The beliefs and practices set forth by the Presbyterian Church have their roots in the teachings of John Calvin, a 16th-century French reformer. Calvin’s theology was similar to Martin Luther’s. He agreed with the father of the Protestant Reformation on the doctrines of original sin, justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and the sole authority of the Scriptures. Where Calvin distinguishes himself theologically is with his doctrines of predestination and eternal security.
The Presbyterian Constitution
The official confessions, and beliefs of the Presbyterian Church, including the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of faith, are all contained within a document called The Book of Confessions. The end of this constitution is an article of faith, which outlines the major beliefs of this particular denomination, which is part of the Reformed tradition.
The Book of Confessions presents the following beliefs for the Presbyterian faithful to follow:
- The Trinity – We trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.
- Jesus Christ Is God – We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God.
- The Authority of Scripture – Our knowledge of God and God’s purpose for humanity comes from the Bible, particularly what is revealed in the New Testament through the life of Jesus Christ.
- Justification by Grace through Faith – Our salvation (justification) through Jesus is God’s generous gift to us and not the result of our own accomplishments.
- The Priesthood of All Believers – It is everyone’s job—ministers and lay people alike—to share this Good News with the whole world. The Presbyterian church is governed at all levels by a combination of clergy and laity, men and women alike.
- The Sovereignty of God – God is the supreme authority throughout the universe.
- Sin – The reconciling act of God in Jesus Christ exposes the evil in men as sin in the sight of God. All people are helpless and subject to God’s judgment without forgiveness. In love, God took on himself judgment and shameful death in Jesus Christ, to bring men to repentance and new life.
- Baptism – For both adults and infants, Christian baptism marks the receiving of the same Spirit by all his people. Baptism with water represents not only cleansing from sin but also a dying with Christ and a joyful rising with him to new life.
- The Mission of the Church – To be reconciled to God is to be sent into the world as his reconciling community. This community, the church universal, is entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation and shares his labor of healing the enmities which separate men from God and from each other.
Like most denominations, Presbyterians believe that baptism is a celebration of the renewal of the covenant with which God has bound his people to himself. One could say it is the first and most important of the Presbyterian practices.
Through baptism, individuals are publicly received into the church to share in its life and ministry, and the church becomes responsible for their training and support in Christian discipleship. When those baptized are infants, the parents and congregation both have a special obligation to nurture children in the Christian life, leading them to eventually make, by a public profession, a personal response to the love of God shown forth in their baptism.
Presbyterians gather in worship to praise God, to pray, to enjoy each other’s fellowship, and to receive instruction through the teachings of God’s Word. Like Catholics and Episcopalians, they also practice the act of communion. Church members consider communion a solemn but joyful act, symbolic of celebrating at the table of their Savior, and a reconciliation with God and with one another.
Fairchild, Mary. “Presbyterian Church Beliefs and Practices.” Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, learnreligions.com/presbyterian-church-beliefs-and-practices-700522. Accessed: 02 Feb. 2022.