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Presbyterian Overview

Discussion in 'Presbyterian DIR' started by Rex, Jun 17, 2004.

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  1. Rex

    Rex Founder
    It's My Birthday!

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    Presbyterianism is part of the Reformed churches family of denominations of Christian Protestantism based on the teachings of John Calvin which traces its institutional roots to the Scottish Reformation, especially as led by John Knox. There are many separate institutional entities that subscribe to Presbyterianism, in different nations around the world. Besides national distinctions, Presbyterians also have divided from one another for doctrinal reasons, especially in the wake of the Enlightenment.


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    History of Presbyterianism
    These denominations derive their name from the Greek word presbyteros, which literally means "elder." Presbyterian government is common to the Protestant churches that were most closely modelled after the Reformation in Switzerland. In England, Scotland and Ireland, the Reformed churches that adopted a presbyterian instead of episcopalian government, became known naturally enough, as the Presbyterian Church.

    In Scotland, John Knox (1505-1572), who had studied under Calvin in Geneva, returned to Scotland and led the Parliament of Scotland to embrace the Reformation in 1560. The first Presbyterian church, the Church of Scotland, was founded as a result. In England, Presbyterianism was established in secret in 1572, toward the end of the reign of Elizabeth I of England. In 1647, by an act of the Long Parliament under the control of Puritans, Presbyterianism was established for the Church of England. The re-establishment of the monarchy in 1660 brought the re-establishment of episcopalian government in England (and in Scotland for a short time); but the Presbyterian church continued in non-conformity, outside of the established church. In Ireland, Presbyterianism was established by Scottish immigrants and missionaries to Ulster. The Presbytery of Ulster was formed separately from the established church, in 1642. All three, very diverse branches of Presbyterianism, as well as independents, and some Dutch, German, and French Reformed denominations, combined in America to form what would eventually become the Presbyterian Church USA (1705). The Presbyterian church in England and Wales is the United Reformed Church, whilst the tradition also influenced the Methodist church, established in 1736.

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    Characteristics of Presbyterians
    Presbyterians distinguish themselves from other denominations by both doctrine and institutional organization, or as they prefer to call it 'church order'. The origins of the Presbyterian churches were in Calvinism, which is no longer actively taught by some of the contemporary branches. Many of the branches of Presbyterianism are remnants of previous splits from larger groups. These splits have been caused by disagreement concerning the degree to which those ordained to church office should be required to agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which historically serves as the main constitutional document of Presbyterian churches. Those groups that adhere to the document most strictly are typified by baptism of the infant children of members, the exclusive use of Psalms (modified for metrical singing), singing unaccompanied by instruments, a common communion cup, only men are eligible for ordination to any church office, and a fully Calvinist doctrine of salvation. In these terms, conservative Presbyterians world-wide are few in number.

    Presbyterian church order is based on two congregationally elected bodies, the Elders and the Deacons. Elders are typically in charge of relations with the larger denomination, doctrine, membership in the particular congregation, and relations between the pastor and the congregation. Ministers or Pastors typically serve at the will of the Elders (though usually with confirmation by congregational referenda). Deacons are typically in charge of the financial affairs of the congregation. Each congregation elects representatives to a local assembly, often called a presbytery. A presbytery elects representatives to a broader regional synod, and the synods elect representatives to the General Assembly. This congregation / presbytery / synod / general assembly schema is based on the larger Presbyterian churches, like the Church of Scotland; some of the smaller bodies, like the Presbyterian Church in America skip one of the steps between congregation and General Assembly, and usually the step skipped is the Synod.

    Presbyterians place great importance upon education and continuous study of the scriptures, theological writings, and understanding and interpretation of church doctrine embodied in several statements of faith and catechisms formally adopted by various branches of the church. References to the adoption of Calvin's theology of predestination and the typical member's predisposition to conduct themselves "decently and in order" have earned them the moniker of the "frozen chosen". However, most Presbyerians generally exhibit their faith in action more than words, including generosity, hospitality, and the constant pursuit of social justice and reform.

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    Varieties of Presbyterians in North America
    Even before the Presbyterians left Scotland there were divisions in the larger Presbyterian family. In North America, because of past doctrinal differences, Presbyterian churches often overlap, with congregations of many different Presbyterian groups in any one city. The largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States is the Presbyterian Church (USA). Other Presbyterian bodies in the United States include the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Bible Presbyterian Church, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States (RPCUS). In Canada, the largest Presbyterian Church is the Presbyterian Church in Canada, seventy percent of which merged with the Methodist Church, Canada, and the Congregational Union of Canada to form the United Church of Canada.
     
  2. Pah

    Pah Uber all member

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    Preface

    In 1983 the two largest Presbyterian churches in the United States reunited. The "Plan for Reunion" called for the preparation of a brief statement of the Reformed faith for possible inclusion in the Book of Confessions. This statement is therefore not intended to stand alone, apart from the other confessions of our church. It does not pretend to be a complete list of all our beliefs, nor does it explain any of them in detail. It is designed to be confessed by the whole congregation in the setting of public worship, and it may also serve pastors and teachers as an aid to Christian instruction. It celebrates our rediscovery that for all our undoubted diversity, we are bound together by a common faith and a common task.

    The faith we confess unites us with the one, universal church. The most important beliefs of Presbyterians are those we share with other Christians, and especially with other evangelical Christians who look to the Protestant Reformation as a renewal of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Diversity remains. But we are thankful that in our time the many churches are learning to accept, and even to affirm, diversity without divisiveness, since the whole counsel of God is more than the wisdom of any individual or any one tradition. The Spirit of Truth gives new light to the churches when they are willing to become pupils together of the Word of God. This statement therefore intends to confess the catholic faith.

    We are convinced that to the Reformed churches a distinctive vision of the catholic faith has been entrusted for the good of the whole church. Accordingly, "A Brief Statement of Faith" includes the major themes of the Reformed tradition (such as those mentioned in the Book of Order, Form of Government, Chapter 2), without claiming them as our private possession, just as we ourselves hope to learn and to share the wisdom and insight given to traditions other than our own. And as a confession that seeks to be both catholic and Reformed, the statement (following the apostle's blessing in 2 Cor. 13:14) is a trinitarian confession in which the grace of Jesus Christ has first place as the foundation of our knowledge of God's sovereign love and our life together in the Holy Spirit.

    No confession of faith looks merely to the past; every confession seeks to cast the light of a priceless heritage on the needs of the present moment, and so to shape the future. Reformed confessions, in particular, when necessary even reform the tradition itself in the light of the Word of God. From the first, the Reformed churches have insisted that the renewal of the church must become visible in the transformation of human lives and societies. Hence "A Brief Statement of Faith" lifts up concerns that call most urgently for the church's attention in our time. The church is not a refuge from the world; an elect people is chosen for the blessing of the nations. A sound confession, therefore, proves itself as it nurtures commitment to the church's mission, and as the confessing church itself becomes the body by which Christ continues the blessing of his earthly ministry.

    (This preface does not have confessional authority, but is included as an aid to interpret the "Brief Statement of Faith.")





    The Statement

    In life and in death we belong to God.
    Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
    the love of God,
    and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
    we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
    whom alone we worship and serve. We trust in Jesus Christ,
    Fully human, fully God.
    Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
    preaching good news to the poor
    and release to the captives,
    teaching by word and deed
    and blessing the children,
    healing the sick
    and binding up the brokenhearted,
    eating with outcasts,
    forgiving sinners,
    and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.
    Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,
    Jesus was crucified,
    suffering the depths of human pain
    and giving his life for the sins of the world.
    God raised Jesus from the dead,
    vindicating his sinless life,
    breaking the power of sin and evil,
    delivering us from death to life eternal.We trust in God,
    whom Jesus called Abba, Father.
    In sovereign love God created the world good
    and makes everyone equally in God's image
    male and female, of every race and people,
    to live as one community.
    But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.
    Ignoring God's commandments,
    we violate the image of God in others and ourselves,
    accept lies as truth,
    exploit neighbor and nature,
    and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.
    We deserve God's condemnation.
    Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.
    In everlasting love,
    the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people
    to bless all families of the earth.
    Hearing their cry,
    God delivered the children of Israel
    from the house of bondage.
    Loving us still,
    God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.
    Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,
    like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,
    God is faithful still. We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
    everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
    The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
    sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
    and binds us together with all believers
    in the one body of Christ, the church.
    The same Spirit
    who inspired the prophets and apostles
    rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
    engages us through the Word proclaimed,
    claims us in the waters of baptism,
    feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
    and calls women and men to all ministries of the church.
    In a broken and fearful world
    the Spirit gives us courage
    to pray without ceasing,
    to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
    to unmask idolatries in church and culture,
    to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
    and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
    In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
    we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
    and to live holy and joyful lives,
    even as we watch for God's new heaven and new earth,
    praying, Come, Lord Jesus!With believers in every time and place,
    we rejoice that nothing in life or in death
    can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    *Instead of saying this line, congregations may wish to sing a version of the Gloria
     
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