WHAT WE BELIEVE
What Is It That We Believe
Many people have asked what we at First Presbyterian Church believe. Sometimes the questions are asked these ways: What are our theological distinctives? What does it mean to be a Presbyterian Church? What does it mean to say we are reformed? Are these issues even important? Do we, in our theological tradition, care about evangelism; that is, winning new people to faith in Jesus Christ?
While this document may not answer every question of this nature, as elders and undershepherds of the flock, we do want to help members, visitors and inquirers learn more about our church.
The Session is convinced that our church must not be so broadly open that it fails to make vitally important distinctions which the Bible itself makes; nor are we to insist that every member share the same precise set of theological convictions. To be more specific, First Presbyterian is and will be characterized accurately with the following terms:
We Are Evangelistic
This means we take seriously the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Without compromising the sovereignty of God, we affirm the responsibility of each person to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and our responsibility to extend the Gospel invitation as a call to salvation to everyone who hears its message. We invite all, without distinction, to drink freely of the Water of Life and to live eternally. In this way, we seek to “extend the transforming presence of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We Are Evangelical
To say that we are evangelical means that we take our stand with all those who believe in what used to be called “the fundamentals”: the existence of the triune God, the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, and substitutionary and vicarious atonement of Christ, the physical resurrection of Christ, the sure return of Christ, and the infallibility and divine authority of the Bible which is a faithful and true guide to what we are to believe and how we are to live. We joyfully affirm our unity with those from every tradition and denomination who hold to these fundamentals including those true believers in Christ who, for whatever reasons, find themselves members of denominations or churches with which we might have certain disagreements.
We Are Reformed
The word “reformed” can be defined simply in two ways: 1) It is a reference to our historical link to the Reformation of the 16th century and intends to describe us as the heirs of that tradition which comes from Luther, Calvin, Knox and other reformers. 2) The word “reformed” is used most commonly to refer to certain theological distinctives which have marked reformation believers, particularly those in the Calvinist tradition.
These distincitives can be summarized by our glad affirmation of the responsibility of every person to repent and believe, and that it is God who, by His sovereign electing grace, draws men and women, otherwise dead in sin, to faith in His Son. By this faith alone are God’s people justified.
Reformed distinctives include the sovereignty of God in His creation, providence and election of believers apart from any merit of their own; the irresistible grace of God provided for and preceding the faith of the individual; the sufficiency of God’s grace apart from which man is dead in sin and wholly defiled in all his faculties of soul and body; the efficacy of Christ’s death for all those who believe in Him by grace; the safe-guarding of all those for whom Christ died for eternal life.
We seek to hold to our reformed convictions humbly, recognizing the sincerity and earnestness of Godly men and women who have other positions.
We Are Confessional
This means that we have a written confession of faith which we believe to be a good and accurate summary of the Bible’s teaching. Our confession consists of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These documents (available in our bookstore and library) are not without flaw; yet we believe they do contain carefully worded summaries of the Bible’s content. All ruling and teaching elders in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) must vow that they hold to these standards and are required to indicate to their presbyteries or sessions where they take exceptions. It is important to note that every church has a confession, formal or informal, even though some claim they have “no confession but Christ” or “no creed but the Bible.” Every church summarizes its convictions in some form in order to distinguish its members from those who are not believers or those who do not believe in their church’s distinctives.
We Are Covenantal
To say we are covenantal means we believe that the unifying principle of the Scriptures is the one covenant of grace that God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and finally, and most importantly, in Jesus Christ. The covenant is a pledge or bond of loyalty which God made to His people through each of the above named persons. The covenant is a relationship of loving loyalty that God has initiated with us as His people throughout human history. To speak of the unity of the covenants means that there is one way and one way only to salvation in both Old and New Testaments-that is, by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This covenantal understanding of the Bible is in distinction from any system of organizing the Scriptures which would attribute differing ways of salvation to a succession of historical Biblical eras.
We Are Presbyterian
This word refers to our form of governance. We believe that the most clear biblical pattern is for churches to be governed by presbyters (elders) who rule jointly in what are called “church courts”: sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly.
It is important to know that these distinctives are good ones; that is to say, it is profitable and health-producing for Christians to believe these things. We believe that as we come to appreciate them, we will grow to love and honor the Lord Jesus more fully and understand more richly what it means to live by grace.
Nevertheless, acceptance of all these distinctives is not required for membership in our church. One can join and be a participating member of our church without holding to any but the evangelical distinctive. Ruling and teaching elders and deacons, however, must hold to all these distinctives; and while there is room for exceptions to be taken, to be ordained as an elder or deacon in the PCA means that one can affirm that these descriptive terms apply to him.
We Are Kingdom Centered
We believe that the Kingdom of God is not only a future hope but is also a present reality. We believe that the ascension of Jesus Christ means that He is presently reigning from Heaven and, therefore, we are called upon to honor and obey Him in every area of our personal lives and to plant the banner of Christ’s Kingdom rule in every area of human endeavor.