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What We Believe (For more on Presbyterian theology please read the interesting article at the end of this page.)
Being Presbyterian refers to a theological heritage started by Martin Luther and refined by John Calvin.
The roots of the Presbyterian Church go all the way back to Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 “theses” or questions for discussion on the church door (the town bulletin board) of his town in Wittenburg, Germany. Because of the recent invention of the printing press, within two weeks Luther’s disagreements with existing church doctrine were circulating all over Europe. The Protestant Reformation had begun.
The new reforms within the church soon attracted a bright young student in France, named John Calvin. Calvin, a lawyer by trade, wrote a brilliant articulation of this “reformed” faith, at age 29. He called it, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. People now refer to it as Calvin’s Institutes. His work attracted great attention because of its insight, depth, and clarity. Calvin eventually would settle in the town of Geneva, Switzerland and become an important figure in the new reformation of the church. The Presbyterian Church today finds it theological roots in the writings of John Calvin.
The first Presbyterian Church was organized in America in the early 1700’s in Philadelphia. Just preceding the Civil War, the church broke into two separate denominations, which reunited in 1983. Our denomination’s official name is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). This is the “mainline” Presbyterian denomination a body of 2.6 million believers in 11,000 congregations.
Martin Luther thought the greatest danger to the Christian’s life was legalism. John Calvin believed the greatest danger was idolatry, the pursuit of, longing for, and trust in things and persons in place of God.
Our Form of Church Government
The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Bible, from the Greek word for “elder.” The Presbyterian denomination takes its name from its form of church government, which is to be governed by elders. There are various types of church government, such as “hierarchical” – the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches; “congregational” – Baptist and Congregational churches; and “representative” – Presbyterian Churches. The Presbyterian Church is a representative form of church government in which the congregation elects church officers to lead the congregation. The Presbyterian Church is representative at every level – Congregations elect elders to serve on the Session, Sessions elect commissioners to go to Presbytery meetings, and Presbyteries elect commissioners to go to Synod and General Assembly meetings. Our nation’s government was patterned after the Presbyterian representative model. Elders in the Presbyterian Church seek to discern the will of God for a congregation and vote their conscience before God. Our congregation has five elders, each serving a two year term on a rotating basis. Congregational elections for new elders are held each year, generally in the fall. All members of the congregation are entitled to vote on the electing of their officers.
What Presbyterians Believe
Protestant. We come from the protestant Reformation that began in the 1500’s with the theological thought of Martin Luther and John Calvin.
Reformed and always reforming. We try to always reform our life and practice, both individually and corporately, according to the teachings of scriptures.
Elected by God’s grace. We believe we have been chosen by God’s grace. However, this election is not primarily for privilege, but rather for service. It leads us to gratitude and assurance in our faith, and is best recognized in retrospect.
Saved to share the good news with the world around us. Missions have always been a strong emphasis of our denomination.
Bible centered. The scriptures of the Old and New Testament are our only authoritative guide for faith and life.
Yielded to God for God’s work in the world. This means being good stewards of God’s creation. It means working for peace and justice. We seek to change unjust social structures where they exist.
Thinkers of our faith. We believe that God has given us minds to use for his service. We believe that the life of the mind is a service to God. Therefore, we study our faith in order to love God with our mind, as well as our heart and soul.
Encouraged by what we believe God can do. Presbyterians tend to balance an undue pessimism about the world with a sense that, with God, all things are possible. We pray for and work for the kingdom of God in the world, knowing that all good things ultimately come from God.
Relying on God’s grace by faith for our salvation. It is not our works, nor our righteousness that saves us. Our salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. No matter how much good we do, we are always sinners saved by grace.
Inspired to worship God in all we do. Worship is our #1 priority. Our primary reason for existence is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”. We make personal prayer a priority and regularly gather to worship with God’s people.
Attached to one another by bonds of love. Every person matters to God. Every person’s gift is needed in the church. Everyone is of value and worth in God’s sight. We believe that the church is built up by the exercise of God’s peoples’ spiritual gifts therefore we encourage everyone to find a place to serve.
Never afraid to adjust our organizational practices in order to share the gospel more effectively. We are slow to change our theology, but quick to change our practices when it helps us take the unchanging gospel into a rapidly changing world.
Presbyterians believe in a sovereign God.
The Presbyterian Church has a strong view of the majesty, power, and omnipotence of God. This informs many things we do. Our worship is reverent and seeks to focus our hearts and minds on God. We believe God works in peoples’ hearts in God’s own timing and therefore we do not try to orchestrate the when’s and how’s of people’s salvation. The belief in a sovereign God is also foundational to the difficult and often misunderstood doctrine of predestination. Predestination states, simply put, that God chooses us first before we ever even think about responding to God. God’s choice and our response complete our salvation.
Presbyterians are formed and reformed by the Bible.
Presbyterians believe in the Bible and use it as the unique and authoritative guide for how to live and what to believe. The sermons on Sunday try to explain and interpret the Bible's message as it relates to faithfully following Jesus Christ today. We encourage people to read the Bible in their own devotional times and participate in our worship services. For Presbyterians the Bible is not just to be read by preachers and scholars. We believe that the Bible is so clear, in its major themes and principles, that everybody can understand the story of salvation, primarily by reading the Bible in a regular and consistent discipline.
Presbyterians are a people of community.
Presbyterians believe that you cannot live the Christian life effectively apart from other people. God has given us the church for our mutual support, correction, and encouragement. We need a relationship with other Christians in order to be all that God intends us to be. This is one of the reasons the Presbyterian Church has a connectional form of church government. Through the Presbyteries, Synods, and the General Assembly each local congregation stays connected to the larger church. It is also one of the reasons we work together in teams for ministry. We need to do the work of Christ with other people. We believe God calls people to be connected with a local congregation and church membership is the way we recognize and celebrate that calling.
Presbyterians are a people of mission.
Presbyterians believe that we cannot simply live in our own sheltered world. God has called us to take the gospel to the entire world. God has called us to exhibit the kingdom of Christ to our community. The Presbyterian Church sends missionaries into all corners of the globe, through the regular offerings of local churches. Our denomination has been instrumental in taking the gospel to many other countries in this century. Each local congregation participates in mission activities in its specific community, on a national level, and on a global scale. Presbyterians have always looked outside themselves and their own concerns to work to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission. Today the mission field is also in our own backyard as we seek to share the gospel with the almost 50% of Americans not connected with any local church.
Presbyterians are a people of the mind.
Presbyterians believe that the mind is a terrible thing to waste. God has given us our minds as gracious gifts. Our reasoning faculties ought to be trained for the service of God. This is why ministers in the Presbyterian Church are held to the highest academic standards. It is why the training of elders and Sunday School teachers is so very important in the Presbyterian church. It is why we encourage everyone to grow in knowledge of the Bible, church history, theology, and an understanding of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.
Presbyterians have two sacraments.
The Presbyterian Church does not have many ceremonies and rituals. This is because we do not want to distract from the two most important ceremonies Christ left to the church, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We believe these are the only two ceremonies, which we call sacraments, which Christ instituted for the church throughout the ages. Baptism is administered only once as a sign of our forgiveness from sin and our entrance into the family of God. We administer baptism to infants and children in anticipation of their faith and with the promise of parents to raise them in the “training and instruction of the Lord.” We administer the Sacrament of Baptism to adults upon their public profession of faith. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is repeated often in the Presbyterian Church. Our congregation celebrates it on the first Sunday of every month. This ceremony reminds us, over and over, that we need the spiritual nourishment Christ brings to us and that Christ, our living Savior, is present with us, now and in the future.
~ From the Pamphlet, “About Being Presbyterian”
Presbyterians Today June 8, 2017
Is the prosperity gospel good theology?
By Charles Wiley | Presbyterians Today
LOUISVILLE – Presbyterians are generally allergic to the prosperity gospel, the belief among many Christians that God blesses those who bless God. Prosperity gospel is a good idea, but it begins to get tricky when we believe that those who are faithful to God will always be blessed by financial wealth and good health.
Where would someone get such an idea? Look at Deuteronomy 28 — Moses addresses the people of Israel in a covenant-making rite. Moses says:
If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; 2 all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God:
3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
A key verse comes a bit later in verse 11a: “The Lord will make good things abound for you” (Common English Bible) or “And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods” (King James Version). There is a clear thread in Deuteronomy that material blessings are a sign of God’s blessing on the people of God.
The prosperity gospel is usually marked by charismatic ministers who do seem to prosper in all outward ways due to the generosity of members who seek prosperity through generous giving. Prosperity can be attained by any believer given that they exercise sufficient faith, speak prosperity into reality and give to churches (and ministries) to ensure this prosperity.
Is it heresy?
The prosperity gospel is a dangerous heresy because it is so close to the truth. The promises of Deuteronomy 28 need to be put alongside the stories of the prophets, the righteous remnant, the crucifixion of Jesus and the stories of other people of faith who do not prosper materially as a result of their fidelity to God. This is the profound point of Hebrews 11.
In this narrative of great people of faith, the triumphs of Abraham, Sarah, and Moses are recounted. But then the author qualifies the notion of the saints of the faith: “ What more can I say? I would run out of time if I told you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. Through faith, they conquered kingdoms, brought about justice, realized promises, shut the mouths of lions . . . .” (vv. 32–33)
Not all triumph in this outward manner: “ But others experienced public shame by being taunted and whipped; they were even put in chains and in prison. They were stoned to death, they were cut in two, and they died by being murdered with swords. . . . All these people didn’t receive what was promised, though they were given approval for their faith.” (vv. 36-39)
There is a tension in Scripture. Those who are faithful will often be blessed, often in outward ways. And those who are faithful will suffer, sometimes in outward ways.
But there is also another Biblical thread that needs to be woven into our tapestry of understanding. The prophets are clear: often those who are hungry, those who suffer economic deprivation, often are in this state because they are oppressed by those who might see their outward material prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing. Proverbs 30:14 speaks of those who “devour the needy from the earth, and the poor from humanity.” Material wealth and material poverty are often a product of an unjust economy.
Further, the idea that prosperity can be spoken into reality by the believer misunderstands the relationship between the human creature and God. God is not obligated, is not forced, to give us material blessing simply because we say it out loud. How else can we make sense of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane where Jesus asks that the cup of suffering be taken from him? It is not.
Presbyterians need to be careful
So, there is good reason to be theologically suspicious of the prosperity gospel; however, there is good reason for Presbyterians to tread lightly when criticizing the prosperity gospel.
One of the deep ironies of Presbyterian aversion to the prosperity gospel is that we have our own version of it. Reformed Christians were at the forefront of the modern capitalist economy. We Reformed people took up the practice of lending money at interest with vigor and theological justification in the emerging middle class in 16th century Europe. What are the birthplaces of the Reformed movement? Zurich and Geneva. What are Zurich and Geneva known for? Swiss banks.
Furthermore, for centuries we Presbyterians have, more often than not, considered material blessings signs of God’s favor on us. And we, at least in Europe and North America, have, more than any other stream of Christianity, enjoyed the fruits of material wealth that have come as capitalism has grown.
Max Weber, the influential German sociologist and economist, argued for this positive relationship between Calvinism and western capitalism in his monumental book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. We Reformed people are not just subject to a modern, capitalist economy. We helped create it. This economy brought forth wealth because it often rewarded those who worked hard (the work ethic), but also because it built wealth on the backs of others. The wealth of the United States grew, in great part, because of the cheap labor supply provided by African slaves.
Where do we end up?
Not all Presbyterians are wealthy. Not all enjoy the fruits of our capitalistic system. But we know that, as a group, Presbyterians are often near the top of the economic ladder in their communities. We have good theological reasons to object to the prosperity gospel. And we have good biblical backing for criticizing health and wealth preachers for fleecing their flocks for their own gain.
However, we must also be modest in our criticism of those who may not have benefited as much by our economic system who believe, for some good reasons, that God wants good things for them. Perhaps our concern over how others understand blessing should turn back on us and how we understand God’s blessings in our life.