What does it mean to be Presbyterian?

The seal of our denomination is full of symbolism with deep meaning for our faith! How many do you see: the cross, a pulpit, the Bible, the dove, an ichthys (fish), the communion cup, the baptismal font, the Spirit’s flame, the Trinitarian triangle?

“Presbyterian” comes from the Greek word πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros), which means ‘elder;’ as it says in Acts 14:23: “And after they had appointed elders in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.” Rather than any hierarchy of appointed bishops, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is led by elected elders from among our congregations to serve at the local church (the Session), regional (Presbytery & Synod), and national (General Assembly) levels of representative church government. The Constitution of the PC(USA) is in two parts: the Book of Confessions (statements of faith, creeds, and catechisms that bear witness to what the Church believes) and the Book of Order (our form of government and how the church is to carry out its business and mission together). We joke that Presbyterians do it “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40), and we rely on the wisdom of our history and the discernment of our elders to help guide the way.

Presbyterians are part of the Reformed Tradition of the Protestant Church. Influenced by the work of theologian John Calvin and his student John Knox in the sixteenth century, Scots and Scots-Irish immigrants founded the first Presbyterian congregations in America as early as the 1630s. The tenants of Presbyterian theology rest on the sovereignty of God and salvation by God’s grace alone. We celebrate two sacraments in baptism and communion, and all are welcome to come to the table in our worship.

The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church. In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ.

The Book of Order, F-1.01

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