Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church

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What We Believe


WHAT DO PRESBYTERIANS BELIEVE?

ESSENTIAL TENETS OF THE REFORMED FAITH

The Reformed Faith has certain characteristics and convictions without which it cannot exist; in other words, these convictions are essential for it to be what it claims to be; these necessary convictions are identified as ten essential tenets. These are identified in our Book of Order (PCUSA)


The first two we share with Christians everywhere and in all time; thus, they are drawn from the "faith of the Church catholic": "the mystery of the triune God" and "the incarnation of the eternal Word of God in Jesus Christ."

1.    Trinity
2.    Incarnation

The next two we share with those who also were a part of the sixteenth century renewal of the Church: that is, from the "faith of the Protestant Reformation"; "the rediscovery of God's grace in Jesus Christ as revealed in the scriptures"; and "grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone."

3.    Justification by grace through faith
4.    Scripture is the Word of God

The remaining six tenets are our family characteristics; as a family we hold the following from the faith of the Reformed tradition. Central to this tradition is the affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of God who creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love. Other great themes of the Reformed tradition include (1) The election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation; (2) Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the Church according !o the Word of God; (3) A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God's creation; (4) The recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God.

5.    Sovereignty of God
6.    Election
7.    God's involvement in the covenant community
8.    Stewardship of our resources and the earth
9.    Sins of idolatry and tyranny
10.  Commitment to justice and obedience


THE ROLE OF CONFESSIONS WITHIN THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives a clear statement of the Reformed view of the central authority of Scripture:

"The word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.”

However, Scripture does not provide a systematic statement of theology. The church has through the centuries written and subscribed to a great many creeds. Times of stress are most productive of creeds, because in such times the church feels most strongly the need to define the faith by which it lives and witnesses. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. with their political and religious turmoil produced a great many creeds. The twentieth century is proving to be another productive time for creeds. The church in this century has witnessed the mass destruction of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany, has experienced the awesome power of the atom, is off-balance from the radical rate of change and is experiencing attacks and threats from both without and within.

The formulation of new creedal statements is very much in accord with our Reformed history, which has produced more than sixty creeds. This prolific production points to the Reformed conviction about their importance. but equally to the conviction about their limitations. Karl Barth carefully limits his definition of a Reformed creed. He writes:

"A Reformed creed is the statement, spontaneously and publicly formulated by a Christian community within a geographically limited area, which, until further action, defines its character to outsiders; and which, until further action, gives guidance for its own doctrine and life; it is a formulation of the insight currently given to the whole Christian Church by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, witnessed to by Holy Scriptures alone.

So many creeds have been written because Reformed Christians have realized that the faith must find contemporary expression and that each such expression is limited by its occasion. which tends to narrow its focus and by the finiteness and sinfulness of those who framed it. The relation of particular creedal statements to their historical setting is clearly seen in the fact that many of the great Reformed creeds were written at the instigation of political powers or under political pressure.

This does not invalidate the witness of creeds from the past. We can affirm these creeds as faithful witness and instruction for those who understand the context in which they were written. They are valid statements in the continuing dialogue by which the church understands itself and confesses its faith.  

PRESBYTERIAN CONFESSIONS (CREEDS)

Presbyterians, like most Christians in church history, have found it exceedingly helpful to put our theology in writing and to support and adopt creeds and confessions (statements of faith) of Christians in other eras and places, if those meet scriptural standards. Thus, we Presbyterians have affirmed a book full of confessions, creeds, and catechisms from many ages and peoples. These are published and available for study in our Book of Confessions, a volume to which our ordinands (officers) must affirm support; ordinary members have no obligation to be led or guided by these, though the theology found in this book will appear in many sermons and in most of the suppositions underlying what is said and done in a Presbyterian church. Thus, in the Presbyterian Church, confessions indirectly impact the congregation, rather than directly. However, often portions of such will appear as affirmations of faith within our worship services. By such statements of faith the church declares to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do.

Within our Book of Confessions there are currently eleven documents. Below is a brief summary of each, its date, name, occasion, and key issues:

The Nicene Creed of the fourth century sought to clarify for all time certain key doctrines dealing with the person and work of Jesus Christ and the nature of the Trinity. It was the result of a conference called by the newly converted Roman Emperor Constantine who sought to reduce religious bickering and to develop a unified Christian Church to bring greater cohesion to his Roman Empire.

The Apostles' Creed
, the shortest document and the most popular, reflects second century baptismal statements, though all the ideas contained herein may be found in the sermons recorded in the New Testament. Actually formalized in the fifth century, the name indicates its intention to proclaim what the apostles themselves taught respecting the essentials regarding the Triune God and basic Christian dogma.

The Scots Confession of 1560 reflects the views of John Knox, who had recently returned from training in Geneva under John Calvin, in his efforts to lead Scotland out of the Roman Catholicism of Queen Mary and into the Protestant Reformation. This lengthy statement sought to clarify the biblical teachings its authors believed the Roman Church had rejected or misunderstood. It has special importance to Presbyterians.

The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 reflects its German origin and its combined Lutheran and Reformed heritage. Requested by Freiderich III, the two Swiss reformers who authored this catechism (a question-and-answer rote memory method of learning) sought to lay out in plain language (for that day) the practical meaning of this reformed faith to daily living. There is a joy, gratitude, and an uplifting spirit, which still win modern supporters for its winsome theology and inspiring style.

In 1566, the Swiss Reformed Churches developed the Second Helvetic Confession, which provided much clarification in a confused day, especially about the Church and about the Christian experience of believers. Originally written as a personal statement of faith by Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli's son-in-law and successor, this lengthy document noted both what to support and what to reject, biblically speaking.

The Westminster Confession and its sister documents, The Larger Catechism and The Shorter Catechism, were the results of four years of scholarly work by pious leaders in England in 1643-1646 as they daily gathered in Westminster Abbey, having been commissioned to develop a unifying faith-document for the Protestants of the British Isles by the Long Parliament. These doctrinal statements sought to deal systematically with the whole of Christian theology, basing its work on a strong commitment to scripture, a high view of the sovereignty of God, and God's call to humankind through His covenant. These have proven to be the most influential creeds upon American Presbyterianism.

In 1934, The Theological Declaration of Barmen defied the Nazis and declared that these German Christians were prepared to die to put Jesus Christ before Hitler. The format was to declare what its authors supported and what they rejected as false doctrine or wicked actions.

Following the civil rights movement and anarchy in parts of America The Confession of 1967 sought to explicate the theme and duty of reconciliation in a badly divided America. This modern creed, greatly influenced by neo-orthodoxy, caused much conflict and dissension before it was finally adopted by a then-liberal United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, a product of a reunion between Northern Presbyterians and a branch of Scot Presbyterians in 1958.

A Brief Statement of Faith
, adopted in 1991 by the PCUSA, was a promised by-product of the 1983 reunion between the Northern Presbyterians (UPCUSA) and the Southern Presbyterians (PCUS), which formed the PCUSA. It seeks, in a few lines, to provide an overview of contemporary Presbyterian faith that is both faithful to the ten essential tenets of Reformed Faith and inclusive of newer theological insights from scripture. It does not cover all theological bases and does not claim to be comprehensive. Yet, an oral reading leaves one feeling the faith, the power, and the integrity of those holding such views in a world of uncertainty, moral confusion, and human need.

The most important word everyone on earth must hear from A Brief Statement of Faith is "Yet" found in line 40: "Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation." This is the "Good News" that in spite of sin and condemnation, God loves God's creatures, including you and me! This is the heart of the Presbyterian understanding of faith!