What we believe
Theology is a way of thinking about God and God’s relationship with the world. Reformed theology refers to the theology initiated by John Calvin and adopted and adapted by his followers throughout centuries. At the core of Presbyterian beliefs are the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scripture, justification by grace through faith, and the priesthood of all believers. God is the supreme authority throughout the universe. Our knowledge of God and God’s purpose for humanity comes from the Bible (both Testaments), particularly through the life of Jesus Christ. Our salvation through Christ is God’s generous gift to us and not the result of our own accomplishments. It is every believer’s job – pastors and members alike – to share this Good News with the whole world. Presbyterians observe two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, instituted by God and commended by Christ. We believe these sacraments are “signs of the real presence and power of Christ in the Church, symbols of God’s action. Through the Sacraments, God seals believers in redemption, renews their identity as the people of God, and marks them for service.”
Two major factors distinguish Presbyterians from other Protestant Christian churches: Presbyterians hold to a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both pastors (teaching elders) and church members (ruling elders). We are a connectional church, valuing the connections between us as members of God’s family. Presbyterians hold to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology. We are a confessional church, valuing the understanding of Scripture of those who have come before us through the Book of Confessions.
a brief history of reformed faith
Presbyterians trace their history to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. At that time the Roman Catholic Church had grown powerful and corrupt. Martin Luther (1483-1546), a Catholic theology professor in Wittenberg, Germany, spoke out in hopes of bringing reform to the Church. In an attempt to initiate debate among his colleagues Luther posted ninety-five theses, or debate points, on the door of the Wittenberg Church, on October 31, 1517. The pope responded by kicking Luther out of the Church. Searching Scripture, Luther rediscovered key truths that are the foundation of the Protestant movement worldwide: We are saved by grace alone, not by grace plus good works. We receive grace by faith alone, not by faith plus good works. Our source of truth is Scripture alone, not the Bible plus church tradition. The church consists of a priesthood of all believers; every believer, not just a few, has a direct connection to God. The Protestant Reformation spread from Germany to Switzerland. John Calvin (1509-1564), a French law student, pastored a Reformed church in Geneva. A brilliant Bible teacher and organizer, Calvin’s teaching and writing crystallized the Presbyterian movement. His contributions to the Reformation include: Education – Calvin believed everyone should be educated so that everyone could read the Bible and hear God’s voice for themselves. As a result Geneva spawned the first public schools. Presbytery – The word “Presbyterian” comes from the New Testament Greek word, presbuteros, meaning “elder.” Calvin believed that the church should be governed by the people and the leaders they elect, not by a pope and his appointed hierarchy. He built in checks and balances to power so that the church would not be dominated a few. So Presbyterian churches are run not by pastors but by the member-elected elders. John Knox (1510-1572) studied under Calvin and, in 1559, he persuaded his native Scotland to join the Presbyterian revolution. Within a generation, the Presbyterian emphasis on education and leadership for all, radically transformed Scotland. Scottish and Irish Presbyterians moved to the new world, where their influence was considerable. At least fourteen signers of the Declaration of Independence were Presbyterians! The model of government adopted by the framers of the Constitution was borrowed from the Presbyterian system of checks and balances and from our tradition of elected, representative leadership.
Calvin’s Presbyterian pattern of church government puts governing authority in the hands of elders, lay people elected by the congregation. The body of elders elected to govern a particular congregation is called a session. Together with their pastor(s), elders exercise leadership, government, and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a particular church as well as the church at large. In a sense, elders are representatives of the congregation. On the other hand, their primary charge is to seek to discover and represent the will of Christ for their church. Moderated by Pastor Shane Webb, FPC's session consists of fifeteen men and women, elected to three-year terms in three classes of five people each. Some Presbyterian churches have the office of deacon that is for the purpose of extending care, visitation, and bringing support in special times of need as well as other differing functions depending on the church. At FPC, our elders also act as deacons.