Read the information below for some insight into being a Presbyterian!
What's Presbyterian worship like?
The order of a Sunday worship service in a Presbyterian church is determined by the pastor and the session, the churchs governing body. It generally includes prayer, music, Bible reading and a sermon based upon scripture. The Sacraments, a time of personal response/offering and a sharing of community concerns are also parts of worship.
The constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) suggests that worship be ordered in terms of five major actions centered in the word of God (gathering around the word, proclaiming the word, responding to the word, the sealing of the word and bearing and following the word into the world), but recognizes that other orders of worship may also serve the needs of a particular church and be orderly, faithful to Scripture, and true to historic principles (Book of Order, W-3.3202).
Prayer is at the heart of worship. In prayer, through the Holy Spirit, people seek after and are found by the one true God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ. They listen and wait upon God, call God by name, remember Gods gracious acts, and offer themselves to God. Prayer may be spoken, sung, offered in silence, or enacted. Prayer grows out of the center of a persons life in response to the Spirit. Prayer is shaped by the Word of God in Scripture and by the life of the community of faith. Prayer issues in commitment to join Gods work in the world" (Book of Order, W-2.1001).
The church confesses the Scriptures to be the Word of God written, witnessing to Gods self-revelation. Where that Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the Living Word is present by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the reading, hearing, preaching, and confessing of the Word are central to Christian worship. The session shall ensure that in public worship the Scripture is read and proclaimed regularly in the common language(s) of the particular church (Book of Order, W-2.2001).
The minister of Word and Sacrament is responsible for the selection of Scripture to be read in all services of public worship and should exercise care so that over a period of time the people will hear the full message of Scripture. It is appropriate that in the Service for the Lords Day there be readings from the Old Testament and the Epistles and Gospels of the New Testament. The full range of the psalms should be also used in worship. Selections for reading in public worship should be guided by the seasons of the church year, pastoral concerns for a local congregation, events and conditions in the world, and specific program emphases of the church. Lectionaries offered by the church ensure a broad range of readings as well as consistency and connection with the universal Church" (Book of Order, W-2.002 W-2.003).
The preached Word or sermon is to be based upon the written Word. It is a proclamation of Scripture in the conviction that through the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ is present to the gathered people, offering grace and calling for obedience ... the sermon should present the gospel with simplicity and clarity, in language which can be understood by the people ... the preaching of the Word shall ordinarily be done by a minister of Word and Sacrament (Book of Order, W-2.2007).
The Word is also proclaimed through song in anthems and solos based on scriptural texts, in cantatas and oratorios which tell the biblical story, in psalms and canticles, and in hymns, spirituals, and spiritual songs which present the truth of the biblical faith. Song in worship may also express the response of the people to the Word read, sung, enacted, or proclaimed. Drama and dance, poetry and pageant, indeed, most other human art forms are also expressions through which the people of God have proclaimed and responded to the Word. (Book of Order, W-2.2008).
The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lords Supper are Gods acts of sealing the promises of faith within the community of faith as the congregation worships, and include the responses of the faithful to the Word proclaimed and enacted in the Sacraments (Book of Order, W-3.3601).
The Christian life is an offering of ones self to God. In worship the people are presented with the costly self-offering of Jesus Christ, are claimed and set free by him, and are led to respond by offering to him their lives, their particular gifts and abilities, and their material goods. Worship should always offer opportunities to respond to Christs call to become disciples by professing faith, by uniting with the church, and by taking up the mission of the people of God, as well as opportunities for disciples to renew the commitment of their lives to Jesus Christ and his mission in the world (Book of Order, W-2.5001 W-2.50).
Worship is an activity of the common life of the people of God in which the care of the members for each other and for the quality of their life and ministry together expresses the reality of Gods power to create and sustain community in the midst of a sinful world. As God is concerned for the events in daily life, so members of the community in worship appropriately express concern for one another and for their ministry in the world (Book of Order, W-2.6001).
Denominations often differ over what they recognize as sacraments. Some recognize as many as seven sacraments, others have no sacraments in the life of the church. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has two sacraments, Baptism and the Lords Supper.
The Reformed tradition understands Baptism and the Lords Supper to be Sacraments, instituted by God and commended by Christ. Sacraments are signs of the real presence and power of Christ in the Church, symbols of Gods action. Through the Sacraments, God seals believers in redemption, renews their identity as the people of God, and marks them for service (Book of Order, W-1.3033.2).
The early Church, following Jesus, took three primary material elements of life water, bread, and wine to become basic symbols of offering life to God as Jesus had offered his life. Being washed with the water of Baptism, Christians received new life in Christ and presented their bodies to be living sacrifices to God. Eating bread and drinking wine they received the sustaining presence of Christ, remembered Gods covenant promise, and pledged their obedience anew (Book of Order, W-1.3033.1).
In Baptism, the Holy Spirit binds the Church in covenant to its Creator and Lord. The water of Baptism symbolizes the waters of creation, of the flood, and of the Exodus from Egypt. Thus, the water of Baptism links us to the goodness of Gods creation and to the grace of Gods covenants with Noah and Israel. Prophets of Israel, amidst the failure of their own generation to honor Gods covenant, called for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24) They envisioned a fresh expression of Gods grace and of creations goodness a new covenant accompanied by the sprinkling of cleansing water. In his ministry, Jesus offered the gift of living water. So, Baptism is the sign and seal of Gods grace and covenant in Christ (Book of Order, W-2.3003).
Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: Gods redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is Gods gift of grace and also Gods summons to respond to that grace. Baptism calls to repentance, to faithfulness, and to discipleship. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world (Book of Order, W-2.3006).
The water used for Baptism should be common to the location, and shall be applied to the person by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion. By whatever mode, the water should be applied visibly and generously (Book of Order, W-3.3605).
Baptism is received only once. There are many times in worship, however, when believers acknowledge the grace of God continually at work. As they participate in the celebration of anothers Baptism, as they experience the sustaining nurture of the Lords Supper, and as they reaffirm the commitments made at Baptism, they confess their ongoing need of Gods grace and pledge anew their obedience to Gods covenant in Christ (Book of Order, W-2.3009).
As there is one body, there is one Baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6). The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognizes all Baptisms with water in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit administered by other Christian churches (Book of Order, W-2.3010).
The Lords Supper is the sign and seal of eating and drinking in communion with the crucified and risen Lord. During his earthly ministry Jesus shared meals with his followers as a sign of community and acceptance and as an occasion for his own ministry (Book of Order, W-2.4001a).
Around the Table of the Lord, Gods people are in communion with Christ and with all who belong to Christ. Reconciliation with Christ compels reconciliation with one another. All the baptized faithful are to be welcomed to the Table, and none shall be excluded because of race, sex, age, economic status, social class, handicapping condition, difference of culture or language, or any barrier created by human injustice. Coming to the Lords Table the faithful are actively to seek reconciliation in every instance of conflict or division between them and their neighbors (Book of Order, W-2.4006).
The Lords Supper is to be observed on the Lords Day, in the regular place of worship, and in a manner suitable to the particular occasion and local congregation. It is appropriate to celebrate the Lords Supper as often as each Lords Day. It is to be celebrated regularly and frequently enough to be recognized as integral to the Service for the Lords Day (Book of Order, W-2.4009).
The invitation to the Lords Supper is extended to all who have been baptized, remembering that access to the Table is not a right conferred upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. In preparing to receive Christ in this Sacrament, the believer is to confess sin and brokenness, to seek reconciliation with God and neighbor, and to trust in Jesus Christ for cleansing and renewal. Even one who doubts or whose trust is wavering may come to the Table in order to be assured of Gods love and grace in Christ Jesus (Book of Order, W-2.4011a).
Presbyterians are BELIEVERS and DOERS
WE BELIEVE in the Great Ends of the Church as set forth in our Book of Order: the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
WE BELIEVE in a theology of mission, as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith: ... Christ hath commissioned his Church to go into all the world and to make disciples of all nations. All believers are therefore under obligation ... to contribute by their prayers, gifts, and personal efforts to the extension of the Kingdom of Christ throughout the whole earth.
WE DO mission and its related functions in good Presbyterian order through the structures of our General Assembly, synods, presbyteries and local churches, which provide accountability in a connectional system. The chief agencies of the General Assembly are the Office of the General Assembly, General Assembly Mission Council, Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program and Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
WE DO mission in partnership locally, nationally and globally by prioritizing our available resources, guided by the emphases given by our General Assembly, the biannual meeting of clergy and lay commissioners who represent the presbyteries of the church. Through the General Assembly, all Presbyterians have a voice in setting directions for mission and through their general mission giving, have a vital responsibility in carrying out what the General Assembly has mandated.
The term “Presbyterian” refers to a representative style of church government. Each congregation elects elders from among its members. The elders, together with ministers of Word and Sacrament, are called presbyters (derived from a Greek word for “elder”).
Presbyters form the local governing body of each congregation, called the Session; they also govern through regional bodies called Presbyteries and Synods, and the national governing body, the General Assembly. Presbyterian simply means “government by presbyters”.
How Do I Join First Presbyterian?
Faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the sole entrance criterion. As expressions of that faith, baptism, public profession of faith, and the declaration of intent to support the work and worship of the church are the only requirements for membership in the P.C.(U.S.A.).
Baptism is also administered to the children of believers, who have the status of “baptized members” until their confirmation.
Confirmed members may be received by the Session in one of three ways:
Profession of faith;
Reaffirmation of faith;
Transfer of membership from another Christian church.
New member classes are offered periodically.
A major contributor to the reformed theology was John Calvin, who converted from Roman Catholicism after training for the priesthood and the law. While in exile in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin developed the presbyterian pattern of church government, which vests governing authority primarily in elected laypersons known as elders. The word presbyterian comes from the Greek word for elder.
Elders are chosen by the people. Together with ministers of the Word and Sacrament, they exercise leadership, government, and discipline
and have responsibilities for the life of a particular church as well as the church at large, including ecumenical relationships. They shall serve faithfully as members of the Session. When elected as commissioners to higher governing bodies, elders participate and vote with the same authority as ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and they are eligible for any office. (Book of Order G-10.0102 and G-6.0302)
The body of elders elected to govern a particular congregation is called a Session. They are elected by the congregation and in one sense are representatives of the other members of the congregation. On the other hand, their primary charge is to seek to discover and represent the will of Christ as they govern. Presbyterian elders are both elected and ordained. Through ordination they are officially set apart for service. They retain their ordination beyond their term in office. Ministers who serve the congregation are also part of the Session. The Session is the smallest, most local governing body. The other governing bodies are Presbyteries, which are composed of several churches; Synods, which are composed of several presbyteries; and the General Assembly, which represents the entire denomination. Elders and ministers who serve on these governing bodies are also called presbyters.
Who Receives Baptism?
Baptism is administrated to all those whom God calls. Since the initiative lies with God, and since, in any case, we need the Holy Spirit’s help to respond to God’s call, the key factor in Baptism is not the age or maturity of the person being baptized, but rather the church’s corporate response in claiming the promises sealed in the sacrament. Both parents and the congregation are part of that corporate response.
In the case of those who have reached the “age of discretion,” and are able to claim for themselves the promises of grace, Baptism is the seal of their discipleship and the sign of their entry into the covenant community. In the case of children or infants, who, of course, are unable to claim God’s promises for themselves, their parents or guardians respond on their behalf.
Whether the person baptized is an adult or a child, the congregation also makes its promise to nurture the baptized person in the faith. The vow of the local congregation, which represents the church universal, is an important aspect of the Baptismal rite. Presbyterians do not practice “private Baptism.”
Modes of Baptism
Since there is only one Baptism, those baptized in the name of the Trinity in any Christian denomination are not re-baptized in our church. Although we usually administer the water by pouring, Presbyterians recognize – indeed practice – Baptism by sprinkling and by immersion. We do not, however, rank one mode of administering the water over another.