People always ask, “How in the world do you spell Presbyterian?!” And then when we tell them, they ask, “Okay, so what does it mean to be Presbyterian?”
The first thing to know about being Presbyterian is that we are Christians. We could go on and on about the differences between being Presbyterian and other denominations. Mainly we talk about how we are part of something bigger than ourselves and we want to follow Jesus together.
That being said, there are some specific ways that we live all of that out.
The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek word presbuteros, which means, “elder.” A lot of times, we think of elders being someone older than our self. When the Bible talks about elders, it refers to spiritual leaders chosen from among the people. The “elders” of a Presbyterian church might be young or older, or somewhere in between. No matter your age, your race, your gender, or any other human marker; we believe all have a place in the household of God and can be called into leadership.
When it comes right down to it, this is what being Presbyterian is about.
We don’t have a pope or a bishop, giving orders from the top down. The pastor does not “run the show” or make all the decisions. And the congregation doesn’t vote on every single issue in the life of the church. We elect leaders to represent the congregation and provide for the life and ministry of the church. We all work together to discern God’s will for the church, the world, and our individual lives.
More about how we do this is found in the “Book of Order” you can read that here.
So being Presbyterian is, in part, about how we govern ourselves. It is also about theology.
We believe in the good news of the Gospel that God came into this world and revealed God’s self to us in the person of Jesus. And we believe God calls us out into the world to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) by loving our neighbors.
Presbyterians are part of the Reformed Tradition. That means that we trace our ecclesiastical roots back to a group of protestant reformers who back in the 16th century divided from the Catholic faith. These reformers emphasized the sovereignty of God, the gift of grace, the importance of scripture, and the expectation that all who knew Christ were then called to worship the triune God and work for God’s kingdom to be seen on earth.
Those beliefs have helped to shape who we are today. At the same time, we live by the expectation, “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,” the church reformed is always reforming. We believe that God is constantly revealing himself to us in new ways. We are constantly learning, growing, and being shaped into the people God created us to be.
Read more about how Presbyterians have shared what they believe in the “Book of Confession.”
There is never a point in our life or faith where we have it all figured out or have all the answers. Faith is a process, a journey that lasts our whole lives. We believe that learning is important. Asking questions is important. Trying new things is important. All of this can help us grow in our relationship with God.