FAQs: What We Believe
An open letter from Pastor John Dillon
The most common questions I am asked are:
"Who are RCLPC?"
"What do you believe?"
"What does Presbyterian mean?"
"What is the Presbyterian position on X, Y or Z?"
"Are you progressive or conservative, left or right, open or closed, affirming or exclusionary?"
I usually start by saying, "that is a very complex topic, which I can't hope to do justice to in a few words or minutes." However, the questions keep on coming because people are seeking answers, comfort, support, truth.
So here goes...
RCLPC is a worshipping, working community who, as best we can in our worship, words and actions offer the Good News of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
We strive to be authentic and creative in the spiritual practices of prayer, worship and sacrament.
We seek to offer Christ-centered practical support, mutual encouragement, challenge and inspiration to one another.
We are motivated by our shared commitment to Jesus Christ and the Biblical proclamation of a just and generous new order. We try to learn from each other by sharing and respecting our own experience of life, and faith, and we work together on many tasks, addressing many issues.
Some are moved to follow Christ's teaching through activism, others through volunteerism. Hopefully, all are moved to living out their faith in their daily life.
We are committed to ongoing dialogue and learning, and to prayer and action, within our fellowship and beyond.
We strive to respect all people, irrespective of age, race, gender, religion, political viewpoint, sexuality, ability, or health status.
Ours is a common task. Through our Presbyterian structures all members have the opportunity to share in leadership and in policy-making, and we are committed to extending full participation to all.
We aim to be fully transparent and accountable for our use of money, and to operate with ethical codes of conduct and to care for creation.
We all come with baggage depending on our life experience and believe that, together with the power of the Spirit, we can learn to live together according to the Creator's plans for a "Kingdom on earth".
Presbyterians sometimes call our denomination a "Big Tent Church"--indicating our commitment to diversity and respect of a variety of viewpoints. While the majority shall rule, the minority shall be respected and taken into account. We may not always succeed but we try to get along.
Listed below you will find some keys points. Please forgive the breadth, length and depth but as I said, "that is a very complex topic, which I can't hope to do justice to in a few words or minutes."
More detailed accounts of our official consensus positions can be found at: www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/social-issues.
A full copy of the Book of Order and other documents may be found at www.pcusa.org.
Extracts from PC(USA) Reports and Documents
Diversity is good
When it is time to make a decision, Presbyterians do not just pull ideas out of the air. We believe that the best decisions are made when the broadest possible representation of our diversity participates. We believe in the equality of all people before God, and therefore our system of government enables an orderly process of discerning the will of God in which everyone participates.
Ordination - not just for clergy
The principle of gathering diverse persons who are unified in their commitment to Jesus Christ yields a distinctive aspect of our polity. In most denominations only clergy are ordained. In the Presbyterian Church elders and deacons, as well as ministers, are ordained.
- Deacons to a ministry of service.
- Elders to a ministry of governance.
- Ministers of the Word and Sacrament are ordained to service and governance and also to a ministry of teaching and pastoral care. All are freely elected and all positions are open to all members, without restriction.
Presbyterian government is not:
Episcopal, with government from the top down. Congregational, with government from the bottom up, with everyone getting to vote on everything.
Presbyterian government is:
representative, very similar to the United States government. Authority flows both up and down. We elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf.
Unique to Presbyterians
The persons Presbyterians ordain and elect are expected to act and vote according to their consciences as they are informed by the Holy Spirit. They cannot be instructed by their constituency on how to vote, nor are they bound to vote in the same way as the majority of those who elected them.
For authority and guidance, Presbyterians rely on:
- The Bible
- The Book of Confessions which contains 12 documents, dating from the 4th century to the late 20th century, that give us the main theological themes our ancestors in the faith found central in Scripture.
- The Book of Order gives us guidance for ordering our life as a community according to Scripture and the confessions. It sets out democratic principles of representative government and applies them to life in the church.
These last two books form the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Extracts from BOOK OF ORDER
All power in heaven and earth is given to Jesus Christ by Almighty God, Who raised Him from the dead and set Him above all rule and authority, all power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. ... Christ calls the church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission to the world, for its building up and for its service to God. (G-1.0100)
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 to the world. (G-1.0200)
The historic principles of the church remind us that "God alone is the Lord of the conscience." (G-1.0301)
The human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God. (G-2.0500)
God created the heavens and the earth and made human beings in God's image, charging them to care for all that lives...
God liberated the people of Israel from oppression: God covenanted with Israel to be their God and they to be God's people, that they might do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord...
God was incarnate in Jesus Christ, who announced good news to the poor, proclaimed release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, let the broken victims go free, and proclaimed the year of the Lord's favor. ...
God's redeeming and reconciling activity in the world continues through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit... (G-3.0100)
The new reality revealed in Jesus Christ is the new humanity, a new creation, a new beginning for human life in the world: Sin is forgiven. Reconciliation is accomplished. The dividing walls of hostility are torn down. (G-3.0200)
The Church is challenged to be Christ's faithful evangelist ... participating in God's activity in the world through its life for others by: healing and reconciling and binding up wounds ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless, engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice, giving itself and its substance to the service of those who suffer, sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world. (G-3.0300)
The church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life... (G-3.0400)
In describing the meaning of church membership the (Presbyterian) Constitution states:
A faithful member accepts Christ's call to be involved responsibly in the ministry of His church. Such involvement includes: proclaiming the good news. ... responding to God's activity in the world through the service to others, living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life, working in the world for peace, justice, freedom and human fulfillment. (G-5.0102)
In the local church, God's people perform a number of ministries, including worship, proclamation, sharing the Sacraments, evangelism, nurture, counseling, personal and social healing and service. (G-7.0102)