Presbyterians have embraced the “Reformed” version of Christian belief, a term that links us to the great Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation took all the separate beliefs and fragments of beliefs in the Bible an connected them together into a system of beliefs. That enables us to see the way all our Christian beliefs are connected together into a whole. Consequently, we can see the big picture as well as the little details and the little details as well as the big picture.
Below is a series of theological statements that are arranged so that you can see some of the highlights and the sequence of Reformed Theology. These are beliefs which we Presbyterians embrace to trust and live by.
WE ARE MADE TO BE LIKE GOD
God creates us in His Image, complete with a holy character and a righteous mentality.
WE ARE ALSO SINFUL
Our choice through Adam and Eve to distrust and disobey God has corrupted and distorted God’s image in us. As each of us is born into the human race we are born sinful. That is what we call “original sin.”
SO, WE ARE HOLY AND SINFUL, BOTH AT THE SAME TIME
Made to be like God and born into a sinful humanity, we have both the holy and the sinful in us; each of us does.
WE DESERVE THE PENALTY WHICH GOD PROMISED IF WE SIN
God looks Adam and Eve in the eye, warns them to not eat anything from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, and declares “For if you do, you shall surely die!”
The Apostle Paul centuries later, exclaims to the Christians in Rome “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, Romans 3:23
That is our dilemma!
GOD IS OUT TO SAVE US!
Yes, the penalty is our dilemma. So, we need saving! And, ever since our “fall from grace”, God has been working His plan to save and redeem His people and world. In saving us, He has to address two issues.
The first is to remove us from under penalty of our acts of sin. God’s effort to save and redeem His world reaches its culmination in Jesus Christ, His son, coming to earth.
Jesus came to model to each of us what divinity in humanity looks like and invite us to follow Him into a life He defines for us, to accept Him and His redemptive purposes for us, to trust Him as our Lord and Saviour. He died to take on Himself the condemnation our sin and sinfulness brought on us. He then rose from the dead and shares His eternal life with us.
The Bible calls this “Justification.” It’s a legal term, like the judge declaring a prisoner free of the penalty for their crime. Jesus “turns us loose” from our criminal punishment.
The second thing God has to do to save us is to remove from us our sinfulness, the condition out of which our acts of sin arise. This He accomplishes by the work of the Holy Spirit inside us changing us facet by facet into Christ’s image, that image of God with which we were created that was contaminated and corrupted at birth. He takes away from within us our unholiness and places within us aspects of His holiness. The Bible calls this “sanctification.”
Whereas God removed the penalty of our acts of sin as a one-time act, changing us into more spiritually attuned beings is a process that takes a lifetime to complete.
The process will be completed when we die and go to heaven or Christ comes again, whichever comes first. When we die and go to heaven or Christ comes again, our process of sanctification is completed. The Bible calls this “glorification.” In death, we come into our glory of having God’s image fully restored in us with all its brilliance and detail.
WE LIVE IN A “FALLEN” WORLD
Want to know why suffering happens in the world God made? Suffering is a part of the world we chose when as Adam and Eve we chose our way rather than God’s way.
The choice of the human race to distrust and disobey God left us living in a “fallen” world. A fallen world is one in which evil exists, randomly inflicts pain and suffering, and seeks the worst for us.
We and God have to deal with this fallen, less than ideal, world. God can intervene and override the dictates of this fallen world, but He has intentionally limited Himself as part of the consequences of our decisions and actions in the garden of Eden. To do otherwise would be to not honor the choice He allowed us the freedom to make.
In a sense, as we suffer and also grieve others’ suffering, we are living in the world we chose for ourselves, not the one God chose for us.
It’s much less than we want and altogether less than God wants for us. But, we are fallen people living in a fallen world until Christ comes again.
In the meantime, we can experience a good bit of heavenly peace and joy this side of heaven and God blesses us daily and all along the way until that great day Christ comes again and restores everything to its original condition.
WITH JESUS, GRACE IS THE OPERATIVE PRINCIPLE!
Presbyterians emphasize God’s grace. Nobody does grace better than Presbyterians. We believe and depend on the fact that God always takes the initiative with us. That is grace. And, we respond to His grace. This is faith.
Even when we feel as if we are taking the initiative to come to God with an issue, we are only responding to God’s prior prompting of us to do so, His prior activity in our life. We can never get ahead of God. It all comes down to God’s grace, which always comes first!
Thank goodness for God’s grace. For we cannot save ourselves. And much of what “life” throws at us is beyond our capacity to handle too.
GOD SETTLES UP FRONT THE MATTER OF OUR ETERNITY!
In saving us, Christ takes the initiative to settle up front the matter of our eternal security in Christ. This He does through baptism, as He claims us as His own forever, commits Himself to us unreservedly and forever, and creates in us a clear identity as His persons, actually adopting us into His family.
Baptism, you see, is for the new Christian’s benefit. God visually and publicly claims that person as His own, declaring that that person belongs to Him, forever. Presbyterians believe that once we are saved, we are always saved. Otherwise, where would the feeling of security in our relationship to Christ come from?
Where would the source of our confidence in God be?
THEREFORE, WE LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE NOT TO BE SAVED BUT BECAUSE WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN SAVED
That’s a big difference, isn’t it?
It is so easy to misunderstand God’s grace and keep feeling that we have to earn our salvation. There is nothing, however, that we are capable of doing that could
save us from our sins. Christ saves us! Period! What we need to do is accept the grace of His salvation of us, celebrate it, and trust it.
What, then, is our motive for living the Christian life? We do so in response to His saving grace, as a living out of the life into which He has called us. We move out in the strength of our eternally secure relationship with Him. He wants us to be able to face the issues of our lives from a position of strength and not weakness with Him. Once saved, always saved! I can move out into my world from a position of eternal strength.
GOD IS ONE AND MORE THAN ONE, ALL AT THE SAME TIME!
God is a trinity. The word “trinity” is not in the Bible but the reality is all over the Bible. God is one in three and three in one-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Father, God is over and above us. In that position, God creates us, sustains us, and provides for us. As Son, God is with us. He comes to earth saves us by showing what divinity in humanity looks like, teaching us eternal truths, dying for us taking upon Himself our sins, rising from the dead, and offering an eternity with Him in heaven. As Holy Spirit, God is within us. Indwelling us from the point that we become His (either by natural birth or conversion), He comforts, prompts, guides, teaches, and changes us into God’s image.
When we see the combined roles and jobs of the three persons of the God-head, we can more clearly and precisely see, relate to, and celebrate the multi-dimensional capacity of God!
CHRIST CREATED THE CHURCH TO BE HIS REDEMPTIVE PRESENCE ON EARTH!
The first thing Christ did after He ascended into the heavens was to create the church, on a day we call “Pentecost.” It is through the church that Christ reaches out to save His world. The church is God’s tangible mouth, hands, feet, and heart in the world and to the world.
We refer the “church age.” The church age is that time between Christ first and second comings during which Christ is working through the church to redeem His world and people to their original goodness. During this church age, we still live in a “fallen world” and evil is active in the world and our lives. During this church age, we live in trust that Christ is working on the issues of redemption, the central focus being the people who are members of His church around the world. Though the world is fallen, Christ is still victorious!
GOD WROTE HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY–JUST FOR US!
The source of our knowledge of God–His will and way–is His word, the Bible It is our indispensable and authoritative guide for faith and life. Other books can help us come closer to the truth but none are on a level with the holy Bible. It is a document above all others. The Bible is a sacred document because it was written by the Holy Spirit through human minds, hearts, and hands. Every time we read it we need to remember that is both His eternal disclosure of Himself to the world and His personal revelation to you and me at any given time and place.
YES, PRESBYTERIANS INCLUDE INFANTS AS MEMBERS OF GOD’S FAMILY!
We practice infant baptism. This practice is based on the Old Testament precedent of circumcision, which symbolized a person being included and identified as belonging to God’s family. The New Testament affirms and embraces the impact of that meaning in baptism.
Infant baptism includes the element of the dedication of the baby to God but more importantly includes the element of God committing Himself to the child, creating his or her identity as one of His people, adopted into His family. He yearns for us to see ourselves as God’s persons–saved, empowered, secure, and confident, from the very first day of our lives and every day as we grow up, and as long as we live on earth. Our baptized children have a distinct advantage going through their years of development–they can be taught what it means to have been declared God’s person, secure forever in their relationship with Him. That gives them a big-time psychological edge in confidence.
GOD BRINGS EVERYTHING NEEDED TO ACCOMPLISH HIS REDEMPTIVE WORK ON EARTH
God is able to bring to us all He needs to get the job done!
God is all-powerful. He can do what He wants to, what we need Him to do for us.
God is all-loving. He is altogether inclined to embrace us in our neediness. He wants to do for us and in us all that He has the power to do.
God is all-knowing. He knows what is best for us, is totally inclined to do that for us, and is altogether powerful enough to do it.
So, God has the power to know what we need to bring about His grand and eternal purposes in our lives and He is perfectly inclined to do what we need.
THE KEY TO OUR SALVATION—COMMITMENT!
Presbyterians embrace a “covenant” theology. That is, our relationship with Christ and security of relationship with Him, is based on a commitment from Jesus to us. He unreservedly and permanently commits Himself to us, forever. In turn, we commit ourselves unreservedly to Him.
We could find no security in our faith without the foundation of God’s commitment to always be our God and always keep us in His family. We increase our frustration when we fail to make and abide by our commitments to God and the life He defines for us.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DIE!
When we die, our soul goes directly and immediately to heaven. Our bodies remain on earth and will be redeemed and rejoined to our bodies when Christ comes again and institutes “the new heavens and new earth.”
IN THE MEANTIME, WE KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY!
In the book of revelation, along with many other parts of the Bible, the Holy Spirit teaches us about the things that will happen up until and through the final activity in the world before He finally returns. But, these things are written in extremely symbolic language. We believe that God does not intend us to understand these details beforehand. God wants us to keep three truths in mind that we glean from the “end-time” scriptures—God has a detailed plan of redemption. He is working out the details of that plan all the time, and he will gain victory in the end! That’s all we need, those impressions and the trust that comes along with that perspective.
Trust that. Live in the strength of it God’s got the future figured out and taken care of. It’s as good as done. And, it’s ours!
ALL OF LIFE TO GOD AND ALL OF GOD TO LIFE!
We Presbyterians see that our faith in Christ is all-embracing.
On the one hand, we bring all of life to God. For us, life is not segmented between secular and sacred or what is of God and what is not of God. Everything in our lives and world has to do with God.
On the other hand, we seek all of God to our lives. God is relevant to anything and everything we can possible face. There is nothing that is inappropriate to be prayed about because God is concerned about every aspect of our lives.
WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR OWNING OUR OWN SALVATION!
Presbyterians believe in the priesthood of all believers.
That means we serve as our own intermediaries between God and ourselves, just like a priest in Jesus’ day would do for God’s people. That means that, on the one hand, we represent ourselves to God. Each of us is responsible for claiming our own relationship with God, the relationship Christ has won for us and offers to us. We cannot rely on our parents or spouses’ faith to accomplish that. Our expressions of faith are our responsibilities, and no one else’s.
On the other hand, we represent God to us. That is, we relate directly to God through Christ. We do not need a human intermediary to do that. Pastors do, of course, serve a necessary purpose in guiding us and supporting us in working out our relationship with God.
Remember, though, that what we do is always done in light of what God has already done. God always takes the initiative and we respond to those initiatives. In salvation, God acts first and each of us exercises his or her own responsibility to follow God’s action with a response of faith.
THE CHURCH PROVIDES A SPIRITUAL GROWTH CONTINUUM AS WE GROW UP!
We move from baptism through al the experiences of the grace Christ brings to us as we grow up, primarily through home an church. Finally, we go through confirmation. That is a time when we learn about all the aspects of our faith. Then, we are invited to make our public profession of faith. By doing that, we are not saying that we are Christians for the first time but that we confirm the choice of Christ for us by our parents at a time we could not choose for ourselves. We affirm everything we have experienced of Christ and His grace based on our parent’s choice of Christ for us when we didn’t have the ability to make that choice for ourselves.
PRESBYTERIANS DO NOT MINIMIZE OR DISCOUNT THE FAITH OF OUR GROWING UP!
It is not unusual for a Christian to have a profound “lights-on” experience of Christ in later teen or early adult years, or at any time in their lives. They often instinctively assume that this all-consuming event represents their conversion. In contrast to the way this recent “life-changing” experience has affected them and the intensity of their feelings about it, they naturally begin to discount their faith growing up. Often, they determine that they had no faith or legitimate relationship with Christ before this recently explosive jolt to their lives.
Our Presbyterian theology, thank God, does not allow us to fall into that trap. For, when we have grown up in the faith, attended church, taken the sacraments, and been faithfully taught Christian realities in our homes by our parents, and believed in the Christian faith, and understood that we have been saved all that time, no matter how much deeper we are the given privilege of going in the faith, we need to keep celebrating our growing-up experience of Christ. As we continue growing in Christ all through our lives we need to never discount the reality an legitimacy of our faith in Christ before confirmation.
What we need to understand is that along our way God grants us “deepening” experiences of His grace are life-changing. We also need to understand and appreciate the fact that He is able to provide us further life-changing experiences because of the foundation of faith developed over the years, that faith Christ has given us so long ago that we might be tending to discount or minimize.
Let us celebrate our childhood faith. Let us not discount the Christian faith our parents gave us.