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presbyterian beliefs

Who Are We Presbyterians?

"We are becoming a new creation by the power of God's grace: to proclaim the good news of Christ and to manifest the justice of God." — Life and Mission Statement

The Greek word "presbuteros" meaning "elder," used 72 times in the New Testament, provided the name for the Presbyterian family of churches which includes the Reformed churches of the world. Both names designate churches of the Calvinist tradition.

In America the first presbytery was organized in 1706, the first synod in 1717; the first General Assembly was held in 1789. The present-day Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was created by the reunion in 1983 of the two main branches of Presbyterians in America, separated since the Civil War: the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church in the USA. The latter had been created by the union of the Presbyterian Church in the USA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1958. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is distinctly a confessional and a connectional church, distinguished by the representation of elders - laymen and laywomen - in its government. The church today has a membership of 2,856,713 throughout every state in the nation, with 20,338 ordained ministers and 1,083 candidates for ministry and with 117,526 ordained elders. The average presbytery consists of 118 ministers and 67 churches.

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:

Office of the General Assembly;
General Assembly Council, which coordinates and provides support services for all of the agencies;
Central Treasury;
the nine Ministry Units - Church Vocations, Education and Congregational Nurture, Evangelism and Church Development, Global Mission, Racial Ethnic, Social Justice and Peacemaking, Stewardship and Communication Development, Theology and Worship, and Women;
six related bodies-Board of Pensions, Committee on Higher Education, Committee on Social Witness Policy, Committee on Theological Education, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation, and Presbyteries' Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates.

WE DO mission - locally, nationally, globally - by setting priorities for our available resources, guided by the emphases given by our General Assembly, the annual 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.

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Presbyterians are Attuned to the Times:

Our style for doing mission has been biblically based and historically appropriate. It builds solidly on our past commitments and mission experience, but it also adapts to newly emerging needs and to changing relationships in a sensitive manner. Mission in the United States is decentralized as much as possible, determined by and administered at the appropriate level of the 16 regional synods, the 171 presbyteries, the 11,501 congregations. Beyond our borders we engage in mission and relations in partnership with churches and ecumenical bodies of 90 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific. Our witness, corporately and individually, is rooted in the gospel ministries of preaching, teaching, healing, and in Christ's example of advocacy for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed.

Presbyterians are Serving People:

During 1990 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made possible the mission service, in the USA and 63 countries abroad, of many men and women deeply committed to mission as the redemptive influence of Christ's church in the world. They include:

493 mission co-workers, commissioned to serve in response to invitations of church bodies in other countries
40 mission diaconal workers, appointed to meet needs of partner churches for particular skills in 2-/3-year assignments
262 volunteers in mission, serving projects throughout the USA and overseas
a host of other dedicated workers, including mission specialists and contract associates
Presbyterian Church members working for overseas employers, recognized as having strategic roles with missionary intent
bi-national servants, who advocate the insights of one culture while living in another
overseas Christians enabled by PC(USA) funds and ecumenical planning to go in mission to other countries
overseas Christians invited to participate in mission with congregations and presbyteries in the USA

Presbyterians are Caring People:

The 1991 General Assembly mission program allocation for the national and international work of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was $110 million. Besides the annual receipts from congregations and income from endowments, additional special funds are received each year which make possible particular ministries. In 1991 these included funds received through Selected Giving Programs and the Special Gifts Program, through the Hunger Fund, the Women's Birthday Offering (spring) and Thank Offering (fall), and through special churchwide offerings:

One Great Hour of Sharing, divided among World Service, Self-Development of People, and the Presbyterian Hunger Program;
the Christmas Joy Offering, which aids church-related racial ethnic schools and retired church workers;
the Peacemaking Offering to support peace education and peacemaking efforts at all levels of the denomination;
the Witness Offering to support ministries of proclamation;

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Presbyterians are Celebrating the Journey:

As Christians who believe ourselves to be claimed by God's grace and called to be disciples, we Presbyterians now lift up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving as we celebrate the journey of our 200-year history in America, which we date from the convening of the first General Assembly in 1789. For the observance of our recent Bicentennial celebration, the denomination set forth four goals:

To enhance our sense of identity as Presbyterians;
To celebrate our diversity as a people of God;
To recommit ourselves to the mission and ministry of Christ's church;
To see the future through new eyes.

Further, we have embarked on a journey to bring into being a wealth of new ministries across the church and around the globe, launching us on a third century of witness and service to a world in need of love.

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