Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God? (Book of Order, G14.0405b)
This question is one of our ordination vows. Every ordained Presbyterian - deacon, elder, minister - must respond yes, which means that they choose to respect, know, "sincerely receive and adopt" certain truths or doctrines which our constitution calls "tenets."
The essential tenets are our foundational convictions, contained in our creeds and confessions, that bear witness to God's grace in Jesus Christ. "They guide the church in its study and interpretation of the Scriptures; they summarize the essence of Christian tradition; they direct the church in maintaining sound doctrines; they equip the church for its work of proclamation." (G - 2.0100(b))
We have adopted this summary of the essential tenets of the Christian faith and of our Reformed distinctives for use in our church. It distills the 300 pages of the Book of Confessions to a helpful summary - six essentials and seven distinctives. This document is based upon one produced by the San Diego Presbytery.
Reformed Christians have never been at a loss to explain what they believe. We love explaining our faith. It is a distinguishing mark of our heritage. John Calvin's Institutes, the most influential and seminal work of Reformed theology, established the theological precedent with a near - exhaustive and systematic explanation of the cardinal truths of Christianity. Since Calvin, the proliferation of Reformed creeds, confessions, catechisms, and other theological works is a robust continuation of this thoughtful and devout impulse to explain our faith - speaking in the language and to the issues of each generation.
The Reformation began as a bold profession of Christian faith based on "the plain Word of God." It was also a fearless "protestation," explicitly rejecting and disavowing what institutional Christianity had become a religion of human accretions and accommodations. This is why for centuries Reformation Christians were called Protestants.
If men . . . pretend to forge for us new articles of faith, or to make decisions contrary to the Word of God, then we must utterly deny them as the doctrines of devils, drawing our souls from the voice of the one God to follow the doctrines and teachings of men. (Scots Confession, 3.20)
This then is no idle or esoteric exercise. The spiritual blessings from it flow broad and deep:
We explain our faith with humility and with a profound reverence for its mysteries, while at the same time we boldly declare what the Word of God has plainly revealed to us as truth.
The constitution of the PC (U.S.A.) distinguishes between the criteria for membership in its churches and the standards for its leaders. The only essential requirement for membership is a profession of faith - "all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God's grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and ministry of his Church." (G - 5.0103) The standards for church leaders, on the other hand, are understandably stricter:
In pressing for confessional fidelity, we are occasionally challenged by a historic phrase from our tradition and the Book of Order: "God alone is Lord of the conscience." The implication is that no one but God may bind our theological conscience in terms of what is to be believed. And we agree! The full quote explains the proper context and understanding of this phrase: God alone is Lord of the conscience and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship. (G - 1.0301(1))
In other words, precisely where God's Word has spoken and precisely in matters of faith and worship that is where our conscience is bound and not free. Being an ordained Presbyterian means doing ministry within specific theological boundaries: In becoming a candidate or officer of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) one chooses to exercise freedom of conscience within certain bounds. His or her conscience is captive to the Word of God as interpreted in the standards of the church so long as he or she continues to seek or hold office in that body. The decision as to whether a person has departed from essentials of Reformed faith and polity is made initially by the individual concerned but ultimately becomes the responsibility of the governing body in which he or she serves. (G - 6.0108b)
In this paragraph our constitution indicates: (1) becoming an officer imposes limits on our theological liberty; (2) our confessions are the authoritative standard for interpreting the Bible; (3) as long as we are in office, we are bound by that authority and those standards; (4) determining whether a person is theologically in or out of bounds is initially the responsibility of that individual; and (5) evaluating an officer's confessional integrity is ultimately the presbytery's responsibility.
We are not called to challenge anyone's sincerity as a Christian or to dispute their right to believe what they choose. But when a person chooses to be an ordained Presbyterian, they must in good faith and with a clear conscience receive and adopt our confessional identity. We do not have the right to pick and choose the foundational truths we will believe in, with the expectation that other foundational truths can be ignored or will soon be changed. That is bad faith.
There may be ordained Presbyterians who, in their education and personal development, realize that their true convictions never were or are no longer Presbyterian. This is an issue of confessional integrity that they must wrestle with and resolve. Will we be led and guided by our confessions - even though our personal conviction changes? "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8)
Some may complain that this document is too focused on doctrine. That's because this is a document about what Presbyterians essentially believe. Yes, the Christian faith is about much more than doctrine. It is about God finding us and our finding salvation, community, healing, love, and life in all its fullness. But these wonderful realities are founded on certain truths revealed in God's Word. That's why theology matters and why doctrine is foundational and critically important. Choosing to be Presbyterian means understanding and embracing Presbyterian doctrine.
Therefore, it is entirely appropriate and even necessary for the ordained leadership of the church to diligently direct, teach, correct, and make inquiry concerning the doctrines that elders, deacons, and ministers of Word and Sacrament "sincerely receive and adopt" - that these doctrines are consistent with the Bible and our Reformed standards.
This document - 6 essentials and 7 distinctives - is our thoughtful and intentional effort to fulfill that responsibility.
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are God's uniquely revealed and written Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and are the church's first and final authority in all areas of faith and life including, but not limited to, theological doctrine, mission, church order, character, and ethical behavior.
The Bible speaks to us with the authority of God himself. We seek to understand, love, follow, obey, surrender, and submit to God's Word - both Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, and the Scriptures, the written Word of God, which bear true and faithful witness to Jesus Christ.Scripture
Any doctrine -
We worship the one, only living and true God who is revealed in the Bible and who is the source of all life, glory, goodness, and blessedness.
With the holy catholic church in all ages, we confess the mystery of the holy Trinity - that there is one God alone, infinite and eternal, Creator of all things, the greatest good, who is one in essence or nature, yet who exists in a plurality of three distinct persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
God in the beginning created the universe and everything in it for the manifestation of God's glory, eternal power, wisdom, and goodness. He is the sovereign ruler of creation, working all things according to the counsel of his omnipotent and righteous will. In gracious providence God continually upholds, directs, oversees, and governs creation - all creatures, actions, and things.
God has seen fit to accommodate free will among moral creatures, resulting in great cultural and cosmic good and terrible evil, disorder, and disobedience. Nevertheless, God is in no way the author of evil or sin, but continues to govern creation in such a way as to cause all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. God opposes all evil and will certainly triumph over it and bring creation to a glorious consummation.
God is a God of love. In grace God chooses to show love and mercy. When we were dead in trespasses and sin, God made us alive with Christ, saving us by grace through faith, as a sheer gift of sovereign love.
God - and God alone - is worthy of worship. We respond to God by
consciously and intentionally seeking to declare, explore, celebrate,
and submit to God's righteous and gracious kingship over all of
creation and over every aspect of our individual and corporate life,
and thereby "to glorify him and enjoy him forever." (Westminster,
7.01) This is true worship.
Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:4 - 5; Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm
47:2; Isaiah 45:5
Matthew 28:19; Luke 1:35; John 14:26; Romans 1:23;
8:28; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 1:7 - 11; Jude 1:25;
Nicene Creed 1.1, 1.3
Scots Confession 3.01
Heidelberg Catechism 4.027
Westminster Confession of Faith 6.011 - 6.014
Larger Catechism 7.01
Brief Statement of Faith 10.1
Any doctrine -
The biblical doctrine of God's sovereignty excludes:
Human beings were created by God in God's own image - in true righteousness and holiness - to know, love, and obey God and be righteous stewards of the creation. Our earliest forebears, instead of acknowledging, worshiping, and obeying God, became disobedient sinners and brought sin and death upon themselves and all creation.
There is now a radical brokeness and corruption in human nature that is the result of and results in sin. Sin is rebellion against God. No human effort can fully resolve or redeem this defect. Sin is destructive, contagious, parasitical, polluting, disabling. Human beings are sinners by nature, by influence, by choice, by action.
While there is an inalienable glory and nobility to human beings because they are God's image bearers, this image is now broken and distorted, and even our best and noblest actions are contaminated by sin. Every part of our human being - our personality, intellect, emotions, will, motives, virtues, and actions - is corrupted by sin. The human will, originally free and righteous, is now crippled and defective.
As a result, human beings are in bondage to sin and subject to God's holy judgment. Without God's intervening grace and salvation, they are lost and condemned.Scripture
Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Son of God uniquely entered human history and became a real human being. He is truly the Word of God (John 1:1 - 3) - that is, the perfect and culminating expression of God's mind and heart, of God's will and character - present in the intimate fellowship of the Holy Trinity from eternity and fully engaged with the Father in the work of creation and redemption.
Becoming human, Jesus was "all of God in a human body" (Colossians 1:19) and "God with us" (Matthew 1:23) - a living tabernacle of God's holy presence, "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14 - 18). His divine - human identity is corroborated by the true witness of Scripture - in his divine conception and virgin birth, in God's own testimony concerning Jesus, in Jesus' supernatural works of healing and deliverance, in his obedience to the point of sacrificial death, and in his bodily resurrection from the dead, ascension, and exaltation. He is now Lord over everything in creation.
The early church in the creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon accurately interpreted and expressed the apostolic testimony concerning Jesus - fully God and fully human. The significance of this is: in Christ we are dealing with God himself; in Christ we have a human being who truly represents us.
Jesus Christ is God's only Mediator between God and humankind and God's unique agent for the salvation of the world. He is also the perfect expression of what humanity was designed to be. In his complete obedience, he became the representative Human Being, a second Adam, modeling for us human life and offering to God on our behalf human life that is rightly in God's image - reflecting God's glory in a wholly submitted life of steadfast love and righteousness.
This same Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, as attested in Scripture, is to be the center of the Christian Church's proclamation, worship, discipleship, and mission. As we eagerly and prayerfully anticipate that "he will come again to judge the living and the dead" and to establish God's righteous kingdom in fullness and perfection, we say, "Come Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20)Scripture
Jesus' death on the Cross was the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. In this act of obedience to God's will and love for humankind, Jesus acted as the divine agent for the salvation of the world. In his death he perfectly fulfilled the office of High Priest and was also the perfect sacrifice for sins - "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (Jn 1:29) The Cross became an altar on which his life was sacrificed as a substitute for ours, and satisfaction and expiation for sins were completely accomplished. On the sole basis of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, sinners may now be reconciled to a holy God and set free from their bondage to sin and death to live for God in holiness and joy.
Exalted to the place of honor beside God the Father, Jesus Christ the eternal Son, now Lord of heaven and earth, continues his saving work, advocating and interceding on behalf of the church and functioning as our eternal prophet (God's living and revealed Word), priest (ever making intercession and mediation for us), and king (ruling his church by Word and Spirit and with sovereign love and power).Scripture
Any theology -
Salvation is God's gracious work through Jesus Christ to reclaim humankind and all creation from sin and its consequences. Salvation is a gift of God's grace received by faith. Christ's righteousness and atonement are the sole basis for human salvation. Faith in Christ is the only instrument by which this righteousness is received by individual believers, resulting in their justification.
Justification is the righteousness of Christ imputed to a sinful woman or man through faith alone in Christ. Their faith appropriates Christ's atonement, resulting in their sins atoned for and forgiven and God reckoning them to be righteous.
Scripture also describes salvation as a ransom or redemption from slavery (Mark 10:45); a sacrificial substitution (Christ's death for our death); reconciliation of sinners with a holy God; our sins being sacrificially expiated, satisfied, covered over, forgiven, and removed. All of these ways describe how God has given us "the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ's saving work." (Heidelberg, 4.021)
Faith is (1) accepting the message of salvation as true and (2) trusting God to apply this salvation to us. Faith is "certain knowledge" and "wholehearted trust," that is created in us by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. In faith we accept, receive, and rest "upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace." Westminster, 6.080)
Mark 10:45; John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:22 - 26; 5:1;
Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8 - 9
Second Helvetic Confession 5.107 - 109, 5.112 - 113
Heidelberg Catechism 4.021, 4.060
Westminster Confession of Faith 6.080
Brief Statement of Faith 10.4
Our salvation and sanctification are based entirely on God's initiative and God's grace. It is not primarily about our choice but God's choice. The Reformed understanding of election is that God has chosen us in Christ for salvation and service -
God has elected us out of grace. God has elected us from eternity. We are elected in Christ, that is - Christ is God's elected Son, chosen to redeem God's creation and to be Mediator and Savior for humankind. Our election is not direct, but indirect - we are elected on account of Christ, with the result that those who are now grafted into Christ by faith are also to be elected.
As those chosen by God, we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. Our purpose, then, is to glorify God by our redeemed and sanctified life.
Our faith in Christ and our good works are evidence and confirmation that we are chosen by God to be His.
Election is a doctrine intended to reassure Christians of the security of their salvation and of the steadfast love of God for them, and to instill in them a sense of divine purpose and a zeal for good works.
A person may know with complete assurance, on the basis of the promises of Scripture and God's faithfulness, that if they are trusting in Christ for their salvation, they indeed are in Christ and are elected.
John 15:5, 8, 16; Ephesians 1:4 - 7, 11 - 13; Ephesians 2:10;
2 Timothy 1:9
Scots Confession 3.08
Second Helvetic Confession 5.052, 5.053, 5.059 - 60
Any doctrine -
Covenant, in the cultural context of the Bible, described the strongest relationship of love and loyalty between persons. It was a solemn relationship and bond, often with explicit oaths and obligations, often sealed solemnly with the blood of sacrifice. Reconciliation after hostility and conflict was often marked by a covenant ceremony. A covenant was entered into by faith as a relationship of trust and solemn promises; it was held together by faithfulness. Covenant faithfulness led to blessing and life; breaking covenant invoked a curse. Covenants described the relationship between rulers and subjects, wife and husband, business partners, neighboring nations. God adapted this covenant model to describe his special relationship and bond with the people he redeemed.
God's covenants had different forms and details at different times in salvation history (for example, with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David), but they reflected a single sovereign and gracious purpose to redeem, sanctify, and preserve a people who belonged to God. The divine covenant was always initiated by God; it was sustained by God's faithfulness in spite of humankind's history of unfaithfulness; it was an expression of God's steadfast love (Hebrew, hesed); and it reached a culmination and fullness in the "new covenant" (Luke 22:20) established and perfected by Jesus Christ.
In Jesus, the promised Messiah, we encounter personally and directly the Mediator of God's perfect and everlasting covenant (Hebrews 9:15). Jesus has perfectly fulfilled the obligations of the covenant for us; he has demonstrated complete faithfulness to God as a covenant partner. In his substitutionary death he took on himself the curse for our covenant breaking, ended the hostility our sins had caused, reconciled us and made us right with God. Those who put their faith in Christ are spiritually united with him, enter the new covenant where there is salvation and redemption, become members of the covenant community called the church, and enjoy the covenant promises of eternal life and blessing.
Every believer is called to be a faithful and participating member of a local church, where "the community of the new covenant" has local expression and where they can be discipled into holiness and maturity. The community of the new covenant is to be a demonstration of the supernatural reality and power of the kingdom of God - what the world looks like and might become where God is acknowledged as King; a community of love and wholeness; a ministry extending the healing, deliverance, and grace that marked the life of Jesus and his disciples.
Genesis 6:18; 9:8 - 17; 17:1 - 8; Exodus 19:3 - 6; 2
Samuel 7:12 - 16; Isaiah 9:6 - 7; Jeremiah 23:5 - 6; 31:3134
Luke 22:20; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:12 - 13; Hebrews
9:15; 1 Peter 2:9 - 10
Scots Confession 3.16
Second Helvetic Confession 5.125 - 5.126
Confession of 1967 9.31
Any doctrine -
The church receives from the Lord Jesus Christ two sacred and symbolic actions, called sacraments, which enact and perform (symbolize and seal) the promises of the gospel. These sacraments are Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ and of the washing away of sin through his sacrifice. Baptism publicly acknowledges that the one baptized is part of the covenant community of faith. Baptizing infants reminds us that God reaches out to us even before we are able to respond in faith.
The Lord's Supper, using bread and wine, is the sign and seal of our ongoing communion with the living Christ and of his life continuing to nourish us. Celebrating the Lord's Supper, we give thanks as we remember that Christ lived for us, Christ died for us and Christ will come again.
Both sacraments point to and remind us of the holy sacrifice of Christ for us. The Holy Spirit uses these sacraments - the common signs of water and of bread and wine, combined with the promises in the gospel of eternal life and forgiveness through Christ - to convey grace, salvation, and the real presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, which are received in faith by the believing community in their worship together.
Matthew 28:18 - 20; Acts 2: 38 - 39,42; 16:31 - 33;
Romans 6:3 - 4; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:23 - 26; 12:13
Heidelberg Catechism 4.066, 4.069 - 4.071, 4.074, 4.075
Second Helvetic Confession 5.169, 5.175, 5.205
Shorter Catechism 7.094, 7.096
Confession of 1967 9.51, 9.52
Brief Statement of Faith 10.4
The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the individual and collective life of believers effects real transformation - a life of increasing holiness, righteousness, power, and love, as we are changed more and more into the image of Christ. Though Christians are marred by sin and imperfect until Christ returns, there is a substantial manifestation of the righteousness and power of the kingdom of God in the believer, the church, and the world through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit connects us to the life of Christ and releases in us the supernatural and saving power of Christ's life, death, resurrection, and glory.
Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Galatians 5:22 - 25;
Philippians 2:12 - 13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13
Scots Confession 3.12
Westminster Confession of Faith 6.075 - 6.077
Shorter Catechism 7.035
Larger Catechism 7.188
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Every believer, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, is called to participate in his priestly ministry. A priest functions to reconcile people to God. Jesus Christ is the eternal high priest of God's new covenant, who offered himself as an atoning sin offering on our behalf and who is our eternal advocate before the throne of God. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." All believers are called as disciples to do this ministry of Jesus - to participate in his priestly work of reconciling the world to God by proclaiming the gospel, doing the works of Jesus, and manifesting the reality and power of the kingdom of God in the world. This ministry is not reserved exclusively for ordained clergy and officers, but is the vocational privilege and responsibility of every Christian.
Matthew 10:1, 6 - 7; 28:18 - 19; 1 Corinthians 12:7, 14, 27; 2 Corinthians 5:18 - 20, 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:5 - 6
Second Helvetic Confession 5.153
Confession of 1967 9.31, 9.38
God's redeeming and reconciling work in the world was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and continues through the church, the body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The great ends of the church are 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 in the world.
Jesus Christ, as the Lord of the church, calls the church into being, declares its mission, and supernaturally equips it for its work. Its mission is:
Matthew 9:36 - 38, 28:18 - 20; Acts 1:8; Romans 10:13 - 15; 2
Peter 3:10 - 13
Westminster Confession of Faith 6.058
Confession of 1967 9.06, 9.43, 9.44 - 9.46
Any witness of the Church -
God has given us all that we have and all that we are. He charges us with the responsibility of using all our abilities and gifts in his faithful service and to his glory - and especially to further the work and mission of the church, to relieve suffering and help the poor, to resist the devil and overcome evil. In particular God has ordered us to manage and care for creation as grateful stewards and obedient servants.
Jesus Christ is Lord of every area of our life - our spiritual life and our physical life; our social life including marriage, politics, justice, and culture; our intellectual life; our work life and our recreational life; the use of our bodies, our possessions, our resources, and our money. We are to be stewards of all of these things to manifest and extend the kingdom of God in the world, to extend the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, and to bring glory to the name of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 4:7; Titus 2:14; 1
Peter 4:8 - 11
Larger Catechism 7.251
Confession of 1967 9.46
Brief Statement of Faith 10.33, 10.38