Orthodox means “right teaching.” It was in a time not unlike our present day that early church leaders hammered out what it means to be orthodox: They lived in a non-Christian, pluralistic society where most any belief was tolerated and embraced. It was in that difficult, even hostile, environment that the apostles and Church Fathers worked out the details of our faith, in consensus, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Chief among the issues were the authority of Scripture and the nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Here’s something else that may sound familiar: Some of the heretical teachings that the early Church Fathers battled against claimed that parts of the Bible were not inspired by God or weren’t applicable to “modern” Christians. Early church leaders also fought against teachings alleging that Jesus was not entirely divine, or not entirely human, or was not the only way to God. Scripture is proven true again: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Today, orthodox beliefs about Scripture and the nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ are being called into question and even ridiculed. Astonishingly, this even occurs within the church. So, what are we to do when people calling themselves Christians deny foundational Christian beliefs such as the Trinity, or the two natures of Jesus Christ, under the banner of “contemporary relevance” or “fresh interpretation of Scripture”? We must return to our historic, classic, and orthodox Christia n roots. The Church Fathers faced a similar situation with heretics who claimed to “prove ” their own unorthodox heresies using Scripture. Not every interpretation of Scripture is equal. Some are unreasonable and some are opposed to what the universal Christian church has always believed. These interpretations are to be suspected of serious error. What We Believe about the Bible Simply speaking, we believe about the Bible what the Bible says about itself: All Scripture is God-breathed— inspired by the living and unchanging God— and that because its origin is divine, its truths are divine. It is alive, it is powerful, and it is authoritative. We also believe that we don’t have to “prove” the Bible, but hold that our calling as believers is to understand and live out the message of the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit. It’s also important to note that we do not worship the Bible: We believe that the Bible is the record of the divine revelation of God and, as such, it points humankind to the person and wo rk of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. He is the object of our worship, not the Bible, for the starting place of faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Often missed in the biblical debates over orthodoxy is its theological companion, orthopraxy, or “right practice”. Believers must not forget that Scripture has a practical purpose: namely, teaching and instruction so that Christians might be properly prepared for all good works (2 Tim 3:16-17). Orthodoxy and orthopraxy must go hand in hand. 3
Both must be combined, for together they lead to the correct practice of loving others for the sake of Christ. One without the other leads to empty religion. What We Believe about Worship Worship is the purpose of the church. Why? The answer begins with this foundational truth: Because we were born to worship. It is our reason for being. We must worship; we will worship something. We worship because that is how and why we were created. Theologian A. W. Tozer has written: “One of the greatest tragedies that we find, even in this most enlightened of all ages, is the utter failure of millions of men and women ever to discover why they were born. Deny it if you will– and some persons will– but wherever there are humans in the world, there are people who are suffering from a hopeless and depressing kind of amnesia. It forces them to cry out, either silently within themselves or often with audible frustration, ‘I don’t even know why I was born!’ “Those who have followed the revelation provided by the Creator God have accepted that God never does anything without purpose. We do believe, therefore, that God had a noble purpose in mind when He created us. We believe that it was distinctly the will of God that men and women created in His image would desire fellowship with Him above all else. In His plan, it was to be a perfect fellowship based on adoring worship of the Creator and Sustainer of all things.” Worship must be the church’s purpose, not only because it is our “chief end”, and not only because it reminds us why we exist, but because it is the very thing that we will continue to do for all time. Worship will never end. In the meantime, our response to the world around us— the world that God created— is our response in worship of Him. He is the Creator; we are the created. Corporate worship on Sunday is a culminating act of a person’s private worship through the week— the quality and depth of one affects the other. Corporate worship is the source of the church’s spirituality. Corporate worship produces fruit in the life of the church and the life of the believer. A church, or a believer, will wither and die on the vine if separated from authentic worship. What We Believe about the Church The Bible uses several ways to describe the nature of the church. One well known example compares the church to a body. We believe that the members of the church form the Body of Christ. Together we are, as Scripture says using another metaphor, “living stones”. Together, we form the living church: a connected community of sinners committed to becoming mature disciples of Christ. Here’s another vivid picture of the church: The church is the Bride of Christ. Our responsibility is to get ready for the coming of the Bridegroom, for some day, at God’s direction, Jesus Christ will return for His bride. In the meantime, our singular purpose is to worship and adore the Son and then go about the tasks He has given us to undertake. 4
Those tasks include going to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). What We Believe about Church Buildings We believe that buildings and property are not the church but are merely tools. While it’s true that faithful people through the years labored and sacrificed to provide for what we have today, in a spiritual sense the buildings and property do not belong to us. Nor do they belong to any human organization or religious denomination. This idea is not to suggest that structures have no meaning, for buildings can be an obvious reminder of the visible unity and connectional nature of the church. But, ultimately, church property is like all property: It belongs to God. Buildings are Kingdom resources over which we have present, temporary stewardship. Like the tasks Jesus has given us to undertake, our stewardship of Kingdom resources is temporary— it will someday come to an end. This, then, is the reason that good stewards must go about their tasks with God-glorifying, Christ-centered, and Spiritpowered enthusiasm: We won’t go to heaven with “our” buildings or “our” money, for the only thing of value we’ll have in heaven will be crowns of glory. And we’ll be laying those at the feet of Christ. What We Believe about Being Presbyterian Presbyterians are distinctive in at least two ways: We are supported by a framework of religious thought known as Reformed theology (a theology that, in part, focuses on the sovereignty of God and the importance of Scripture); and we have a form of government that emphasizes the active, representational leadership of church members. In Presbyterian churches, governing authority is given to elected lay leaders known as “elders” (or “presbyters”) who work in close cooperation with the congregation’s pastors. For many, being Presbyterian has more to do with polity, governance, and the connectional relationships among churches than with specific, theological doctrines. There is no strict set of beliefs that unites all Presbyterians or separates them from other followers of Christ. A church, then, can be “Reformed” or even “Presbyterian” without belonging to a Presbyterian denomination. What We Believe about Denominations In the postmodern world, denominations have become less important to many people, even as the doctrinal lines between them have become more blurred. Is there still a place for denominations in this day and age? Believers have banded together in cooperative, like- minded groups called denominations for many years. Often times, churches choose to associate themselves in this way so that, together, their efforts in missions can be more significant and effective. This, for example, is why Baptists formed the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845: to combine missional resources so that the Gospel could be preached around the globe. 5
Presently, there are nine distinct Presbyterian denominations in America. Most are smaller and are considered more evangelical— more theologically conservative— than our present denomination. Throughout the history of the Presbyterian Church in our country, there have been many splits and most occurred over debates on essential beliefs. In fact, after the founding of the first American Presbytery in 1706, the first separation occurred shortly thereafter, in 1729. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a relatively young organization. It was formed in 1983 as a result of a union between the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS), called the “southern branch, ” and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), called the “northern branch. ” Ephesians 4:5 says that there is but one Church: “One Lord, one Faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.” Denominations are a human invention and, according to our own Book of Order, while they “do not destroy [the unity of the church], they do obscure it for both the Church and the world.” We believe that denominational affiliation can be an effective tool for building God’s Kingdom, but it must never become an obstacle to doing so. Doctrine is certainly important, and polity is as well. But if a denomination becomes an obstruction to the unity of the Body of Christ, it will have lost its Kingdom effectiveness. For Additional Information If you’d like to learn more about the historic, orthodox beliefs we hold about the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Bible, or other topic s we recommend these resources: About Being Presbyterian… A Guide to More Effective Church Membership (15-page pamphlet, © 1974 Channing L. Bete Co., Inc). The History of the Presbyterian Church (15-page pamphlet, © 1974 Channing L. Bete Co., Inc). The Book of Confessions (Copyright © 1999 by the Office of the General Assembly; Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Free online resources Creeds and Confessions of the Presbyterian Church: http://creeds.net/reformed/creeds.htm